The EU should buy the Mistral

The supply of the Mistral helicopter-carrying, power projection warship by France to Russia, if it goes ahead as scheduled this autumn, will be the most spectacular and surrealist own goal that anyone in Europe’s strategic security establishment could have imagined in their nightmares at this time. The warship is a dream instrument for Russia’s capabilities to use force or threaten it in our neighbourhood, starting in the Black Sea and going on into the Mediterranean. A Russian general remarked recently that is they had had it in 2008 the war against Georgia could have been far more quickly and effectively won. To cap it all the vessel is to be blessed with the name ‘Sevastapol’, and will presumably be based in Crimea.

On the other hand this formidable warship, renamed ‘Europa’, could be mightily useful for Europe’s protection of its own interests. It could have served with distinction in the Libyan crisis of 2011, and have sorted out the Somalian pirates, also supporting the helicopter landings of EU military on the Somalian coast as in 2012. What operations may become necessary in due course in the East Mediterranean or further down the coasts of Africa, or indeed elsewhere world-wide? And we should not forget that the EU has two Black Sea member states: better have the Mistrral on our Black Sea coast.

Apparently France would be liable for around a billion euro of compensation if it breached the contract with Russia. For this reason France secured the agreement of EU foreign ministers to exclude current contracts from the scope of the newly enhanced sanctions against Russia.

The EU should buy it, killing two birds with one stone. First it would be an act of financial solidarity with France, and so enable its sanctions policy to be much more powerful. Secondly it would mean an immediate step up in the EU’s military capabilities. This purchase of a specialist piece of military hardware would be somewhat analogous to NATO’s ownership and operation of the AWAC airborne intelligence aircraft. It would work alongside and be integrated with the operations of EU national navies.

The logic for this proposition is crystal clear. When might our leaders do what they are obviously capable of – technically and financially - to protect Europe’s security more effectively. When might they have the lucidity to see that some striking initiatives such as this one might also lift European public opinion out of its present morosity, and combat the rise of populist nationalism, actually killing then a third bird too with the one stone.