Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.
There are many reasons to be relieved that Marine Le Pen didn’t win yesterday — and one of them is her policy on NATO. She wanted to pull France out of NATO’s integrated military command. Vladimir Putin must be disappointed she won’t be getting her way. However, Emmanuel Macron isn’t to be wholly trusted either. Back in 2019, he airily declared that NATO was experiencing “brain death”. Maria Zakharova, the now familiar Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, agreed with him.
But both he and she were wrong. Far from being moribund, NATO has proven itself to be the indispensable international body. While the EU flounders and the UN does zip all, NATO is our best guarantee against Russian aggression.
There are those who blame the alliance for provoking the Kremlin. But if the Russians were really so opposed to NATO expansion, then they should have made a point of not attacking their non-NATO neighbours. Clearly, they decided not to go for that.
After the horrors of Bucha, the people of every NATO country should be grateful for the protection that this security umbrella provides. Yet we cannot rest easy. The last two years have shown us that the West is far from safe. Our borders may be well-defended, but the global supply chains on which we depend are acutely vulnerable.
Most obviously, there’s the urgent issue of Europe’s energy supplies. While a dribble of support makes its way to Kyiv, EU cash continues to flow into the Kremlin’s coffers — blood money for Russian coal, oil and gas.
And it’s not just the energy question. Consider the Huawei controversy. Why on Earth did western countries like the UK and Germany even consider using Chinese 5G technology? We’re not talking about consumer trinkets here, but the very backbone of our communication networks.
Even if we manage to exclude non-western companies from our most sensitive infrastructure projects, we still face the fact that we’ve exported our manufacturing base to the Far East without thinking through the consequences. With lockdown policies currently disrupting Chinese container ports, we’re learning the hard way that the cornucopia of cheap exports can’t be taken for granted. The result is the worst inflation that we’ve experienced for decades. There’s very little that Western governments can do about it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for free trade – but not at the cost of surrendering the commanding heights of our economy to potentially hostile foreign powers. Imagine if we were to wake up to find that we had no means to stop Putin’s tanks from rolling into Poland, Germany, and beyond. We’d demand to know why NATO had left us militarily defenceless, and there’d be calls to disband the organisation for failing in its basic responsibilities. Who, then, do we blame for leaving the West economically defenceless?
Obviously, the buck stops with our elected politicians. But they’re not the only ones that need to be held accountable. A North Korean-style policy of complete national self-reliance is neither feasible nor desirable. As with NATO in respect to defence, the economic security of the free world depends on close co-operation between democracies.
International bodies like the IMF and OECD need to be asked if they could have done more to anticipate and prepare for the current crisis. Of course, there’s a limit to what most of them can do given their narrow remits and restricted powers. However, one organisation definitely could and should have done more: the European Union. What’s the point of a supra-national entity if it can’t co-ordinate a basic level of economic security?
What was the EU’s single biggest strategic priority over the last 25 years? Was it (a) to clean-up and diversify the continent’s energy supplies or (b) to pursue a horrendously complicated, but wholly unnecessary, experiment with monetary union? Amazingly, the Euro-establishment that chose option (b) is still in power and taken seriously. Indeed, the extent of failure still isn’t fully appreciated. While the Germans have taken flak for the Nord Stream pipelines’ era-defining stupidity, other examples are largely unknown.
Take the story of the gas pipeline that should have been built, but wasn’t. This is the Midi-Catalonia (‘MidCat’) pipeline — a proposed connection between the French and Spanish natural gas networks via the Pyrenees. The strategic significance is that Spain links to supplies from North Africa — and also to shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG) from North America. (The Spanish and Portuguese, unlike the Germans, had the foresight to build several LNG import terminals.)
The MidCat pipeline would have allowed these alternative sources of gas to flow from the Iberian peninsula into France and the rest of Europe, reducing reliance on Russian gas. The European Commission favoured the scheme, but was powerless to stop the French from blocking due to the economic benefits largely accruing to the Spanish.
Belatedly, the French authorities have realised that there’s more than mere commercial interest at stake and changed their minds. But had it not been for their myopic selfishness, work could have started years ago – and Macron had the effrontery to call NATO “brain dead”.
Europe needs to start thinking strategically again. One way might be for the EU to adopt a full-fledged Common Energy Policy. However, the miserable experience of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), suggests that a CEP would also involve bureaucratic inertia and horse-trading politics. Big decisions would take years – if they were made at all.
Moreover, the European Union is too small a forum. Europe’s energy security cannot be secured without the full involvement of non-EU members like Britain, Norway, and (obviously) Ukraine. Indeed, non-European countries need to be involved too, especially America.
To achieve the strategic cooperation required to safeguard our gas supplies, we need an inclusive but action-orientated alliance that is unencumbered by extraneous distractions like trying to build a superstate. The model is therefore NATO, not the EU. But who would take the initiative to build a new institution? Boris Johnson is barely clinging on to power and Joe Biden is barely with us. The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, doesn’t have the credibility — and Emmanuel Macron is devoted to the wrong kind of internationalism.
Perhaps a new British Prime Minister will be needed for action. There’s no time to waste.