- - Sunday, July 3, 2016


Donald Trump says NATO is obsolete, too expensive and lacks the right makeup to deal with terrorism. He may be right, but if he wants to abandon NATO he may not get the chance because the European Union may beat him to it. It’s part of the fallout from the U.K. vote to leave the EU in the “Brexit” referendum.

The EU may cast NATO aside — not because the threat NATO faced is ended — but because the European Union’s members think it’s more important to punish Britain for Brexit than defend themselves against Russia, Iran and China.

Five days after the June 23 Brexit vote, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, released a new defense strategy plan that envisions replacing NATO with an all-EU defense structure. She’s aiming for a strategic independence that cannot exist inside NATO.

Ms. Mogherini’s “global strategy” proposal is part of the grandiose plan envisioned in Article 42 of the EU’s 2009 Lisbon Treaty. That article mandates a common security and defense policy for the EU and implies the need for a separate EU armed force outside NATO.

The foreign policy chief’s plan says, “While NATO exists to defend its members — most of which are European — from external attack, Europeans must be better equipped, trained and organized to contribute decisively to such collective efforts, as well as to act autonomously if and when necessary.”

Ms. Mogherini’s plan goes limp quickly, saying that because the EU and Russia are interdependent, “We will therefore engage Russia to discuss disagreements and co-operate if and when our interests overlap.”

Ms. Mogherini, according to a Financial Times report, suggests “streamlining our institutional structure” in common security and defense policy which the FT characterizes as “a nod to calls for a joint EU military and planning headquarters.” In short, NATO without the United States and the U.K.

What Ms. Mogherini misses is the fact that if the EU nations — the list of members is almost identical to NATO’s — had the capability to help defend themselves, they’d be able to act autonomously. But, as has been obvious for about 40 years, they don’t.

The EU members of NATO haven’t just reneged on their NATO commitment to burden sharing, they’ve done too much to make their military forces unwieldy and ineffective. For example, last May the German forces had to abandon a NATO training exercise because their troops couldn’t exceed the limits on the overtime hours they could serve. It’s a cliche to point out that the NATO nations haven’t invested in their own defense for decades. That’s why, in 2011, France had to persuade President Obama to help overthrow Libya’s Gadhafi. Without American airpower, the NATO nations couldn’t do it themselves.

The EU/NATO nations can’t even manage intelligence sharing. As the Islamic terrorist attacks on EU civilians have unfolded over the past three years, open source reports have demonstrated that the EU nations — France and Belgium especially, but others as well — don’t share antiterrorist intelligence well enough to support police arrests of fleeing terrorists.

At the same time, across the English Channel, the U.K.’s defense structure is also put at risk as a result of Brexit.

Since the British and Scottish parliaments passed the Act of Union in 1707, Scottish forces (and bases) have been key parts of the U.K.’s strategic and tactical capabilities. The morning before the Light Brigade’s ill-fated charge in 1854, the Scottish 93rd Regiment stood fast against a Russian cavalry charge at Balaclava. The term “the thin red line” was coined to honor their bravery and resolve.

On the night of July 29, 1914, with war fast approaching, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, ordered the British fleet to its war station in Scapa Flow, Scotland. It sailed, unobserved, and was thus positioned for the great sea battles to come.

But the Scots — 62 percent of whom voted to remain in the EU — are threatening to hold their second vote to sever their ties to the U.K.

The British Trident missile submarine force’s home base is the Faslane naval base in Scotland. Because the Scots object to the nuclear forces, they would close Faslane if they could. If they become independent of the U.K. closing Faslane would be accomplished quickly. The British submarine fleet would have to move to a new base in the U.K. which would take years and billions of pounds to build.

Even the U.K.’s forces, diminished as they are, bolster NATO’s fading credibility. The U.K. is building two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers but will have to deploy U.S. Navy aircraft and pilots on them because it lacks the funds to have their own. Budget cuts under David Cameron have been severe. But whether or not the Scots vote themselves out of the U.K. Ms. Mogherini’s idea of a militarily autonomous EU will remain nothing more than a political hallucination.

Ms. Mogherini’s plan couldn’t have been produced in a vacuum. She and her team must have vetted its terms across the German, French and other EU ministries of defense and prime ministers’ offices. That doesn’t mean the EU will adopt it quickly, but it does mean it will be high on the EU leaders’ agenda while they take revenge on the U.K. for Brexit.

Angela Merkel objects to the idea of Britain “cherry picking” the conditions of its future relationship with the EU. We should “cherry pick” the nations willing to invest and seriously plan for their own defenses and replace NATO with alliances of such nations in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific.

• Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of “In the Words of our Enemies.”

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