Observations of an Ex Pat: Brexit goes nuclear

The EU is worried about losing their American nuclear umbrella.

The UK is worried about losing their European market and their seat at the European top table.

Britain has nuclear weapons. The EU has markets. Is there a fit?

If so, the result could be a tectonic strategic shift with far-reaching political repercussions.

My sources say there is enough of a fit for Prime Minister Theresa May to be thinking of offering to extend the British deterrent to EU countries in return for Brexit concessions.  This is most likely to be in cooperation with the French.

The reaction of the strategic eggheads ranges from “not incredible” to “logical,” to “totally unrealistic” and then “utterly crass” with a lot of “no comments” thrown in for good measure.

No comment was what the British Ministry of Defence said. No reply was all I could elicit from The Foreign Office and Downing Street. But The Department  for  Exiting the European Union, was more forthcoming. It referred me to Mrs May’s 18 January  Brexit strategy speech in which she said: 

The third …reason I believe we can come to the right agreement is that cooperation between Britain and the EU is needed not just when it comes to trade but when it comes to our security too.

Britain and France are Europe’s only two nuclear powers. We are the only two European countries with permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. Britain’s armed forces are a crucial part of Europe’s collective defence.

…After Brexit, Britain wants to be a good friend and neighbour in every way, and that includes defending the safety and security of all of our citizens.

A quick phone round the embassies and European ministries of foreign affairs elicited more no comments, until I came to the Poles where a spokesperson said: “Yes that’s right.” The verbal reaction was quickly followed by an email with the more diplomatic “no comment” line.

Dr Ian Lesser, Vice President at the German Marshall Fund, said it is “not incredible” that Britain is considering using its nuclear deterrent as part of the Brexit negotiations. He added: “But it would certainly be controversial.”

Dr Lesser thought it was more likely that what would emerge would be an Anglo-Franco-German relationship which would tie the EU more closely to NATO in such a way that Britain still had a seat at the top table in Europe.

The possibility of Britain extending its deterrent is made credible by President Trump’s comments about America First, Nato obsolence, reluctance to defend cash-strapped NATO members and even cutting defence costs by providing nuclear weapons technology to allies.

The onset of Trump-style American isolationism has prompted talks about greater European defence cooperation, including—at the suggestion of the Polish president– a German-funded European nuclear deterrent. This was firmly and immediately rejected by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Strategists in Europe and America have historically opposed the dominance of a single European country. Germany is currently the number one political and economic power, but it lacks the military capability to project its influence.

One of the roles of the American nuclear umbrella has been to protect Europe while at the same time allowing the ultimate deterrence to be controlled from outside Europe, thus preventing the emergence of the one overbearing  European state.

A perpetual fear of Europeans during and after the Cold War has been  that America would “decouple” itself from Europe by withdrawing or weakening its nuclear umbrella. This would leave the EU vulnerable to nuclear blackmail from Moscow.

The UK outside of the EU would also be politically removed and there would be a continuing link with the US as the Trident missiles used to deliver British warheads are American-made.  Any deal would require American approval.

An Anglo-French nuclear deterrent  would be only 515 nuclear warheads. The US has 6,970. But Britain and France currently look a lot more reliable.

This article is also published on Look Ahead Tv

* Tom Arms is a Wandsworth Lib Dem and produces and presents the podcast www.lookaheadnews.com

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9 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '17 - 9:46am

    It’s hard for a party that wants a near part-time deterrent to support this. I wouldn’t make any agreement specifically about nukes, it should just be to create a kind of EU version of Nato. Yes, some will argue against replicating Nato, but it is the EU officials that we are negotiating with and they want the EU to have its own specific defence arrangements.

  • Gwyn Williams 24th Mar '17 - 10:30am

    The Department for Exiting the EU needs to by an atlas. The UK and France are not the only European powers with nuclear weapons. Russia is European as well. When the Brexiteers make these sort of basic geographical mistakes I shudder at what they will do when negotiations actually start.

  • The neutral/non-aligned EU member states will turn this idea down flat. Had they an interest in outside military protection they’d have joined NATO long ago.

    The other (NATO) EU member states will look to France, not the U.K., for such help. Why should they put more faith in us than the US? They have good grounds to believe that we’d do a volte-face
    on such an offer/agreement just as we are now doing on the commitments we gave as an EU member.

  • Sue Sutherland 24th Mar '17 - 1:30pm

    I agree with you Tom. I’m sure May will use this in negotiations because there’s not much else she can use. Putin is obviously flexing his muscles both personally and nationally and now Trump has shown he doesn’t value NATO much I would have thought those EU countries vulnerable to Russian land grabs would be keener to see the EU exchange trade for defence. However, would we actually pull out of NATO if this strategy fails? I think that would have to be a negotiating bottom line, unless May is thinking of investing even more on Defence in exchange for trade deals.

  • Ed Shepherd 24th Mar '17 - 2:02pm

    Can the UK launch it’s nuclear missiles without US permission? Even if US permission is not needed, can the UK maintain it’s missiles without US input?

  • Can the UK launch it’s nuclear missiles without US permission?

    Yes.

    Even if US permission is not needed, can the UK maintain it’s missiles without US input?

    No.

    There, that was easy.

  • Also: possessive ‘its’.

  • Ed Shepherd 24th Mar '17 - 4:26pm

    If what Dav said is true then the UK’s nuclear weapons cannot act as a deterrent in Europe in the long-term unless the USA cgives ongoing consent and that might not be forthcoming indefinitely. I will ignore the grammatical pedantry other than to note that the rule that saying nothing on an internet forum that would start a punch-up in the bar of a rowdy local is a good one.

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