19.02.09 22:26

A message for Europe from under the sea

It must be embarrassing for the French and British military establishments as their nuclear submarines, Le Triomphant and HMS Vanguard, limp home after a collision somewhere in the north Atlantic.

Each submarine carries 16 ballistic missiles with powerful warheads capable of massive destruction, ready to strike in retaliation for any attack on its home country, and is supposed to lurk solitary and unnoticed in the depths of the ocean, avoiding detection and silently awaiting the dreadful day that it might be called into action.  Their latest missions were being executed carefully and perfectly, right up until the moment that they collided.

These submarine patrols are a relic of the Cold War.  One trusts that their missiles are no longer pointed at Warsaw and Prague; Moscow and St Petersburg we can be less confident about.  These days they are supposed to play a role in the fight against terrorism, but it is hard to see how their missiles could be fired at a terrorist cell based in a Hamburg apartment building.

But those are arguments for another time.  The question today is how two submarines, each of which is intended to hide deep under the ocean far away from the watching eyes and ears of a possible enemy, managed to end up bumping into each other.  The Atlantic Ocean is some 3,000 km wide and up to 8,000 metres deep: that’s a lot of water.

The reason they ended up in the same spot is that they are doing exactly the same job  The British and French voters (and taxpayers) are told that they each need such powerful (and expensive) machinery because they each need to be able to respond to dangerous and unpredictable threats.  The collision under the sea reveals that they are trying to respond to those threats in the same way: in fact, they are the same threats.  We have twice as many submarines as we need, and they get in each other’s way.

Problems of the economy are dealt with in the same way as problems of security.  Each country in Europe seeks to stimulate its economy in a way that minimises the benefits that might accrue to its neighbours.  As a result, Europe’s response to the economic crisis is disjointed and confused.  The different policies collide with and damage each other.

Those submarines have the wrong names.  There is nothing triomphant about wasting money; the vanguard is not composed of countries looking for national solutions to shared problems.

If we are to deal effectively with the current recession, and to prevent it from turning into a depression, we need to look at it from the point of view of Europe (or even the world) as a whole, and not as a series of unconnected national difficulties.  Economic interdependence is too far developed for any other approach to work, yet Europe’s finance ministers are slow to learn the lesson.  Their uncoordinated efforts are putting the single market at risk.  They may not mean to, but they are.  Only a joint strategy for economic recovery can succeed.

And maybe, like the submarines, they are targeting the wrong sort of threats, too.

Richard Laming is secretary of the European Movement – UK.  He may be contacted at richard.laming(at)euromove.org.uk

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