Brexit Is 'Not Good News' For U.S. Foreign Security Efforts, Analysts Say

Britain's departure today from the EU will further strain NATO, complicate American commercial and security efforts in Europe and leave open the question of U.K. involvement in future U.S. and EU joint military operations like troop deployments, defense analysts told Newsweek.

One of the many consequences of Britain's exit from the European Union is the departure of a longstanding ally advocating for U.S. interests from within European defense structures and agendas, the analysts explained.

"In security terms, Brexit is not good news for the U.S.," Dr. Ian Lesser, the vice president at The German Marshall Fund, told Newsweek. "Without a British say in future European defense arrangements, there is a greater chance that these will be less favorable to American interests. Much of what made the 'special relationship' special for Washington was Britain's influence in the EU."

With the principal gateway for American industry into Europe now in doubt, analysts told Newsweek of fears that fewer channels might remain open for military manufactures and suppliers like Northrop Grumman to compete in the growing European defense market. The nation's role in ongoing campaigns may enjoy less support from those longstanding allies without the weight of Britain's involvement not just with NATO, but with broader economic, diplomatic and defense structures of the EU.

At the same time, America is key to European force deployment, which requires a U.S. commitment of military enablers such as airlift support or force protection. American and U.K. forces are fighting and training concurrently in campaigns across the Middle East.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates U.K. contributions to the E.U.

Brexit Europe Losses Statista
An illustration of what the European Union loses following Brexit, January 31, 2020. Statista

After stepping out of the scheme, "the U.K. would have very limited options to deploy its military forces," said Heather Conley, senior vice president and director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The European defense table relies on a series of smaller arrangements and policies whose structure is much smaller than NATO. The absence of the U.K. could mean less concern for complementarity between these arrangements with the needs of NATO and the needs of the U.S.

"No state, and especially not a middle power, is well positioned to go it alone in a world where problems are global, and security and economic challenges fail to respect national borders," Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri the director of US and the Americas Programme at Chatham House, told Newsweek.

Meanwhile, the U.K's longterm defense strategy must also has to contend with doubts about the future of NATO, fueled by the Trump administration's visible skepticism about the organization. In an interview with The Sunday Times earlier this month, the U.K.'s defense secretary said he felt that the uncertainty of the U.S. commitment to NATO and decisions made without consulting European partners alienates them as an ally which leaves partners exposed. "We are very dependent on American air cover and American intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. We need to diversify our assets," Ben Wallace told The Sunday Times earlier this month.

Signed in 1949, the Washington Treaty that established NATO contains a "mutual defense" clause. It ensures that if one nation is attacked it is considered an attack on all signatories. The treaty was part of the Marshall Plan, aimed at rebuilding Europe after the Second World War. An American four-star general oversees the command structure and its year-round operation.

NATO troops have been active in engagements from the breakup of Yugoslavia to the combat, training, and stabilization operations in Afghanistan. Now the organization faces adversaries in Russia and ongoing conflicts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Wallace said that the notion that the U.S. might recede from its position as a global defender and coalition member "keeps me awake at night."

This article was updated to include an infographic.