European Union

Soft Power and Hard Brexit


Much has been written about the British vote to leave the European Union and its wider implications. It is perhaps the UK’s most important strategic decision in a generation or more. However, concrete predictions and forecasts about the post-Brexit future are still confined to the realm of uncertainty and speculation. This is particularly true for the twin themes of British access to the EU’s single market and EU immigration into the UK, which will dominate the Brexit agenda for the foreseeable future. Yet, as a recent roundtable on the security and defence implications of Brexit at the Joint Services Command and Staff College has shown, uncertainty is also the dominant feature in less central areas. In short, even leading security and defence experts cannot be sure about what is going to happen in their areas of expertise. The future EU-UK relationship may not be as complex in security and defence matters as it is in the economic and commercial field. After all, European security and defence integration is not particularly deep, as I argued already before the referendum. But it is contingent upon uncontrollable factors in other areas. For instance, EU-UK cooperation in defence procurement is dependent upon the type of access the UK gains to the EU’s single market, as Prof Matthew Uttley pointed out during the roundtable. It may even be influenced by the way President Putin of Russia is able to exploit the post-Brexit situation, as Dr Tracey German warned during the same event. The good news is that none of the roundtable participants expected a worst case scenario for EU-UK relations in matters of security and defence, although such a scenario certainly remains a possibility. Prof Luis Simon emphasized that the UK will remain a major political and military power even outside the EU. And Prof Malcolm Chalmers highlighted that the UK will remain a member of NATO, Europe’s most important defence organization. A completely different question is, of course, if the EU or Britain will actually gain any security and defence benefits from Brexit. And there were few, if any, positive answers to this question.

It could be argued that the most likely – or as some would argue, the most desirable – outcome of Brexit is no or only very little change of the current state of affair of European security, at least in terms of hard power. Although Prof Uttley cautioned that there is the possibility that a weaker pound means that the UK can buy less military hardware abroad, especially in the United States, the capabilities and structure of the armed forces in both the UK and the remaining EU member states will be largely unaffected by Brexit. Other classical power attributes such as population, geopolitical location or GDP will also remain by and large the same after Brexit. Likewise, European nations will retain their power to coerce other actors on the world stage, in particular if the UK joins the other EU member states in coercive actions such as imposing sanctions. However, the roundtable at the Joint Services Command and Staff College drew the audience’s attention to another, perhaps even more important form of power, namely soft power or, citing its standard definition, ‘getting others to want the outcomes that you want’. According to Joe Nye, who coined the term at the beginning of the 1990s, ‘The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority)’.

While British culture may change only very slowly after Brexit, it are the UK’s political values and foreign policies where Brexit may have its most immediate impact. In the eyes of other nations, leaving the European Union is a sign that the UK is going to be more inward-looking and less committed to advanced forms of international cooperation. Perhaps quite tellingly Theresa May is the first Home Secretary to move straight into 10 Downing Street since Lord Palmerston in the 19th century. What is also clear from the magnitude of the Brexit decision is that – paradoxically – the UK’s relation with the EU will be at the centre stage of British foreign policy for years to come. In other words, even though the UK may want to re-emphasize its traditional political values of an open, outward-looking power committed to international cooperation by re-enforcing its ties with the United Nations, the Commonwealth and other international institutions, the necessary resources to do so will be absorbed by the more pressing need to implement Brexit, especially if it takes the form of a ‘hard Brexit’ that will sever the ties between Britain and the UK in a more profound way. So, despite the difficulty to gauge the exact knock-on effects of these developments, it is very likely that in a world of growing political populism other nations may want to follow the British example to withdraw from international organizations and re-nationalize their foreign and security policies. This, however, would certainly not be in the long-term national interest of the United Kingdom, as it depends for its own security on an open international system based on cooperation. In fact, such developments would be an ironic – and tragic – effect of its soft power: getting others to want the outcomes that the UK does not want by following the UK’s lead. In short, although we will always have NATO, as the Brexiteers (rightly) highlight, it are the intangible, hard-to-predict factors that we have to watch out for in the long-term.

Image via public domain pictures.

European Strategic Autonomy after the Brexit


Prof. Biscop is the Director of the Europe in the World Programme at the Egmont – Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels, and a Professor at Ghent University. He is an Honorary Fellow of the European Security and Defence College.

The EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS) is one of the most ambitious EU documents on defence to date. Presented to the Heads of State and Government by High Representative Federica Mogherini in June 2016, the EUGS is the first document to put forward the objective of strategic autonomy. Not a moment too soon, as security challenges inside and around Europe are rising, while the US has made it clear that it will not, and cannot, solve all of Europe’s problems.

The operational dimension of strategic autonomy comes down to the ability to act without the US whenever necessary. From that follows the industrial dimension: having a defence industry that can produce everything that this requires, notably the strategic enablers.

The EUGS sets out four major military tasks: to help protect the European way of life at home; to maintain stability in the broad neighbourhood; to maintain the freedom of the global commons; and to contribute to United Nations collective security. Together, these four tasks represent a clear increase in the burden placed on Europe’s armed forces.

The neighbourhood especially presents a challenge. The emphasis is on increasing resilience and building capacity, but where war is ongoing, the EUGS also commits the EU to protect civilians and to consolidate local ceasefires. That entails deploying troops on the ground with serious firepower, backed up by air support and ready reserves, who will not necessarily seek out and destroy an opponent but who will fight when the civilians for whom they are responsible are threatened. Without that determination, the EU will not have created a safe zone but a trap. For many Member States, land operations with such a high potential of combat go far beyond anything that they have recently undertaken, certainly in an autonomous European framework.

It is vital therefore that the implications of this and the other tasks are spelled out and fully taken on board by the political and military leadership. The EUGS provides for a “sectoral strategy” on defence to do exactly that, under the heading, recently announced by the High Representative, of an Implementation Plan on Security and Defence. What this really is, of course, is an EU defence white paper.

The EUGS itself calls for “full-spectrum land, air, space and maritime capabilities, including strategic enablers”. The white paper must now quantify the four military tasks and the desired concurrency: How many operations, of which size, should Europeans be able to undertake simultaneously, without relying on non-European assets?

When a new strategy demands strategic autonomy, it would be contradictory to set too modest a level of ambition. Some now propose to focus on the autonomous deployment of a brigade, presenting this as an increase as compared to the ambition to have two battalion-size Battlegroups on stand-by. That, of course, is the wrong point of departure: the existing EU level of ambition is the Headline Goal – to deploy and sustain up to a corps of 60,000. It is the Headline Goal that must be revised – upwards.

For sure, if after a Brexit the British contribution is withdrawn from the EU’s Force Catalogue, it will create gaps that in the short term cannot be easily filled by the existing capabilities of the remaining Member States. But the Headline Goal was set in 1999, for a Union of 15 Member States. A revised Headline Goal will be a target for a Union of 27, with 1.35 million troops and a total defence expenditure of $200 billion. At the very least, the current Headline Goal should remain eminently feasible.

But with such overall numbers even an increased Headline Goal can be achieved over time – on the condition that defence integration is pushed much further. And an increased Headline Goal will be necessary if Europeans want to be able to deploy, simultaneously: long-term brigade-size stabilisation operations and a high intensity crisis management operation of several brigades and squadrons in the neighbourhood, as well as long-term naval operations, and battalion-size contributions to UN peacekeeping, while engaging in capacity-building and military cooperation.

In light of the crises in Europe’s neighbourhood and the global geopolitical tensions, this level of ambition is none too high. It is but the reflection of the rhythm of operations of the last decade. Maintaining and, over time, even increasing the Headline Goal is the realist option therefore: in view of what is necessary, but also in view of what is possible, looking at Europe’s military potential. Realism not only means not setting unachievable objectives – it also means not setting the bar too low and underexploit the potential that is there.

Furthermore, after the Brexit, Britain will still be in Europe, and British forces will still be there. If a crisis on Europe’s doorstep demands intervention, Britain is more likely than not to be a part of it. Even though UK will no longer be involved in defence cooperation under the EU flag, in practice EU strategic autonomy, at 27, can therefore still be pursued in the context of European strategic autonomy, at 28, assuming a British contribution on an ad hoc basis.

Mogherini has planned for the white paper to be adopted before the end of the year. Subsequently, the detailed catalogues of capability requirements, existing capabilities (minus the UK), and shortfalls will have to be updated. This will take time, but immediately after the adoption of the white paper, the European Defence Agency (EDA) can already update the Capability Development Plan (CDP), which was foreseen in 2017 anyway, and generate a first set of capability priorities in order to steer national and multinational efforts.

These priorities can then be incorporated into the NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) as well. Only if the next iteration of the NDPP takes into account the capability requirements of European strategic autonomy, notably with regard to enablers, can a capability mix be created that allows EU Member States to do all: to contribute to Article 5, to undertake non-Article 5 operations with the US and the other non-EU Allies, and to launch autonomous expeditionary operations alone.

The white paper is key to the industrial side of strategic autonomy too. Under the next framework programme for research (2021-2027), the European Commission will, for the first time, provide significant funding (of at least €500 million) for defence research. The white paper and the resulting capability priorities must become the formal guidance for the use of these new funds. Industry must serve the Member States and their armed forces, not the other way around.

Finally, Member States need not wait to take action. The only way to achieve the capability targets will be further cooperation and integration, at two levels. At the EU-level, making full use of the EDA and Commission funds, to acquire the necessary strategic enablers. And at the level of various clusters of Member States, to create larger deployable formations through a combination of far-reaching pooling and specialization. The EU as such can facilitate cooperation in clusters, but only the Member States themselves can initiate it. They should do so as soon as the EU white paper is finished

At that point, two simultaneous processes should thus take off: while the EU institutions prepare a new iteration of the CDP, one or more clusters of Member States coming it at it from the other side should immediately announce the start of closer military integration between them, in order to demonstrate a number of shorter term results. For results is what we need.

For a detailed analysis, see

Image: HRVP Mogherini presents EU Global Strategy to NATO Sec General Stoltenberg, June, 2016, via flickr.

EU Governance: Troubled internally and when used as a foreign policy

Dr Amir M Kamel

The foundation of the European Union (EU) is built on the belief that the pooling of natural resources creates a framework for interdependence, which in turn eliminates the potential for conflict. As I noted in my previous Defence-in-Depth piece The EU: A model for economic governance?, this ideal is rooted in Liberal economic thought which became a priority following the end of World War II. The Brussels based entity has succeeded in its goal of eliminating conflict between the European member states since its foundation, and has extrapolated this idea when dealing with foreign actors in the international system. However, there have been complications in this process which have led to a less than successful EU interdependence-based foreign policy in action.

Internally, the EU has been faced with barriers and issues surrounding the successful implementation of its foreign policy since the foundation of the supra-national organisation in 1951. These include barriers surrounding the over-bureaucratisation and politicisation of issues. Aside from these aspects, a further set of more nuanced issues have surfaced when the EU’s interdependence-based foreign policy has been implemented outside of the European continent.

In an article in International Affairs titled Trade and peace: the EU and Gaddafi’s final decade, I argue that the failure in the case of Libya was largely due to the fact that Brussels failed to take into account the environment in which it deployed its interdependence-based foreign policy. I also made corroborating arguments for a further two Middle Eastern state case studies in my book The Political Economy of EU Ties with Iraq and Iran. The key takeaway point from this research project has been that the EU faces a set of barriers when flexing its attempts at governance on an international scale.

These barriers vary from case to case and can broadly be put into two categories. First, each country in which the EU implements its interdependence-based foreign policy has a unique history, culture, context, set of internal, external and strategic interests which are in play. Such an amalgamation of characteristics makes for a complex environment in which to implement such a Liberal-orientated policy. This was particularly the case in Libya, Iraq and Iran.

Second, the economic interests of the actors involved evidently plays a predominant and in some cases, a usurping role when implementing the EU’s interdependence-based foreign policy. These actors can be in the guise of European leaders, policymakers, businesses, etc… and their counterparts in the country with which the EU is interacting with (in foreign policy terms). Empirically speaking, this has led to situations where economic incentives, such as demand for energy or a drive for profits in the private sector, have taken precedence over the political goals of limiting and eliminating the potential conflict.

Consequently, unless the factors in the first category are understood and then accounted for, and the factors in the second category overcome, the EU’s interdependence-based foreign policy will continue to face the same barriers to success.

Image: The European Quarter (aka Quartier Léopold) in Brussels, containing the headquarters of the different EU institutions. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Brexit and International Security: A Guide for Undecided Voters


The most recent polls for the referendum on Britain leaving the European Union suggest that neither the ‘Brexit’ nor the ‘Bremain’ camps have mustered the necessary support to win today. The still undecided voters will certainly play a crucial role. So, how should these voters take their decision? The most obvious approach is to gather as much impartial information as possible. Admittedly, in the present climate of the referendum campaign identifying such information is a challenging task. However, I argue in this blog post that academic scholarship can offer useful remedies. To be sure, academics have been accused of a clear Bremain bias. After all, a substantial number of academics have come out in favour of Britain staying in the EU. Universities UK, the umbrella organization for British universities, supports strongly the Bremain campaign and, according to The Independent, ‘vice chancellors from almost every major higher education institution in Britain say they are “gravely concerned” about a vote to leave’. At a recent workshop on the security implications of a potential Brexit, which I co-organized at King’s College London, it was difficult to find pro-Brexit security experts. None the less, academic scholars have demonstrated that they are capable of providing much needed, impartial information, as Anand Menon of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative has argued forcefully in a recent article for The Guardian. In a recent contribution to this blog, I have already refuted the arguments by both Brexit and Bremain supporters who have tried to use defence-related arguments in their campaigns.

In this contribution, I will go beyond the narrow focus on military defence. Using basic insights from International Relations theory, I will offer an impartial examination of British membership in the EU in the context of international security. From an International Relations perspective, the EU is basically a very advanced form of inter-state cooperation. And the classical International Relations theories tell us that states cooperate because it is in their national interest to do so. Historically, the main examples of international cooperation are alliances. You do not have to be a military genius to realize that it was easier to defeat Nazi Germany or to oppose the Soviet Union as a block of states rather than each country for itself. However, International Relations scholars also tell us that effective international cooperation always comes with a price tag. Especially for major players like the UK it is very difficult to ‘free-ride’ on the efforts of others. This is, if you will, the fundamental issue of this referendum: whereas the Brexit supporters believe that the price tag of EU cooperation is too hefty, Bremain supporters argue that the benefits of EU membership outweigh its costs.

But what do International Relations scholars consider to be ‘costs’? Too much focus in this regard has been on the misleading figures of the UK’s financial contributions to the EU. More important are costs in terms of national independence. In abstract terms, cooperation always entails some sort of compromise. In other words, if a nation state cooperates with other nation states its narrow national interests will be ‘compromised’ in one way or another. Let’s take an easy example: NATO and its leadership. The Alliance members have accepted that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe is always a US commander. This might be a small price to pay for America’s continuing commitment to NATO, but it is still a significant concession in terms of national military independence. Consequently, (neo) realist scholars believe that strong international cooperation only occurs – and should occur –in the rare instances when (minor) limits on national independence offer far superior benefits in terms of national interests. As the new head of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, Prof. Michael Rainsborough, argued in The Telegraph, ‘What remains permanent in Europe and the world are nation states that ultimately have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.’

There is no doubt that the EU encroaches on the UK’s national independence – every international organization of which the UK is a member does so in one way or another. In economic terms this encroachment is arguably more obvious than in the case international security. After all, in the realm of international security, the EU remains a largely intergovernmental organization, where decisions are still taken by consensus. Most notably, the EU does not infringe the right of the UK – or any other member state for that matter – to take fundamental national security decisions on their own, e.g. the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003 or the decision about the renewal of Trident. However, research shows that it is also true that many security-relevant decisions in Europe are not taken anymore in the national capitals in isolation, but rather by national representatives in Brussels. Conceptually, this is called supranational intergovernmentalism. Another example where the UK has lost some of its security-relevant national independence is border control. Although Britain has never joined the Schengen Agreement and remains formally in control of its borders – hence the long queues at the border control posts at UK airports whenever we try to enter the country! – the border-free Schengen zone and the free movement of persons in the EU has certainly limited the UK’s ability to control its borders.

However, all these costs in terms of national independence also have clear benefits for the UK. First, EU membership reduces uncertainty. Although the EU might have its shortcomings, at least we know what we have. And this might be better for the UK’s national interests than going it alone in an increasingly turbulent world. As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. To be clear, nobody knows what will happen if the UK actually leaves the EU. There is certainly the possibility that the UK will be better off after the Brexit. But there is also a high risk that the UK will be worse off. As the historian Lawrence Freedman pointed out in a recent article for Survival, ‘Extracting the United Kingdom from the European Union is not going to make either body stronger or better able to cope with the current set of security challenges, whether from Russia or ISIS. It could leave both in a much weaker position. With so little clarity on what Brexit is intended to achieve, it is hard to think of a greater test of the law of unintended consequences’.

Second, international organizations such as the EU help to lower transaction costs, as (neo) liberal scholars have argued since the 1980s. What this means in practice will be all too familiar to those readers with small children. As the eminent International Relations scholar Stephen Walt explained in a blog post for Foreign Policy, ‘My kids might like to negotiate every single aspect of their lives, but who has time? And as with most norms, failures in the short-term are less important than success in the long run’. In other words, cooperation with like-minded countries in an institutionalized setting like the EU tends to be much more efficient in the long-term than negotiating new forms of cooperation from scratch, whenever the need for working with other nations arises.

Third, many of today’s major security issues are global in nature. Transnational crime, the proliferation of WMD, climate change, energy security or the rise of China are issues that affect in one way or another most nation states, including the UK. Likewise, the issues cannot be addressed effectively by individual nation states, even the most powerful ones. For instance, if the UK tackles climate change nationally, but China and other major actors continue with their greenhouse gas emissions, British policies will not have a major impact and the UK is still likely to face the consequences of climate change. In International Relations theory, these kind of challenges are known as collective action problems. And the only way to avoid these kind of problems are powerful international organizations such as the EU.

So, what does all this theorizing about security cooperation tell the undecided voters today? Clearly, they should not cast their vote based on an ill-defined gut-feeling but on a fundamental decision about what each individual voter values most: national independence, though without being able to reap fully the benefits of security cooperation with the EU and its member states; or the ability to shape collective responses to common problems, but with less national independence. The ideal solution – full sovereignty and full benefits from cooperation – is unfortunately simply a pipe dream. As all too often in life, we can’t have the cake and eat it too.

Image via pixabay.

Why ‘defence’ does not serve as a suitable argument in the Brexit debate


Only one month remains until British voters can decide if the UK should leave or stay in the EU. Naturally, the debate about the benefits and disadvantages of British membership in the EU is heating up. Almost each day, the supporters of ‘Brexit’ and ‘Bremain’ vie with each other for the best punch line in the national media. Whereas most of the original debate centred on economic issues, the discussion covers now virtually every single imaginable policy field. Defence – or better military cooperation in the EU – has become one of them. Both the ‘leave-’ and ‘in-campaign’ have come up with terrifying visions should the UK either leave or stay in the EU. Vote Leave claims that ‘A vote to remain in the EU is a vote to keep giving the EU more and more power over our military and defence.’ In contrast, Britain Stronger in Europe argues that ‘If we left, the UK would lose its veto and its influence over EU policy [in the area of defence]’. Both campaigns have also been able to muster the support from some of the UK’s most senior military leaders. Major General Julian Thompson, the British land commander during the Falkland War, expounded his views in The Sun: ‘I find it quite extraordinary that they are trying to set up a separate defence organisation. It makes us less safe. It muddies the water.’ Yet, his comrade Colonel Angus Loudon MBE comes to a very different conclusion in The Telegraph: ‘Only by remaining and leading European defence co-operation can we protect ourselves from the threats and instabilities we may face in the future.’ So, the question is: who is right? The short answer is: none of them. Defence, in the narrow military sense, is simply not an issue on which leaving or staying in the EU will have major repercussions for the UK. After all, the EU is not, by and large, a defence organization.

To be sure, the EU has a defence policy in the form of the so-called Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). However, it is not a widely developed policy field. The notion of a common defence policy dates back only to 1998, with the European Security and Defence Policy. Interestingly, it was actually an Anglo-French bilateral document, the so-called St Malo Declaration, that kick-started EU defence cooperation. In this Declaration, the governments of the EU’s two most powerful military actors agreed that ‘the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises.’ However, the British and French governments did not agree on the reasons behind this initiative. While the British thought it would strengthen the European pillar in NATO, the French saw it as a way to become independent of the United States in military affairs. Be that as it may, in the following years EU member states have adopted a number of ambitious ‘headline goals’ to implement the new-born European and –since the entry into force of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty – Common Security and Defence Policy. Yet, these goals have never been met. This does not mean that the CSDP has ceased to exist. On the contrary, the EU has implemented over thirty CSDP missions all around the world. There have been even missions with real military teeth, in particular the anti-piracy operation off the Somali coast, but the majority of them were rather civilian than military missions. So, in many respects, the EU has remained a military dwarf.

What does this mean for the Brexit vs. Bremain debate? The low level of defence cooperation in the EU leads to a rather paradoxical situation for both camps.

On the one hand, the supporters of Brexit can argue – quite convincingly – that leaving the EU would not have major repercussions in the defence field. Institutional integration is almost non-existent. For instance, there is no permanent EU military headquarters. So, the institutional disentanglement could be almost done overnight. On the other hand, EU defence cooperation looks in many respects like the type of cooperation that the Brexit supporters want for the whole of the EU: It is almost purely intergovernmental, each member state has a de facto veto power on all decisions, most financial contributions are paid for by the member states on a voluntary basis, and the European Court of Justice (as opposed to the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU institution) has virtually no power. And this creates two problems for the Brexit arguments: First, defence does not appear to be a particularly good reason for leaving the EU; second, if the rest of the EU would be run like defence cooperation, does this mean that new forms of cooperation in Europe would be as ineffective in all other areas as it is in defence?

At the same time, defence is also a double-edged sword for the supporters of Bremain. On the one hand, they can point out that Britain remains fully in control of defence cooperation, i.e. nothing can be done against her will. Furthermore, while there are only few positive outcomes of CSDP missions, in particular off the Somali coast, there have been no missions with clearly negative outcomes. Yet, on the other hand, the supporters of Bremain cannot point to any major example that could show that Britain really needs to be in the EU for defence purposes. In fact, the UK could still cooperate with her European partners in defence matters even from outside the formal EU structures – and she might be even more eager to do so, as the example of France leaving the military structures of NATO shows.

At the end of the day, the bottom line is: in narrow military terms, staying in the EU does not make the UK a safer place – but neither does leaving the EU! Especially in the short- and medium term the Brexit referendum will not have major defence implications for the UK (though it might have for the EU). NATO is and will be Europe’s main organization for defence cooperation. In particular nuclear deterrence is dealt with exclusively in the NATO framework. National security in a broader sense is, of course, a very different matter. International terrorism, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, or transnational criminal networks, are very different types of threats to the UK and cannot be compared to defence cooperation in a strict military sense. In fact, they might be very good reasons to vote on 23 June. But military defence in a strict sense is not one of them.

Image: NATO forces practice amphibious assault near Ustka, northern Poland, on 17 June 2015, via NATO image library.

A Capital Mistake: Evidence and Defence in the Brexit Debates

Professor Matthew Uttley & Dr. Benedict Wilkinson

In one of his more exasperated moments, Sherlock Holmes turns to his long-term companion, Dr. Watson and chides him for his impatience, saying ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.’ Strong words they may be, but wise ones too. And yet, those who watch defence matters will have noticed that we are approaching a Brexit referendum in much the same position that Holmes warns Watson to avoid: lots of arguments and theories and ideas, but little evidence to back any of it up.

Over the last few weeks, the national security and foreign policy implications of a Brexit have become a key battleground. Everyone seems to have an opinion, even US President Barack Obama, who wrote in the Daily Telegraph that ‘[t]his kind of cooperation – from intelligence sharing and counterterrorism to forging agreements to create jobs and economic growth – will be far more effective if it extends across Europe’. The arguments on both sides are well-rehearsed: those in the ‘Remain’ campaign repeatedly claim that leaving the EU would ‘threaten’ the UK’s national security and global influence. They point to ‘grave security challenges’ and existential threats, including the rise of so-called Islamic State (DAISH) and resurgent Russian nationalism, and assert that the UK is in a ‘stronger’ position to deal with them from inside the EU. Those in the ‘Leave’ campaign have responded by accusing their opponents of exaggeration, egregious scaremongering and ‘Project Fear’ tactics.

Amongst the op eds, the interviews and the speeches, there is little evidence or rigorous analysis to substantiate claims made by either side. In our view, this is worrying: in the first place, it means that key elements of national security have been overlooked in what has been described as a ‘blizzard’ of sweeping claims and counter-claims over whether Britain’s defence and international status would be undermined by departure from the EU. Indeed, as we have argued in the International Affairs journal published by Chatham House and elsewhere, one of the most important omissions in debates thus far has been any consideration of what a Brexit might mean for Britain’s defence procurement and domestic defence industries.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the lack of evidence and analysis raises the spectre of UK voters being forced to make their referendum choices without key information on the possible Brexit implications for a vital sector that provides secure military supply chains, ‘technology advantage’, and a domestic industry with an annual turnover of £30 billion and employs 215,000 predominantly skilled personnel as well as supporting a further 150,000 jobs in supply chains.

Without the data and evidence, it is difficult to understand what a Brexit might mean for defence procurement and defence industries. This is worrying because the Brexit debate is highly partisan and ideological, so there is the real possibility that long-term choices will be coloured by the politics of sovereignty versus the politics of integration, rather than evidence relating to the defence-industrial base and defence acquisition.

As things stand, the debate is being played out between four factions. On the one hand, there are pro-Brexit and pro-Remain ‘factions’ that emphasise the importance of national sovereignty, but disagree on the implications of a British exit. On the other, there are pro-Brexit and pro-Remain ‘factions’ that subscribe to the goal of integration through ‘ever closer union’, but disagree on whether the UK is essential for, or an impediment to, that goal.

The domestic British political debate is likely to be dominated by cases presented by two pro-Brexit and pro-Remain ‘factions’ that emphasise the ‘so what?’ for national sovereignty and independence. These factions are likely to rehearse the predictable and well-worn claims and counter-claims characterising the Brexit debate as a whole. The argument of the ‘pro-UK, pro-Brexit’ camp will be that ‘leaving will not undermine the national defence procurement options or industrial capabilities’ because EU integration in this sector has thus far been limited, so Britain would remain free to pursue a ‘sovereign’ defence procurement policy. Set against this, the ‘pro-UK, pro-Remain’ camp would argue that ‘there’s nothing to lose by staying in, but there are plenty of risks for the UK in leaving’. It would also argue that if the UK would be no worse off in leaving, then it would be no worse off in staying. Correspondingly, it is likely to reiterate the broader mantra that a Brexit might deter future foreign direct investment, and that Britain would have to comply with EU regulations when trading with Europe, but without influence on the future content and direction of those regulations.

The two pro-Brexit and pro-Remain ‘factions’ subscribing to the goal of ‘ever closer union’ are likely to produce narratives premised on assumed benefits from integration. A ‘pro-EU, pro-Remain’ faction is likely to argue that ‘leaving will undermine the EU’s defence industry so that the EU and UK will rely on the US to an even greater extent’. It follows well-worn assumptions in Brussels that the reluctance of EU member states to relinquish sovereignty has created protectionism and fragmentation in Europe’s defence procurement and industrial spheres. The solution to the ‘costs of non-Europe’ is a strategically independent European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB) able to compete with large US defence contractors. On this basis, a Brexit will undermine the emergence of a genuinely competitive and strategically autonomous EDTIB, which, in turn, risks undermining the future of ‘security of supply’ of defence equipment sourced from within Europe, leading, in turn, to greater EU reliance on US-sourced defence systems. Against this and as we argue in the IA article, we envisage a pro-Brexit faction that argues that ‘a British exit will remove a barrier to other member states’ desire for “ever closer union” and a European Defence Union’. This perspective is likely to emanate from frustrations in European member states among those who feel that the UK is an impediment to EU integration.

Nonetheless, all of this is difficult to prove – not least, because of the dearth of data, the paucity of evidence and the absence of analysis. The real threat, amongst all this, is that British voters will be forced to chose between partisan and ideologically motivated claims and counter-claims. The risk is that they end up like Dr. Watson – making judgments without all the evidence and, perhaps, coming to regret those judgments.


Image: 47th Munich Security Conference 2011: David Cameron (le), Prime Minister, Great Britain, Dr. Angela Merkel (ri), Federal Chancellor, Germany, and Kevin Rudd, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Australia.. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.



At the 2016 International Studies Association (ISA) conference, I presented a paper arguing that the EU’s peace-through-trade policy failed in the cases of Iraq, Iran and Libya as it did not take into account the context in which it was being implemented, i.e. the barriers to peace. The paper draws from the theoretical argument concerned with the EU’s liberal idea of increased interaction leading to influence, something I articulated in a previous Defence-in-Depth post titled The EU: A Model For Economic Governance? This is an idea which I have been thinking and writing about (for the case of Iraq and Iran), and one which I am continuing to test in different case studies, hence the inclusion of Libya in my ISA conference paper.

The argument isn’t particularly sophisticated, indeed it is one which is often levied against liberally-inclined foreign policies. The novelty however lies in the contribution to the theoretical and policy targeted debates. I argue that the liberal theory-based EU policy of using economic ties (increasing trade in this instance) with an actor in order to achieve political goals (i.e. peace), is not being implemented in the manner in which the theory espouses. Indeed, the theory delineates that the economic ties can act as a carrot to induce an environment where peace can be achieved. For this to be true, the policy must be adopted in an absolute sense, i.e. for trade to be carried out when a country is at peace and NOT when it is in a state of conflict. However, the EU does not implement it’s foreign policy in this manner. It merely freezes trade agreements, transactions, updates and in some cases, renewals, in times of conflict. The result, in the case if Iraq, Iran and Libya was a continuing level of EU trade with the three states whilst they were embroiled in conflict (at different levels).

As a result, I argued in my paper (and my book), that the EU is not adopting it’s peace-through-trade policy in a manner which satisfies the theoretical assumptions upon which it is based. The line of argument continues to denote that the policy can therefore not be implemented in an ‘accurate’ way (in a theoretical sense), and thus undermining the fundamentals of the policy all together.

I therefore contend, that if the EU is truly dedicated to it’s self proclaimed peace-through-trade policy, then it must either adopt the policy in an absolute manner (as the theory dictates) or account for the different barriers to the policy succeeding by other means. Alternatively, the EU could go the other way and remove it’s peace-through-trade rhetoric and policy altogether.

Image: Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; Vice-President of the European Commission, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Reasons to (not) be cheerful in 2016…Europe: UK heading for the exit?

After a turbulent 2015, members of DSD’s Regional Security Research Centre (@KingsRegSec) look forward to the coming year and examine the issues that they believe will be prominent in 2016, including the US presidential elections, continuing instability across the Middle East and the various coalitions seeking to counter IS, talks between India and Pakistan on Afghanistan, the UK referendum on membership of the EU and continuing concerns about Russian activity in eastern Europe.

Dr Ben Kienzle

In 2015 the very foundations of the European Union have been shaken by three major events: The continuing euro-crisis has threatened the existence of the monetary union among the euro area member states; the resurrection of border controls between several Schengen countries in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis has undermined the EU’s core principle of free movement of people; and – to add insult to injury for the EU – the UK government has finally announced that it will hold a referendum on British membership in the EU by the end of 2017, though many commentators believe that it could happen as early as spring 2016.

Given these preconditions, 2016 could be a bleak year for the EU indeed. By the end of the year the euro area could be on the verge of disintegration, internal EU borders could have been re-nationalized, and the UK could be on the way to leave an EU that is a ‘Union’ in all but name. At this point, however, it is far too early to write off the EU. If history is any indication, the EU and its member states have certainly the ability to get – once more – their act together and to emerge strengthened out of the current crisis. Like in an ancient Greek drama, catharsis may follow crisis: By the end of 2016, Greece might be finally on its way to economic recovery; the EU member states might have gotten a grip on the refugee crisis, and the British people may have decided that it is actually better to stay within the European Union. Whatever the final outcome, 2016 will be certainly a year, in which Europe will remain a top of agenda.

Image: David Cameron and Angela Merkel at 10 Downing Street in 2014, via flickr.

The EU: A Model for Economic Governance?


The idea that political differences between two or more actors can be improved through economic means is at the heart of the study of the International Political Economy (IPE). This notion, which is rooted in the Liberal school of thought, sets the foundations for one of the most long lasting supra-national institutions in the post-World War II era, the European Union (EU).

Indeed, following World War II, European policy makers and leaders began building a narrative of economic cohesion in order to ensure peace and stability on the continent. The famous Schuman Declaration on May 9, 1950, made by the then French Foreign Minister and founder of the EU as we know it today, Robert Schuman, emphatically proposed that the rivalry between France and German be eradicated by pooling the means of production and placing the administration of these means ‘under a common High Authority’, i.e. the EU. As a result, this economic community would create a sense of unity in terms of solidarity and cohesion in a production sense. Consequently, Schuman prophesised that such unity ‘will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’. Schuman’s ideal was then realised under the 1951 Paris Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the EU in its first guise if you will. Since then, the supra-national institution has evolved following an agenda which has seen its member states become increasingly economically aligned, through the 1993 Monetary Union and the 1999 birth of the Eurozone. This concept of economic cohesion and integration has concurrently been applied to the EU’s foreign policy endeavours.

Further, the EU policy has seen varying levels of success internally, in the sense that there has been an increasingly closer economic and financial union between the member states, in spite contemporary concerns over Greek debt and bailout conditions. Indeed, when concerned with the Greek debt crisis, the EU (alongside the IMF) has thus far have commissioned just over €290 billion in debt relief to Athens. Politically, the decision making process has revealed that the EU states are at odds with one another when it comes to identifying not just whether to continue to support Greece, but also how to support their fellow member. As a result, the crisis has demonstrated how the interests of the actors concerned, in this case the non-Greek member states, can influence the performance of economic governance within the EU.

Additionally, a look at this economic form of governance when concerned with extra-EU states depicts an almost equally less than rosy picture. Indeed, the EU’s foreign economic policy operates under the same Schuman-espoused conditions: economic cohesion can ameliorate conflict. That being said, this notion is not always applicable for a number of reasons, namely that the policy does not take into account the environment or context in which it is implemented. This is something which I argue, in the context of the EU’s foreign policy towards two countries in the Middle East, in my book titled: The Political Economy of EU Ties with Iraq and Iran. Using the examples of Iraq and Iran, I demonstrate, like in the case of the Greek Debt crisis described above, how the interests of the pen-holding actors ultimately led to a failure of the EU policy in these two instances. As a result, I argue that the notion of achieving political goals through economic means must be cognisant of the fact that the policy is not acting within a vacuum. There are forces, actors and interests which must be taken into account.

Thus, when posed with the question whether the EU economic governance experiment has been positive or successful, the answer is twofold. From an internal EU perspective, the Greek debt crisis has revealed that no matter how much EU member states are integrated economically, political and cultural differences are prevalent. Whilst on the one hand, the EU has remained in tact, and therefore it can be considered a conditional success. On the other hand, the lack of unity of the EU members politically and economically points to a failure, in spite of over 60 years of trying to do so. Looking further afield, the EU’s foreign economic policy has fared even less favourably. Indeed, whilst the EU’s economic footprint in Iraq and Iran has been larger than that of any other actor in the international system, it has still failed to ameliorate concerns over conflict and instability.

Resultantly, the EU’s model for economic governance suffers from barriers and inefficiencies on a structural and practical level. This inefficiency applies to both the internal and external functioning of the Brussels based institution. It is therefore clear that either the policy or the structure of the EU must reform if it is to achieve its stated goals of peace and stability, when concerned with internally and external ventures.

Image: Robert Schuman 10 Franc coin, courtesy of Yricordel on Wikimedia Commons.

Trade Leads To Peace: Liberals and Realists Agree!



The notion that trade leads to peace has been around sinceat least the first century. In the year 100 AD, Plutarch the Greek Philosopher, on the subject of sea trade, noted how the exchange of goods could bring about cooperation and friendship. Since then, the logistics and testing of the trade-peace relationship have resulted in a rich vein of literature concerned with the theoretical and empirical link between these two variables. Consequently, a myriad of foreign policy actors have calibrated and implemented this peace-through-trade policy when dealing with one another. This has been the case, specifically when concerned with nations, supra-national and international organizations which are driven by the norms and ideals set out in Liberal theory. I put this peace-through-trade notion to the test in the theoretical chapter of my latest book titled: The Political Economy of EU Ties with Iraq and Iran: An Assessment of the Trade-Peace Relationship.

The idea from the Liberal perspective is that the more actors trade with one another, the more confidence is instilled between them, and from this confidence, an ability to share and influence norms and behavior. Additionally through this increased ‘interaction’, both actors accrue mutual benefits, not just economically (in terms of goods, services, GDP growth, etc.), but also politically (in terms of capabilities, political agreements, increased understanding, etc.).

Conversely, Plutarch’s notion was challenged by the more Realist interpretation of interaction between two or more actors. French Foreign Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert emphatically declared in 1661 that ‘trade is a form of war’. Indeed, Colbert was one of the first practitioners of this Realist perspective, as he implemented a policy which ensured that France exported more goods and services than what it imported into the country.

This conflict-through-trade idea derived from the notion that in order for an actor to flourish or grow, it must achieve a surplus over its trade counterpart. This conservative outlook is based on the assumption that ties between two actors are asymmetric in nature, i.e. that there is always a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’ in a trading relationship. However, in my book I contend that Realists do in fact agree with Liberals on the matter, under certain conditions.

The Realist premise is based on a superior actor having an incentive to attain a surplus, again either economically or politically, over their inferior counterpart. However, imagine a scenario where the superior actor would benefit from increased trade with their inferior partner. For example, a superior actor may have a vested interest in ensuring that their inferior counterpart is in a state of peace and stability. These vested interests can range from securing and attaining resources to acquiring and maintaining influence in the particular country or region in question. Therefore, the superior actor would be incentivized to provide the facilities, knowledge or aid to ensure stability and stave off political or violent unrest in the inferior state. In this instance, the ‘winner’ would be incentivized to increase trade with the ‘loser’ in the relationship. As a result, the Realist would be in favor of increased trade.

There is of course an increasing number of theoretical approaches to assessing the international system, and indeed in my book I also assess the trade-peace relationship when operating under Marxist assumptions. But to focus this post, my contention is that in spite of their differences, Liberals and Realists agree on the peace-through-trade theory under certain conditions.

Image: Plutarch the Greek Philosopher, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.