On 1 July this year I will have the honour of attending the Thiepval Service of Remembrance to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme. Between July and November 1916 over one million men from both sides were killed or wounded in gruesome circumstances. by Allan Burnett
Entire nations were sent into mourning. I know that one of the thoughts in my mind when I reflect on the heroism and waste of that and other conflicts will be how different relations in Europe are now, and how precious. I cannot support withdrawal from one of the main pillars of our shared peace and stability, the European Union.
Warts and all, Europe has moved from armed conflict to become allies on a range of national security issues.
Any time the UK has turned its back on Europe it has come to regret it. The EU has developed its common foreign and security policy with polls showing most voters support such cooperation. Examples include a common response to Iran's nuclear ambitions, and shared sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine.
Colonel Angus Loudon who served in the British Army for 34 years in various hot-spots including deployments with the UN, EU, and NATO is clear it is important for our defences and security that we vote to remain in the EU on 23 June. He says 'The challenges and threats we face as a country we share with our neighbours in Europe, and only by tackling them together can we be successful.' He highlights that being part of Europe expands the capacity of our Armed Forces bringing in troops along side them. Colonel Loudon also admires the specialist capabilities others contribute, and the boost to morale he has witnessed soldiers get operating alongside troops from other nations. Learning from each other contributes to greater cohesion and effectiveness.
Brexit campaigners have sought to suggest conflict between EU membership and NATO. However, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's Secretary General, believes being a strong member of the EU makes us stronger still in NATO. He said recently
'A strong UK in Europe is good for our security, it is good for NATO and I welcome that.
A more fragmented Europe is bad for our security and is bad for NATO.' President Obama and Hillary Clinton are both on the record leading and promoting that view. It's not one set of allies or the other, we can continue to enjoy the best of both.
Beyond military aspects, many of the national security threats as identified in the UK's current National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA) are currently mitigated in part by policies being taken forward by the UK in alliance with the EU. This includes environmental-related threats and issues of resource insecurity, such as energy supply.
Europol (the EU policing agency) and Eurojust (the justice equivalent of Europol) are vital in combating serious and organised crime.
Key to this is information sharing between EU States to combat crime, including sex offenders, drug gangs, people traffickers, and terrorists. Through the Shengen Information System we share a database of some 40,000 wanted criminals and missing persons across Europe. The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) introduced in 2004 has speeded up extradition proceedings in the EU from an average of one year to 48 days reducing delay, cost, and the suffering to victims and their families. Our own Police Scotland and Crown Office are engaged fully.
Post the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks I have witnessed the easy sharing of information between EU members to refine both preparation and responses across Europe. If the Egyptair incident turns out to be a terrorist incident we will quickly get any learning from Charles de Gaulle (Paris) airport. I have no doubt that the UK should be proud of its security services and police counter-terrorism expertise, but regard Brexit criticism of our neighbours' resilience as ill-judged and insulting based on some notion of British superiority.
We need our allies as much as they need us including their hard earned recent experience to fine tune our own counter-terrorism arrangements.
Why would we make formal and informal co-operation any more difficult by resigning our seat in the room?
Europhobes like Nigel Farage sought to immediately blame the Brussels atrocity on 'the free movement of terrorists, of criminal gangs, and of Kalashnikovs.' The fact that the UK does not belong to the visa-free Schengen area and the fact that EU nationals are not the primary or even significant source of terrorism in the UK is simply inconvenient to him and others like him. Most of the terrorist incidents and conspiracies of recent times have been home grown. The 7/7 and 21/7 bombers were British citizens. The murderers of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013 were converts raised in London. The former Empire and its hinterland feature more than Europe. The terrorists who attacked Glasgow Airport in 2007 were Bilal Abdulla, born in Britain and raised in Iraq, and Indian Kafeel Ahmed.
A primary role of any State is to keep its people safe.
I believe that by being in the EU, Scotland and the UK enhance the protection afforded to all of its own citizens and contribute to peace and stability beyond our borders.
Lest we forget.
Allan Burnett was formerly the counter-terrorism co-ordinator with the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland) and a Director of Intelligence for Strathclyde Police.