October 13, 2005

The unspoken realignment of British defence

An important and timely paper has been published by the Centre for Policy Studies. It looks behind the empty phrases pronounced by politicians into the reality of British defence procurement.

Its author, Richard North, one of the co-editors of the EUReferendum blog, where much of his research was published over the last few weeks, has gone beyond the political phrases. He has uncovered a rather grim story, depressing in the way it has been ignored by the British media, though, interestingly, picked up by some of the specialist American publications.

The truth is that Britain has steadily turned away from its biggest ally, the United States, and towards Europe, becoming potentially more and more integrated through the procurement into the European defence structure that will undermine NATO.

Each new piece of equipment has been ordered from European firms, even if there was a cheaper and, what is even more important, better one produced by American, Anglo-American or South African firms. The amount of money wasted on projects that have not delivered on time or produced shoddy and inadequate equipment has run into billions. But, more importantly, the new equipment is produced not to NATO but to separate European standards. Britain will no longer be able to fight independently or alongside the United States or other allies like Australia.

In other words, a complete realignment of defence strategy is in progress, unannounced and undiscussed.

The paper is introduced by Major-General Julian Thompson, Commander of the British Land Forces in the Falklands and since then a highly esteemed military historian and analyst. It is full of technical detail about net-centric warfare, armoured personnel carriers, main battle tanks and our old friend the Galileo satellite system, built solely to rival the American GPS. There is, however, a summary for those with weaker nerves.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at October 13, 2005 08:16 PM

I agree that this is a bad thing. I wonder if anybody in the USA, in a position of authority, is concerned about this?

Posted by: Lex at October 14, 2005 04:59 PM

I suspect there has been a certain amount of fuss in the Pentagon and we were wondering whether the noticeable recent coolth between Bush and Blair has anything to do with this. The paper has gone to various people who may well be in position of influence in the States as well as in Britain. Apart from anything else, this drives a huge divide in the potential Anglospheric alliance.

Posted by: Helen at October 14, 2005 05:57 PM

Can I ask what's wrong with Britian wanting to integrate its defense procurement with Europe?
I'm quite familiar with the Eurofighter debacle but specifically what European weapons systems are inferior to the American?
The way I read the post, it sound like a reflexive anticontinential rant about how crappy European military equipment is. Obviously it's not but it still come across as such

Posted by: xavier at October 14, 2005 08:45 PM

Tony Bliar is a traitor and a megalomaniac, EUrope cannot be trusted or relied on, the Labour regime wont be happy until they have completely handed us over on a plate to Brussels for foreign rule.

We have to get out of this reincarnate of the Soviet Union or England is finished.

Posted by: Steve at October 14, 2005 08:55 PM

The point of the post is to direct people to the actual paper, which goes into some detail of where the European equipment is inferior to the American and, sometimes, South African, as well as being more expensive and less reliable. You will have to read it if you really want to know.

The general political problems is the break-up of NATO through the creation of the European defence identity that has little purpose beyond trying to rival the United States without paying the necessary money to create a genuinely strong military system. Europe as such has no common interests and, therefore, no common foreign policy. Creating a system, which tries to separate the European countries from their other allies by having different technical standards is not such a bright idea at the moment, especially if the equipment is inferior (see first paragraph).

Ultimately, you must explain why Britain should break up the special relationship, separate herself from her natural allies, destroy any possibility of individual action, waste a great deal of money simply to integrate her armed forces into the European ones. Simply insulting eurosceptics will not do. This is a serious matter.

Posted by: Helen at October 14, 2005 08:58 PM

My previous comment was, of course, in reply to Xavier.

Posted by: Helen at October 14, 2005 08:59 PM

Perhaps membership in NATO should be contingent upon actually being capable of integrating your forces with the US military.

Posted by: mariana at October 15, 2005 07:36 PM


It is not a question of integrating forces but working to the same standards in equipment and, of course, to the same strategic doctrine - the two hang together, particularly in modern warfare. Until now that was happening and, I believe, other countries, such as Australia and Japan have conformed to the same standards. It makes sense. How else can you have coalitions that fight together without actually integrating. What this new development does is to break up that arrangement. With completely different standards, the Europeans and that, more and more, includes Britain, will not be able to fight in coalitions with America and its allies because there will be completely different equipment and, consequently, different strategic doctrines. In fact a rival but inferior military bloc is being formed, which does not seem like a good idea.

I believe these problems have already cropped up in the two Gulf wars and, even, in the Balkans. But other people would know more about that than I do.

Posted by: Helen at October 16, 2005 06:29 AM

We in Australia bought the EuroTiger as our attack helo.

Getting EuroGrid to play nice with WGS-84 (GPS) was a pain, but at least now we've got it, it's re-usable software.

We're quite accustomed to having to work with the USMC, USAF, USN(Atlantic), USN(Pacific), and USArmy forces, all of whom have their very own way of doing things. In the past, as often as not, it's an Aussie unit that has to be the gateway, we're data multilingual. The US has gotten better, but there's still some way to go.

I'm sure there has to be a good reason why MATCALS (Marine Air Traffic Control And Landing System) is so totally incompatible with USAF practice, but if so, the reason escapes me.

The Euro stuff is often specifically designed to be as difficult to interface as possible with US gear, at least, it seems that way sometimes. But we cope, we have to.

Next on the list : interfacing with Odd Rods, the Russki IFF gear in use by some of our near neighbours' frontline aircraft. Though it's not that long since our own IFF was incompatible with NATO's...

So if the UK goes the Euro-way, well, we might just gets some export dollars for the gateway software needed. From the UK or US, no matter, hopefully both.

Doctrine...that's another issue, and far thornier. We have our very own, but again, try to make it "play nice" with US and UK practice. Some of our techniques have even been adopted by the US.

Diversity of Doctrine makes life more difficult, but it does so for everyone, opponents included. They must train to fight against multiple doctrines, not just one. This doesn't matter for second- or third-rate opponents, but it makes the task of the really dangerous first-rate ones far harder.

Posted by: Zoe Brain at October 24, 2005 08:14 AM