Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU), which ended on January 31, 2020, has sparked much debate about the future of the EU. Under either scenario, Brexit is going to affect the strategic independence of Britain and Europe, although the meaning of strategic independence remains controversial.
The EU strategic independence refers to the ability of the EU member states to set priorities and make their own decisions on foreign relations, security, and defense issues. Meanwhile, the simplest definition of strategic independence is that international actors can do what they want. Naturally, it isn’t easy to discern what the actor wants to do. Similarly, there are differences between national strategic independence and European strategic independence. From the French perspective, the EU should allow common security interests to emerge based on the expectation level. It will then be easier for the EU to know what it wants and to act accordingly. Europe’s strategic independence is somehow moving towards common interests. However, on the one hand, it does not give a detailed explanation of the analysis of the current great power games. On the other hand, it lacks operationalization and has not led to a certain level of extravagance.
What does the EU want to do? Is it just about off-site operations or collective defense? This type of decision-making significantly impacts what skills need to be developed or acquired, and therefore what skills, technologies, industries, and budgets need particular focus. Finally, a distinction must be made between Europe’s strategic independence and the EU’s strategic independence. Will the EU’s strategic independence be possible after Brexit?
Whether strategic independence is related to collective defense or operations outside the region, several layers are considered to answer this question: operations, capabilities, capital allocation, political aspirations, foreign policy, and nuclear deterrence. Given this, the EU’s strategic independence can most hope for right now is its capacity to act alone in its neighborhood. However, as Libya’s performance has shown, the EU cannot conduct high-intensity operations in neighboring countries.
Common European Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions are limited to crisis management and the lower end of the interference spectrum. Brexit does not improve the situation, as it puts Britain out of the CSDP orbit in politics and capabilities. On the other hand, it may not even worsen, and there is no serious interference with CSDP institutional boundaries. Likewise, the activities of the EU may suffer more than anything from Britain’s absence from the table as a result of a decline in political willingness to intervene and the loss of the British budget. The opposite may be true of capabilities. Britain has long wasted the EU’s efforts to develop its capabilities for fear of NATO proliferation. Suppose Britain is outside the decision-making power of the European Defense Agency. In that case, this barrier may be removed for Europeans to develop more domestic capabilities and be less dependent on the United States.
Proponents of European strategic independence argue that Europe has a responsibility to play a more significant role in securing Europe and the face of the unwillingness of the United States to support Europe. However, they argue that this strategy does not mean rejecting relations with allies and weakening ties with European countries, but rather strengthening ties with allies, friends, and partners.
Critics of European strategic independence, on the other hand, are skeptical about how this policy could affect European countries’ defense and security systems and how it regulates its relations with the United States. These critics believe that despite the many contexts of this independence, the scope of the actors has not yet been determined. In this context, two concepts are considered: Institutional independence and capacity independence. While institutional independence refers to establishing and governing the structure necessary to achieve these priorities, independence refers to a greater capacity for military, civilian, governmental, managerial, etc., capabilities that underpin the expressions needed for implementing policies and priorities.
In conclusion, Britain’s withdrawal from the EU does not seem to contradict the conceptual definition of European strategic independence. Because in the definition of European strategic independence, it was said that one of the dimensions of this policy is establishing strong ties with allies. In addition, Britain has common interests with the continent in Europe, so Britain can be considered one of the future partners of the EU. However, it is likely that Britain will continue to oppose institutional independence and establishing this unified structure but support European capacities to secure the continent.