I don’t usually blog that much about politics, but the referendum on 23 June 2016 on whether the UK should leave the EU is probably one of the biggest decisions voters will be asked to make in my lifetime. Both sides in the debate have been throwing somewhat extreme and wholly contradictory claims around – when the reality is probably somewhere in between these two extremes. So what I’m trying to do here is to look at things from a broader perspective. If you’ve already made up your mind, this probably won’t help you. But if you are genuinely undecided, you may find it useful. In this first post, I’m going to look at the EU and security.
The EU and security
A lot of noise has been generated about whether being in the EU has security benefits, with the remain side saying these are significant and the leave side saying that the EU doesn’t really have much of role in security matters. In a way, both are right. Eurosceptics are correct to point out that, unlike NATO, the EU does have much to do with the “hard power”, military aspects of security. But that was never really its primary aim – and this is where the remain side has an equally valid point about the EU’s impact on security. The EU was formed after the second world war to encourage countries to trade with one another as the best way to promote economic security – and in doing so, minimise the risk of further wars. We have not had a conflict between major European powers since the second world war. This is of some historical significance given that, from 1550 onwards, significant parts of Europe have been at war with one another for much of the time – and the UK has often been drawn in (on at least 4 occasions in the last 200-250 years).
It could be argued that with or without the EU, there would have been no significant European post-war conflicts and Western European prosperity would have grown at a similar rate. For example, it’s possible that the threat from the Soviet bloc would have made Western European countries feel that they had to stick together. But there is a broad consensus amongst historians that one of the key factors which created the conditions for the Second World War was the harsh economic settlement imposed on Germany following World War One. After 1945, there was a conscious effort to avoid repeating that mistake – in which the EU (and its predecessor bodies, the ECSC and EEC) played an important role, by providing a framework to promote economic recovery and trade. Against that background, it seems to me rather churlish to deny the EU any credit at all for the lack of major European conflict since 1945.
But how relevant is all this in 2016? After all, the risk of us going to war with Germany now seems pretty low. That said, I don’t think that conflict in Europe or on its borders is inconceivable – or that the EU no longer has any useful role to play in preventing it. For example, Russia is far more belligerent than it has been for some time – and has been pursuing a policy of hybrid warfare, where it sends in “little green men” whilst mounting a vociferous propaganda campaign to deny its involvement, as in Ukraine. Part of the response to that has been a “hard power” beefing up of NATO forces in Eastern Europe, particularly the Baltic states. But an equally important part of the response has been the EU’s “soft power” imposition of economic sanctions. This is one reason why no one would be more delighted with Brexit than Vladimir Putin - because he would see it as weakening the international clout of both the UK and the EU and undermining their collective resolve on issues like sanctions.
But ultimately what this comes back to is whether the EU is and will remain a serious player economically, since that is what its role in security matters largely depends on. I’ll be looking at that in my next post. The key points I wanted to make here were simply that (1) there is an important link between the economy and security – and (2) to properly assess the EU’s worth, it needs to be considered in a longer term historical perspective.
Posted by Paul Samael. Posted In : Random thoughts