Saturday

23rd Jun 2018

Opinion

Security policy isn't about war, it's about peace

  • Lockheed Martin has taken no part in the SDA's activities nor funding since the middle of 2012 (Photo: afagen)

An old saying among journalists when Fleet Street in London was the centre of the UK's fairly tight-knit community of national newspapers, was that "dog doesn't eat dog."

As a former Financial Times journalist, it sprang to mind when I read the article by blogger David Cronin on EUobserver.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

His piece sparked some thoughts about the nature of think tanks in Brussels and elsewhere, their roles and their vulnerability to criticism.

Think tanks here in Brussels are not as aggressive and partisan as in, say, Washington DC.

That is in large part because most have no political affiliation. It is also because many of them are broadly supportive of European integration, even if they can be sceptical about some of the policies pursued by the EU.

In general, we think-tankers try to be even-handed in our efforts to stimulate debate amongst the policymakers and to attract the interest of public opinion.

Every now and again, there is a hue and cry over whether the Brussels think tanks are lobbyists.

The latest was a couple of years ago when the European Commission introduced a well-intentioned but clumsy initiative to get the think tanks to sign-up to the new lobbyists' register.

The blunder stemmed from the fact that the European Parliament's passes for regular visitors fail to distinguish between the two. Most think tanks refused to sign, and the commissioner responsible, Siim Kallas, wisely changed tack and created a special category for them with a renamed "Transparency Register."

But the damage was done.

Although most think tanks have long been scrupulously transparent about where their funding comes from, the mud stuck that they are so corrupted by capitalist gold that they urge their paymasters' preferred policies on EU decision-makers.

All this came to mind when I read David Cronin's article asserting that my colleague Shada Islam "is, to all intents and purposes, a lobbyist for the arms industry."

Shada is, like me, a former journalist who now is arguably Brussels' most respected expert and commentator on Asian affairs.

She launched the highly successful Asia programme that is an important part of the activities of Friends of Europe, the think tank I head, and is also an adviser to the Security and Defence Agenda, its sister think tank known widely as the SDA.

Labelling a fellow journalist as a lobbyist is tantamount to libel, because one's reputation for independence and honesty is precious.

Mr Cronin's blogpost, with its headline "Serving America's war machine," made the serious allegation that in a TV interview on EuroNews, Shada Islam had advocated an attack against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria because that would benefit one of the SDA's funders, Lockheed Martin.

It was not so much the libel that set me thinking - Lockheed Martin has taken no part in the SDA's activities nor funding since the middle of 2012 - but the realisation that in a small community like Brussels there is a special credibility that attaches to one journalist's attack on another.

Readers are likely to think that there can be few secrets in the intimate world of EU specialists.

It is perhaps worth saying a few words about the SDA.

I set it up in 2002 to ensure that the growing focus in Europe on defence and security should not be obscured by the many other topics discussed in Brussels.

The aim was to provide Nato and the EU with a no man's land where they could meet, and also to help move defence up the European agenda.

Mr Cronin writes about the "merchants of death," but I think many people believe that Europe's enfeebled military outreach is a drawback.

Funding the SDA is not easy, and the sensitivities over its financial support are such that complete openness has always been the only answer.

The SDA lists all the companies it receives money from, as well as national governments and organisations like Nato or the EU. Our independence is fiercely guarded.

The contribution of the SDA and other think tanks in Brussels has, I hope, been very positive.

In an environment where the EU institutions inevitably dominate discussion, the questioning voices of the think tanks should be welcome.

So too should be the platforms they offer to people with different, and often opposing, views.

It is the latter point that makes me wince if I hear the lobbyist charge, because we all go out of our way to create interesting debates in which people with expert knowledge feel free to disagree.

If that is lobbying, it must be very confusing for anyone who is being lobbied.

I would not want to join the dog-eating fraternity myself, but I would like to make a couple of points for David Cronin to think about, and perhaps to reconsider the personal fatwah he issued against the SDA several years ago and refuses to recant despite the hard facts he has been supplied with.

Security policy is not about war, it is about peace.

We also work with organisations like the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Transparency International, the UN and the British Council, and we welcome speakers like Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights activist and Nobel peace prize laureate.

The SDA itself does not take a position on the issues it highlights; it offers itself as a platform for all opinions.

Interestingly enough, though, the issue of intervention in Syria that prompted Cronin's outburst was addressed earlier this summer by the SDA's two co-presidents, former EU high representative for foreign affairs Javier Solana, and former Nato secretary general Jaap De Hoop Scheffer.

Far from urging on the merchants of death, they wrote an article in the New York Times condemning the idea of military involvement.

It is promoting a whole range of ideas that we think tanks are rightly proud of.

Giles Merritt is the director of the SDA, a think tank in Brussels and the secretary-general of another think tank in the EU capital, the Friends of Europe.

Investigation

Security industry is shaping EU legislation

EOS, a trade body of some of Europe's main arms dealers, wants to buy and sell EU maritime surveillance data, in its latest push to shape EU policy.

Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China

There is not a single European company among the world's top 10 computer hardware companies. Within the EU, Germany and Sweden rank among world leaders, but Bulgaria and Slovakia among the worst-performing developed nations.

The risks behind the 'green bond' boom

The EU should not overuse the financial system in order to achieve environmental goals, or it risks the emergence of a green bond bubble which would be detrimental to the financial sector and hinder the achievement of climate targets.

EU needs comprehensive 'sexuality education'

The subject is mandatory by law in some form in nearly all EU countries - but it is mostly reproduction- and biology-centred, covering topics such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

Fate of EU refugee deal hangs in the balance

Europe's choice is between unplanned, reactive, fragmented, ineffective migration policy and planned, regulated, documented movements of people, writes International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband.

The Baltic 'Big Sea' strategy

The Baltic Sea is almost an inland European lake - it borders Norway, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Kaliningrad and Russia. It also has an EU strategy - and an action plan.

EU needs comprehensive 'sexuality education'

The subject is mandatory by law in some form in nearly all EU countries - but it is mostly reproduction- and biology-centred, covering topics such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

Long-distance animal transport: unthinkable still happening

A complete overhaul of animal products' supply chains is needed, privileging local food chains including local slaughtering which is proven to benefit the environment, the resilience of our economy, food safety and animal welfare.

News in Brief

  1. Venice Commission: Hungary should repeal NGO law
  2. Trump threatens to slap 20 percent tariff on EU cars
  3. EU closes deficit procedure against France
  4. Romania's ruling party leader gets jail sentence
  5. EU states defer individual decisions on asylum reforms
  6. Commission opens case on Qatar gas flow
  7. EU adopts posted workers directive
  8. EU leaders to call for 'coordinated plan' on AI

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Latest News

  1. Migration row at centre of EU summit This Week
  2. Merkel's woes cast shadow on EU's future
  3. Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China
  4. Merkel and Juncker's mini-summit risks fiasco
  5. Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'
  6. How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1trn pension fund
  7. Commission defends Africa migrant plan ahead of summit
  8. Bavaria hijacks EU migration talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  2. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  5. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  6. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  7. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  10. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  12. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us