What to read on Brexit, security & defence


Each summer, members of the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London offer literature suggestions for the following academic year. Given the UK’s game-changing decision to leave the European Union (EU), this year’s first ‘summer reading’ post takes on the nearly impossible task of suggesting three key readings on the security & defence implications of ‘Brexit’.

Before and after the referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU in June 2016, publications on the consequences of Brexit have mushroomed in a wide variety of media outlets. Depending on the author(s)’ supportive or sceptical stance on Brexit, they have outlined varied security and defence scenarios for both Britain and the EU in a post-Brexit world, ranging from an improved British security environment once the country ‘takes back control’ to new security threats looming after Brexit. A couple of months ago, my colleague Inez von Weitershausen and I have collected the relevant academic literature in an online compendium, the Brexit Reader on Security & Defence. Only the Reader’s section on Brexit in a strict sense has already roughly 80 different publications! So, the choice of key readings is understandably difficult.

I have used two main criteria to make my decision: First, the three readings combined should offer the most comprehensive overview of the different issues at stake; second, given the academic nature of this blog, I have focused on publications in academic journals and/or by major think tanks. My choice does not imply that I (or anybody else for that matter) agrees or endorses necessarily everything that is written in these publications. Likewise, it is not my intention to offer a definite list of what should be read on Brexit, security & defence. I just offer my personal suggestions.

The first one is a major, 200-page report by RAND Europe (Alexandra Hall & James Black, Defence and Security after Brexit, 5 March 2017). It is based on dozens of expert interviews and constitutes perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the potential issues raised by the UK leaving the EU. Quite rightly, a lot of emphasis is put on defence spending, industrial cooperation and research and development, where European cooperation is particularly close. The report considers also European defence cooperation post-Brexit, in particular regarding the ambitions of the remaining EU member states to intensify defence cooperation without the UK. Other issues considered by the report include international sanctions; the question of Scottish independence and the nuclear deterrent; Northern Ireland and its border with the Republic of Ireland; and UK-EU security collaboration post-Brexit, e.g. on the European arrest warrant. In addition, the main report is accompanied by a collection of shorter analyses of the views on Brexit and security & defence in other important countries such as France and Germany. Overall, the RAND Europe study is rich in information, data and references and is certainly a useful starting point to explore the security & defence implications of Brexit. For the busy reader, RAND Europe also offers a concise overview report.

My second choice is a short journal article by Richard G. Whitman in the National Institute Economic Review (No. 238, November 2016), ‘The UK and EU foreign, security and defence policy after Brexit: integrated, associated or detached?’. This article focuses specifically on the possible forms of cooperation between the EU and the UK in foreign, security and defence affairs post-Brexit. After a brief overview of European integration in these areas before and after the Brexit referendum, it outlines three different scenarios. Based on the degree of autonomy the UK wants to maintain post-Brexit, they are ‘detached observer’, ‘associated partner’ or ‘integrated player’. The article’s Figure 2, ‘Future scenarios for UK and EU relationships in the areas of CFSP and CSDP’, offers a handy overview of what these scenarios mean in practice, in particular regarding British involvement in EU military formations, British membership in EU foreign & security institutions and British participation in EU military operations. While the ‘integrated player’ model entails a high degree of integration in all three areas, the ‘detached observer’ model constitutes the highest degree of separation between the EU and the UK. The article also discusses briefly the varying trade-offs of the three models.

Finally, my last choice examines the implications of Brexit for what both Brexiteers and Bremainers consider to be the UK’s premier international defence organizations: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As part of a special issue on Security and Defence in the Shadow of Brexit in the journal Global Affairs (Volume 2, Issue, 5), David Hastings Dunn and Mark Webber have published an article entitled ‘The UK, the European Union and NATO: Brexit’s unintended consequences’. While not everybody will agree with their rather bleak analysis (‘The likely upshot of Brexit will be a loss of British influence and a blow to the integrity of the alliance’), the authors point out a number of issues that question all too rosy prospects for the UK in NATO post-Brexit. They argue specifically that Brexit may have negative implications for the UK’s defence spending capabilities, for the UK’s credibility and leadership within NATO and for NATO’s cohesion in general.

Of course, the future will show that none of the publications discussed above will be ‘right’ in all their aspects. Predictions are uncertain by nature. Yet, the three publications do offer important insights into the state of play of the current debate on the security and defence implications of Brexit and the debate’s main issues and arguments.

Image: Pixababy. CC0 Public Domain.

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