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Minister Hutton (UK) supports European Defense. By reason?

(B2)The idea of ​​a second Saint-Malo – cherished by certain French officials – is no longer quite a dream. In a long interview, published today in the Sunday Times, the new Minister of Defence, John Hutton, defends… Europe’s defense. A new British plea which comes after others (read here), but this time with government backing.

Britain must re-enter the heart of Europe's defense
Commenting on French plans to strengthen the EU General Staff or the rapid reaction force, he explains: “I think we need to be pragmatic about these kinds of things. Wherever it can help, we must be part of it.” And to add: “France is one of our closest allies, militarily. The French believe very strongly in this type of role. If we can support them, we should.” And if I needed to be clearer: “I'm not one of those enemies of the European Union (who think) that anything to do with the European Union must by definition be terrible. There are many of them around (us). Frankly, I find this kind of point of view pathetic”.

A strategic necessity. For Hutton, this is a strategic necessity. “Being part of alliances is the best way to project power, strength and conviction around the world. People who don't understand this cannot understand the nature of the modern world.... We are very close to Sarkozy's speech on the rupture and the “new world”. Concretely, the Minister does not plan to participate in all EU operations. It is not about “compromising other missions”. But he cited the anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia, as “good example” how forces can be used.

Comments : a serious development without a doubt.
This position is undoubtedly important. Although it does not constitute a total turnaround (we have already heard this type of statement in the past without automatically having any effects), it constitutes, in my opinion, a serious development that must be followed carefully. And in any case more than a simple statement of circumstance. An observation that must be placed in a context that can be summarized in a few points.

1° The British position vis-à-vis the ESDP is to be compared to its traditional position on European construction, which can be summarized as follows: initially distrust or reluctance, even opposition to new projects. Then, when there is success, attachment to European policy. The United Kingdom has thus always navigated between the temptation of isolation, the fear of seeing progress made without it and a real desire for participation.

2° The existing balance of forces within the European Union – created in the aftermath of the American intervention in Iraq – is shifting in favor of the ESDP. The operation in Chad was one or more indicators of the crumbling of the British position. And the enlargement of Europe has – unexpected effect – demonstrated that the EU was capable of mounting a large-scale operation without British support.

3° The American position – itself – has evolved, G. Bush's gesture in Bucharest in April welcoming the ESDP forced the United Kingdom to evolve.

4° France's return to NATO could cause the United Kingdom to lose (a little) its privileged position. Concretely, it will (also) be necessary to share certain positions in the planning commands. It also removes a weighty argument: “ESDP seen as a Trojan horse to undermine NATO” – a reproach that is certainly unfounded but very present in certain speeches and which fueled strong distrust on both sides.

5° The weight of economic reality. The combination of the cost of current operations, especially in Afghanistan, heavy from a structural and budgetary point of view, like the seriousness of the financial crisis (and the economic crisis to come) requires rapid adjustments and certain choices. The United Kingdom needs Europe now to safeguard its financial position (just as Europe needs the United Kingdom to safeguard its economic position). This is out of proportion with some considerations, all in all ideological, on defense Europe. Sharing certain costs or investments will have to be considered.

6° The ESDP does not really threaten NATO. Nor the UK/US link. These fears appear unfounded. Provided that the United Kingdom is at
heart of this new policy and not at the margins. The conclusion is therefore obvious: as much as being at the heart of the ESDP as at its margins, we control it better. As Hutton says, the United Kingdom can only maintain its position of strength at the cost of strengthened “alliances”.

7° Hutton’s personality. We cannot deny J. Hutton's “non-aligned” position on the current Prime Minister's lack of European enthusiasm. A Blairite, Hutton – who had said worse than to hang on to Gordon Brown – thus undoubtedly goes further than his che on defense Europe and thus rediscovers the original accents of his mentor, during the Saint-Malo meeting in 1998 .

8° In internal politics. Even though I am not an expert on the issue, we can see an advantage in this position, at first glance. She drives a wedge into the camp of the British Conservatives, who with the financial crisis can appear a little “old fashion”. To be modern is not to be against Europe of Defense, it is to be for it. The minister says it several times...


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).