Keeping Europe Safe After Brexit: Sustaining the EU-UK Defense Relationship

Written by | Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Europeans live in an increasingly complex security environment. This includes Russian activities in the East of the EU’s borders, instability in the Mediterranean and economic and strategic competition from China. The growth of terrorism, cybercrime and organized crime are getting more globalized while organized crime is being facilitated by technology and cross-border movements of illicit money and firearms. The distinction between state and non-state actors is getting vague and it is also increasingly unclear who controls the technology and weapons that they use.


This security context is moreover underpinned by the changes in the redistribution of power across the world and the global order and this includes doubts concerning Donald Trump’s administration. All of these developments have forced European leaders to pay greater attention to their own security and defense cooperation. All these challenges threaten European security in its entirety and substantiate the need for a collective European security approach. Security is an interest shared by all European citizens, not only by EU citizens.


Therefore, the security of the continent must be taken seriously in the context of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Any dialogue between Brussels and London on their future relationship on security should take this new security context into account. Thus, now is the time for the EU and the UK to put aside political tensions around Brexit in order to protect their own citizens. This is a moment that demands cooperation, capabilities and renewed commitment in order to deepen European security.


While Brexit is a major challenge to Europe’s continued cooperation on security issues, in particular because of its political and institutional obstacles, the divorce proceedings could also serve as an important opportunity to scrutinize the array of threats that Europe is currently facing. The question that we should be asking is about how to work out a new EU-UK security partnership that improves Europe’s comprehensive security.


A continued commitment is needed from both sides. All European countries need to boost their investment in and engagement on their security, keeping up with both the 2 percent of GDP target for defense spending and the 0.7 percent target for overseas development aid. The UK, in particular, should show its intent to contribute in both EU and non-EU settings. All channels of European security cooperation, at bilateral and multilateral level, need to stay very much open, to complement efforts within the EU platforms. For external tools in defense, foreign policy and crisis management, ad hoc arrangements between the EU and the UK would be likely more suitable on the basis that Brussels will seek UK involvement when and where it will be deemed useful.


‘Keeping Europe Safe After Brexit’ – Policy Brief by a Team of Authors – European Council on Foreign Relations / ECFR.

(The Policy Brief can be downloaded here)

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