What are the strategic risks that could arise if Britain’s June 23 referendum resulted in a decision to leave the European Union? The UK’s departure (known as Brexit) could undermine Britain’s – and Europe’s – security. Opinion polls so far indicate a narrow vote to remain within the EU.
Would Brexit weaken the UK as a defence power? Britain would still be a nuclear power, the world’s fifth-largest defence spender, a NATO ally and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
However, the EU can bring more to tackling some of today’s threats than NATO, because non-military instruments are essential in dealing with, for example, refugee flows and Islamist extremism.
Cooperative Europe-wide solutions are needed. It is hard to see how pulling away from Europe can strengthen the UK’s defences.
Would Brexit damage Britain’s security? The UK would cease to participate in the European Arrest Warrant, in EU information and alert systems on criminals and terrorists, and in a data exchange arrangement on DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data. According to the UK Cabinet Office: ‘Aside from those states that are not in the EU but are in the Schengen border-free area, there are no precedents for non-members being able to cooperate within these mechanisms.’
Would Brexit undermine the UK’s diplomatic clout? The EU has 28 members, 508 million people, and an economy of similar size to the United States and China. The UK now takes a leading role in EU decisions such as the imposition of sanctions on Russia, or on dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme. Outside the EU, it would not be able to do so.
Would the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with the US counteract this? President Barack Obama supports a ‘strong United Kingdom in a strong European Union’.
He said UK membership of the EU ‘gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union’. Would Brexit weaken the EU and Europe as a world power? Britain’s absence would make Europe weaker and less cohesive – an outcome that would please Russia.
Alexander Nicoll, International Institute for Strategic Studies consulting member