EU Referendum #12 | Brussels Tour | Interview: Mark Laity (NATO’s SHAPE): “War Will Always Come To You!”

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This series is being run by a young Brit who lived in Belgium for 19 years and now resides in Cardiff, known on theSprout as Ironfoot. The aim? To inform and involve other young people in this once-in-a-generation debate from many important and interesting perspectives. See bottom to get involved!

The EU referendum is just around the corner and will decide the future fate for Britain on its European Union Membership, with team Brexit (British Exit) wanting to leave the EU and team Bremain (Pro–EU) wishing to stay. With less than a week to go, there are still a lot of questions to be answered, especially around security.

This article is the 10th interview of his trip to Brussels, meeting SHAPE’s Chief of Strategic Communications, Mark Laity, getting his personal/professional views on whether SHAPE will be affected by the EU Referendum.


Mark Laity’s career journey is something you can call extraordinary. He started off as a local journalist with the Western Mail and BBC Wales in Cardiff around the 1980’s. He recalled that:

“Cardiff has transformed a lot over the years. Back then, it was dark, dirty and dangerous, from what I remember of it. Today, it is astonishing how much it has really changed”.

He then went on to work as a BBC defence correspondent in the 1990’s, reporting live during the first Gulf War, the Bosnia War and Kosovo War. Then, he spent a good part of his career with NATO, working as a special advisor, notably in Macedonia during 2001, when the country was on the brink of civil war. But, it doesn’t stop there: he operated as a civilian spokesperson with NATO and went on tours to Afghanistan (2001-2014). Now, he currently works for SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) in Mons Belgium.

EU Referendum Interview

I asked Mark if a British withdrawal from the European Union would affect how SHAPE operates? He replies, “For SHAPE, not necessarily, but in Britain’s position it will stand isolated if they decide to leave the EU. Britain works better in collaboration”. Despite the fact that SHAPE and the EU are separate organisations, with different memberships and functions, there has been a long debate about how the two could collaborate more effectively together, similar to NATO. But, the troubling question is what are the main remaining challenges to improving that collaboration and would overcoming those challenges be easier or harder if the UK were to vote to leave the EU? In response to this, Mark Laity explains:

“They are both very different organisations in many ways. SHAPE is more the military branch and the EU is political. Britain has been at the heart of Europe since 1945, played a big part in the creation of SHAPE and partly the EU until it joined in 1973. Talking of the 70+ years, Britain has achieved a lot politically, militarily and economically for that matter through the EU, NATO and SHAPE. If it votes leaves on 23rd June, they would put themselves in a very complex position.”

[Related: EU Referendum #6 | Brussels Tour | Interview: NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General For Emerging Security Challenges, Dr Jamie Shea]

Now looking at the target audience who are the young people and voters who were born post-Cold War of 1989, so why exactly is there a relevance of SHAPE for us in terms of having a broader transatlantic security and defence community? Mark Laity argues the point that having SHAPE, NATO and the EU has achieved a collective peace that Europe hadn’t experienced before 1945 in a very long time. He states:

“My father fought a war not so long ago. In my long career as a defence correspondent, I have personally seen war, I’ve seen the devastation, the destruction, the violence it causes to people. The saying is “no matter how far away or safe you are from war, war will always find you”.”

The Special Relationship between the UK and the USA

Question: There is even more debate now than usual about the so-called Special Relationship: in your view, is the Special Relationship just between the US and the UK, as it was in the 1940’s, or is it now between the US and the whole of Europe, including the EU? Also, if the latter, how would the Special Relationship be affected, in your view, by a British vote to leave the EU?

“The dynamic in a way has changed, but that is expected when you are in a political/military alliance for many years. It is in the USA’s interests that the UK should work closely with Europe as it is in Europe. The UK can’t survive alone, not even the USA. That is why there is a NATO, a SHAPE and an European Union, because working together protects each other’s safety and interests. The USA wants a “United Europe”, a Europe more functional as it currently covers 70% of the military budget, more than all the members put together. In terms of the Special Relationship question, they both need to look after each other”.

Question: Would you encourage the young voters in Cardiff and throughout the UK to vote in this referendum and what would be your message to them on that subject?

“Absolutely, and I can’t repeat myself any further. If you care about your future, your country and your family, go and vote. I strongly encourage this. Having a democracy is a wonderful thing and you should use it to its full potential. Do the right thing.”

Related Film & All Series Articles:

Exclusive Film: The UK’s Relationship With The EU

EU Referendum #1 | Interview: What Will Happen To The Science & Research Sectors Without The EU Grants?

EU Referendum #2 | Interview: What Will Happen To The EU Students If Brexit Wins?

EU Referendum #3 | Interview: Brexit Would Be Good For International Students

EU Referendum #4 | Interview: Why British Expats In Europe Should Be Given The Vote

EU Referendum #5 | Interview: How Will The Arts & Disabilities In Cardiff Be Impacted?

EU Referendum #6 | Brussels Tour | Interview: NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General For Emerging Security Challenges, Dr Jamie Shea

EU Referendum #7 | Brussels Tour | Interview: Chief Executive, The British Chamber Of Commerce In Belgium, Glenn Vaughan

EU Referendum #8 | Brussels Tour | Interview: ‘The EU: Political, Institutional and Constitutional Reform’, Prof. Martin Westlake

EU Referendum #9 | Interview: How Will The Erasmus Programme Be Impacted By The EU Referendum?

EU Referendum #10 | Brussels Tour | Interview: Chairman, The Welsh Society In Brussels, Rhodri Thomas

EU Referendum #11 | Brussels Tour | Interview: NATO Editor, Paul King: “In My Opinion, Brexit Damaging For The UK”

EU Referendum #12 | Brussels Tour | Interview: Mark Laity (NATO’s SHAPE): “War Will Always Come To You!”

EU Referendum #13 | Brussels Tour | “EU Funding Has Transformed Wales” – Welsh Expat & Ex-Civil Servant In Agriculture & Economy, Andrew Aggett

EU Referendum #14: Interview: Derek Vaughan, Labour MEP

EU Referendum #15 | Brussels Tour | Potential Brexit Impacts On NATO – Interview With Ian Stallion, NATO’s Nuclear Deterrent Department

In a muddle about voting? Check out our BRAND NEW Voting page in our Info section here. Includes handy tips on what to do if you’re too young to vote.

Get Involved:

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*Want to become a reviewer? Join the Sprout Editorial Group on Facebook or email tom@thesprout.co.uk.

The next Sprout Editorial Group meeting is Thursday 30th June 2016 in Cardiff Central Library

Cover Picture Credit to SHAPE’s Facebook


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