Our relationship with Europe is about defence more than produce. Security cooperation should be near the top of Cabinet’s priorities in contemplating our future relationship with Europeby Robert Cooper / December 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
When we think of security, we think first of police or armies, of how to deal with terrorists or wars in our neighbourhood. These are all important, but they miss the most important factor contributing to our security. That is, friendly relations with the countries that are important to us.
One of the things that no one explained to the British people—not in the referendum campaign, nor in forty years of membership of the European Union—is that while the primary purpose of the EU is political, its most important goal has always been security.
Two relationships matter above all else: first with the United States, the most powerful country in the world, the creator and guardian of the liberal international order.
Then there are relations with our neighbours. For the UK, that means the members of the European Union.
Neighbours matter: they don’t go away; historically they are the people most likely to be a threat; but if they are not, then they will share common interests.
The government tells us that we are “leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe,” and that we want “a deep and special relationship” with our (former) partners. This is idle talk.
Every day we see relations worsening. The preliminary phase of the exit negotiations has been unpleasant enough. After a Christmas truce, this will start again next year, and will probably run for several years after that.
Meanwhile, our European partners will bid for jobs and revenue from the City; they will see if they can get car plants moved from Sunderland to Slovakia, and pharmaceutical research from Cambridge to Amsterdam. All this is normal in international life.
What is not normal in international life are the good relationships created by the European Union. These come out of the daily business of negotiating with each other on everything from telephone roaming charges, to energy security, to aviation safety.
Sometimes the negotiations get nasty, as negotiations often do, but when this is within the EU, you know that tomorrow there will be a new negotiation, and you will need their help—so you maintain friendly relations.
When one member of the EU has a sudden emergency the first instinct of the others is to help.
One small example: when British sailors were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the EU made clear immediately to the Iranians that they risked quarrelling not just with the UK, but with the whole EU. The sailors were quickly released. That’s what friends are for.
Being one against twenty-seven in trade or other negotiations isn’t going to create this sort of relationship. It is therefore vital for Britain to find fields where we can cooperate, if possible on a daily basis, as equal partners—or as near as we can get to that.
The natural place for us to work together is security. UK cooperation with fellow EU members has produced important results in this field, like the Iran nuclear deal, or in the success the EU has had in all but ending piracy of the Somali coast.
Now we must find a way to continue this co-operation after Britain leaves the political union.
In the external field the UK will be largely free from trauma about majority voting and the court. Internal security against terrorism and cybercrime, however, is within a legal framework; so here we may have to compromise.
We might also cooperate in foreign aid, which often has long term security implications. Most importantly, we ought to collaborate on foreign policy, which sets the framework to which all these contribute.
Cooperation does not mean holding high level meetings once every six months: it is a matter of daily work together. It should include integration in executive bodies as well as sitting together in committees.
The arrangements for this, of course, will be decided in negotiation with the twenty-seven. From the EU’s point of view such ideas would need careful consideration. There is no precedent for this kind of intimacy with a third country.
But we live together in a difficult neighbourhood, and we may have to reckon with a United States more focused on the Pacific (or on its domestic condition). This is not a moment for either Europe or the UK to weaken its security.
The European Council on Foreign Relations has launched a reflection process on this issue, in which I am participating with my colleagues Marta Dassu, Wolfgang Ischinger and Pierre Vimont.
We must pray that the bad atmosphere from negotiations in other areas does not spill over and poison the chances of cooperation in an area where it ought to be natural.
So as Cabinet begins to debate the nature of the future relationship it seeks with Europe, it should remember that while the primary purpose of Brexit is political, it will affect our security.
To what extent depends on what our government does next. The best approach is to be clear in our own minds about the kind of relationship we want, and to act as though we mean it.
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