Brexit or Bremain: UK Too Strong to Be Loyal to EU, Too Weak to Go It Alone

"The fact is that there is an old system which is changing and shrinking, namely the Euro-Atlantic system, and a new system being built, namely Eurasia led by Russia and China"

Wed, Jun 22, 2016
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The author is an Italian industrialist and honorary member of the Academy of Science of the Institut de France.


In a recent document of the European Authority for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, released earlier this June, stock is taken of the shortcomings in the EU foreign policy and intelligence system.

Meanwhile, according to the document, the European Union should continue to support the political and economic reforms in the Western Balkans.

It seems that the current "reforms" are all targeted to the reduction of wages and welfare, by following the impossible example of the Asian economies which, also in this case, work with very different logics compared to ours.

Let us revert, however, to the EU document: it argues that the Member States should continue to be production replacement areas of EU industries, with decreased labor costs and entrepreneurs’ greater fiscal and organizational autonomy.

It is not clear how those States can be sustained in the absence of tax revenue capable of justifying public spending.

Another aspect of the EU document is the strengthening of the Atlantic axis with the US. Nevertheless, it is precisely America which is disengaging from Europe, except for the region on the border with the Russian Federation, where the US Armed Forces (and not only the NATO ones) are converging, with an ad hoc military structure and a new network of sensors and missile sites, both fixed and mobile ones, between Poland and Romania up to the Turkish border.

As is the case with its scarcely imaginatively currency, the European Union proposes itself as a "bridge" for resolving tensions between the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf, but with no weapons and no credible economic leverage, without stable allies and with a policy still oriented to the old peacekeeping concept.

Hence if Brexit succeeds, Prime Minister David Cameron - heir to Premier Margaret Thatcher who, at first, made Great Britain adhere to the EU in 1973 and later coldly managed the British presence within the organization - will have no interest in implementing or even discussing the new EU global strategy.

If Brexit fails, however, it would be mostly the same.

Prime Minister Cameron will either come even closer to US interests, or he will play with his own forces among the various regional powers in the above mentioned areas.

Even if Bremain were successful, the British authorities would have no interest in pressing ahead with the new European Global Strategy.

The fact is that there is an old system which is changing and shrinking, namely the Euro-Atlantic system, and a new system being built, namely Eurasia led by Russia and China, which will reach up to the Mediterranean with its Belt and Road Initiative and the integration of its economies into the vast Asian world, which is recording an economic and strategic expansion fully promoted by China.

The EU has not chosen yet and it has not dealt these issues with the respective poles of attraction. It still has a vision that Marx would call "economicist" and believes that a powerless GDP, deprived of strategic perspectives, is enough to stay afloat in the future multipolar world.

In the event of a soft Brexit, Great Britain may collaborate with the European Union's core countries to a common security policy, but it is extremely unlikely for the EU to implement its global foreign policy without the support of a military, diplomatic and intelligence power such as Great Britain.

The possibility of counter-terrorism cooperation with the rest of Europe at collective security level would remain open, but certainly the project of a Joint European Army - as called for by many circles - would fade away.

Many weaknesses do not create a force, and it is not clear what the "external objectives" and the unified strategy of the new Joint European Army could be.

Without any reference to Brexit, Great Britain has planned to invest 178 billion pounds over a ten-year period, as stated in the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2015.

Great Britain wants to become a "pocket superpower" on its own, as quickly as possible.

Rather than at a Common European Security and Defense Policy, it has never liked, Great Britain is still aiming at the wide NATO context and at enhanced bilateral cooperation with the EU Member States within it.

France is certainly a candidate for stable collaboration with Great Britain, but France officially theorizes the participation of the German Armed Forces and this is not wished at all by Great Britain.

Great Britain seems to be still living at the time of Lord Kitchener’s policy: it wants a united Europe as a way to be spared East and South (trade, migration and financial) invasions, but it does not think of a strongly united EU, which would inevitably become German-led.

But what is the current EU influence on the NATO framework? It is far from negligible.

Since 2003 there has been a significant contribution of European countries’ troops to the Atlantic Alliance’s mechanism of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), a brigade designed to move very quickly towards NATO's Eastern borders.

It is subject to the rule of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Europe is present in the VJTF primarily for its economic commitments in Ukraine, following the signing of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the country.

The DCFTA between the EU and Ukraine envisages, first of all, the removal of all import and export taxes.

Also at agricultural level there are duty free products: cereals, pork and beef, poultry and horticulture.

Also the trade of manufactured goods has been liberalized, especially for the companies operating in the textiles and machine tools sectors.

Obviously the core of the issue is that a sharp reduction of duties is envisaged also for the petroleum products.

Hence, while the EU overall strategy is moving along the lines of defining various individual strategies for each point of crisis (Sahel, Libya, the Horn of Africa, etc.), Great Britain may certainly participate in the NATO framework of these operations, but it has no interest in taking part in it as a EU member.

Great Britain will never be - nor could it be otherwise - a sort of Australia or New Zealand at military and strategic levels.

It will never be a power "on call", as some domestic workers.

Britain has the potential, ideas and weapons to become - by itself - the power broker in all the regions in which it is directly interested: the North Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Greater Middle East.

Since its membership of the EU in 1973, Great Britain has always considered its diplomatic policy in the European Union as a subset of its broader foreign policy action.

Since the time of Prime Minister Churchill onwards, Europe has been one of the components of the British presence in the world.

It has been its "second circle", but never the first, which is the special relationship with its old rebellious colonies, namely the United States.

This is even the sense in which we have to interpret Sir Winston Churchill’s remark "We butchered the wrong pig", when – in the aftermath of World War II - he developed the very secret plan Operation Unthinkable, which assumed the British invasion of the USSR to destroy Bolshevism in the phase of its greatest weakness.

The UK overall strategy vis-à-vis the EU has always been the stabilization of the Union as a largely deregulated free trade area, as well as its rapid expansion and the often clear and sharp refusal of any attempt to turn the European Union into a political entity, or even worse, into the "United States of Europe".

Obviously Great Britain has always tended to equate its solitary role in Europe with the Franco-German duo as EU leaders and it has always tried to outline the EU strategic lines together or, sometimes, against the French-German axis.

Hence Great Britain has always been particularly interested in the Common European Foreign and Security Policy, in the Common Security and Defense Policy and in all EU external relations, often established by its individual Member States through the EU channels.

Hence the British primary interest for the EU External Action Service.

And it is only on the basis of the 32 different documents drafted by the British government during the 2010-2015 Review of the Balance of Competences that we can analyze the costs and benefits of Brexit or Bremain.

In terms of foreign policy, there is a British strong interest in operating through the European channels – for its own purposes.

Furthermore Great Britain has been reluctant even to accept the rules of the European Fiscal Stability Treaty of December 2011.

Since then the British media and governments have been supporting both the EU and the Commonwealth as the pillars of a new British foreign and security policy not confined only to the pro-European framework.

Even the visits that Prime Minister Cameron paid abroad at the beginning of his first term were designed to convey two messages: Great Britain does not live only within the European Union, which is not the only focus and horizon of its foreign policy; Great Britain is more suitable than other geopolitical areas for keeping pace with the times - namely the Asian expansion, the new poles of development in Latin America and the significant growth of the Russian Federation.

Hence a new National Security Council has been established, which regularly drafts the National Security Strategy (NSS).

Every five years, also the Strategic Defense and Security Strategy (SDSS) is drawn up.

The 2010 NSS and SDSS recommended a "decentralized approach" to the EU, as was also the case with the 2015 Strategies.

In both documents the position maintained is that of a minor EU role in supporting the British choices.

In any case the role played by Great Britain within the EU will remain stable both in case of Brexit and in case of Bremain and also the international challenges that Great Britain has decided to face in the coming years will remain the same.

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