The second most senior signature on that letter was that of Lord Guthrie, the last Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) to have run our armed forces in a period of military success (the Balkan conflicts at the end of the last century and the rescue of Sierra Leone), and the last general to have been made a Field Marshal. But now, nearly four months later, I have been invited to talk to Lord Guthrie in his central London flat, because he has changed his mind.
The Telegraph reports:
In February, this newspaper ran a letter from several of Britain’s most senior retired military leaders, in favour of a Remain vote in the coming referendum. ‘Will Britain be safer inside the EU or outside it?’ the letter asked, ‘When we look at the world today, there seems to us only one answer.’
What has changed his mind? It is his anxiety about a growing EU role in defence, leading to a European Army. ‘I think a European Army could damage NATO. It is expensive. It’s unnecessary duplication to have it. It would appeal to some euro vanity thing.’
Besides, there are serious differences between EU member states. In the Balkans in the 1990s, for example, German attitudes to Croatia created a sort of paralysis which, Lord Guthrie believes, led to the unnecessary loss of thousands of lives. ‘To get 28 people sitting round a table being decisive is very, very difficult. If you have a European Army, you will find that lots of those taking part will see it as a way of getting a seat at the top table as cheaply as they possibly can. Then they can actually do less, and the equipment programmes and the size of the forces suffer. When it comes to leading, you want a very clear chain of command, capable of making quick decisions.’It is so much better to make defence arrangements with countries, whether European or not, which are ready to act. Nations like Australia ‘which has a jolly good army and one which is prepared to do things’ and New Zealand, are much more useful to deal with than a European army.