In this space for the past several weeks, I have been putting forward a series of arguments centred on two major themes: that British membership in the European Union serves the UK’s geo-strategic interests, and that the EU remains an important vessel for securing international peace and stability.
Inevitably, some of these arguments are bound to be rooted in an analysis of traditional European geopolitical dynamics. For instance, many have advanced the notion that Britain’s presence in the EU acts as an important counterweight to German influence, thus assuaging the perennial fear of domination by Germany held by other countries on the continent.
The challenge lies in establishing a line of thinking that is oriented toward the future. Invariably, we run into a difficulty here. Being forward-looking, especially when it comes to an organisation as ambitious in scope as the EU, requires a level of boldness that can sometimes be difficult to square with the nuance required to conduct serious geopolitical analysis.
Keeping the need to balance vision with subtlety in mind, let’s attempt to advance two more arguments for why Britain should vote to remain in the EU.
First, the existence and strength of the European Union remain vital to the stability of global geopolitics, despite the institution’s weaknesses. Many Brexit supporters like to highlight the supposed economic- and immigration-related deficiencies associated with the single market. Personally, as a student of international relations who has been primarily influenced by the realist tradition, I am critical of the European Union’s foreign policy, particularly vis-à-vis Russia.
Unquestionably, EU actions and policies played a major role in provoking the current conflict between Russia and the West over the status of Ukraine. For a whole host of reasons – geographic, cultural, economic and strategic – Russia will never be able to acquiesce in allowing Ukraine to become a fully Western-oriented country. It only takes a rudimentary knowledge of Russian history and foreign policy to understand that this crisis could easily have been prevented.
However, even though past EU actions have contributed to the heightening of tensions between Russia and the West, this does not mean that damaging the integrity of the sovereignty pool will improve the situation. For the reasons I have advanced in this space before, the European Union remains a crucial component of the international peace puzzle. Even if the status quo is not perfect, it does not logically follow that the alternative will necessarily improve on it.
The key – whether it is on matters economic, demographic or international – is to fight for reform within the existing framework, a privilege one only possesses through continued membership. Established and tested institutions should not be taken for granted. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater only stands to transform much of Europe into yet another weakened region in which American, Russian and Chinese interests play out.
Second, in spite of the possible short- and medium-term ramifications of a potential Brexit, the pull toward Europe will remain strong. Contrary to what many Eurosceptics believe, having already survived the most acute point of its crisis, the single currency is likely to endure over the long term. In the not-too-distant future, it is quite possible that it will no longer make sense for Europe’s financial capital – London – to remain outside the continent’s monetary union.
Even it matters related to the economy, the 21st century has not rendered geographic realities irrelevant, a fact confirmed by the sheer size of the trade relationship between Britain and the rest of the EU. Therefore, we must arrive at the conclusion that, in one form or another, Britain will one day be forced to rejoin the European mainstream. And in the event of Brexit, it will have to do so on terms worse than it has currently secured for itself.
As was noted in a recent article in The Economist, countries this century must pool their sovereignty, or face losing it due to isolation from decision-making processes. Ideological purists may not like it, but it is a reality with which we must live – or, depending on your point of view, an opportunity with which we are presented.
Despite the emergence of regionalism in various parts of the world, the direction of global affairs is clearly toward greater integration. In other words, the question ultimately isn’t about where we are going, but rather how much of a mess we are going to have to wade through before we get there.
Zach Paikin is pursuing a PhD in International Relations at the University of Kent in Canterbury. He is a Committee Member of Uniting for Peace.