With Article 50 now triggered, RUSI experts outline what they will be looking for during the Brexit process.
Don’t Use Security as a Bargaining Chip
The UK’s position as Europe’s strongest military and intelligence power — its ‘security surplus’ — should not be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations … The UK will need to balance its desire to use Brexit as an opportunity to deepen its influence as a global power with its continuing interest in the security and stability of Europe.
An Opportunity to Rebalance the UK’s Military Commitments
The triggering of Article 50 should see the start of a clear-headed analysis of UK military priorities. In withdrawing from the EU, the UK Ministry of Defence can start to acknowledge security Alliances with funded activity at scale, returning attention and focus to NATO and other defence relationships where the UK has formal obligations and responsibilities (the Five Powers Defence Agreement to name but one). Many of these commitments have been neglected over the past decade to meet a political requirement for activity around the Common Security and Defence Policy that demonstrated Britain’s leading European military role. Rebalancing the UK’s military commitments is an opportunity to alter the current disparity between resources and commitments. This happens as the potential constitutional make-up of Britain comes under threat, with very serious implications for the nation’s defence and security.
The impact of negotiations on the UK’s involvement with the European Defence Agency and Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation will also be assessed over this period. The opportunity for the UK is to be the bridge between the ‘Five Eyes’ world, the Europe of the 27 and a number of bilateral arrangements.
Global Powers Will Look Closely at Britain’s Remaining European Links
How the UK will approach the Brexit negotiations on access to the single market and the free movement of people will be watched closely by countries in Asia and around the world eager to assess the future stability of the UK’s economy and to identify opportunities and risks for their own investments, as well as future bilateral Free-Trade Agreements. The UK may be keen to be ‘global Britain’, but to international partners, it will always also be seen as a European power to some degree. Consequently, the nature of the link to Europe will remain important in defining the UK in the world.
Beyond economics, the UK will have to seriously re-build its strategic thinking and understanding of its place in the world. If it wants to be a global player, it will have to develop a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of various conflicts and relationships around the world to understand better where the UK can play a role and effect influence. In numerous places around the globe, the UK has stepped back and let other European powers lead, and while for some regions this makes sense, if it is is to be taken seriously the UK will have to strengthen its cadre of expertise to ensure it is able to continue to have a prominent seat at the international table.
Assessment by RUSI’s International Security Studies research group
Don’t Lose UK–EU Cooperation on Countering Violent Extremism
The EU has been a major supporter of advancing work in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) around the world, in which the UK has played a strong role. This has enabled the UK to address security concerns around the world, and provided a vehicle for UK influence. At the same time, counterterrorism collaboration – such as through the intelligence sharing agency Europol – is key to mitigating the threat posed by transnational terrorism. Going forwards, it is essential that this important cooperation on both CVE and counterterrorism is not hindered or bartered during the negotiations, as it will be a loss to host countries, the EU and the UK.
Affecting Nuclear Safeguards and the UK’s Deterrence
Following the Brexit referendum the UK has announced that it plans to leave Euratom, the separate EU treaty that provides the framework for implementing nuclear safeguards. As Brexit negotiations move forward the UK will have to find new ways to cover its nuclear safeguard requirements. In addition to this, talk of a second Scottish referendum, likely brought forward as a result of Brexit, could affect the UK nuclear deterrent which is operated from Scotland. The SNP has made it clear that an independent Scotland would not, in the long term, accept nuclear weapons within its borders. In such an event, the Ministry of Defence would therefore have to consider contingency plans for rebasing the submarine force to the remainder of the UK.
Assessment by RUSI’s Proliferation and Nuclear Policy research group