Defending Britain and the Empire – or what’s left of it

“It is almost unthinkable that a British army will engage the Russian, Chinese or Iranian armies.” Max Hastings in “The Times” today.

Indeed. Part of Britain’s collective delusion about its place in the world is that we would wish to, or have the capability to, launch significant unilateral military action against anybody – let alone a major power with significant armed forces.

In 1982 a distant corner of the remnants of the British Empire was invaded by a hostile power. Honourably we did not abandon the couple of thousand British subjects who eccentrically chose to live there any more than we would have done had the invasion been of the Isle of Mull. But we couldn’t do it again.

For medium sized western powers the only Defence option is collective. That’s what the tentative moves towards a European Army are about. As Europe moves to ever closer union the logic of including united armed forces in that move is inescapable and, actually, fairly uncontentious. NATO is dominated by the United States – the sole Western state that could engage the “Russian, Chinese or Iranian armies”. But its construct, a post war invention, is archaic. A European Defence Force (EDF) is a much more logical option.

The prospect of an EDF which is part of a military alliance with the United States is entirely logical. Yes it would resemble NATO but it would have a major difference. The accountability of the EDF via political masters in the European Parliament would be clear. The collective accountability of NATO frankly doesn’t exist. There are national accountabilities via individual country Parliaments but that is far too loose and ineffective.

And what of Britain? Well Britannia rules very little these days and would struggle to defend what it has. Whether we have aircraft carriers or submarines or cruise missiles or Trident, or even tanks, if we were attacked anywhere by a major hostile power we could not defend ourselves without help. To pool our military resources as part of NATO makes sense and we should abandon the delusion that we should spend huge amounts of money independent of the NATO alliance. The only case for Trident is if the NATO members collectively decide that they need it and will collectively pay for it.

When Empires fall it is uncomfortable and the celebration of perceived past glories becomes common. To say that as a land we have lost “Hope” and that the celebration of past “Glory” is all we have is perhaps unduly pessimistic – but not by much. In a sane world we would be prime movers in building European unity including a European Defence Force to which we could make a major contribution. The size of our Armed Forces is still significant even though it lacks critical mass for major independent action. As I have said we could not, on our own, defend or recover The Falklands these days.

Its now nearly sixty years since we were told that we had “lost an Empire but not yet found a role”. No amount of jingoistic flag-waving will take away from the truth of that. One of the militarily great powers is our ally – albeit under the Madness of King Donald a shaky one. The remainder are threats. A uniting Europe is potentially more than just a political and economic entity. It has the capability to be strong militarily and this will surely happen. We should get back inside the tent.

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