“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the very blanket of freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I’d rather you just say ‘thank you’ and go on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post.” – Colonel Nathan Jessup, A Few Good Men
For Europeans, the United States and Britain have always been a version of Jack Nicholson’s bravura character in the Oscar-nominated movie A Few Good Men in terms of their security: unwanted, undiscussed, and utterly necessary.
In the nearly 20 years I have been involved in transatlantic relations, I have heard every risible excuse under the sun as to why Europe thinks it is alright to free ride on security matters: the EU provides internal security for the continent while the Anglo-Saxon Colonel Jessups take care of external worries (as though we ever agreed to this); Europe needs time to get its house in order (though you’d think 70 years would be long enough to do the trick); the EU is a different kind of power, eschewing violence as an outmoded thing of the past (in defiance of all historical evidence); and even once (I kid you not) Europe’s cultural superiority means the Anglo-Saxon world owes civilisation the debt of defending the bejewelled continent (yes this piffle was offered to me by a Frenchman).
But the Europeans have been fooling no one but themselves by peddling such threadbare arguments about their security, even as history’s floodwaters have been rising. They simply cannot wish away the empirical reality that, throughout all of recorded history, there has been a war raging somewhere on our planet. Man is surely capable of both great good and utter evil, but to ignore the crystal clear historical record that warfare is an endemic part of international relations is to wilfully ignore the nature of man. And as such, despite all efforts to change the subject, security matters and will always matter.
In the past month this inconvenient truth has reared its head not once, but twice. First, Donald Trump had the effrontery to wonder whether the lion’s share of America and Britain’s Nato allies will ever meet the relatively paltry solemn commitment they have made to spend just 2 per cent of GDP on their own defence. As sage US defence secretary James Mattis ironically put it, America cannot and should not care more about Europe’s defence – with radical Islam and Russian adventurism plainly on its border – than Europeans do. And yet the incredible fact is that this is plainly the case.
Cue the usual European reasoning for why the US and Britain – in committing far more to defence spending – should subsidise the overly-relaxed European way of life. The Germans (by far the most egregious offenders, presently spending a minuscule 1.19 per cent on defence) offered a raft of pathetic arguments.
The US ought to count peacekeeping, development, and UN spending in their calculations of German defence spending, they said. Certainly, but this is in addition to agreed Nato numbers not as a substitute for them. The US should not chide Berlin as it has agreed to reach the 2 per cent summit by faraway 2024. Evidently, we will all have a holiday from history until then, and no security crises will occur on the European continent to inconvenience German holidays. Finally, as foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel flatly put it, the goal is “unrealistic”, as though that is the end of the argument. I’d suggest in turn that perhaps the goal is not quixotic, but rather Germany’s pacifist view of the world is the problem.
But Europe’s irresponsible holiday from history is a subject that can no longer being ignored. In triggering the Brexit process, Prime Minister May wrote to the EU that failure to reach a free trade deal would mean that joint EU-British cooperation against crime and terrorism would be weakened. If the hardest of Brexits comes to pass, it is quite possible that London would be obliged to withhold intelligence cooperation with Brussels.
As Britain is part of the vastly superior Five Eyes Anglo-Saxon security network anyway, the present and the future are certainly with the UK doing ever more in security matters with the US and the former Dominion countries anyway, as the EU is left by the side of the road. Predictably the Europeans read her comments as a threat, when they were in reality merely a statement of fact.
For with the UK exiting the EU, only France is left with significant full-spectrum security capabilities. In the uncertain age we live in, good as the French security services are, that is surely not enough. Europe has fatally decided on a security policy of all carrots and no sticks, only to find – in the guise of Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi, and radical Islam – that the world is not entirely populated by rabbits.
Europe’s nonexistent security policy is the problem, not those who have the temerity to mention it. But tragically, in Colonel Jessup’s words, Europe can’t handle the truth.