It’s not about the taxpayer

Portuguese Air Force F-16A refueling from USAF tanker (picture US Air Force)

The latest report from the Taxpayers’ Alliance on the question of European defence cooperation says rather more about the author than it does about the subject.

It is generally understood that there is considerable waste and duplication among the relatively small defence budgets of the European countries, compared with the much larger defence budget of the USA.  For example, Sir Tim Garden noted that:

“Yet when they were spending 60% of US defence spending at the time of Kosovo, they could provide less than 20% of the effort for the air campaign.”

This makes logical sense.  There are substantial discounts available to those who can buy in bulk.  This is why Tesco and Sainsburys can out-compete the local corner shop.

The aim of European defence cooperation is to provide European countries with some of those same advantages.  There is a certain loss of flexibility to be accepted, in that everyone will have to agree to buy the same kind of aircraft, for example, but in effect they are doing that already.  There are not that many different options on the market, so we find that the Tornado was developed by three European countries, while its successor the Typhoon was created by consortium of five.  American planes are even more widespread in Europe: seven EU members bought F16s and as many as 13 countries chose the C-130 Hercules.

But the Taxpayers’ Alliance disagrees.  It argues that Britain should avoid associating with European defence, except with the French, preferring the Americans instead.  And the reason is explained as follows:

“It has been suggested that with such a comparatively small cost attached to UK membership, UK withdrawal is pointless. This is missing the point entirely. The Czechoslovak contribution to the running costs of the Consultative Committee of the Warsaw Pact was nugatory. The issue is really one of the broader political context and ambition.”

It’s not about money, it’s not about the taxpayer, it is about “broader political context and ambition”.  It is about the Taxpayers Alliance as a eurosceptic campaign group, with taxation as its schtick.  That is a perfectly reasonable position to take, but it needs to be clear that that is what is going on.

The Taxpayers Alliance aims to protect what it calls our “sovereign Defence capabilities”.  But our defence capabilities haven’t been sovereign since the Entente Cordiale in 1904.  As far back as then, it was understood that Britain could not defend itself without making arrangements with its allies.  Since then, the relative decline of the British armed forces has meant that allies have become ever more important.

We could simply throw ourselves on the mercy of the Americans, or we could seek to build up a European partner for the Americans.  The Americans themselves would strongly prefer the latter: British eurosceptics are the only people who still believe in some kind of special relationship.

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One other point deserves a mention: that extraordinary comparison between British membership of the European Defence Agency and Czechoslovak membership of the Warsaw Pact.  When the Czechoslovaks tried to leave the latter in 1968, they were invaded.  The people who opposed this occupation were jailed.

There is no comparison whatsoever between the Soviet Union and the EU.  To claim that there is serves to belittle the heroism of those who resisted communism.  It is wrong and it is shameful.

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