By Mike Martin
In June, Britain voted handily to leave the European Union, dubbed “Brexit.” This has been a move that has created political and economic turmoil worldwide as markets have been fluctuating greatly based on the British vote. This turmoil has been highlighted by stock markets falling drastically, the British pound currency crashing to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in more than three decades, Scotland threatening to break away from the United Kingdom, and the former English Prime Minister resigning after the vote. But another question still remains: what effect will we see this have in terms of global defense?
The British decision to leave the EU will affect international defense relations and defense strategy. This is because this decision will lead to implications for NATO as well, as it came just days before NATO and the EU governments were going to sign a landmark pact to confront a range of current terrorist threats.
Now, however, this pact may not happen, as this move completely undermines the agreement and defense strategy that NATO had wanted to put in place. This is because, according to a senior Western defense official involved in EU-NATO relations, “NATO had planned on linking itself up to a stronger European Union, not being the default option for a weakened, divided bloc,” which is what it had become.
In addition to that official’s comments, Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO, spoke on Britain’s crucial role in fighting terrorism before the vote was cast. Secretary Stoltenberg said that Britain acted as an important bridge between the EU and NATO and promoted the sharing of information on the terrorist threat. He added that “The UK is the biggest force provider among European NATO allies, and that it is an advantage to have UK leadership inside the European Union being a strong advocate for EU-NATO cooperation” and because of this, “it greatly matters what the UK does.” Secretary Stoltenberg concluded by saying, “To fight the terrorist threat we need both the EU and NATO and we need stronger cooperation between NATO and the European Union.”
It is clear from these statements that NATO is interested in a bond with the European Union but that they want Britain to be involved in the agreement on both sides, instead of just with NATO; and who could blame them? Britain is a successful superpower that has aided greatly in worldwide defense measures, including the war on terror in the Middle East. They are one of the strongest allies any country can have and would have been an excellent link for strategic negotiations between the two entities in the pact.
Without the assurance of British engagement on both sides of this bond, it seems unlikely that this pact will be made in the near future. Because of this, it is also unlikely that the two entities will move forward on tackling current defense issues, like Russian aggression and the Islamic State, as had been planned for after the pact.
Therefore, even though it is early in the process, and the defense industry markets look to be fine, all of this could create some delay, and an undermining, of global defense strategy, which would have negative repercussions.
Michael Martin is a Juris Doctor candidate at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. He is also pursuing a specialization in cyber and homeland security through Maryland’s new cyber-security certificate program, and he is pursuing a career in the field of homeland security.