Georgian crisis tests the West

THREE weeks ago, Russia entered Georgia in force, occupying an area the size of Northern Ireland in a newly democratic yet ancient state, a recognised candidate for EU and NATO membership, and a major contributor of troops to allied coalitions.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

THREE weeks ago, Russia entered Georgia in force, occupying an area the size of Northern Ireland in a newly democratic yet ancient state, a recognised candidate for EU and NATO membership, and a major contributor of troops to allied coalitions.

Russia's move has unnerved and wrong-footed Western leaders. It provides some timely reminders for our own government, whose foreign policy record has been abysmal.

Firstly, solidarity among the democracies needs to be strengthened. At the next table at lunch the other day in Brussels, I impolitely overheard the observation that “Europe and the United States have different geo-strategic interests”.


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While there is some element of truth in this - America, for example has a Pacific seaboard - it assumes that there is a distinctly European set of interests, different to those of America. I doubt this.

To my mind, given the shrinking nature of the world and increasing global inter-dependence, it is vital that the liberal democracies act as one when faced with threats whether from ideological tyrants, terrorists or nationalist autocracies. There are many, not just in Moscow but in Brussels and elsewhere, who seek to separate America and Europe.

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Those that promote the EU as a foreign policy actor are quick to invent opportunities for deployment of EU peacekeepers for example, however inappropriate or irrelevant this may be. But if the West is to speak with one voice, then wise counsel must prevail and Washington, London, Berlin and Paris must ensure that they all transmit the same message to those that challenge us and that we utter warnings that are credible.

The only meaningful security forum for this is NATO, an organisation that needs urgent revitalisation. There are other organisations for other roles. Note, by the way, that London was not on Condoleezza Rice's itinerary when she flew to Georgia on August 15.

Secondly, Britain needs to be better prepared to deal with a world of unpredictable threats and challenges. Defence needs fresh emphasis. This will cost money. And our country lacks resilience. We must not get into a situation where we are dependent on other countries for our energy needs. The British Government should therefore accelerate measures to guarantee our energy security. On current trends, in little more than a decade we shall be 80% dependent on increasingly expensive energy imports, hostage to the whim of others, not least Russia.

Our strategic gas storage capacity, for example, is sufficient for about 13 days compared to 90 days in many continental European countries. Britain needs to make provision for greatly increased strategic energy storage; ensure that some North Sea capacity is retained for UK use in the long term; and hasten the construction of new nuclear power plants as well as other sustainable means of power generation. It is time for Britain to wake up again.

PS. President Sarkozy has impudently claimed Olympic victory for the EU! We can all have fun with similar artificial concoctions - the Commonwealths' medal tally of 160 outstripped China's. And what about the English-speaking world . . .

Geoffrey Van Orden is a Conservative Euro MP for the East of England.

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