So reading through Facebook today and I came across a note from Jessica Smith explaining her feelings over the referendum and which way she intends to vote. It was a really good read and I thought it was a good way of explaining how she felt. I’ve struggled over the past few weeks about whether to make my feelings known about the EU especially given that my reasoning is nothing to do with the economy, immigration or of regaining sovereignty. Nothing about the debate from either side has smacked of well-reasoned and researched arguments. Also I’m usually very fearful of engaging in political debate online as it just isn’t suited to it as a forum. But having been educated to a relatively high standard in International Relations (BA & MA) I really should say something, otherwise I’m just sat smugly waiting for vindication of my own opinion quietly in the corner.
The most important political decision for a generation and instead of trying to educate the populace (on either side of the argument) it has come down to a mudslinging match with the lowest common denominator as the target. Rather than presenting the arguments in an informative manner we seem to be offered a choice between “Coz Churchill would want us to build the Empire again” to “OMG we are all totally boned if we leave”. Really? I understand why it’s gone that way, of course I do, but it is symptomatic of our entire political process in general at the minute. I mean does anybody actually believe that even if the £350million figure was accurate it would be invested back in the NHS? Does anybody actually trust Osborne and Cameron when they say “Trust us…the economy will be in a worse shape if we leave?” Neither side has any real credibility, I shudder with fear when I realise it will largely come down to who has the most effective media machine to inform opinion.
I don’t even think it should come down to a referendum really. The masses are too easily swayed by mass media. Few people have the time, energy or inclination to go out and do the necessary objective research to formulate their own opinion on the subject. Whether we like the system or not, whether we have trust in the representative that were elected, the truth is that they were elected to make the hard choices. This is nothing but the biggest political sidestep in history. We don’t usually make laws or policy by referendum. Why? Because the masses are too easily whipped up into a fervour to make any objective and rational decision (yes I know its ultimately more complex than that). I can’t remember where I first heard it but I’ve always like this line “A person is clever. People are stupid.” Yes I know, another oversimplification but in this case the decision should be made by our elected representatives. It’s not even as if it would be dominated along party lines as there is plenty of cross bench support for both platforms.
However ranting aside my reasons for voting to remain are to do with security, which will be of no surprise to long term readers and listeners. For me there is so much uncertainty around the main issues and I am not really sure how much things on the ground (i.e at the level of us peasants) will change in case of a Brexit. My concerns are also focused very much on the potential worst case scenario, but any discussion around risk and security always comes back to that because of the serious consequences of the worst case scenario.
A few weeks ago defence and security raised its head in the debate in a way that I hadn’t seen previously and I groaned straight away knowing that the demon of the EU Army was about to be rolled out and it was. I was further annoyed by the collection of Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals who stated that UK defence capability was being held back by the EU and that only a Brexit would bring us back to where we needed to be. None of them explained further what they meant by that. Surprise. It’s an argument that does not ring true for me in the slightest. Is the UK armed forces less capable than we were 10/15/20/30/40 years ago? Yes and No.
We can do more advanced stuff with the whizz bangs we have at our disposal these days and doctrine has arguably improved to the point where we are better at getting the right part of the world to blow up when we want it to. Can we do it as often as we’d like? Can we be a global force able to conduct multiple simultaneous operations? No, clearly not and that’s nothing to do with the EU. That’s to do with constant cutting of the defence budget as domestic needs took precedence. We’re not going to leave the EU and suddenly find we have the capability to take back the Empire, it just doesn’t work that way. The UK armed forces have been on operational deployment EVERY YEAR since the end of the Cold War. The so called Peace Dividend never really arrived as the bi-polar world dominated by the US and USSR fragmented into a multi-polar world where everybody wanted to prove how big and clever they were. We are arguably better at doing the military tasks that need doing, we just can’t do it on the scale or frequency that we used to. The EU hasn’t stopped us once popping overseas and blowing up a country that couldn’t possibly defend itself against us (Quote Toby Zeigler).
The spectre of the EU Army? Please! They haven’t been able to get operational multi-national battlegroups off the ground effectively despite over a decade of trying…battlegroups are between 1000 and 5000 personnel. A whole EU wide armed service? If we started now nothing would happen (in my opinion) for the next 30 years. Assuming of course that all the other EU states are up for it. Germany quite likes the idea but then it never wants to send its armed forces anywhere for obvious historical reasons. France on the other hand likes to independently flex its diplomatic and military power from time to time and because of this I find it hard to believe that they are willing to sacrifice that capability. The EU’s third pillar the Common Security and Foreign Policy has struggled constantly to get traction over the years because too many member states like having control over their own armed forces and foreign services and that really isn’t going to change anytime soon.
But even all of this isn’t the reason I’m voting to remain. David Cameron made the statement that a Brexit would lead to WWIII….or at least that’s what was presented in the media. This was obviously a pivot to a resurgent Russia and highlighting the fear that a EU without the UK would look weak which would further embolden Russia to take strategic chances abroad. This was obviously shouted down with calls that NATO is our main security organisation and that membership of that group would keep us safe from the prospect of the 8th Guards Tank Army strolling down Whitehall. This is of course correct in many ways. All hail Article V of the NATO treaty which states you start a fight against one of us then we’re all in. Effectively a “99” call in Rugby or perhaps more famously the Musketeers motto.
NATO is creaking under its own weight and the demands of relevance in a post-Cold War world. As soon as commentators started calling the organisation mission-less and irrelevant NATO planners started to look around for something for NATO to do. It was after all an important multinational institution…more on these later. So the concept of Out of Area operations was born. Instead of focusing purely on the defence of Europe, NATO would look to helpfully blow up other parts of the world as needed. So all the NATO members were told to start re-configuring their militaries away from armour heavy forces for deployment in Europe into light and medium weight expeditionary forces that could be deployed quickly across the globe for extended periods to fight bad guys everywhere. The UK, France, the Dutch, the Norwegians, the US and Canada all moved towards that model at varying paces. What did the rest of NATO do? Fail to spend the requisite 2% of the budget on defence, letting their militaries fall apart and generally undermining the overall effectiveness of NATO on an operational level. And then what happens? After all the bureaucratic inertia has been shifted to enable us to perform expeditionary operations the Eastern Front becomes popular again with Putin’s games in Ukraine and all the NATO members in that part of the world start screaming at the rest of us to deploy some tanks in their countries. If I was NATO, I’d be pissed….
But even this isn’t the reason I want the UK to remain. After Cameron made this statement and it was then refuted, it was just left. Nobody mentioned it anymore. Why do I care? Because I’m not sure it was what Cameron was referring to (or at least I hope not, he is after all a world class douche). The leave campaign is right…NATO is the body that will (?) protect us against the Russians. But that was never the EU’s job. The EU’s job (from a security aspect) was to protect us (in a wider European sense) from ourselves.
Look back at European history over the last 200+ years and what do you notice the most? How good we are at kicking the shit out of each other (and anybody else who looks at our pint funny). Napolean, the Crimea, the Franco-Prussian war(s), World War One, World War Two are just the most modern examples I can think of whilst typing this. We were forever getting riled up in a fervour of one sort or another and then marching to war to kick over a castle or two and reclaim a piece of land that had changed hands hundreds of times. Each time the cry was heard “Noooo we won’t do that again, there will be no need” etc etc. World War One….the War to End All Wars. Clearly the nationalist, fascist and communist elements across Europe didn’t get the memo as the sequel kicked off with far more horrifying results.
So what happened at the end of World War Two? Well this time they really really meant it. No more. Well there might be…we need to try and do something to stop that. The TL:DR version of what happened is that all the nations got together in a multi-national body called the UN in an effort to make countries discuss their differences rather than killing each other’s citizens through a common set of regulations and behaviours. All fine and dandy till the five “victors” of WWII said that’s a brilliant idea but we want the ability to block anything we don’t like to ensure we can still protect our own interests. Thus were born the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. You could almost hear Woodrow Wilson banging his head on his desk repeatedly. But in spite of that colossal fuck up the core theoretical idea was a good one. Get everyone together to talk and influence and negotiate rather than fight. Everyone signs up to common rules and agrees to act in the same way and peace should rule. Way to go P5.
What else was happening around this period? NATO was formed in response to a perceived threat from the Soviet Union. A slow process of getting the Western nations to band together under common rules and behaviours (see where I’m heading with this?) to protect each other against the Red Horde. Brilliant. But how do we get France and Germany to stop kicking up a ruckus and invading their neighbours every so often? Belgium and Luxembourg were particularly keen to hear the answer to this one…
So the first steps towards European integration were taken. A series of treaties were signed between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries that would create a set of institutions which would tie the nations so closely together that it would be too difficult to kick off on one another even if a psychotic Austrian painter was sat in the Reichstag or a Corsican midget liked the idea of expanding his borders. What was one of the first things they did? They placed some of the most crucial war making industries beyond national control – Coal and Steel. It’s hard to secretly build a massive army if you’re not running the weapons factories directly. Secondly they put the newest hip research area, atomic energy, beyond national control (although clearly the French cheated their way out of that somehow). So it went from there. More integration tying the nations of the continent closer and closer together so that war becomes a lot more difficult (not impossible by any stretch of the imagination). We’ve always resisted the closer integration because we have always thought of ourselves above that. We never started the wars we just helped prolong/finish them off…honest guv. Therefore there was no need for us to go through the same level of integration.
So how does this, especially given the last few sentences above, translate into a position to remain in the EU? Quite simply…if we pull out will it end there? The EU has been on very shaky ground in the last few years. Grexit was talked of before Brexit and polling data in some countries indicate a scarily high level of support for them to follow us out, even in places like Italy, France and Germany. If the EU collapses there is a strong likelihood that major parts of the continent will be wracked by increasing right wing nationalism, all trumpeting how they are better than everyone else for whatever reason. Major instability will reign as everyone starts looking out for themselves and national leaders start looking abroad once more for someone to blame for the domestic turmoil. Next thing you know Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia decide that “yes it really is in our best interests to leave NATO and accept the stationing of Russian forces on our territory to help us maintain security”. But that won’t happen will it? NATO will prevent that! NATO is only as strong as the US commitment to European security and if the worst happens come November that commitment may not be as strong as would hope. What is more important to our colonial cousins…the troubled Old World who won’t spend the money to help secure themselves or the Pan Pacific region with a rising China? Obviously the last parts are (well reasoned I believe) speculation and are obviously a worst case scenario. If we leave no one else may follow us and the EU may stay strong and together for decades to come. We can hope. I for one do not want to take that risk. Or to put it another way I don’t want the us to be the brick in the Jenga tower that causes Europe to come crashing down.
As is par for this campaign I could be talking absolute bollocks and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will think “nope, sorry Dan you’re talking shite and here’s why….” Thats’s fine. You’re allowed to. This is just my informed (I like to think) opinion. Its based on an area that nearly no one else will be bothered about in this referendum as it is simply to abstract for them to comprehend. Doesn’t make it any less important.
TL:DR? Multi-national institutions with shared values, laws etc are good for stopping countries from kicking off on each other.