Much of the noise about possible British departure from the European Union has died down in the wake of strong ridicule from many quarters and the apparent softening of the British threat. In addition, it was clear from the beginning that Prime Minister David Cameron’s chest-thumping was not unrelated to British electoral politics. (One wonders whether Cameron, when proclaiming that “we can no more change …British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel”, had not been advised that this body of water, whatever its formal name in the English tongue, consists partly of French sovereign waters.) In any case, little more need be written of the reckless, foolish, suicidal, mindless, etc. British stance, well pilloried by Harry Blaney in his January 28 post, as we give Cameron and his like-minded isolationists time to remodel their remarks into negotiating tactics as they begin to realize in private who will be the real losers in the case of a British break with the E.U., particularly with talk of a U.S.-E.U. free trade pact picking up steam.
Georgetown University professor Charles Kupchan, writing in the November 20, 2012 edition of the International Herald Tribune (and, presumably, the New York Times), is clear in his understanding of the economic, financial and geopolitical damage that Britain’s withdrawal, even if only partial, from the E.U. would inflict on its own future. But Kupchan seriously overstates the consequences of such a development in terms of western defense and U.S. – European relations, writing that “Britain has long served as a bridge between the United States and Europe” and that a diminished British role in the E.U. would weaken the latter and “Europe’s tether to the United States.”
The suggestion that America’s relations with Western Europe or any of its members were ever, or are now, mainly dependent upon the policies or good offices of London is fanciful. While one must acknowledge both Churchill’s encouragement and the importance of the British launching pad for American forces sent to rescue Europe and the world from the Nazi menace, can anyone truly believe that the crucial U.S. entry into WWII and the subsequent American protection of the West from the Soviet threat were motivated by a “special relationship” between Washington and London? Yet Kupchan wants us (and his Georgetown students, presumably) to fear the worst from a British-European split, to wit: “An irrelevant Britain and an enfeebled E.U. do not augur well for a trans-Atlantic bond central to the defense of Western values and interests. As America’s own defense budget shrinks and those of China and other emerging powers rise, Washington sorely needs capable allies. Britain’s departure from Europe would mean that the U.K., as well as Europe as a whole, (would) gradually slip off America’s radar screen.” Moreover, lectures the professor, “London cannot remain an important partner on matters of European defense should it become a bit player within the E.U.”.
A few words in reply are in order. First, shrinkage of America’s defense budget for whatever reason cannot by any real measure reduce its relative global military and strategic superiority. Secondly, should Britain risk insignificance, if not suicide, by seriously distancing itself from the E.U., neither the latter nor the U.S. will suffer mortal pains. And finally, with respect to that radar screen, is the professor not aware of NATO, the American- led defense organization, twenty-one of whose twenty-eight members – including Britain for now – are also members of the E.U.?
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