Adrian Hill, a former soldier and diplomat, continues his series on the diplomatic and defence environment of the UK’s departure from the EU. Disclaimer: At times we publish the views of our members. This article is not an official Veterans for Britain paper and does not necessarily reflect the view of Veterans for Britain.
All staff officers have four qualities – intelligence, stupidity, industriousness and laziness. If an officer is intelligent and industrious, he will do quite well. If an officer is intelligent and lazy, he will do the best. If an officer is stupid and lazy, he can do no harm; but if an officer is stupid and industrious, remove him immediately.
Already we stray into the realms of historical root causes and their unanticipated consequences, what Mervyn King describes as random uncertainties. What do I mean by this? Even with the best intentions human beings make mistakes that later seem obvious. When dealing with the embryo Channel Tunnel – and I took part in the very first exploratory meeting in London with John Ure and Nicko Henderson – very early on it was decided that HMG would be its own security adviser. We thought of every possibility – from rabid rats crawling through the tunnel to the tanks of Group Soviet Forces Germany. It never occurred to anyone that refugees from Afghanistan and Africa would become the biggest security problem at the French end of the tunnel. The origins of the European Union are fascinating and the seeds of the imperial urge but this historical path goes back a long way and is another story. Whether she intended to or not, Angela Merkel is setting up a European Union empire with control over twenty-seven satellite economies and the desire to become a military power. Quite a few people living next door in Switzerland ask themselves, ‘ Haven’t we seen this twice before?’ Nor are they impressed by a creeping lack of democracy in the European Union and its hostility to the political foundation stones of their country in particular. Swiss friends are wary because such a pact with Russia will leave Britain and Norway as the only real NATO members on this side of the Atlantic – unless the Danes, all three Baltic states, the Poles and Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks, Romanians and Bulgarians prefer to stick with us and the neutrals become worried enough to seek a formal pact with the alliance.
My immediate concern is how senior ministers and their officials in London quite happily advocate placing the Queen’s armed forces under the control of a group of equally mediocre foreign politicians who are steadily falling under the spell of this vision for a new imperial power. This is a strange world for my generation when the blindingly obvious seems beyond the brains of people who had a lot of money spent on their educations. One wonders if they are simpletons, suffering from tunnel vision, worse than lemmings or just plain daft? Such an obviously stupid move would have swift and seismic impacts on all our closest alliances and probably destroy our relations with the United States and the Commonwealth. Perhaps that’s what some politicians and senior officials want? They’re supposed to be reasonably intelligent, so maybe they’re just warped. For a variety of peculiar grudges, plenty of them have been taught at university to loathe America and Britain’s history yet for even weirder reasons to adore the seedy European Union. Let them all come clean along with their fellow travelling Ministers and defend their positions before the voting public. If their Ministers didn’t know what’s happening, they’re not fit for public office. If senior officials recommended the idea, we should follow the sound advice of Clausewitz.
Nor is Donald Trump a reason for a new European Union pact with Russia, he’ll be gone in three years. Putin may not. What we are witnessing – thankfully from our side of the Channel – in my opinion is the latest reflection of a struggle to dominate the Continent that goes back to a secret meeting on the 10 August 1944 at the Maison Rouge Hotel in Strasbourg. This meeting ultimately leads more than seventy years later to the choice before Britons on the 23 June 2016 – and we chose survival and our future as a free country. Our people decided to govern themselves rather than decline as a satellite export market for the German Sun of the European Union. That was our seismic moment – the spirit of Britain was not only alive but kicking. At last after fifty years of defeatist appeasement by politicians and senior officials, the people rebelled peacefully. We are on the way to becoming a great nation once more. Across the Channel, on the other hand, the French seem ready to collaborate a second time, oblige their paymasters, welcomed at the top table simply to soften the elbows of imperial rule from Brussels for Berlin.
An early test will be whether the eventual Berlin/Brussels management decides to take Putin’s side against the Americans and the rump of NATO including ourselves and lift European Union sanctions from Russia. This move would help Putin restore a poorly performing Russian economy. Russian manufacturing relies considerably on the 21% increase in the annual budget for defence, much of it spent on warships, warplanes, missiles and weapons. Well worth taking the time to read the very detailed assessment by Edward Hunter-Christie, Defence Economist at NATO, published by the RUSI that shows how Russia would have little difficulty sustaining this level of expenditure. Public spending was an enviable 36.3% of GDP in Russia during 2015 but the government may not wish to draw or borrow from the Reserve Fund and possible alternatives are to raise taxes or the retirement age. Probably neither will happen until the forthcoming election has been fixed and done. On the brighter side, Russian grain exports rose, thus compensating Siberia in particular for lower exports of raw materials. Russia may have learned to live with sanctions after grabbing Crimea, but they have an impact and will continue to hamper growth. All the more reason for Russia to encourage a German driven European Union to distance itself from the American led NATO. On top of all these troubles Russia has a stagnant population and third world statistics for health and well-being. Some 20 million of its 143 million people live below the poverty line. These problems are potentially the most serious and most urgent but remain underestimated and un-tackled.
Where does Mrs May and her largely remain Cabinet suppose they would stand? Deciding is their job, not General Nick Carter’s. Who advises the Cabinet? Senior officials who are for want of any other description, military virgins. Remember that unlike British politicians and officials, I am not pretending that the European Union is an earthly paradise, but simply reflecting on what was leaked to Der Spiegel, Germany’s equivalent of Time or Newsweek. Would Britain’s leader object to a new Berlin-Moscow pact? Would she side with the United States? Or would her officials persuade her to kow tow towards the European Union capital. Even if she supported the Americans, one doubts if anyone in Berlin or Brussels would give a rodent’s backside.
Ardent remain fans don’t seem the least concerned by the idea that the UK would no longer exist as an independent country, become a province of a new imperial European Union. Our pound gobbled by the Euro Zone’s bottomless pit. Our armed forces part of the European Union super state’s border force – exactly as proposed by some mysterious person speaking for the Treasury, Cabinet, FCO or all three in an article in The Times the other day. The last remnants of our global power scuttled a hundred years after the navy and the little boats saved our Army and many French soldiers from Dunkirk while RAF fighters won the air battle over the beaches. Both services saved our Army and our country but what a national disgrace. This time not a shot will have been fired. The present generation of astonishingly worthless politicians outnumbers the sensible ones by roughly ten to one – they want to inflict a humiliating and irrevocable defeat on the British people better than could any enemy. Do we really have to go through another global humiliation before the penny drops, must we wait until a furious voting public start stringing up politicians and officials from lamp posts?
Were we to follow the remain agenda, we would immediately disqualify ourselves from membership of the Five Eyes intelligence group and bring to an end five-hundred years of shared history with the Commonwealth. You have to be obsessed with the European Union dream to even consider such lunatic acts of self-harm. Common sense suggests we should do the complete opposite. We should start turning the Five Eyes into the foundation stones of a new global alliance. We should have a plan to support the Baltic states and Poland through Scandinavia. By that stage the neutrals may well include the European Union, because eventually Europe could consist of two groups of neutrals living as uneasy neighbours with Russia and each other. That tends to suggest that our Army needs to modernise but not as an information technology version of the old armour heavy Rhine Army. We need an Army that is highly airmobile including its armour for deep penetration. We will need more, not less Airborne and Royal Marine Commandos who can arrive fast, hit hard, and swiftly vanish into the night. Our national strategy should focus on global sea power and air power. My hunch is that with a large spoonful of luck, we have until 2030 not 2039 to rebuild this nation, restore its self-belief, and dare I warn, rearm properly, particularly at sea and in the air. We should stop borrowing billions to give them away. We need to spend more money on our defence, a lot more money. Some of us lived through this nightmare the first time, in real life.
I’m not convinced that the average German will sign up for this high risk plan without asking a great many questions. As another German friend remarked dryly, ‘ Not everyone is a fan of Mutti. Now you’re on the way out, she’s in a hurry. That’s why she wanted to make sure you would leave by giving Cameron nothing. She wants to force through these proposed changes on the remaining member states – at least half a dozen of them don’t like her ideas. One of those half-dozen countries may turn out to be Germany.’
An island people just across the sea, free spirits with global influence, their own money, a strong economy and powerful armed forces, won’t be ignored by anyone on the planet. Such a nation gives a great deal of reassurance to small countries anywhere on the planet. Many belong to the Commonwealth or are trading partners. Perhaps we should add France to that list needing moral support as Macron launches his tapestry diplomacy.
At present, by disarming at sea, just as John Nott invited the Argentines to invade the Falklands, we are inviting Russia (and China) to take further risks. The first thing Stalin did after the Nazi-Soviet Pact was to occupy the Baltic States and the second was invading Finland. Thankfully, not all Germans regard it as clever to dismantle NATO. As for our recent leadership, Tony Blair was out of his depth and still doesn’t realise his limitations. David Cameron even repeated the mistakes of the 1920s. ( Don’t people read any longer?) Margaret Thatcher learnt the hard way but she always listened and consequently rarely repeated mistakes. The last Prime Minister with a warm relationship with an American President and sound personal knowledge of the Armed Forces, began rebuilding the navy – Jim Callaghan, who had served in the Royal Navy. One morning during spring 1982 in an Ottawa hotel, he told me about the previous Argentine invasion scare. As I rose to take my leave, he said, ‘ Like to do me a favour, Adrian. When you’re on the phone to Downing Street this morning, remind the lady who ordered all those ships she’s sending south.’
Wer die Wahl, hat die Qual
Who has the choice, has the pain.
Old Swiss proverb
We should also learn from the Swiss. They will tell you that everyone knows the best people don’t go in for politics. Long ago they took away all serious decisions from their politicians. You cannot raise or lower taxes here without a referendum. You cannot agree a foreign treaty either without a referendum. That one saved the Swiss from joining the European Union. Also, the Swiss have votes which require a majority of cantons in favour as well as winning the national popular vote. Perhaps in this electronic age, we could just pull down the Houses of Parliament and save ourselves the repair bills. Most of its inmates don’t represent the wishes of their voters anyway. Churchill in his memoirs describes how when a great cause is put before the people all manner of surprising things happen, another lesson from Dunkirk and that first darkest hour. Ignore our failed or frustrated politicians, those wannabe’ diplomats in the media. Let’s copy the Swiss and decide the big things ourselves.
That’s the real lesson from the 23 June 2016.