Eurosceptics' faith in sovereignty ignores the tide of history

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From Air Vice-Marshal John Downey and others Sir: Perhaps because we live where Canute rebuked his literal-minded followers, we marvel at the simplicity with which Eurosceptics put their faith in sovereignty against the tide of history. For example, to be sovereign, a nation has to be able to defend itself, but it is over 70 years since west European states were able to do so on their own. The Americans had to help in both world wars and, since 1949, our forces have been pooled in a permanent military alliance led by the United States.

To be sovereign, a nation must also be solvent. But for trade and financial markets, frontiers have lost their meaning and separate currencies are merely irritants. Meanwhile, telecommunications, transport and energy in Europe are taking centre stage. Defence industries, above all, are dependent on these economies of scale, such that there is now hardly a single major project that is not international.

Nor is this process confined to Europe. Growth figures show that, in about two decades, the world order will number several units in the same economic bracket as the US, including certainly China and Japan, and probably India. There is also, of course, the possibility of a revived Soviet federation. These giants will not treat as equals the small nations of Europe, just because once the sun never set on our national flags.

Have Eurosceptics even forgotten the way we failed to prevent the Second World War? We failed because although a defeated Germany remained potentially the strongest power in Europe, the Allies reverted after 1918 to their separate national interests, ignoring the need for an effective balance of power.

Similarly, the collapsed USSR is still a potential superpower, is still heavily nuclear and may still aspire to the expansionism seen there since Peter the Great. To contain her revival (or her implosion), we cannot rely for ever on a US which is becoming only primus inter pares among the giants. The much-discussed European security system must therefore embrace both actual and prospective EU members. Even Bosnia shows how impossible this task will be with a military structure serving some 15 or 20 political masters. A single political core is essential.

Although the 19th century nation-state, given 19th-century technology, was optimum for security and economic growth, today it lacks the resources for a world role; and those who insist on retaining it are, like Canute's courtiers, allowing emotion to rule their heads.

Yours faithfully, John Downey David Barton Denis Maguire Bosham, Sussex 6 February

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