Wed, Sep 05, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Fostering deeper security collaboration among EU’s ‘big three’

By Volker Perthes

Despite the tensions generated by Brexit, the leaders of France, Germany and the UK have stood together in disputes between the EU and the US. If their unity can be sustained, Europe’s “big three” would serve the EU well in a tumultuous future.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May seem to have read from the same script regarding US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and his rejection of the final communique of the G7 summit in June. They all disapprove of Trump’s decisions to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council. They have all criticized his escalating trade war with China.

This unity is not merely rhetorical. The UK has supported EU integration projects concerning foreign and security policy — much more so than before the Brexit referendum. This includes the decision to establish new headquarters for military training missions — which many view as the nucleus for a potential European military — in Africa. Britain had long resisted this initiative.

The catalyst for the UK’s change of course, it seems, is Trump. There is significant evidence suggesting that Trump views the EU and some of its member states as adversaries, rather than allies. While the US would remain the most important ally of the EU and NATO’s European members, it is no longer the most reliable one. This shift has dashed hopes in the UK that post-Brexit Britain would be able to capitalize on its “special relationship” with the US, and it has highlighted for the EU the urgency of increasing its own strategic autonomy.

While the North Atlantic alliance would remain critical to European security, the EU seeks to build the capacity to define its own strategic priorities and, if needed, act upon them, whether alone or with partners. Achieving this objective, as defined in the EU’s 2016 Global Strategy, would be much easier with the UK on board.

The EU and the UK have more international clout together than separately. The UK has significant diplomatic experience, international influence and military and economic resources that can be brought to bear on joint ventures, just as the EU’s backing can provide a major boost to UK policies on the world stage. This applies to measures taken regarding major actors such as China or Russia, sanctions regimes, international agreements and strategic programs such as Galileo, the European satellite navigation system.

How exactly a post-Brexit UK can be institutionally associated with common EU decisions on foreign policy, security and defense would have to be determined in the exit agreement, but it is possible to create a format that gives the UK a voice, not a veto.

Meanwhile, no decisions should be taken that would prevent or undermine the UK’s post-Brexit coordination with EU foreign-policy positions, actions and instruments. Moreover, steps can and should be taken to strengthen EU-UK ties.

Collaboration among the “big three,” in particular, is crucial. They have proved their potential. They initiated negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program as early as 2003, and became the nucleus of the “big three” plus three (China, Russia and the US), which — along with the EU — concluded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran in 2015.

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