Major General (Retired) Tim Cross CBE is an Honorary Special Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham
The European economic crisis just gets worse. It is agonising watching this greatest of slow-motion train wrecks take shape in front of us as the key participants duck the fundamental issues and instead turn on each other and turbo-charge the crisis.
History may be repeating itself. Similarities to the 1930s abound. Some key leaders have raced to cover up their own failings by pointing the finger, though after decades of increasing co-operation we might have expected them to avoid the obvious trap. Germany blames feckless southern European nations, yet heaped loans upon them and manipulated the single currency to its own benefit. Sarkozy ignores French structural and bank woes, and fingers the UK financial sector. Cameron may be in a difficult position, but events continue to show that the UK is not the issue, far less responsible for Europe’s mess.
The really big issue is the scale of the mess that Europe, the West and the UK are in together. Only months after rating the US national debt as the single greatest security risk, General Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, speaking about Europe recently said that he is “extraordinarily concerned because of the potential of civil unrest and break-up of the Union”. The UK’s Chief of Defence has weighed in with similar warnings.
Across the West the immediate focus is economics. The root problems, of course, go much deeper and wider. After recent summit’s it would appear that we are now in danger of economic war – almost of survival mode – as friends and allies default to extreme, short-term, protectionist and zero-sum ‘me-first’, not ‘community-first’ positions. Link our economic situation to some of the other root problems to do with our values, political and governance structures, and social cohesion and we should ask ourselves how bad things have to get before we go into temporary national emergency mode encompassing economic and social mobilisation appropriate to the scale of the overall challenge?
The UK may find itself in a situation where the government, people, business, and civil society groups need to work together to cope with system-wide economic disaster. A 21st century – very different – ‘blitz spirit’ crisis. We must be brutally honest about our situation. No-one knows precisely what or when things will happen, but the situation will likely only get worse. Rather than continuing to fudge and duck and wait until the Eurozone implodes and takes us down with it, we should be “bloody, bold and resolute”, as Shakespeare put it – going strategic and getting ahead of events and trends rather than being reactive and doing ‘too little too late’.
Any roadmap or manifesto for a ‘bloody, bold and resolute’ strategic approach to dealing with the immediate economic crisis must at the same time address other core strategic challenges – including international security, climate and environment change, energy security, and social cohesion. Somewhere in Whitehall, some clever people may have begun to think through what until very recently was unthinkable – producing outline principles and steps for emergency response to unprecedented economic disaster. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
Major General (Retired) Tim Cross CBE was commissioned into the British Army in 1971 and has commanded at every level, from leading a small Bomb Disposal Team in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s to commanding a Division of 30,000 in 2004/07.
After various tours in the UK and Germany, he completed a tour with the UN in Cyprus in 1980/81 before attending the Army Staff Course in 1983, returning as a member of the Directing Staff in 1987. After an operational deployment to Kuwait/Iraq in 1990/91, he attended the Higher Command and Staff Course in early 1995 before serving as a Colonel in Bosnia in 1995/96 and 1997. In 1999, as a Brigadier in command of 101 Logistic Brigade, he deployed to Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo and was appointed CBE in the subsequent operational awards for his work in leading the NATO response to the Humanitarian crisis.
Handing over command in 2000 he attended the Royal College of Defence Studies and then, in 2002, became involved in the planning for operations in Iraq; he subsequently deployed to Washington, Kuwait and Baghdad as the Deputy in the US-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, later re-titled the CPA (the Coalition Provisional Authority). He returned to the UK in 2003, took over a key staff appointment before assuming command of one of the three Divisions of the UK Field Army from October 2004. Retiring in January 2007 he was the Army Adviser to the UK House of Commons Defence Committee for 5 years.
A Defence Adviser to a number of UK/International Companies and a Visiting Professor at three UK Universities, Tim is also a Local Lay Minister in the Church of England, Trustee of a number of Christian and secular Charities, and a Director of two International Aid Agencies.