The Russia threat is often used as a bogey to cover up a hidden agenda. The UK is very skilled in this craft. Today, London is playing the Russian card in the game of the Brexit talks with the EU. At first glance, this idea appears to be a real brainstorm, allowing Britain to lower the price for leaving the European Union.
According to The Telegraph, senior government figures not only acknowledged that EU leaders feared the impact of Brexit on security but expressed willingness to use their position for leverage. The cabinet plotted to exploit the EU’s fear of Russia during the Brexit talks. On March 7, they identified the UK’s «very strong hand» on defence as a key advantage in negotiations. They believe that security would be a «defining» issue for the EU and that Britain should not «underplay» its hand as it seeks to secure a favorable free trade deal.
Security and defence are seen as a big thing in the UK’s corner. According to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, «Insecurity in Europe is at its highest since the Cold War. There is increased Russian aggression». «The EU needs our capabilities», he is recorded as adding before saying that the UK had «high cards» to play at the negotiating table on security.
This is a flip-flop. All of a sudden Great Britain is ready for a major foreign policy shift! The UK has always been an ardent opponent of the EU’s own deterrent – the European Army – the issue that has come to the fore after US President Donald Trump’s remarks about NATO and Europe’s responsibility for its own defense. London has always supported NATO led by Washington. Now the US is actually painted as an unreliable partner to boost the UK’s defense role after Brexit. That’s when the bogey of Russian threat comes in handy.
It’s hardly a coincidence that Great Britain’s role in European security is discussed at a time the EU mulls the creation of its own nuclear deterrent.
The UK is to get a €60 billion Brexit bill – a hefty exit charge. There is no leverage to make the EU more pliant. Under the circumstances, assuming the role of Europe’s «protector» seems to be the only way to get a «discount». This is an example of high-handed approach but does it have a chance?
Poland and the Baltic States may support it but that’s not enough. Europeans are realists. They can count and make sound judgements. The UK’s military faces a funding deficit of up to £10 billion following risings costs of much needed new ships and jets. Military sources also said replacement submarines for the Trident nuclear deterrent were likely to jump above their £41 billion maximum budget over 20 years. The cost of dozens of jets for two aircraft carriers is also expected to rise because of the weak pound.
According to The Times’ analysis of publicly available defence procurement data and private estimates by informed sources reveal a funding shortfall of at least £10 billion over the next decade. This is equivalent to nearly a quarter of the annual defence budget and is likely to be a conservative figure as the weak pound drives up the cost of hardware from abroad.
At the time the Trump administration rightly insists that NATO members states shoulder more of the burden of its costs, it is far from clear how the enhanced military role that Britain seeks is to be paid for. A global security role pays for itself in many ways, but it does not come cheap. Britain is one of only four European countries to spend the 2 per cent of GDP on defence that NATO expects of its members. However, even that cannot be relied on to cover major procurement programs and meet existing commitments, let alone take on new ones. Theresa May must choose between an enhanced global security role, or a cheaper one.
The future of UK’s nuclear deterrent is uncertain as the program is plagued by financial constraints and technical failures.
The UK’s government’s stance appears to be a bit off base at a time the future status of Gibraltar (the Rock) emerged as a potential issue after European Council president Donald Tusk circulated draft EU negotiating guidelines suggesting Spain would have a veto over the British overseas territory’s participation in a future deal. While there was no reference to Spain’s claim to sovereignty in the EU document, the specific mention of a role for the Madrid government in deciding whether a trade deal would apply to the Rock has caused unease in Westminster. Former Conservative Party leader Lord Howard suggested that PM Theresa May could be prepared to go to war over Gibraltar – the statement Downing Street refused to condemn.
Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) chairman Dominic Grieve told BBC4 Westminster Hour, «That said, it is right to point out that with all our overseas territories, and that includes Gibraltar, if they were ever to be attacked we would go to war. That is stated United Kingdom Government policy».
The British government sees itself as a European security protector at the time the use of force against an EU member state is seen as an option. This is another example of how the Russian threat myth is used as a pretext for the achievement of the most selfish interests.