Nato & the EU


On 8 November, the Guardian published a remarkable comment article by Jonathan Steele entitled Nato is a threat to Europe and must be disbanded.  It is very unusual to hear such sentiments expressed in Britain even by enthusiasts for the European Union.


Steele wrote:


“An alliance which should have wound up when the Soviet Union collapsed now serves almost entirely as a device for giving the US an unfair and unreciprocated droit de regard over European foreign policy. 


“Nato gives the US a significant instrument for moral and political pressure. Europe is automatically expected to tag along in going to war, or in the post-conflict phase, as in Afghanistan or Iraq. Who knows whether Iran and Syria will come next? …

”Nato, in short, has become a threat to Europe. Its existence also acts as a continual drag on Europe's efforts to build its own security institutions. …”


As Steele says, Nato has become an instrument for US/UK to pressurise European states, particularly, former states of the Soviet bloc, into doing their bidding, most recently to send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.  The contribution of the East Europeans, apart from Poland, to this exercise has been trivial (and Poland has thought better of it and will have its troops out early next year, as will Hungary and Holland).  But if they hadn’t been bound to the US/UK via Nato they wouldn’t have made any contribution.


The irony is that Nato will never fight a war as an alliance again.  It has only ever fought one war as an alliance – against Yugoslavia in 1999.  The US provided the vast bulk of the resources for that war, but it was constrained from applying them as it wanted, in particular, from bombing non-military targets from the outset of the war – because the war was run under the Nato umbrella by a 19-member committee.  Now there is 26-member committee.


The US is not going to let that happen again: in future, the US is going to be in full political and military control.  The US will decide what has to be done, and will put together a coalition of states willing to help do it under US direction.  The role of other Nato members, whether full or associate, will be to assist the US to do what it wants to do, in the way it wants to do it.  And their being bound to the US via Nato will make it easier for the US to pressurise them into doing so, whether by providing troops or bases, or merely allowing overflights.


EU constitution

Steele also quotes Paul Quiles, a French socialist former defence minister, who pointed out that “Britain forced a change in the [EU] constitution's text so that Europe's common security policy, even as it tries to gather strength, is required to give primacy to Nato”.  Quiles argues that “without control over its own defence … greater European integration makes little sense” and this is a good reason for voting against the constitution as it stands.


This echoes, in part, the arguments made to the French Socialist Party, by its deputy leader, Laurent Fabius, in his unsuccessful attempt to persuade it to vote to oppose the constitution, (see a very interesting article on Fabius’ campaign in the The Independent on 29 November 2004). 


There is no doubt that Nato is given primacy in the constitution Article I-41 deals with the EU “common security and defence policy”.  Paragraph 2 of Article I-41 begins:


The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.”


But this is qualified by:


“The policy of the Union in accordance with this Article shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States, it shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, under the North Atlantic Treaty, and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework.”


As if this wasn’t enough, the qualification is repeated in paragraph 7.


The concept of the EU having a constitution was proposed by proponents of the “ever closer union” enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, in order to further that objective, but the opponents of “ever closer union”, notably Britain, have made sure that the constitution as drawn up is a bloc to such a development.  There is no point in the EU having a constitution while the EU doesn’t know whether is going beyond being a free trade area, which is where Britain wants to keep it, while pretending otherwise.


If the EU were moving towards a political union, and its members were all agreed on that course, then there would be a case for devising a constitution to reflect that sense of purpose.  But it is not and, until there is, drawing up a constitution is a pointless exercise.



Labour & Trade Union Review

January 2005