After "Brexit", EU leaders will need to work swiftly to ensure the European project doesn't fall apart.(File Photo)
BEIJING, July 4 (ChinaMil) -- Because of the existence of NATO and the entanglements among EU members, common diplomatic and security policy has always been the "weakness" of the three pillars of EU integration and has seen endless fluctuations compared with the thriving economic and currency alliance and judicial and internal affairs cooperation.
Defense integration - the high-end aspect of that area - has progressed particularly slowly, and the global financial crisis and ensuing European debt crisis have also affected European defense cooperation in terms of budget.
A national referendum in Britain on June 24 made "Brexit" a reality, which will bring new impacts on the prospects of European defense cooperation.
The most direct effect is that the common defense development in EU will lose a powerful pillar as Britain has been very influential in EU's defense integration because of its strong nuclear capability and long-distance overseas military power-projection capability.
When the EU common defense mechanism, namely the common security and defense policy, was officially launched at the end of the 1990s, Britain played a critical role. Now that the EU loses the military power of Britain, its overall defense capability and regional and international influence will take a heavy blow.
However, Britain has adhered to the defense principle that "NATO comes first" and "coordination with U.S. defense is paramount". The country has never been too enthusiastic about EU defense integration, in which it is an "important participant" at most but is not an indispensable "core".
Therefore, the EU defense integration won't take a massive step back because Britain quitted midway. On the contrary, the referendum, while it split EU, is also splitting Britain itself. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of which possess important defense resources, there are people demanding to exit Britain and join the EU through referendum too.
Should this assertion become true, it would severely shake Britain's position as a traditional military power, and mitigate the negative impact caused by "Brexit" on EU defense cooperation.
"Brexit" is the first setback in the European integration cause and it will strongly encourage the forces across Europe that doubt the EU and want to exit it, but it will also force those that support European integration to make deep reflections and display stronger solidarity.
At the moment, Europe has to deal with a series of security threats such as the massive refugee inflow, terrorist attack and Ukraine crisis, so EU members can only "stay together for development" by continuing to comprehensively deepen their integration, including strengthening defense cooperation. In general, European defense integration is still more likely to "forge ahead" than "step back".
In fact, some EU members that have expectations for common defense policy already said recently that European defense integration may achieve new breakthroughs without the restriction from Britain.
In view of the sensitivity of defense topic, the entwined and complicated interests of member states, and the economic development of Euro zone members at various speed due to debt crisis, it's probable that the EU will rally a few countries that truly want to move forward in the current path and form an "European core" as "vanguard group" under the initiative of France and Germany, while other countries can catch up when the ripe moment arrives.
EU's defense development in the future may be more focused on striking a balance between the U.S. and Russia, which are the external factors that affect Europe's defense most.
As "Brexit" weakens EU, NATO becomes more important in European security affairs, but as NATO and Russia are in a moment of confrontation, many European countries have to spare time and energy to deal with the repercussions caused by "Brexit", which isn't good for America's "strategic eastward movement".
EU countries and Russia don't trust each other, but the former has always adopted a more practical attitude toward the latter than the U.S. given Russia's powerful military and "stick of natural gas". Persistent in "splitting the U.S. and Europe" in order to relieve pressure from the west, Russia knows very well that the EU defense cooperation has been a slow process and is prone to "independence from U.S.", so it is happy to see "Brexit" that gives it a more relaxing strategic environment.
Therefore, the EU defense cooperation is about to be "reshuffled" but it won't easily "collapse". The "most certain consequence" of "Brexit" on European defense, which has never been a plain sailing, is that there are bigger uncertainties, but who knows whether that's a good thing or bad thing?
How to proceed with common defense is a topic that's testing the wisdom of European politicians.