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Cameron is not scaremongering on security

by Jack Schickler | 09.05.2016

David Cameron has made the security and foreign policy case for Britain’s EU membership, arguing that the EU “has helped reconcile countries which were at each others’ throats for decades”. Britain, he says, has a “fundamental national interest in maintaining common purpose in Europe.”  

In response, Cameron’s critics have accused him of “wild scaremongering”, with the Daily Mail calling it an “extraordinary escalation of Project Fear”. Some paint Cameron as saying Brexit will lead to World War III:  Eurosceptic campaigner Boris Johnson today said, “I don’t think the Prime Minister can seriously believe that leaving the EU would trigger war on the European continent”.

But such claims are a caricature of the Prime Minister’s position. Cameron would have been ill-advised to portray the EU as a guarantor of peace, or even as the main contributor to peace. But he is right to highlight the role that the bloc has played, and still plays, in maintaining stability on the continent, and managing external threats.

Julian Lewis, an MP who chairs the House of Commons Defence Committee, is an example of someone who takes issue with Cameron. Like Johnson, he argues in The Telegraph that it is the military alliance, NATO, that has seen off “potential aggressors” such as Soviet Russia. True, but the EU has made security contributions which, while lesser in scale, are nonetheless useful. The EU trade sanctions that followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea are one example.

Lewis also contends that, as a member of the EU,  “the UK can do nothing to prevent” EU foreign policy blunders, or duplication of NATO’s role. But the opposite is true. As a member, the UK can influence – or block – EU foreign policy measures, trade sanctions, and the creation of an EU army – vetoes which we would lose if we left.

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    Britain’s security depends on more than just its ability to deter external aggression. It also depends on stability and prosperity in Europe, since failed states are potent incubators of threats that spill across borders. Lewis argues it is democracy, not the EU, that has fostered that stability, since “constitutional democracies do not attack one another”. But this fuzzes the issue. European democracy has been strengthened by the EU, which has acted as a powerful incentive for states to embrace democratic values. Greece, Spain and Portugal emerged from dictatorship in the 1970s, becoming EU members in the following decade. Over 100 million EU citizens live in eastern European countries that threw off communism and embraced democracy, encouraged by the rewards of joining the EU’s single market. Of the war-torn countries that formerly constituted Yugoslavia, two are now in the EU, with five more on the path to join. The EU undoubtedly helped these nations to reform – to become an EU member, countries must show they have stable democratic institutions, and, in the case of western Balkan countries, good neighbourly relations.

    It would be wrong to say Brexit would lead to war, or that seven decades of Franco-German peace are solely thanks to the EU. But Cameron has not made those claims. Instead he has correctly argued that the EU is good for British security. It is his critics who are guilty of Project Fiction.

    Edited by Sebastian Mallaby

    4 Responses to “Cameron is not scaremongering on security”

      • And precisely where does it say that in the article? Or have you been reading something else into it.
        The article was countering the myth perpetrated by Bojo that leaving Europe would lead to WW3. Cameron was simply saying that there would be an increased risk if we weren’t working as closely as we have been.

    • Actually I agree with Cameron – Good chance Celtic fringe will be so irritated with this non-rational decision (I.e. Nothing new has caused this) they will leave – Ireland also outside area of control – so any increase in troop movements in these areas will be totally outside English control. England spent centuries neutralising these borders and it’s amazing it’s so blasé about the possibility of this loss of control

    • When is the EU, under article 7 of the Treaty on European Union going to do something about the diminution of political freedom in Hungary? If, as stated above, “European democracy has been strengthened by the EU” then the EU must want to reinvigorate freedom in Hungary.