With Article 50 now triggered by Prime Minister Theresa May as the nation prepares to exit the European Union, experts at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) have moved to outline what outcomes they will be looking for during the Brexit process negotiations in terms of security and defence issues.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers has urged that security shouldn’t be used for bargaining purposes in the negotiations. “The UK’s position as Europe’s strongest military and intelligence power (ie its ‘security surplus’) should not be used as a bargaining chip,” stated Chalmers. “The UK will need to balance its desire to use Brexit as an opportunity for deepening its influence as a global power with its continuing interest in the security and stability of Europe.”
A considered assessment conducted by RUSI’s Military Sciences and Defence, Industries and Society research groups focuses on the opportunity to re-balance 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’s Ministry of Defence can start to acknowledge security alliances with funded activity at scale, returning attention and focus to NATO and other defence relationships – the ‘Five Powers’ Defence Agreement, to name but one – where the UK has formal obligations and responsibilities.
According to RUSI, 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. Re-balancing 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 the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation will also be assessed over this period. RUSI feels the opportunity for the UK is to act as the bridge between the ‘Five Eyes’ world, the Europe of the 27 and a number of bilateral arrangements.
Global powers “looking 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 those 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 also always be seen as a European power, at least to some degree. Consequently, the nature of the link to Europe will remain important in defining the UK in the world.
Beyond economics, RUSI’s International Security Studies research group believes 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. While for some regions this makes sense, if it’s to be taken seriously the UK will have to strengthen its cadre of expertise to ensure it’s able to continue to have a prominent seat at the international table.
Don’t lose UK-EU co-operation on countering violent extremism
An assessment by RUSI’s National Security and Resilience and International Security Studies research group states that the EU has been a major supporter of advancing work in preventing and countering violent extremism around the world, in which the UK has played a strong role. This has enabled the UK to address security concerns on the global stage, and also provided a vehicle for UK influence.
At the same time, counter-terrorism collaboration – such as that achieved through the intelligence sharing agency Europol – is key to mitigating the threat posed by transnational terrorism. Going forwards, RUSI feels it’s essential that this important co-operation on both countering violent extremism and counter-terrorism isn’t hindered or “bartered” during the negotiations, as it will be a loss to host countries, the EU and the UK alike.
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 progress, the UK will have to find new ways in which to cover its nuclear safeguard requirements.
In addition to this, talk of a second Scottish Independence 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 quite 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 re-basing the submarine force to the remainder of the UK.