The vote of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union (“Brexit”) has come as a surprise to many commentators, despite opinion polls indicating for many years that a Brexit vote was likely.
The implications of Brexit for the defence and security of Europe has been given little real consideration. Some commentators have suggested that the United Kingdom would lose power and influence if it left the European Union. The reverse may actually be the case. The power and influence of the United Kingdom could grow commensurate with the reduced power of Europe, particularly if there is a US withdrawal from NATO.
The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (“EU”) will have limited immediate implications for the security and defence of Europe. The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (“CSDP”) is of much less significance to the defence of Europe than is NATO. Denmark, still an EU member, has already opted out of the CSDP.
Nearly 50 years of gradual expansion of EEC and now EU powers is likely to be at an end. The United Kingdom may not be the only member to leave. The impetus is now likely to grow for referenda in other EU member countries. In Italy in particular there is strong support for independence from a European super state.
The official response of the United States to the British referendum result is curious. President Obama claims that the Special Relationship will endure, but the White House has confirmed that Obama stood by his earlier warning that “Britain would move to the back of the queue when it comes to trade deals“. This threat is consistent with previous actions by the United States under President Obama, which indicate that the USA no longer respects the UK as a special ally at all.
If Donald Trump is elected in November as president of the United States, there will be a much greater threat to European security. Trump favours a US withdrawal from NATO. Whilst he may not be able to achieve this, a Trump administration is likely to give even less priority to NATO and the defence of Europe than has the Obama administration.
The future of security in Europe will be interesting: A smaller EU, possibly with reduced powers; a newly independent United Kingdom; an increasing disengagement of the USA from Europe; and if Trump becomes US president, quite possibly a US withdrawal from NATO.
These developments are likely to reduce the ability of mainland Europe to manage the continuing threat of aggression from Russia, Islamic terrorism, and refugee crises. This will make it more important than ever that the UK maintains well-balanced and funded armed forces.