What makes Britain safe?

The referendum campaign means that bizarre arguments are flying thick and fast. I’ve already outlined some of the principal arguments, and as others join them I’m likely to wander off down little alleyways that are well outside my expertise. Here, then, is the first in what will probably be a long series of uninformed digressions. As ever, if people see the hole in the argument, tell me; I’m happy to be better informed.

The first of these digressions concerns defence. We are being told, on one hand, that peace in Europe is based on the European Union; on the other, that this peace depends on Nato. It is always difficult to explain why something doesn’t happen, but in this case we can say that some things have happened instead. Greece and Turkey were both members of NATO in 1952; they were still involved in armed confict in 1974 and came close to further conflict as recently as 1996. Britain’s membership of NATO has embroiled it in several conflicts, including Afghanistan and Libya (not, I should note, Iraq, which wasn’t down to NATO). The effect of nested alliances puts most of Europe in a position perilously similar to 1914: if the Syrian conflict had spilled over the border into Turkey, most of the world would now be at war. NATO – understood not as the organisation itself, but the current terms of the military alliance – has come to look like a major threat to world peace. I have already expressed some scepticism about the view that the EU is what stops us going to war with France or Germany, but the counter-argument that we should leave the EU because NATO has all we need to defend us looks gossamer thin.

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