In the run up to the referendum I intend to post a blog each Sunday detailing the reasons why Britain will be better off outside the European Union. These posts will cover the following topics: the economy, influence, democracy, security, the environment, cost, and reform.
Over the past week or so the issue of security in a post-Brexit world has been pushed to the forefront of the debate, notable highlights being Cameron’s intimation that leaving could be the first step towards World War 3 and that ISIS back Brexit. It’s entirely possible to dismiss these claims out of hand as being every bit as ludicrous as they sound of course, but the wider point of whether EU membership is good for our security and whether or not extricating ourselves from the political institutions of Brussels threatens that security is worth answering. Downing Street has orchestrated it so that various foreign intelligence chiefs and military personnel appear to back our continued membership though there’s plenty of former intelligence heads and Generals wrongly claimed by the In camp, who conclude the opposite.
Firstly, the point has to be made that the two most important pillars of our national security are our membership of the 5 Eyes intelligence group and NATO. It is these two pillars that, for differing reasons, mean we shall remain as secure (or otherwise) regardless as to whether we stay or leave. Broadly speaking though, the exact same principle that applies to the economic arguments applies to that of security. Namely, both the UK and European nations need each other to help fight off any threats, regardless of whether we’re in political union or not.
Leaving the EU does not mean we shall cease co-operating with our allies on the continent in matters of national security. It does not mean that we stop presenting a united front against terrorism, or Russian belligerence, or any other threat. Merely that we wish to work with our allies as an independent, sovereign nation, rather than as part of a larger federal group. Indeed, only last month French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, reiterated that relations will remain close between the UK and France in intelligence and security in the event of the British people voting to Leave.
The example of France withdrawing from the integrated military command structures of NATO in the 1960s can be analogous here. Although it had left those structures in order to establish a more independent defence policy, it still contributed heavily to NATO missions. Indeed, in some aspects it had a galvanising effect. Precisely because of doubts about France’s commitment to western security, French politicians re-affirmed their loyalty to the alliance and continued to spend heavily on defence in order to counter that impression.
There is no reason why a post-Brexit UK would not do the same, loudly trumpeting our commitment to the Western cause whilst maintaining, or maybe even increasing, our defence spending. This would both reassure our allies, and continue to present a strong, united front to our enemies.
Despite Nick Clegg’s recent assertion that talk of an EU army was a ‘dangerous fantasy’, Germany is now pushing for exactly that, and it has been repeatedly called for by numerous EU leaders, not least EU President Jean-Claude Juncker. Britain has long opposed such a move, for good reason, fearing it could undermine it’s membership of NATO, as well as the desire to maintain an independent military.
However, it’s entirely possible that, freed from British opposition, the EU could progress towards it’s long sought after operational headquarters, providing the UK with a more effective partner than it currently has. Moreover, without the underlying spectre of joining an EU army, Britain may find it easier to collaborate militarily with it’s European allies.
As it is, the EU is hamstrung by a unanimity requirement, making it slow to react to security crises. The EEC (and subsequently the EU) came about not to provide peace, but as a consequence of the peace secured on the continent by NATO and the idea that the UK leaving the EU could threaten that peace is preposterous. Constitutional democracies do not go to war with each other.
Of course, it’s not just military capabilities that provide our security. On intelligence, the Five Eyes program (between the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) provides an invaluable tool in combating global terrorism. An unusually broad agreement, it allows for the exchange of intercepted raw traffic, analysis, work on cryptology, and intercept theory, and has played a role in thwarting numerous attacks, particularly in the post-9/11 era, in which it has become increasingly important.
Whilst this does raise questions about privacy, it does show the benefits of co-operating with our Anglosphere allies above our friends on the continent. European intelligence is notoriously leaky, but there are calls for a greater push towards unifying the continent’s operations. This poses a direct threat to our involvement in the Five Eyes program, as Washington would be loathe to share information that was at risk of being exposed. Indeed, American intelligence services already see Europol as a liability and regard it as suspect.
So there are questions about what threats continued EU membership poses to our security. Not just on the ramifications of being part of more integrated intelligence and military operations, but also on being party to the consequences of the EU’s approach to foreign policy.
No-one is excusing Putin’s actions in the Crimea, but there is no doubt the EU’s expansionist ambitions towards Ukraine inflamed tensions with Russia. Furthermore, the migrant crisis, and the EU’s haphazard attempts to deal with it, have exposed some of the problems with free movement across the continent.
Whilst the only politically expedient route out of the EU – EEA via EFTA membership – maintains freedom of movement, it does give us access to the EEA’s emergency brake, meaning there is a mechanism of dealing with the security threats of mass immigration currently unavailable to us. Were the migrant crisis to flare up again with ISIS looking to take advantage of that, the ‘Norway option’ does provide us with the tools to respond to such a threat.
So in conclusion, just as leaving the EU does not mean an end to trade with Europe, nor does it mean ceasing co-operation with our allies against external threats. Indeed our current strongest defences are borne out of non-EU alliances and with the greater push towards federalisation, it is voting to stay that offers the greater uncertainty about the future of our national security.
The greater threats posed by mass immigration can be mitigated by taking the EEA route out of the EU and utilising that option’s emergency brake, and the need to quell any talk of the UK abandoning it’s responsibilities in the event of a Brexit vote could well have a galvanising effect on British defence. Leaving EU political union gives us no reason to fear for our national security.