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Analysis
Nato needs an independent UK

Nato needs an independent UK

EU is stifling Britain’s strengths in security

by John Kornblum in Berlin

Fri 8 Apr 2016

The outcome of the 23 June referendum will ultimately be based more on emotions than on facts.

But that does not mean that arguments are not important. Many of the issues being debated are central to the western world’s continued prosperity.

Recent months have brought the question of security into sharp focus. Slowly we are coming to understand that the West’s security is not defined only by western military strength or by that of our enemies. In the newly globally integrated world, anything from computer hackers to errant bacteria to refugees can threaten as much as military attack.

Britain has always been a leader in strategic analysis and military readiness. It is also a generally well governed country. The EU is none of these and that is the problem. EU membership is stifling Britain’s inherent strengths in the field of security.

This is why I suggested at the German British Forum-OMFIF conference on 3 March in London that, whatever the other arguments may be, Britain’s own security and its role in western defence was likely to be enhanced if it left the EU. This drew a volley of disagreements, most of which were summarised in a piece for the OMFIF UK EU referendum series on 6 April entitled ‘A time of existential threats’ by Sir Richard Shirreff, formerly Nato’s deputy supreme allied commander, Europe.

Shirreff rehearses the standard EU arguments about soft power, helping social development and expressing solidarity, for example, which have become the EU’s cover for its total lack of security strategy or capability. I worked primarily on security issues in and with Europe for nearly 40 years, including as head of the European Security Division of the State Department, deputy US representative at Nato, head of the US Mission to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, not to mention four years as US ambassador to Germany. I can give plenty of examples, be it the Balkans, the Middle East, Ukraine, counterterrorism or Russia, where the EU could not succeed without Nato.

Shirreff and others seek to draw an artificial line between Nato and the EU: Nato is war, the EU is peace. In fact, reading the Nato treaty will reveal that Nato is essentially about peace and co-operation among democracies. Three of the first five Nato articles are about democracy, mutual support and consultations. Nato was the source of the strategy of détente. It was the place where western strategy towards the Helsinki process, the arms control negotiations, the relationship with post-Soviet Russia, were worked out. Since the early 1970s, it has had an environmental and a disaster relief programme.

The underlying reality is that the West is a totality and all parts are important. The EU is not pulling its weight because it doesn’t function. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, has said this very clearly. Nato does function and its role is increasing. Nato, and thus peace in Europe, would benefit from a more independent British voice.

Much as though this argument goes against the conventional wisdom, Nato and the western alliance’s capability to act co-operatively to preserve peace and security in the western world would benefit from British exit from the EU. This is a fact based on experience over many years. British voters on 23 June will have to come to terms with this reality, and decide accordingly.

John Kornblum is a former US Ambassador to Germany and Senior Counsellor at Noerr LLP, and a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board. This is No.28 in the series.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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