28 Jan 2013

Reaction to Mr Cameron from an ally

President Obama mentioned “Europe” precisely never in his inaugural speech last week. Should we read anything into it?

I was in Italy at the weekend attending an Italian security and economic briefing. According to one of Italy’s most senior security strategists, Italy’s view was that Europe had to start seriously thinking about its  own security integration in the face of American withdrawal.

The United States is not only cutting its forces, it is also reorienting its entire posture toward its very present economic and strategic interests centred on the Pacific.

Italy has a fine tradition of peacekeeping, currently with 7,000 troops in the field, many of them in Lebanon. The country is strategically close to north Africa – Libya, in particular. The Italians view the building tension in north and west Africa – from northern Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, to Algeria – with alarm.

With all the key EU states cutting their military budgets, our Italian strategist argued Europe needed to be pooling resources to make good the American withdrawal. For example, the French could not have got their heavy equipment into Mali without a massive heavy-lift programme undertaken by the Americans.

Given the projection that literally hundreds of thousands of people are likely to be rendered homeless by the coming wars, there is a real danger that they will try to flood into Europe in huge numbers.

Our man argued that this was the moment that these pooled resources would be needed to safeguard borders and prevent mass uncharted immigration. It’s not an exercise the Americans would have much interest in undertaking.

The age of freelance American wars into whose slipstream Europe is often very reluctantly drawn would appear to be drawing to an end. But threats around Europe, from the eerie dictatorship in Belarus to instability in our neighbouring continent of Africa, urge some degree of re-thinking.

That raises questions about Nato,  organisation which our informant had worked for at a high level. He described it as a bloated Brussels bureaucracy whose true role, in the aftermath of the  war in Afghanistan and the of the messy Libyan, is bound to be in question.

Virtually every Italian speaker expressed criticism of last week’s Europe speech from David Cameron. Comments ranged from “delusion” to “despair”. Italy sees the UK as a natural ally when in comes to relations between the “big four” in the EU – Germany, France, the UK and Italy herself. Rome finds comfort in Britain’s membership.

One phrase summed up how the Italians present felt about the speech: “bad for Britain, bad for Europe”. I should mention too that a CEO or two were there from very large  multinationals. They added: “bad for business”.

I noticed several diplomats present at the conference. Perhaps word of its content may reach Whitehall ears.

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