Mr. Wilson's Coral Island
MR. WILSON'S defence proposals have been much commended here for their newness. On the European continent they are suspect be- cause they seem riddled with British traditional- ism. Mr. Wilson's proposals are, in fact, born of two factors: the need to pay some sort of respect to the election pledge to abolish the British inde- pendent nuclear deterrent and to succumb in some way to the American and West German pressures for a mixed-manned force. He seems at the moment to be giving away the one and ready to accept the other. Some have called this tough bargaining and clearly it's tough on Mr. Wilson, for it seems a strange way of bargaining to give away something you don't want and accept in return something you don't want either —like taking troops out of Germany in return for a stake in the war in Vietnam.
The chief case for MLF was always that it might be a way of strengthening the political unity of the Western Alliance. A mixed-manned surface Polaris fleet was known from the start to be expensive and militarily unnecessary, but if it could satisfy the partners of the alliance it was a price worth paying. MLF became a wrong objective when it emerged that far from uniting the alliance, it risked tearing it in half. Yet Mr. Wilson's Atlantic Nuclear Force is MLF writ large. The problems of NATO are the problems of success,' British ministers intoned at last week's NATO meeting in Paris: 'militarily the alliance needs no strengthening. Militarily, in fact, the ANF would be a formidable force. There is no sign whatever that it has found any of the support amongst the alliance that was missing from MLF, and, indeed, because of its greater potential strength, it may even have aroused more opposition. The British govern- ment has apparently not yet decided whether it would be simply another command responsible to the NATO Council, or a quite separate or- ganisation. The signs are, however, that it would have to be separate, since the majority of NATO officials are opposed to it and an additional com- mand not backed by at least half the NATO partners would make a nonsense of a unified
alliance. say the ANF devotees, 'Mr. Wilson is looking ahead to a time when NATO as we know it no longer exists. Mr. Wilson is talking about NATO in the Seventies.' Farsighted this may be, but it shows a remarkable unawareness of what is going on under his nose.
Mr. Wilson seems unperturbed by French, and Belgian, and Scandinavian, opposition. Yet a NATO without France, where the majority of its ground forces are stationed, would mean that these forces would have to be moved somewhere else—i.e., West Germany—or largely dispensed with altogether, which would mean destroying an insurance policy and relying on immediate nuclear retaliation. Nor could any move which led to France's isolation conceivably encourage her to abandon her independent deterrent.
The fact is that the French deterrent at present is little more than an unfortunate blot on the hori- zon. Even if it is accomplished, it will have little credibility, for it is based on the false doctrine which M. Messmer repeated at NATO last week of massive retaliation. It promises an immediate nuclear response to, say, a minor enemy probe across the Elbe. It offers, in fact, to surrender the whole of France in return for demolition of a comparatively minor area of the Soviet Union. All this is for the future: yet sooner or later the General must go and the French come round, if not by immediate choice. because no one but the General could push such policies through. Plainly this is the waiting time, the time to keep the alliance ticking over and little more while seeking peace-making initiatives elsewhere.
The waiting game may turn out to be, of course, what Mr. Wilson has been playing—if ANF comes to nothing. But he will not have played it deliberately and the damage of his escapades may be severe. On Mr Wilson's open- ing speech in the defence debate last week, Le Monde commented that it was a remarkable teat for a British Prime Minister to speak for seventy minutes on foreign allairs without mentioning Europe. Le Monde was wrong by the letter, but right in spirit. The British Labour Party remains as suspicious of Europe as it ever was. In seeking to woo Germany away from France. its defence proposals are openly contemptuous of the pro- gress of the European Economic Community. The agreement on cereals prices in Brussels last week was the third year-end crisis which the Com- munity has solved against all prophecies of a break-up. Both the Labour Party and the British press continue to treat this as of only minor significance.
Yet France will not be divorced from Ger- many, nor will the other four partners do any- thing to weaken a community from which they gain so much. Eventually they must seek their own system of defence, perhaps with the same sort of understanding with the United States as was once known by Britain. In this Britain still has the means to play the decisive part. Mr. Wil- son ignores it at the country's peril. He is under the delusion that the eyes of NATO are on his defence proposals; they are far more closely on the British economy. The defence proposals are illuminating only in so far as they show his dis- regard for the facts of life. Even if they won partial acceptance, the British economy would not be one jot better off, for without Europe Britain has nowhere to turn. Certainly not to America, who may trade freely in nuclear secrets when American contracts invariably follow, but who has never hesitated to cut Britain out of any available market. Certainly not to India, whose non-alignment Mr. Wilson seems prepared to write off in return for a guarantee of British nuclear protection when American protection already exists in plenty. Mr. Wilson protests against being 'corralled in Europe,' which is cer- tainly not how we think of France or Germany. It would seem preferable to being corralled in Britain.