The UK Brexit referendum of 2016 was a turning point. This, almost too close to call, vote was the result of a culmination of negative attitudes towards the European Union dream post-WWII. A dream which began with a hope for a future free of regional conflict, economic stagnation and, arguably, a future free of the xenophobia which had blighted some nations in recent memory.
Brexit and the European Dream
The path to this future began with a handful of European neighbours agreeing to join a common market, for a shared stake in a more stable and prosperous economic future. It was in this ‘pilot’ project that the European Union made its foundation and further grew to include more member states. These states sought to trade in this common market, but more than that, members sought shared values, greater power globally, guidance and the free movement of their peoples throughout Europe.
During this period of expansion for the EU, the UK has continued to have a difficult relationship with the EU, though at best the UK response may be described as ambivalent. The Brexit referendum saw the UK-EU relationship at its worst point in decades. The vote (and pre-vote campaigning) indicated widespread distrust of the EU bureaucracy and a lack of knowledge or awareness of EU activities and purpose. This vote also facilitated other member states’ anti-EU pressure groups to come forward and lead local debates in calling for a cessation of their relationship with the EU (for example, Marine Le Pen’s right-wing party in France). Though the economic impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU is yet to be determined (and the legal arrangements are yet to be made, with ‘article 50’ yet to be invoked), the political ramifications are already becoming visible.
The author focuses on the security and defence implications, post-Brexit, and most notably the response of the EU to the Brexit referendum decision.
CFSP, Maastricht, Mogherini and Militarisation
Under the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) pillar of the EU, established in 1993 by the Maastricht Treaty to enable the EU to speak and act with one voice on security, diplomatic and defence matters, with the aim of preserving peace and security; Federica Mogherini delivered a global strategy aimed at further unification.
As vice-president of the Commission (under the Juncker-led Commission) and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mogherini outlined a core strategy of further evidencing ‘unity’ and ‘strength’ of the EU by ultimately creating an EU-wide military force, proposed in July 2016.
It is understood that, as this strategy was published post-Brexit, this is a response to fears and concerns regarding the EU and its role in the future. This may also be a response to greater concerns regarding Russian aggression, particularly in relation to some member states on the regional borders of the EU and Russia. The Russian question, and two other contemporary security concerns for the EU in the near future are considered in this brief, ultimately the author will argue that in seeking a ‘strong vision, shared action’ – a greater military build-up in the EU will be costly and counter-productive.
Cold War 2.0?
The threat of Russia continues to plague the European community. Though the Cold War is said to have ended with the ‘fall of the Berlin Wall’ in 1989, Russia remains a cause for concern and significant threat to the stability of the European region, economically, politically and physically. Post-Cold War, in hindsight, we still appeared to be in something of a détente with Russia, keeping the nation at arm’s length. Recent years have seen operations in Syria and wider Middle East conflicts continuing and worsening, with material and financial support provided by Russia facilitating the continuation of hostilities, and the attempted expansion into Georgia and the Crimea. The Russian question is again on our lips.
Traditionally, NATO has been the provider of security for the European Community, particularly in relation to the potential threat of Russia – indeed it has often acted as a deterrent for Russian aggression. However, post-Cold War NATO’s role has been called into question, particularly given the long period of apparent ‘détente’. NATO, to some extent, became obsolete and appeared to struggle to reconstitute itself to remain relevant in a changing security landscape. This may have been seen as an opportunity, by the Russian state, to again challenge the balance of power(s) globally. The author believes this issue is best combatted by NATO, as the traditional leader in regards to this security concern, as the EU is not equipped – nor is it fundamentally constituted to tackle Russian aggression (in any military capacity at least).
During its attempts to ‘rebrand’, NATO has made efforts to counter the threat of cyber-security and hacking (on behalf of member states). Indeed, this is also an attempt to counter the Russian cyber threat. Such a contemporary threat, in light of our globalised world, requires a coherent and ‘networked’ strategy – a ‘web’ or ‘net’ of sorts.
As cyber-security not only includes threats to state infrastructure, but also threats to the individual (i.e. fraud), this is an issue which would benefit from strong diplomatic relations and an integrated approach across various EU and global organisations. It would appear that the EU and NATO are now in a very strong position to lead on these efforts. Thankfully, such an issue does not require a stronger military approach, but rather increased funding for resources (i.e. technology, R&D) and greater organisation of intelligence (knowledge) sharing and man-power. A member state, such as France which has previously struggled with attaining a streamlined and organised strategy, would certainly benefit from such an EU-wide approach and support.
Trafficking, Refugee migration & criminal networks
Such a contemporary approach, focusing on integration, organisation and networks is also very beneficial for some of the oldest criminal practices and issues which have plagued the EU and member states. The crisis in Syria, among other recent conflicts, has been a particular problem for the EU given the vast and sudden increase in refugee migration to or through the EU. Whilst this crisis has highlighted the best in some states’ response to ‘open borders’, this phenomenon has also highlighted the xenophobia, political tensions and organisational or ‘structural’ problems in some parts of the EU. Urgent meetings and debates will no doubt continue in the EU, in regards to this continually developing issue.
Criminal networks operating within the EU have been a concern for some time. There appears to be a fairly robust approach by parts of EU infrastructure focusing on law enforcement and criminal activity. Trafficking, particularly human trafficking is an ongoing issue and increases when crises arise and major sporting events are hosted. The law enforcement approach should continue (with some adaptation in responses to trafficking ‘victims’); but should also act as a template for the Mogherini global strategy – in seeking a more cost effective military alternative. Efforts of Interpol, for example, indicate what is possible with a more integrated approach.
- Increased profits for the Arms Trade
- EU funding and resources wasted on outdated military solution
- Undermines gender-mainstreaming and other ‘feminist’ inspired practices
Whilst the strategy adopted by the EU in 2016 (post-Brexit), for a more unified, strong approach to foreign and security policy, appears a good strategy; attempting to strengthen or streamline the position and look of the EU by creating a shared military force is misguided, given the contemporary security landscape and perceived threats. The author would argue that it would be best to instead imitate the integration efforts of the EU in seeking to combat criminal networks, for example, pooling resources, man-power and knowledge (intelligence) and developing a flexible and adaptable (EU-wide) network.
The concern over Russia, which may also be a significant concern in creating Mogherini’s strategy, whilst a reasonable concern is not really a concern for the EU to resolve militarily – this, is a problem for NATO. NATO is the relevant organisation to address the threat of Russian expansion or aggression, which is also the reason for its creation during the Cold War. It is not the role of the EU to provide a military response to Russia; indeed this appears to contradict the fundamental ‘raison d’être’ of the Union and the CFSP.
Militarising the EU will simply improve business for the Arms Trade; it will not substantially improve the stability or strength (in real terms) of the EU. Furthermore, this military-based approach is in stark contrast to, and undermines, any efforts of the EU to incorporate a more ‘feminist’ outlook on its operations and activities. Therefore, gender-mainstreaming or equality practices, and any efforts to propagate gender-sensitive or neutral practices elsewhere (globally) would be called into question, following this very masculine show of ‘strength’ against Russia. However, the EU could have a role, supporting the USA, in facilitating (politically, diplomatically, economically) a renewal of NATO efforts to tackle this threat.
Originally produced as a mock policy brief for TEPSA
Nottingham Trent University (NTU)
Global Strategy (2016)