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Last week, the Department for Exiting the European Union published its latest paper on the future of British engagement with the EU’s foreign, security and defence policies and mechanisms. As a general introduction to British thinking on these issues – particularly the Government’s statement that it is ‘unconditionally committed’ to European security – the paper is a welcome intervention that has quietly impressed European leaders and officials. After all, as a powerful European country, the United Kingdom cannot afford to ignore the geopolitical situation in its own backyard. Again and again, history has shown that a ‘global’ Britain depends on a stable and orderly Europe; if the latter breaks down, the former will become unachievable. So, at a more detailed level, there are a number of issues that require deeper strategic analysis, to understand where Britain should move in relation to European security as it leaves the EU.
To begin with, it is worth recalling that the UK still looms over its European neighbours in relation to defence. With the largest military and intelligence budgets in Europe, the UK accounts for more than a quarter of European spending on these areas. In effect, this figure is even higher, insofar as the UK’s military and intelligence capabilities are operationally hardened and highly deployable, whereas most other European countries’ armed forces are useful for little more than light peacekeeping duties and direct territorial defence. Britain is also an established nuclear power with the means to deter attacks in its own national homeland, and it has – unlike France – explicitly pledged that its nuclear arsenal, equipped with intercontinental range and a second-strike capability, would be deployed in defence of its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Read more in the Brexit Central