15 October 2019

Brexit comes and goes, but Great Britain stays…in NATO and the “5 Eyes”

Sergiu Medar

On October 31th 2019, Brexit will come into force. Most likely, they will not get to a European Union-Great Britain agreement, and everything will be reduced to the political statement signed with the former British prime-minister, Theresa May. This harsh withdrawal from EU will have historical consequences both for Great Britain and Europe. From a European security perspective, this is revealing even more the necessity for NATO to remain the only collective defence solution for the European states.

Image source: Mediafax

A British man sitting on the Dover port esplanade, looking at the English Channel, was saying: “the continent is isolated”. This joke, which the Brits enjoy so much is, in fact, a definition for the Great Britain-Europe relation.

The British Kingdom was a great global power that no other European state could ever level. This position offered it a different status from the rest of the continent.

The European integration was not a solution to be easily accepted by the British people. During the 20 and 21st centuries, London’s foreign policy aimed at creating and keeping a power balance in Europe. To that end, through bilateral agreements, it sought to keep a power balance between France and Germany. Being aware that from a military perspective it is weaker than the other EU member states gathered all together, the Great Britain had conducted a policy based on bilateral relations and agreements, more than actually using EU. In fact, this is also the reason why it did not accept the European military integration, through the “European army” concept and, it has used, not just once, the veto right in EU decisions targeting security issues.

George Friedman, a well-known American security expert, thinks that by applying the “Marshall Plan”, there were initiated the proper conditions for the future European integration. At that time, given the Soviet Union threat, the US wanted a united and prosperous Europe, able to fund an army to face the Soviets. The result they got, after Brexit, was a Union to be economically and politically dominated by Germany, with an army mostly counting on NATO planning and capabilities, and with France pretending to be the European military leader. European Union’s ambition is becoming a global economic power and to be independent in terms of security, against any threat. If the first European will is likely to happen, the second one, after Great Britain’s withdrawal from EU, is no longer possible.

Brexit emerged as consequence of European Union member states’ option, depending on their history and economic situation, to choose the balance position between sovereignty and prosperity. Most of the EU member states chose to give up sovereignty for an increased prosperity. Great Britain, however, chose sovereignty, thinking that their prosperity level is enough and can be seen as a controlled regress. This choice is the one to practically provoke British society’s division in two equal camps, considering their number and influence.

In case of a no-deal Brexit, Great Britain has no other option than to get closer to US. In fact, at the end of September 2019, it signed a trade agreement with US, which will come into force in July 2020. Thinking of itself as of a global power, Great Britain kept and developed its connections with its former colonies: US, Canada, Australia and New Zeeland. These 5 states already have an information exchange agreement and military cooperation in sensitive fields. The agreement is called Five Eyes and suggests that the sensitive informative documents and operations planning will be made with the exclusive information of the 5 states.

The connection between these 5 states is strengthened through the commercial agreements signed between US with Australia and Canada, and the one with New Zeeland is about to be signed soon.

From an economic perspective, Great Britain has, after Brexit, two work options. The first one is to continue the trade agreements with the European states, but through bilateral treaties, and the second one to use the 5 mentioned states group as international economic exchange structures. This way, the United Kingdom’s relation with the other 4 states is just an alternate of the one with EU.

Starting bilateral connections with European Union’s states must follow Union’s regulations in relation with non-EU states, which will implicitly limit them. From an economic perspective, the United Kingdom will no longer take advantage of the common market and the European custom union. From a security perspective, the collaboration method with EU is still bewildered.

The second option would reveal the global vision of Great Britain and the other 4 states outside Europe. Economically speaking, US and Canada are way above the GDP of the entire European Union. If we add Great Britain, Australia and New Zeeland, we realize that they. Together, can be regarded as world’s first economic power. To that end, through the 5 states bloc, Great Britain can be more like a global power.

In terms of the relations in defence, Great Britain’s main partner will remain US, although there are fields wherein they think differently, like the nuclear treaty with Iran. Lately, London was for Washington the main mediator with the EU. From this point of view, the withdrawal from the Union would be a loss for US, which will have to negotiate directly with Brussels. In fact, Washington already chose the harsh position in these negotiation, by introducing custom taxes for some European products.

The United Kingdom showed its openness to participate to NATO as its only solution for the collective defence of the European states.

One may say that NATO will be favored by Brexit. European defence without US, Great Britain, Turkey and Norway’s contribution, states that have an incredible military force, is less likely to deter an aggressive Russia. This is why making this project possible may be postponed, as NATO remains the only viable solution to defend Europe. Any European defence structure or initiative, according to British options, must be complementary to NATO, and not an alternate to the Transatlantic Organization.

The political declaration signed by Theresa May with the European Union is pretty ambiguous in terms of Great Britain’s methods to join Europe’s security. Currently, the foreign and defence policy is mostly counting on intergovernmental relations, outside EU’s specialized structures.

In May 2018, Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator for Brexit, was saying: “Great Britain will continue to be a permanent member in the UN Security Council and a NATO member. It will continue to be a diplomatic, nuclear and military power. We are tied through values and a common destiny and will continue to be so”.

The main topic in defence remains finding a format for a cooperation in defence between EU and Great Britain. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has proposed the foundation of a European Security Council to be joined by the United Kingdom as well. This is, however, just a proposal, as it is not very clear which will be the members of the Council and what responsibilities they will have.

Great Britain’s planed defence costs for the 2019-2020 period are worth of 37, 6 billion pounds, accomplishing NATO states’ obligation to spend 2% of GDP for defence.

Great Britain provides 25% of the total costs with the equipment acquired from EU, being, at the same time, the greatest contributor to defence research. The biggest procurement programs, even when talking about equipment made in European states, have been developed rather through NATO and than EDA. It is still unclear how it will participate, after Brexit, to European operational defence programs or those related to procurement.

The European Defence Initiative, launched in 2008 by president Macron, aims at strengthening the European capacity related to management of crisis, to improve the operational planning capacity and provide coordination between European states that have significant military capabilities. As it was launched after the Great Britain decided to withdraw from EU, the initiative involves also Great Britain’s participation, as former member to have something to say in the military field. The Framework Participation Agreement-FPA will allow Great Britain to take part to CSDP missions, whether they are military or civil ones. It will be volunteering-based. According to FPA, after Brexit, the United Kingdom will no longer have the right to be involved in the political or military decision-making process, operations’ planning, operations leadership or conducting commands and it will also not be possible anymore to have important positions within these commands. The participation will be made, however, with military capabilities. Great Britain will be strategic autonomy in the participation to European Union’s states’ missions and will do all its parts within NATO. It is less likely, however, to accept the conditions imposed for the participation to CSDP missions.

Great Britain was one of the most important contributors for the European space programs, Galileo and Copernicus. According to the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union, London has no more access to secret information provided by Galileo and the other European space agencies. EU’s council from 2018 has rejected Great Britain’s requirement for this access. Therefore, the Brits want to develop their own space programs.

Brexit will probably lead to a dramatic British economic collapse, one to negatively affect all fields. The domestic changes that will be made to reduce the damages will, most likely, lead to social movements that will have consequences on country’s domestic stability. This will contribute to increasing security threats against urban crows, affecting the democratic freedoms, firstly the freedom of movement, but also population’s trust in the defence and public order institutions.

In terms of the European economy, Brexit will negatively affect EU. The consequences will mostly be felt in Germany, whose economy is mainly relying on export, but also in other European Union member states.

Brexit takes place in times when the global economy is getting closer and closer to recession, and from a European security perspective, in times when Russia is becoming more and more aggressive, making Turkey its new ally, and the different perspectives between Eastern and Western Europe are more and more obvious.

However, Great Britain still hopes to get, at the EU Council Summit from October 18, a postponement of the effective beginning of Brexit, in order to continue the negotiations.

Translated by Andreea Soare