Defending Europe: ‘Global Britain’ and the Future of European Geopolitics

By James Rogers

File:Nicolas de Rivière, Boris Johnson, Mike Pompeo and Heiko Maas in Brussels - 2018 (40838347435).jpgDefending Europe: ‘Global Britain’ and the Future of European Geopolitics, a new report from The Henry Jackson Society, calls for Britain to launch and lead a ‘European Defence Initiative’ to shape the defence of the Continent and maintain ties with NATO.

The report highlights Russian aggression, Chinese expansionism and the United States’ ongoing pivot towards the Indo-Pacific as external challenges to the European security order. However, it also points out how Germany and France are starting to use Brexit to challenge some of the basic assumptions which have underpinned European security since the Second World War. The result could be the exposure of faultlines long buried by NATO, leading to a decoupling of the EU from NATO and the wider Atlantic order.

Defending Europe calls for the creation of a European Defence Initiative (EDI) that would bind together European nations committed to the liberal democratic international order. The grouping, affiliated to NATO and Atlantic values, would bring military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities together to uphold regional stability:

  • It would be an exclusive body, only open to stable, liberal and democratic European countries. Those countries would be obligated to spend at least 2% of their national output on their armed forces and (for the wealthier members) 0.7% on overseas development assistance by 2025.
  • In exchange for these pledges, Britain (and France, should it choose to join) should commit to the extension of their nuclear umbrella, as well as the principle of collective defence, over all full members of the group.
  • If implemented, by the late 2020s the EDI should be able to mobilise a large force for any conceivable form of military operation. In addition, forces should be deployed along NATO’s ‘eastern flank’ to provide further defence to allies to deter Russian aggression.

While reasserting leadership via the EDI and NATO structures, the report recommends that Britain should also:

  • Boost spending on its own armed forces to such a degree that it remains – by some margin – the leading European military power, irrespective of the future decisions of France, Germany and Russia. Spending 2% GDP on military must be a floor and not a ceiling; and defence expenditure exceeding 3% of GDP by the mid-2020s should not be unthinkable.
  • Reallocate some overseas development assistance funding to less affluent European allies – particularly those within the reach of Russia – where investment in logistics, transport and communication infrastructure could be vital in supporting their security in the face of aggression on their borders or unconventional warfare.
  • Deepen its relationship with the Baltic States and other Eastern European countries, ensuring that they become the essential ‘bulwarks’ to the European Defence Initiative. While British Armed Forces have already been stationed in Estonia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, additional UK forces could be deployed to Latvia and Lithuania, underwriting the safety of these nations with forces from a nuclear power.

The report has received the endorsement from Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Dr. Julian Lewis, who said:

This is a scholarly and robust attempt to ensure that the further development of European political integration, after Brexit, does not result in estrangement between the United States and Continental Europe. However, the goal of Britain working with an elite group of other European states which meet the NATO minimum of spending 2 per cent of GDP on Defence — while attractive and ambitious — will depend on such states investing much more in future than they have traditionally been willing to do.

Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow, Europe Programme, Chatham House, endorsed the report, saying:

‘This thought-provoking report does a great job of locating the dilemmas currently facing the UK in the context of the longer history of British foreign policy. It reminds us that geography matters and that “Global Britain” is only possible if there is a favourable environment in Europe.’

Report author James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain Programme at The Henry Jackson Society, said:

“Britain’s withdrawal from the EU sharpens an already acute security challenge. Russia is back menacing Europe; the US – long frustrated with low European defence spending – is increasingly focused on affairs beyond the continent; China is growing in wealth and power; and Germany and France are seeking to frame the future of the EU, with Germany being particularly rigid in defence of its national interests.

“Rather than getting bogged down in a Brexit identity crisis, Britain must now have a more rigorous and forward-looking approach to the defence of Europe. Without a stable and liberal Europe, there can be no ‘Global Britain’; and there can be no stable and liberal Europe without British involvement and support. 

“Now is the time for us to ensure that European security is fit for the coming decades – and it is essential that the Atlantic order remains supreme if we are to meet the challenge.”

Read the full report here 


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