Letter: Britain's post-imperial military role

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article, 'The capability to intervene . . .' (8 July), commenting on the Defence White Paper, begins by stating that the question at the heart of it is: 'what role in the wider world does Britain wish to fulfil?' and ends by remarking that the armed forces are one of the means by which we define our role internationally.

But your favourable comment on the paper does not raise the crucial issue of whether what Britain wishes her role to be is in the real interests of the country. Since 1945, and indeed even much earlier, our defence policy has been bedevilled by the desire of successive governments, backed by the electorate, to preserve what they have believed to be Britain's status as a world power. That has stretched our economic and manpower resources to the limit. The current radical change in the strategic situation presents us with the first opportunity for a very long time to adjust our policy to the realities of the situation. We no longer have imperial responsibilities demanding worldwide deployment, nor is armed force likely to be the best way of securing our commercial interests, except possibly in the Gulf. Our security is intimately linked with that of the rest of Europe.

The Government is right not to have made radical changes for the next few years. Yugoslavia may show us what the future pattern of a European security organisation should be to replace the current muddle between CSCE, Nato, WEU, the European Community and the United Nations. There are signs that we should think more seriously about strengthening UN involvement and not trying to replace it with a regional organisation.

In any case, a fundamental reappraisal is called for of the relationship between the USA and the European members of the North Atlantic alliance, and of the need for the preservation of the latter's military command structure, dominated by the US. There is no sign of this in the White Paper, other than the sentence 'Further change is inevitable', in the Defence Secretary's introduction.

Yours faithfully,


House of Lords

London, SW1

10 July