Bri­tain, the Euro­pean Union and our na­tional se­cu­rity

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Opinion - Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War.” acyr@carthage.edu

“Spooked by Brexit, Mr. Bond?” That is the cap­tion un­der a pho­to­graph of ac­tor Daniel Craig, the cur­rent James Bond, pis­tol in hand, look­ing con­cerned. The pic­ture ap­pears in a May 2016 is­sue of The Econ­o­mist, the in­flu­en­tial weekly pub­lished in Lon­don.

The illustration is in an ar­ti­cle on de­fense and se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions of de­part­ing from the Euro­pean Union. Brexit is the short­hand term for Bri­tain leav­ing the EU. Pro-Brexit sup­port­ers had just nar­rowly won a ref­er­en­dum.

In real life, cur­rent de­vel- op­ments un­der­score both the im­age and the re­al­ity of this im­por­tant Econ­o­mist anal­y­sis. On Oct. 20, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peace­ful pro­test­ers marched through Lon­don to Par­lia­ment to de­mand a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum to ap­prove any Brexit de­ci­sion.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s govern­ment strug­gles in in­ter­nal di­vi­sion and ex­ter­nal dis­agree­ment with EU of­fi­cials over Brexit. Nev­er­the­less, she re­mains firmly com­mit­ted to sep­a­rat­ing from Europe.

Mean­while, with vastly less me­dia at­ten­tion, on Oct. 19, Sir John Saw­ers de­liv­ered an im­por­tant speech. He is former chief of MI6, the se­cret govern­ment agency re­spon­si­ble for the for­eign se­cu­rity of the na­tion.

Sir John spoke at a lunch spon­sored by the Ed­ward Heath Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion, named for the prime min­is­ter who worked for years suc­cess­fully to bring the United King­dom — Bri­tain plus North­ern Ire­land — into the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity, pre­de­ces­sor to the cur­rent EU.

The event was in Sal­is­bury, scene of a vi­cious poi­son at­tack in March by Rus­sian agents on former spy Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter Yu­lia. Sir John bluntly stated the Brexit con­tro­versy weak­ens Bri­tain: “I don’t be­lieve Rus­sia would have used a nerve agent on the streets of an Amer­i­can or a Ger­man city.” They would have feared the con­se­quences.

He ar­gued Bri­tain’s iso­la­tion, by con­trast, in­vites at­tack. With­drawal from Europe is oc­cur­ring si­mul­ta­ne­ously with grow- ing dis­tance from Wash­ing­ton, thanks to the United States govern­ment “step­ping back from its en­light­ened lead­er­ship in the world.” Sir John crit­i­cized U.S. of­fi­cials in harsh, dev­as­tat­ing terms for aban­don­ment of past lead­er­ship.

While me­dia and po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary about Brexit fo­cuses al­most ex­clu­sively on eco­nomic di­men­sions, there are sig­nif­i­cant se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions as well. The EU fa­cil­i­tates de­fense col­lab­o­ra­tion among mem­bers. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has un­der­taken lim­ited mil­i­tary mis­sions, rang­ing as far be­yond Europe as In­done­sia.

De­par­ture of Bri­tain from for­mal EU mem­ber­ship would cre­ate pres­sures to re-em­pha­size NATO and transat­lantic co­op­er­a­tion more gen­er­ally. In that re­gard, there may be op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Af­ter World War II, Bri­tain played an im­por­tant role in ef­fect­ing mil­i­tary as well as eco­nomic part­ner­ship among Euro­pean pow­ers. Lon­don and Wash­ing­ton led in devel­op­ing transat­lantic ties.

The British ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy fa­vors evo­lu­tion and in­cre­men­tal­ism, while Amer­i­cans at times demon­strate dra­matic shifts and re­ver­sals in pol­icy. The British have given ex­tremely high pri­or­ity to hu­man in­tel­li­gence, us­ing peo­ple rather than im­per­sonal elec­tronic means, again in con­trast to the U.S.

NATO pro­vides a durable struc­ture for de­fense co­op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing in the field of in­tel­li­gence. Ad­di­tion­ally, there is the in­for­mal but im­por­tant “Five Eyes” in­tel­li­gence net­work, which in­cludes Aus­tralia, Canada and New Zealand along with the United King­dom and the United States. Closer co­op­er­a­tion among full-time work­ing level pro­fes­sion­als is highly de­sir­able.

Both Bri­tain and Ire­land are EU mem­bers, but Ire­land is strongly neu­tral re­gard­ing NATO. Brexit could close the open bor­der be­tween Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land, in turn spark­ing re­newed vi­o­lence be­tween Catholics and Protes­tants.

The best re­sult over­all would be for Bri­tain to re­main in the EU. Those demon­stra­tors de­serve thanks.

CLAIRE DO­HERTY/AP

Arthur I. Cyr

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