No one is advocating disengagement from our European allies or from our global role. The referendum question on the ballot is about no more than leaving the EU, not Nato or the UN.
In fact, the failing EU has become more a source and cause of regional instability, with threat of another Euro-crisis and the hideous security risks of the border-free Schengen area, rather than a solution to defence and security challenges.
It is worth recalling how the 1990s Balkans crisis was triggered. Germany forced the recognition of Croatia, as a quid pro quo for accepting the Maastricht Treaty. France then poisoned relations in Nato during the Kosovo bombing campaign, by leaking target information to the Serbs in advance of air strikes. This can only have prolonged the conflict, and has left an indelible scar on the Pentagon.
After US-led Nato military involvement rescued the EU from their Balkan paralysis, the US was astonished by the birth of the EU’s futile Common Security and Defence Identity, launched at the Anglo-French St Malo summit in 1999, by President Mitterand and Tony Blair. This French-inspired initiative launched the idea of “autonomous EU military operations”, meaning independent of Nato.
Why? Apparently, to promote the EU “on the world stage” and to encourage EU nations to spend more on defence (which has not happened). President Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, railed from Washington about the “three Ds”: wasteful “duplication” of military structures; “discrimination” against non-EU members of Nato, referring to Turkey and Norway in particular; and “decoupling” of European and US security policy. And we have seen much of this since, and defence budgets have been slashed.
As ever with new EU treaties, while the UK government was insisting that the Lisbon treaty was “nothing really”, it gave the EU its own version of the Nato Treaty’s Article 5, and an embryo EU MoD, the European Defence Agency. Lisbon also leaves the UK with no veto over EU foreign and defence policy, with its obscure but deadly provisions for “permanent structured cooperation” (which provides that a subgroup can act in the name of the EU without subject to a veto, and makes decisions by majority vote.)
So Nato now has a permanent rival for the affections of EU states, the EU itself. Lisbon also gave the European Court power to give binding legal effect to the EU's foreign and defence policy on its member states. EU states have little significant non-nuclear deterrent capability. They still rely on the US to provide the lion's share of European defence spending.
Read more: Nato secretaries general warn against Brexit
The French keep agitating for the EU to set up its own permanent military headquarters, so the EU is no longer dependent upon national HQs (like the UK’s PJHQ at Northwood) or on Nato’s SHAPE (Supreme Allied Headquarters Europe). Germany periodically re-launches their vision for a European Army, reminding of Bismark’s words: “I have always found the word Europe on the lips of those who wanted something from others which they dared not demand in their own names”. The UK is forever fighting off these initiatives.
France and Germany bitterly opposed the idea that Georgia and Ukraine might one day become members of Nato, and then did nothing after Russia invaded part of Georgia in 2008. Again, only the threat of the US 6th Fleet entering the Black Sea stopped it. This did not discourage President Sarkozy of France making a unilateral visit to Moscow, which diffused the immediate crisis but only by splitting the West and conceding the Russian occupation.
Nothing can excuse Putin’s further aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but the EU Association Agreement, which invited Ukraine to join the EU in a “single security space” (and even presaged joint EU-Ukraine military exercises in Ukraine) was the equivalent of poking the Russian bear with a stick. Were it not for US and British pressure on France and Germany to agree sanctions, there would have been no response whatsoever. The idea that such sanctions are the fruit of UK membership of the EU is a gross distortion of recent history.
So much for the EU's “peace in our time”.