We live in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world. Nothing should matter more than the defence of our country's interests and the security of our people. Our armed forces and intelligence and security services need hard-headed commitment from government and strong public support and understanding. It is this that provides the will to undertake difficult military operations, to fund enhanced capabilities, and to sustain such operations when the going gets tough.
Visiting one of our last remaining tank units in Germany
We face not only aggressive states but the rising threat from well-resourced non-state terrorists, from cyber-attack, and from a growing subversive threat from within. Our enemies exploit the humane, peaceful and generous sentiments of our people to limit and restrict the effectiveness of the response to danger. There is persistent effort to undermine our capabilities whether it is our undercover operations, methods of interrogation, drones or the nuclear deterrent. False narratives undermine confidence in our actions and willingness to engage in future military operations.
When it comes to international action, the key military organisation is NATO, which binds the United States, Canada and 26 European allies in a mutual defence and security pact to form the world’s most powerful military alliance. It is the bedrock of British defence policy. It has helped keep our country safe.
With so many competing pressures there is a need for NATO revitalisation. European nations, which make up the bulk of NATO’s membership, need to make a greater contribution. This certainly does not mean taking a wrong road in the direction of an EU-driven defence policy.
Since 1998, the EU has been busy creating its own defence structure. This is deliberately separate from NATO in spite of the fact that 22 of the EU’s member countries are also NATO members. This duplication is not only wasteful but a serious distraction from the focus that needs to be kept on NATO and on national defence regeneration.
As EU defence policy is primarily an instrument of political integration, it runs counter to our Conservative policy of EU reform and detachment from ‘ever closer union’.
We reject proposals by the European Commission President for the creation of a "European Army" – and that includes an EU Navy or Air Force - and will continue to resist any moves by the EU to invent new roles for itself or creep further into our national diplomatic, defence and security policy. It is a small core of British Conservative MEPs and MPs that have consistently led the way in opposing politically-motivated, wasteful and duplicative EU military ambitions which bring no added value and weaken the commitment of European allies to NATO.
There are some situations where the United States may not want to get involved or where this involvement is inappropriate. This does not necessitate a role for the EU. There are many ways of delivering military effect, and none require involvement of the European Commission, the European Parliament or the European Court of Justice. There may be a role for the EU to contribute in non-military areas of crisis management - through humanitarian aid, development assistance, supporting democratic institutions, and post-conflict reconstruction although its record in these areas is very mixed.
With the UK Budget announcement on 8 July 2015 that defence spending will increase by 0.5% a year, meeting the promise to NATO to spend 2% of GNI on defence, Britain is setting an example to our allies. Over the coming years a huge inventory of new equipment will enter service. Not least will be two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. They are the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy and will represent a step change in capability, enabling the delivery of increased strategic effect and influence around the world, given the necessary political will. But more military muscle is needed.
For both strategic and economic reasons,we also need a strong national defence industry. First and foremost, this is to provide a full range of high-grade defence equipment for our armed forces. It is a also a great incubator of high skills in the work force and a major contributor to Britain’s industrial exports. British defence companies should be given every assistance to seize export opportunities, particularly in those parts of the world where there is a historic British connection.
Britain is one of two major military powers in Europe, with highly potent, globally deployable armed forces, a strategic nuclear deterrent, and major defence industries.
British military power, and the willingness to deploy it, coupled with strong defence industries, cannot be separated from wider questions of Britain’s prestige, economic well-being, and the confidence of friends and allies around the globe. The enormous political, strategic and economic relevance of defence is often underestimated.
Geoffrey Van Orden is a former senior British Army officer and Conservative Defence & Security Spokesman in the European Parliament. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org