Eerik-Niiles Kross: Brexit significantly worsens security situation

Eerik-Niiles Kross
Please note that the article is more than five years old and belongs to our archive. We do not update the content of the archives, so it may be necessary to consult newer sources.
Photo: Kristjan Lepp / Kroonika

Short-term, Brexit will surely and significantly worsen the security situation; possibly, the long-term security situation will deteriorate in all of Northern Europe, writes Riigikogu member Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform Party).

Whether we like to admit it or not, European security, European unity, the European values space idea, and Estonian security directly have been served a heavy blow. Even in the highly unlikely scenario of Britons remaining via another referendum or some other means, Brexit has created a new European reality.

Stability, expansion, and further integration have been an identity element for the EU. In 2003 as the EU unveiled its latest security strategy, it begun thus: «Never before has Europe been so prosperous, so secure and so free.» Europe thought it had reached a period of «peace and stability» unprecedented in its history.

This Wednesday, the EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini is scheduled to present to EU summit the union’s new security strategy. It being prepared for the same day as Brexit referendum, for some showed the overmuch confidence in Brussels; others thought this was total lack of a sense of reality. Possibly, the officials are right now busy rewriting the text in the new situation and to avoid embarrassment. Even so, the media knows that the first sentence reads: «We need a stronger Europe. This is what our citizens deserve; this is what the broader world expects.» Hopefully, they will not table a slogan in Brussels of «Europe is stronger without England».

Estonia must definitely be involved with all of its might and thought in the shaping of the further European steps. Also, Estonia needs to soberly assess the impact of the new situation on its security, and possibly draw security policy corrections.

At the moment, we do not know enough about future relations of UK and EU to evaluate the total impact on EU security cooperation and the common development plans of military capabilities. Let’s be honest: even with England aboard these developed with ridiculous slowness and mainly on paper. One is for certain: EU will not be stronger militarily with UK leaving, and for Estonia that’s bad.

Since the 1990ies, EU has tried to build up independent defence capacity in order to operate independently of NATO. Without the UK, EU military capability will be significantly reduced, especially with strategic transport, intelligence, navy and special units. In reality, a comparable capacity in EU only exists in France. To a large degree, European military capacity now depends on Germany. After WW2, and somewhat because of it, Germany has taken the rather pacifist like in NATO and the EU, supported diplomatic solutions and been militarily withdrawn. If Germany will not radically alter its security and defence policy, the French will be the only EU country with capacity to hold autonomous military operations.

As evidenced in a German defence policy new white paper to be published in July, Germany intends to take a much greater initiative in European military issues. In light of Brexit, even that is probably being rewritten; however, the main lines are known and it will hardly be watered down. Germany is desiring to take a definite direction towards development of a European army, seeks common command structures, wishes to take a more active role in boosting and consolidating European defence capacity. Naturally, all this is in Estonian interests.    

The main argument of critics of independent EU military capacity, including London, has thus far been simple. If even within NATO Europeans are unable to input adequately, why would they do that in EU framework? It is here that the Brits leaving may shake Europe awake. Especially the non-NATO nations like Finland and Sweden, but perhaps also Austria. Successfully or not, instead of the British-French axis, the German-French axis will be in charge of European army and defence.

Germany entering centre stage in European defence capacity will pose Tallinn with a fresh challenge. While in financial and economic policy we are generally in harmony with Berlin, in vital security policy issues – mostly regarding attitude towards Russia – our closest ally has rather been London. Also, for a longer period of time, Estonia has invested into trusting bilateral military relations with England. Inevitably, we need to direct a larger share of our scarce international defence policy resource into relations with Germany. The reorientation is actually vital, thinking in military logic. In case of an attack against NATO Eastern flank, hopefully not happening, to defend it without German army is unthinkable.

Thus, for us Brexit dictates an increasing defence and security cooperation orientation towards Germany. Hopefully, Germany will meanwhile take steps towards becoming key EU military leader.

As for Estonia’s main security guarantee i.e. NATO, formally Brexit has no impact on it. Indirectly, however, the impact is obvious however. On the one hand, we may agree with NATO generals and leadership that Brexit adds to the importance of NATO. As far we are hearing from London, the UK intends to stick to all its NATO commitments. Due to its probable short-term economic crisis, however, England may have to cut its defence spending. That would reduce their ability to invest into NATO. Meanwhile, the isolationist moods in London may decrease political readiness of Britons to participate in NATO projects. Also, the mutual mainland-UK disappointment may not be totally kept off from NATO meetings. Here, a vital testing stone will be the Warsaw summit. While it used to be expected that top topics would be boosting eastern flank deterrence and sending of battalions to Baltics and Poland, the more existentialist issued may not take the place of our concerns. Surely, the post-Brexit NATO dynamics will be different. Seriously, the mood of the Englishmen and the Germans at the summit may have a critical impact in the destiny of Estonia.   

Last but not least, the altered security balance in Northern Europe. The Finnish and Swedish security political situation has worsened much more than that of the Baltics. In the EU, they have lost their most important military ally in the region. To protect the eastern flank of Scandinavia, the Britons now have no contractual obligations. Will this make Helsinki and Stockholm to alter their neutrality policy, time will tell.

For Estonia, we can glean three main tasks. Firstly: rapidly to expand and deepen military relations with Germany. Secondly: invest even more in NATO projects, especially with the USA and the UK while treating as precious the bilateral relations with the latter. Thirdly: in case the EU turbulence continues, consider deeper regional and bilateral defence relations in Northern Europe. For that, Finland and Sweden may now be much more eager. If there were any benefits for us of Brexit, it is the greater seriousness in Western capitals regarding security. The Western unity is under threat, and the lightning strike may make all those threatened to install their lightning rods.