The Geopolitics Of Brexit – What outcome should we aim for?

I want a Europe that enables the power and influence of Britain in the world. For, in achieving this, our government then has in its hands the tools to maximise the welfare and well-being of the people in Britain. This requires change. At all times and in all places the willingness of a nation-state to embrace change is an absolute precondition of its future success. Allowing divergence is not something the post-Maastricht EU is known for, and this has retarded our capacity for change.


If we seek we maximise the power and influence of Britain in the world, then we need to change and we likewise need Europe to change too.

What makes a Great Power?

1. Internal stability, by which I mean a functioning society and a broad acceptance of our constitutional settlement. Without it we cannot focus outward.

2. Economic growth, with which to maximise the welfare and well-being of the people. Without it, we lack resource with which to achieve outward effect.

3. Regional harmony, within which to cooperate and collaborate with our neighbours to common purpose. Without it, any outward focus is dissipated.

4. A network of friends and allies, to act as vehicles for our ambitions. Without which, a middle sized nation has insufficient means to shape the world in its image.

5. An international rules based system, with which to organise cooperation, and legitimise opposition when required. Without which certainty reduces, and effect is reactive.

6. The combination of the above, which allows a military an expeditionary structure, and public support for its employment. Without which, we lack the tools to effect change.

In short, the minimum requirement of a Great Power is to be both a Regional Power not mired in opposition with neighbours, and, a Middle Power with the relative means to shape events wherever they be found.

How does the EU touch this equation?

1. Internal stability

Our absence from the Eurozone and Schengen is a consequence of an unwillingness to join economic and political union, yet we spend an inordinate amount of time reminding our neighbours that the single market is not a vehicle for legal and fiscal convergence. The same can be said of judicial, social, and economic governance. In none of these areas can it be said the British people are happy to join a European consensus. More generally – the EU shouldn’t be used to introduce measures that the British electorate would not otherwise vote for at a general election (both British and other governments have been guilty of this).

Historically, as an intergovernmental agreement to foster cooperation it did not impinge significantly on our constitutional settlement for good or ill.

Today, the threat of Brexit is a significant discomfort to Scotland, and thus a threat to internal stability.

In future, the constitutional overreach of eurozone convergence threatens the economic and legal sovereignty that remains our political settlement.

2. Economic growth

As a recent Open Europe report found, there are four likely outcomes:

1. Remain – In a heavily reformed EU. Outcome = Slightly Positive.

2. Leave – Become isolationist and fail to deregulate. Outcome = Very Negative.

3. Remain – (In) an unreformed and dysfunctional EU(rozone). Outcome = Very Negative.

4. Leave – Singapore on steroids. Outcome = Slightly positive.

What [you] need to understand: There are no options in this referendum that can exclusively claim either comforting certainty or frightening uncertainty.

Historically, as an economic bloc offering enhanced trade at a time of painful post-imperial realignment it offered an improvement on our circumstances.

Today, the institutional inflexibility is holding the eurozone in a damaging stasis, and by extension damaging our own recovery not least via reduced confidence.

In future, a reformed eurozone will improve Britain’s prospects in or out, just as an unreformed eurozone will damage our prospects. In or out.

3. Regional harmony

Europes major dysfunctions today are a lack of consensus on the Eurozone and Schengen, but tomorrow that will grow to include the normal acts of solidarity that nation states engage in to normalise wealth potential within regions. The EU is a deeply inflexible mechanism, poorly able to adapt to changing circumstances, or the changing wants of its various peoples. This is seen with the rise of protest movements from both the left and the right across europe. What I wanted more than anything from Cameron’s renegotiation was that his ‘wins’ should apply generally, not merely be a carve-out for a country big enough to ‘bully’ its way to what it people want. By this I mean the requirement that Sweden/Poland/Czech should join Eurozone to give one example, but the fact applies generally that the spirit of ‘compromise’ means that small nations don’t feel they can say “no”. This was not what happened, Belgium and others went to some lengths to ensure that Cameron’s wins applied only to Britain.

Historically, with a limited coalition of western europe facing the tide of communist subversion the EU represented a stabilising social force.

Today, a monetary construct built only for the good times is exposing just how German the Germans are, and Finnish the Finns are, when it comes to fire-hosing cash at nations they consider to be essentially delinquent.

In future, we’re facing a rupture as ‘new’ europe repeatedly challenges the economic and social consensus of the six founding members of the club (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg).

4. A network of friends and allies

The reality of Britain’s position in the world today is that while Britain will likely remain the seventh largest economy by 2050 our influence will inevitably decline as new powers rise. We will need partnerships which will act as force multipliers in pursuit of British interests, and it behooves us to encourage our immediate neighbours to become an effective instrument with which to leverage their combined diplomatic effect. Europe, as a result of declining demographics in the wider region, is destined to become a strategic backwater in the 21st century, but that is also an opportunity insomuch as it permits europe to take an interest in the problems outside its own borders. We will follow the US in its pivot to Asia because that part of the world matters in this century, but our voice will be amplified if we can bring friends with us.

Historically, Britain was a global nation with little desire for Grand Strategy. Everything was calculated on the fly, with the exception of a persisting desire not see europe united against us.

Today, by which I mean the last fifty years, Britain was forced to ignore its global role in the face of Soviet Union, and then the help build a post-Soviet peace on our doorstep.

In future, there is no substitute for following the money; which political blocks will represent the significant and growing portions of world economic might.

5. An international rules based system

We have an interest in promoting an international rules based system where laws and norms are adhered to. Britain’s position on the Security Council is in part justified by the strategic bargain with friends and allies that we will work to achieve collective security in the widest sense. Germany will always be willing to send some humanitarian aid, which is lovely. India will happily send peacekeepers, to a none hostile environment. Thanks. Japan will provide billions in interest free loans for reconstruction, just dandy. Russia will happily have a quiet word with a belligerent, for a price. The point being; our ability to influence geopolitics in our favour is in large part built on trust.

Trust that people can come to us with hard decisions and expect that we will not shrug them off as a problem for someone else. Just as is the case with that other 21st century medium power (France). Will Europe achieve more by having both Britain and France leading coalitions of the willing into areas of (their) interest, or, merging two into a louder but more anodyne consensus?

Historically, we did as we pleased. This was the prerogative of a Great Power that spanned the world.

Today, we look on as the institutions created by the West as vehicles to attain their interests decline. The UN, IMF and World Bank, these must make room for rising powers.

In future, a multipolar world without the comforting convergence of positions the cold war created, we will require speed and flexibility to support or oppose regional challenges.

6. The combination of the above

Capability –

If we are no longer capable of broad-spectrum power projection in the furtherance of the British national interest then we have but two choices; to become a narrow-spectrum Great Power, or, alternatively, to concentrate on home defence and give up a leading role in international affairs. If Britain is destined to become a narrow-spectrum power then it is restricted to two fundamental choices; maritime or land. The SDSR2010 and 2015 made this choice for us; an army reduced to 82,000 and two carriers. We have the capability.

Will –

A COIN weary public want reassurance that another crusading premier won’t lead them into further multi-decade conflicts that they don’t recognise as being in their interest. By all means build public consent into the process, so long as we make a clear distinction between the government’s duty to consult parliament, and its freedom to [act] in the national interest. Regardless of how this is formulated, the electorate must be able to accept elective conflict otherwise there is no credibility. In which case the threat of military force has no utility as a deterrent against an attack on British interests.

Historically, by which I mean the noughties, we saw total military effort bent on supporting a division-scale, theater-wide, low-intensity conflict. Which nearly broke public support for elective warfare.

Today, there is a pause where both the armed forces and the general public rest and recuperate from that which went before, but public support is now recovering.

In future, for all the shenanigans around meeting the NATO 2.0% rule, we have a government that is bucking the European trend of letting internal social obligation continually eat into the capability for sovereign & strategic power projection.

What is to be done with this definition:

Now that we’ve defined what makes a Great Power, and the various functions that comprise it, how does Brexit fit into this? Does Brexit maximise; internal stability, economic growth, regional harmony, our network of friends and allies, and an international rules based system?

That depends on [why] we choose to exit, and [whether] the EU finds a happy outcome for the lack of political legitimacy that hamstrings the economic integration necessary for monetary union to survive. Crucially, it also depends on whether choosing to exit helps or hinders the EU in finding that happy outcome.

There are two visions for Britain outside the EU:

1. One is the Tory driven Vote Leave. It will be business oriented (low regulation), and follow three centuries of Tory foreign policy (outward looking). This is the ‘Singapore on steroids’ version, a high-growth / low-protection model that reverts from social-democracy to market-economy.

2. The second is the UKIP driven It will be worker oriented (high regulation), and be captured by the reactionary left (inward looking). This is the ‘Belgium on steroids’, a social democracy unencumbered by the market orientation of the EU Commission, and with little use for elective warfare.

There are two visions for Britain inside the EU:

1. One is a German driven Europe of rules. It will be business oriented, and Greece will come to be the template of a ‘wide’ Europe with no sense of common solidarity. This fractious stasis will nevertheless require us to integrate to fight for oxygen in a low adaptability / low growth bloc. Member nations might eventually come to engineer out some of the imperfections of Maastricht and Lisbon, but it will be an antagonistic and inward looking bloc.

2. The second is the French/Italian European people. It will result from peripheral Eurozone members choosing to leave monetary union, and accession states simply refusing to join. In doing this, the six founding members will recognise the common solidarity necessary to legitimise a transfer union at the core of Europe. A core able to integrate, a periphery happy to cooperate, this EU would be able to focus on more than zero-sum maneuvering.

A large number of interacting components whose aggregate activity is nonlinear and typically exhibits hierarchical self-organization under selective pressures. Hey, you just described a complex system, I demand you now give me easy answers!

I’ll try:

On the outside, we do at least have a simpler calculation.

Vote Leave won the official designation of the Brexit campaign. With Labour in disarray, if Brexit wins the day then we are looking at Singapore on steroids. We only get the full benefit of this if Europe finds the wherewithal to move beyond the current fractious stasis…

On the inside, it’s a lot trickier.

Everyone understands that the twin aims of a wide Europe with a common currency are totally incompatible. You can have a pre-Maastricht intergovernmental Europe as wide as you care to expand it (no transfer union required), but the EU has gone too far for that now and yet we’re still inexplicably wedded to the idea of ever-closer-union (which demands common solidarity). It sometimes feels that without some creative destruction there is no way for Europe to move beyond paralysis.

From the point of view of Britain; is the EU more likely to achieve the French/Italian European people with us inside (as an advocate for the divergent needs of the periphery), or outside (where the shock of Brexit breaks the fractious stasis)? If we leave, and a German driven Europe of rules persists, will we exacerbate Germany’s unwanted and unhappy dominance (forcing non-euro nations to join, or leave entirely)? If we stay, will it be harder for France to accept that a European People does not need to include every EU nation (thus beginning the core/periphery realignment)?

1. Internal stability – Stay and half the country is unsatisfied in the EU, leave and the other half is unsatisfied with the retreat of social democracy. Result = Leave

2. Economic growth – Stay and take a 70/30 chance on continued stagnation vs new dynamism, leave and take a 30/70 chance on isolation vs offshore-heaven. Result = Leave

3. Regional harmony– Stay and take a 70/30 chance on a French & Italian European people vs continued paralysis, leave and take a 30/70 chance on creative destruction vs a German Europe of rules. Result = Stay

4. A network of friends and allies – The US won’t be happy with us, nor will the major EU nations, but we’ll be freer to make new diplomatic and economic relationships  = Stay

5. An international rules based system – Really a question of what will make Europe most likely to adopt beneficial reform. An outward Europe, less prone to Russia exploiting its divisions will be a good thing, but our presence is only tangential to that objective. Result = N/A

6. The combination of the above – Europe is little interested in elective warfare, and those nations that are still willing to spend blood and treasure to make the world a better place already do so outside the EU. Result = N/A

Pick your poison.


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