NATO and Brexit

For the record, I think it quite likely that UK’s Tories will never trigger Article 50, which would mean the two year process of leaving the EU will never start much less finish. If that happens, we will face an increasing game of chicken between the EU — primarily Germany — and the UK, because until things settle with the UK, other right wing parties will call to Exit the EU.

All that said, I want to consider what a UK exit would mean for security, particularly as regards to the balance between privacy and dragnettery in which the EU has, in recent years, played a key but largely ineffectual role.

From a spying perspective, Brexit came just hours after the US and EU finalized a draft of the Privacy Shield that will replace the Safe Harbor agreement next week. When I read it, I wondered whether the US signed it intended to do some data analysis in the UK, an option that will likely become unavailable if and when the UK actually does leave the EU. Amazingly, the UK’s hawkish Home Secretary Theresa May (who in the past has called for the UK to leave the ECHR) is considered a favorite to replace David Cameron as the Tory Prime Minister, which would be like Jim Comey serving as President. The UK will still need to sign its own IP Bill, which will expand what is authorized spying in the UK.

But all that assumes the relative structure of nesting alliances will remain the same if and when the UK departs the EU. And I don’t think that will happen. On the contrary, I think the US will use the UK’s departure — and security concerns including both a confrontational expanding Russia and the threat of terrorism — to push to give NATO an enhanced role off what it has.

Consider what Obama said in his initial statement about Brexit [my emphasis in all these passages],

The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision. The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom’s membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy. So too is our relationship with the European Union, which has done so much to promote stability, stimulate economic growth, and foster the spread of democratic values and ideals across the continent and beyond. The United Kingdom and the European Union will remain indispensable partners of the United States even as they begin negotiating their ongoing relationship to ensure continued stability, security, and prosperity for Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the world.

To Cameron,

President Obama spoke by phone today with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom to discuss the outcome of yesterday’s referendum on membership in the European Union, in which a majority of British voters expressed their desire to leave the EU. The President assured Prime Minister Cameron that, in spite of the outcome, the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, along with the United Kingdom’s membership in NATO, remain vital cornerstones of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy. The President also expressed his regret at the Prime Minister’s decision to step aside following a leadership transition and noted that the Prime Minister has been a trusted partner and friend, whose counsel and shared dedication to democratic values, the special relationship, and the Transatlantic community are highly valued. The President also observed that the EU, which has done so much to promote stability, stimulate economic growth, and foster the spread of democratic values and ideals across the continent and beyond, will remain an indispensable partner of the United States. The President and Prime Minister concurred that they are confident that the United Kingdom and the EU will negotiate a productive way forward to ensure financial stability, continued trade and investment, and the mutual prosperity they bring.

And to Merkel,

The President spoke today by phone with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany regarding the British people’s decision to leave the European Union. Both said they regretted the decision but respected the will of the British people. The two leaders agreed that the economic and financial teams of the G-7 partners will coordinate closely to ensure all are focused on financial stability and economic growth. The President and the Chancellor affirmed that Germany and the EU will remain indispensable partners of the United States. The leaders also noted that they looked forward to the opportunity to underscore the strength and enduring bond of transatlantic ties at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 8-9.


John Kerry and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg seem to echo that viewpoint, with Stoltenberg arguing NATO will become more important.

“We have high expectations of a very strong NATO meeting and important deliverables,” Kerry said of the summit planned for Warsaw on July 8-9. “That will not change one iota as a consequence of the vote that has taken place.”

Kerry, who is on a lightning tour of Brussels and London intended to reassure U.S. allies following the British vote, noted that 22 EU nations, including Britain, are part of NATO.

In Brussels Kerry met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini.

“After the UK decided to leave the European Union I think that NATO has become even more important as a platform for cooperation between Europe and North America but also defence and security cooperation between European NATO allies,” said Stoltenberg, whose own country Norway is in NATO but not the EU.

Retired Admiral Stavridis provides a list of four reasons why Brexit will strengthen NATO.

  1. Putin’s adventurism: “NATO has provided the most resolute military balance against [Russia], and thus its stock can be expected to rise with publics in Europe.”
  2. UK manpower will be freed up from EU tasks: UK “will have additional ships, troops, and aircraft to deploy on NATO missions because they will not have to support EU military efforts such as the counter-piracy operations off the coast of East Africa or EU missions in the Balkans.”
  3. By losing the UK’s military power, the EU will become even more of a soft power entity ceding real military activities to NATO. “And, given that European military efforts will be greatly diminished by the loss of British military muscle, the EU can be expected to defer to NATO more frequently.”
  4. The UK will have to prove itself in NATO to retain its “special relationship.” UK “will have to look for new ways to demonstrate value in its partnership with the United States if it hopes to maintain anything like the “special relationship” it has become accustomed to (and dependent on).”

It’s actually the third* bullet that I think will be key — and it will be carried over into spying. Without the UK, the EU doesn’t have the capability to defend itself, so it will be more dependent on NATO than it had been. Similarly, without GCHQ, the EU doesn’t have heightened SIGINT power to surveil its own population. And so — I fear — whereas prior to Brexit the EU (and Germany specifically) would at least make a show of pushing back against US demands in exchange for protection, particularly given the heightened security concerns, everyone will be less willing to push back.

It’s unclear whether Brexit (if it happens) will hurt the UK or EU more. It probably won’t hurt the US as much as any entity in Europe. It might provide the trigger for the dismantling of the EU generally.

I think it very likely it will shift Trans-Atlantic relationships, among all parties, to a much more militaristic footing. That’s dangerous — especially as things heat up with Russia. And the countervailing human rights influence of the EU will be weakened.

But I think the US will gain power, relatively, out it.

Update: I originally said “fourth” bullet but meant third. Also, I originally said an “expanding” Russia, which I changed because with the coup in Ukraine I think the “west” started the expansionary push.

Update: This piece games out a number of possibilities on data protection.

14 replies
  1. scribe says:

    Yeah. Maybe the agents of the Russian secret services will stop breaking into the homes of US diplomats stationed there, let alone stop taking dumps on their living room rugs and killing the diplomat’s dog.
    As reported today in the WaPo.

    Thing is, the EU by virtue of its size, formed a much more substantial counterweight to US power and was making itself into a geopolitical rival of the US. In a NATO-centric West, where the US is the biggest party in the room and the European countries each, by itself, a much smaller power, there is no doubt the US view of things will predominate. In the newer NATO, where the UK (‘s remains) will have to prove itself, consider the UK to be Grover Dill to the US’s Scut Farkas: its’ toady and henchman, useful to be sent out to do little, dirty jobs the big guy doesn’t want to deal with.

    Consider also, the sheer changes in magnitude of force size which have transpired among the NATO members since the end of the Cold War. By way of example, Germany, which fielded 12 divisions in the West and another 6 in the East, now fields well less than a third of that total. Cuts in air and naval forces have been similarly deep. And this kind of cutting has gone on across the entire Euro zone.

    But, I tend to agree with EW on this – the Brits are unlikely to trigger the exit of Brexit, Article 50. Their Establishment will figure out a way, yet again, to thwart the will of their people and enrich themselves further off this turn of events.

    • emptywheel says:

      One key thing abt NATO is Poland is a very willing partner, and by moving to NATO the US moves to a place where a traditionally weak partner, which believes it is fighting for its life in the face of Russian aggression, will be very active.

      • bevin says:

        The Polish government is weird enough, but ‘fighting for its life against Russian aggression?” Where is the evidence of any Russian aggression towards Poland?
        There is none.
        It is peculiar how easy it is to spot ‘xenophobia’ every where else but in places like Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states where governments engage in the most appalling racism towards Russians, are often heaviily influenced by neo-nazis who regard the Red Army’s offensives after Stalingrad as “aggression”, and use the spectre of Russia to justify authoritarianism at home.
        The Cold War is over, did you like it so much you want another?

        • emptywheel says:

          Sorry: perception.

          Yes, I do think people — especially leaders of — countries in the East are panicked about Russia. But I’m also fairly sympathetic to that panic, because I spent so much time working on the last panics that turned out to be justified.

          This may not be (though western actions do make it more likely). But historical ones were.

  2. scribe says:

    I wish to hell that, when I hit a carriage return and want to form a paragraph in my comments with a blank line to separate them, like I did 4 times in my comment above, that this frigging webpage program would actually do that. Without the need for me to insert a period/dot between the CR.
    Like that.
    Annoys the fuck out of me.

  3. Peterr says:

    For the record, I think it quite likely that UK’s Tories will never trigger Article 50, which would mean the two year process of leaving the EU will never start much less finish. If that happens, we will face an increasing game of chicken between the EU — primarily Germany — and the UK, because until things settle with the UK, other right wing parties will call to Exit the EU.

    I’ve been trying to imagine a plausible scenario that would short-circuit this mess, and the only thing I can come up with is dissolving Parliament and calling for new elections: “The voters determined that Great Britain should leave the EU — a position I stood against and continue to oppose. If this is truly the will of the voters, then the voters deserve a Prime Minister and a government committed to that result to carry out the necessary negotiations to make that a reality. I refuse to be that Prime Minister. Not only that, but my government refuses to be that government, regardless of who from our party might take my place. I will not trigger Article 50.
    It is one thing to support Leave in the abstract, but quite another when matters become concrete. Therefore, let us make matters concrete and put this question to the voters by asking them to elect a new parliament, and through that process, a new prime minister. If the voters truly want to leave the EU, let them vote for a government who will lead them in that direction.”
    Is it a gamble? Sure. But without new elections that put this question front and center, I can’t see Parliament simply refusing to trigger Article 50.
    To turn to the main point of the post, I think Marcy underestimates the importance the EU might place on GCHQ. Through the UK, the EU has a place in the Five Eyes conversations; without the UK as a member, the EU is left on the outside looking in — while Five Eyes can look at them with impunity.
    This is not a position that the intelligence folks in Germany would like at all. See “Merkel’s Handi, NSA tapping of.”

  4. bloopie2 says:

    Not to say that the EU doesn’t want to continue to spy on its own people, but I venture to say that terrorism is the least of their worries right now. So much of greater consequence is going down. Plus, you’ll have to pay tariffs on that AR-15 now, right?

  5. bevin says:

    Everything is up in the air. There is a very real possibility that this will start a stampede out of the EU. If so that will have consequences.
    As to NATO, if Brexit leads, as the Tories including the Blairites fear it will, to a strengthening of socialist forces within the Labour Party NATO will be next on the list of things to exit. The vote in Britain was, amongst other things, an expression of impatience with US imperialism and Britain’s role as a poodle on the Pentagon’s knee.
    And, in terms of humanity’s interests, nothing could be better for the world-and future generations- than for this Cold War institution, now, like a zombie, risen again and marching eastwards in the wake of Operation Barbarossa, to be wound up.
    The Labour Party voted, in 1960, to leave Nato give up nuclear weapons. If democracy is restored to it-after a period of Clintonisation- the grass roots is likely once more to opt for peace and sovereignty.
    Does anyone object to that?
    As to the way to ‘resolve this mess’ following the expression of popular will is the obvious course. There is something shocking about the default position of US intellectuals when faced with the prospect of having to question their own beliefs (often enough merely culled from the prevailing media atmosphere), being to demand that the people be silenced.
    Is there no understanding that some times the majority gets it right. And sometimes the well off, the comfortable and the complacent are wrong?

  6. PeasantParty says:

    I don’t think the NATO issue is what is worrisome right now. I don’t think the Brits want to dump NATO at the moment. I could be wrong, but I think they want more say in their everyday governance. Economic, Social, Health, and Education are what I see when looking at what the Brits are saying. I’ve also watched the three Assange Brexit videos and none of them are focused on NATO, which all the guests agree will have no change at this point in time. ………………………

    The Brits have a much larger social safety net than we do here in the US. They even have housing security that we don’t have, yet they are suffering under the Austerity programs and the drive to lower labor costs by multinational corps. Like us here in the US there is a huge lack of good paying jobs, yet the Elites have no pain. From everything I’ve read, and the interviews I’ve seen of Brits that is what they are focused on.

  7. Joanne Leon says:

    All that talk in Germany about ditching NATO and forming an EU military might slow down now. That caused some alarm about 6 months ago. Most EU countries don’t want war with Russia (except Poland, the lead warmonger). Germany and France keep rushing to prevent a bigger outbreak of war in Ukraine. There’s a clear and very serious break between what the war hawks in US, UK and Poland want (extremely risky measures to provoke war with Russia and possibly, though it seems unthinkable, real war) and what Germany wants (gradual rappochement). Germany’s FM went as far as to call NATO warmongers, literally. Germany was very unhappy with just retired Gen Breedlove and his warmongering public statements. So much so that their anger became public, and Breedlove was much more careful after that.

    Breedlove claims that Russia is trying to fracture the EU and NATO. Maybe that’s true, though if it is true, it seems mainly related to lifting the EU sanctions against them, and convincing them that if they go along with the crackpot idea of starting a war and placing nuclear missiles close to Russia, they’ll be in the crosshairs, not the parties who are the maindrivers of starting the war (though Russia did also say that if NATO starts a war, it will go nuclear and the nukes will strike not only in Europe but in N America too).

    But who is really trying to fracture the EU, or who else? Seems pretty clear Atlanticists want to make the EU more subservient.

    All of this has been boiling for two years and especially for the last 6 months. I actually thought we’d be at war with Russia a year ago. I think the main reason we’re not is because of Germany and France. We’re not in an all out hot war with them, but we’ve been inching toward it, maybe leaping is a better term. I don’t think most Americans have any idea how close we are to the kind of war they still believe is unthinkable. I still think there’s more than a 50/50 chance we’re headed to a world war (of choice) and having 3 sons of military age, living in an area in Russia & China’s nuclear crosshairs, I think it’s complete, absolute madness, what we’re doing. Hillary is the best candidate for keeping the mad campaign rolling.

    • PeasantParty says:

      Thanks for giving us your view from your part of the world. I heard Assange say the EU has already formed its own military with a 1 Billion dollar per year bank roll. That is nothing compared to our military or that of Nato, but it tells me what the Elites are thinking……………………… You are correct in saying Hillary will keep it going. In fact, She, Kissinger, Pearl, Brezneft, and their old crew will escalate it. The US has many obligations to protect you Militarily, and so does NATO.

  8. rugger9 says:

    I would agree there will be no Article 50 invocation, and it will be the Scots that will give the House of Commons the political cover to blow off the referendum. Since FM Sturgeon threatened another referendum herself, I think the MPs will claim that will “substantially” change the conditions (aside from the blatant lying by Leave campaigners and their buses) under which “Leave” won.

    So, no real difference, which makes the market panic by those so-called steely-nerved business titans even more stupid than usual.

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