Donald Trump’s election caused consternation at home and abroad. Outside of the United States, perhaps nowhere is the shock of his victory more keenly felt than amongst our longstanding allies in Europe. No doubt European leaders were still grappling with the aftermath of this development and possible ramifications when they met last month for the final EU Council meeting of the year to discuss the general security situation.
During the campaign, Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric was met by many with a mixture of scorn and amusement. Now, many longtime transatlantic security watchers are sounding the alarm. Lost in all this, however, are several positive developments which point not only to the staying power of the collective defense norm but the wider transatlantic security relationship as well.
EU Member States are unlikely to reach consensus on comprehensive reform of Common Security and Defence Policy soon. What may follow will be attempts to establish a European “defence core.” That, however, would threaten NATO adaptation to the new security challenges and undermine the coherence of the EU itself. It is Poland’s interest to avoid such a scenario in favour of inclusiveness in defence cooperation in the EU. The country should also seek to confirm a balanced approach to European defence industry policy.
The future of defence cooperation within the European Union returned to the political agenda in Europe with implementation of the European Global Strategy (EGS), which aims to reinforce Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). At the same time, some Member States have proposed the establishment of a European “defence core.” Since it is unlikely that the EU will agree on comprehensive reform of CSDP within the EGS implementation, the Member States that call for a rapid deepening of defence integration in Europe will try to pursue their agenda in an exclusive grouping. These states argue that such a step is a proper political reaction to the EU and Brexit crises, as well as the correct operational answer to the security crisis in the Union’s southern neighbourhood. But in this scenario, Poland and other likeminded EU countries that support a pragmatic vision of CSDP and seek added-value through EU-developed military capabilities may be forced out of the main vehicle of defence cooperation in Europe.
The debate about the EU military headquarters is not as vacuous as some of its British critics claim, although it has undoubtedly been given a new lease of life by the Brexit vote. Still, the UK would be well-advised to drop its vociferous opposition to the scheme, even if it continues to entertain doubts about its viability.
During her recent visit to the UK, Germany Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen asked the British not to block EU efforts to build deeper security and defence cooperation. Her comments followed British criticism of Franco-German plans to build an EU headquarters and suggestions that London might block such a measure, as long as it remained in the EU.
There is a whole bundle of post-Brexit vote politics at play here, for which the HQ issue has become something of a lightning rod. The 27 other EU governments are keen to show some unity and that the bloc remains relevant for their citizens, especially for their security. Plus, although it is not entirely fair to blame the UK for the EU’s lack of progress on military matters, cheerleaders for EU defence policy – and not only in Berlin and Paris – have seized on the Brexit vote as a golden opportunity to relaunch that policy.
Since Britain voted on June 23 to leave the EU, it seems everyone has an idea for strengthening European defense. The cacophony of calls in the last month alone has included an Italian proposal for a “Schengen of defense,” a reference to the EU’s passport-free travel zone; a Visegrád Four appeal from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia for a “European army”; and a Weimar triangle declaration from France, Germany, and Poland on the need for more effective EU security and defense policies.
Ahead of an informal summit of EU heads of state and government (minus the UK) in Bratislava on September 16, the French and German defense ministers have prepared a paper containing a number of concrete ideas for deeper military cooperation—building on an earlier post-Brexit initiative by their foreign ministers for a “European Security Compact.”
Not to be outdone, EU leaders in Brussels have also joined the chorus. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, has said that she will produce a security and defense plan by the end of 2016, a follow-on document to her broader global strategy for EU foreign and security policies, which was published in June.
From America’s first major overseas military intervention in 1801 against the Barbary States to today’s on-going military presence in the region, the United States has often relied on a tiny piece of the United Kingdom located in the Mediterranean Sea.
Gibraltar, commonly referred to simply as “the Rock,” is a rocky headland covering just over 2.7 square miles on the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. It is strategically located at the western entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, where the strait between Europe and Africa spans a mere 7.7 nautical miles at its narrowest point.
After being captured from the Moors in 1462, Gibraltar was part of Spain until it was captured in 1704 by a joint Anglo-Dutch-Catalan force during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Rock was formally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht “…forever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.”
Since losing Gibraltar in 1704, the Spanish have sought to take it back. Examples abound through the last three centuries. They unsuccessfully laid siege to Gibraltar on three separate occasions in the 18th century and have since used a combination of military, diplomatic, economic, and plain harassing tactics in an attempt to get the Rock back. More recently, after the Gibraltarians approved a new constitution in 1969, Spain’s fascist dictator Francesco Franco closed the land border and blocked telecommunications between Spain and Gibraltar until the border was reopened in 1985.