Britain and its allies

Nick Harvey

Having criticised the new government’s policy on Afghanistan earlier in the week, this blog can also praise it, too. Specifically, the speech by armed forces minister Nick Harvey to the Royal United Services Institute, and his comments about the UK’s allies (read the speech here).

He said that “we should have less duplication of capabilities held in large numbers by our NATO allies.” If money is short, as it normally is and certainly is right now, we should spend it on the things that add to our security the most.

Such a statement ought to be obvious and pass without comment, but in the eyes of the nationalists it does not. Here is Con Coughlin in the Daily Telegraph:

“that sounds fine in theory, but where are these allies? Can we really rely on the French, the Germans or the Italians to protect our national interests? When the going gets tough, only the British can be relied upon to defend Britain. The sooner the likes of Mr Harvey grasp this simple truth, the better.”

Well, Britain has had an understanding with France about mutual defence and the sharing of roles since the Entente Cordiale was first signed in 1904. The whole point of that first treaty was to share the load of confronting a rapidly arming Germany: both Britain and France realised that they could no longer do it alone, nor were they the only country wanting it to be done. Since then, in two world wars, when one might copy Con Coughlin’s language and say that the going got tough, there was a great dealing of divvying up of tasks, rather than assuming that each country should do everything itself. Those countries that did not subscribe to this approach, such as the United States in the first world war, paid a heavy price.

One of the themes pursued by Liam Fox, now the secretary of state for defence, when he was in opposition was the duty that Nato allies owed to each other to continue properly to the collective defence. (This blog has remarked before on the collision between that idea and the belief in national sovereignty.) The ability of the UK to express this view in Nato circles will be strengthened if Britain itself obviously subscribes to the idea that defence is indeed collective and not a matter for each country on its own.

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