Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

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.

... or 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.

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

EU must get real on Russia

The EU must call the Ukraine conflict by its true name - Russia's illegal war on its peaceful neighbour - and take commensurate action to protect peace in Europe.

Greta is right: We need courage to change

Hundreds of thousands of people are joining Greta Thunberg on Friday for a Global Strike for Future. We can only support the appeal of these young people, who resolutely aim to forge a sustainable Europe, a sustainable planet.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: I will fight to the 'last hour' for orderly Brexit
  2. EU affairs ministers demand Brexit clarity from London
  3. Nordic MEP candidates in first ever joint EU election debate
  4. UK announces EEA trade deal ahead of EU summit
  5. Four European cities among world's most expensive
  6. Violent 'yellow vest' protesters ban in Paris
  7. Russia celebrates fifth anniversary of Crimea annexation
  8. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. Have a good reason for Brexit extension, Barnier tells UK
  2. EU countries push for new rule of law surveillance
  3. EU rolls out €525m for military projects, but bars illegal tech
  4. May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'
  5. Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides
  6. My plan for defending rule of law in EU
  7. Anti-corruption lawyer wins first round of Slovak elections
  8. The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  7. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  8. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  10. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  11. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us