Sunday, 26 June 2016

The geopolitical case against Brexit matters

Like most Labourites, I am struggling to make sense of the fact that Britain has apparently just made a far-reaching decision to leave the European Union. One that changes the course of our history in a way which does not look at all positive.

Unlike many, I am perhaps thinking of things deeper, and blacker, than the short-term economic impact or what it means for Britain's levels of immigration (very little, according to the leaders of the Leave campaign themselves). 

I wrote this piece for Labour Uncut last Wednesday - the day before the referendum - and, given the delight which has greeted Britain's exit in places such as Moscow, it seems somehow now all the more relevant.


The decision Britain will make tomorrow is clearly a big one. Perhaps truly the most significant of our lifetimes, in terms of its strategic direction of travel as a country and the way the 21st century will shape up for us.

A decision in favour of Brexit will inevitably have short-term impacts. Some of them, such as a potential drop in sterling for exporters, may even be positive. But some vital, long-term effects are likely to be about Britain’s place in the world; its geopolitical power, if you like.

These are difficult-to-gauge, but nevertheless important, effects which are largely drowned out in the current debate by the bread-and-butter arguments about trade or immigration. Or “sovereignty”, that largely meaningless word currently being flogged to death.

Which would be fine, if we lived in a world full of stability, free of threats. Or even such a Europe.

We do not.

It is a good time to remember, for example, that only a few hundred miles of Mediterranean separate Daesh forces from the southern shores of the EU. Or that its eastern fringe – the Baltic states – is currently subject to a very real threat of clandestine invasion by Russia, as has already happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Or even that the Americans and Russians are currently engaged in an increasingly threatening war of words over US presence in the Black Sea. And this is all in the context of a savage war in Syria, exacerbated by the meddling of Russia and its proxy, Iran, which has triggered the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Now the EU, we need to be clear, is not a military alliance, or at least not in any meaningful sense right now. Britain’s supranational mechanism for defence is, and has been for the last seventy years, NATO and that is not in question.

But the EU is a bloc with geopolitical weight. In Europe, there are three NATO members which matter: the UK, France and Germany. Historically, only the first two really count in terms of actual military deployment; Germany counts because of its economic and political domination of modern Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall.

Under Angela Merkel, Germany has had an alternating challenge-appease-challenge approach to Russia and is currently applying a similar strategy with Turkey. While its preference for diplomacy over bombs is to be admired up to a point, it seems doubtful that Putin sees Germany as a real barrier to its sabre-rattling over the Baltic states.

There is no doubt that an EU, faced with the signal that Britain was going it alone, would tend ever more towards a Franco-German axis in terms of joint action, be it political, humanitarian, military or whatever. It would not be the same. Britain would not be a guest at the same tables as before.

It is fascinating that members of both the far left on the one hand, and the Kippers and diehard Tory right on the other, can simultaneously make two, diametrically opposed arguments.

One, that leaving the EU does not matter geopolitically, and two, that it does, as exemplified the EU was instrumental in “driving Russia to invade Ukraine”. But it must be either one or the other, it cannot be both.

This inconsistency leads us to think that yes, the EU does after all wield a soft, and important, geopolitical power. But, as a competing power which dwarfs Russia economically, it is not a power that Vladimir Putin likes, not at all.

Which would rather explain why he has carefully cultivated Eurosceptic parties on left and right, as the Economist explains here. Or why both these left and right parties are currently pursuing an isolationist, non-interventionist foreign policy. Or why Russian propagandists were quick to blame the Ukrainian invasion as a local uprising triggered by “EU meddling”.

While these are views which are surprisingly close to those of Labour’s current leader and Shadow Chancellor, it is also clear that Labour’s current PLP composition, and realpolitik in the country, have prevented them being articulated, since Corbyn and McDonnell have been forced into a position of lukewarm support for Remain, as I argued here.

But the mere fact that Putin – and doubtless Daesh and others – would clearly like Britain to leave the EU (as Garry Kasparov ably argues here), is surely one of the most important reasons for us to stay. One certainly hopes that our own leader’s lukewarm support does not derive from his inability to see the darkness of the increasingly authoritarian and belligerent regime in Moscow. And if you doubt that that is the case, you should perhaps examine his appearances on Moscow’s own propaganda channel to the West, Russia Today.

Either way, this is really not the time for Britain to weaken a relatively united front in Europe by leaving. Not while our enemies are waiting expectantly for just that opportunity.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

1 comment:

  1. Everyone I know wants the UK to remain together in the Common Market, but not with open doors.
    Nobody I know wants the UK to be dominated (or in) the Eurozone.
    Which is why we ought to read Flexcit which shows us how to do both safely and without discomfort.


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