Addressing the arguments of the Brexit campaign and the consequences of the UK leaving the European Union

What will happen if the UK leaves the EU?

  • The UK would be more isolated in the world. This would likely lead to higher political tensions and lower economic growth, as the UK ceases to benefit from the trade appeal and power of the EU as a whole.
  • Already there are tensions in Eastern Europe and Southern Europe. These can be solved together amicably. Abandoning our shared European interests would be detrimental to our security.
  • A Brexit could ultimately mean the collapse of the EU as other nations follow suit.
  • Russia and NATO are arming themselves heavily - this is a precursor to conflict and shows the importance of us maintaining good relations with all of Europe and Russia.

Here we look at some common criticisms of the EU and how these can be overcome.

Responding to the idea that it was nuclear weapons that provided a deterrent to warfare in the 20th Century

Some people argue that it was the threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD) from nuclear weapons that kept Europe peaceful for the last 70 years, as opposed to the influence of the EU.

But this threat failed to hold back the nuclear weapon nations from engaging in warfare. Far from the Cold War being “cold”, the nuclear-armed superpowers launched “hot” wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Algeria, the Falkland Islands, and Panama. They fought wars that were avoided by non-nuclear states such as the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Austria. While it was too dangerous for the nuclear weapon states to fight each other directly, they engaged in wars in other parts of the world. This is evidenced in history such as when the Soviets sent guns and Cuban troops into Angola, and the US used third parties to arm their rivals. Hundreds of thousands of Angolan civilians died as a result. Nuclear weapons did not protect them. If anything, MAD made the world more dangerous for smaller countries, including those in Europe, by sucking other countries in, those far removed from the actual belligerents.

Responding to the cultural enlightenment argument: the idea that war became socially unacceptable

Some people argue that the reason for peace in Europe is that we became 'civilised' or 'culturally enlightened'; in other words, that war became socially unacceptable.

The trouble with this argument is that it overlooks the extraordinary growth in state violence, mass incarceration and coercion, even in the West. There is a newfound willingness for governments to secretly monitor, secretly try, secretly imprison and secretly torture anyone suspected of terrorism.

We are living in a world of black prisons, legitimised torture and Guantanamo Bay. One British Muslim has even been held in Guantanamo for over 13 years without charge. If anything, the public has become more detached, and more accepting of militarised security.

Responding to the argument that it was democracy, not the EU, that pacified the once-warlike European continent

Electorates rarely, if ever, seek war with a neighbour, thus democratic governments likewise shun wars with other democracies. Democratisation has led to the popular (now defunct) notion that countries where you can buy a McDonald's burger do not wage war with each other. By this rationale, the EU is irrelevant to Europe’s peace.

Yes, democracy is helpful for peace, but this argument overlooks the EU’s vital role in securing democracy throughout Europe, by having democracy as a prerequisite to membership. The EU’s support for democracy is one of its many pro-peace functions.

Responding to the argument that Europe’s long peace is thanks to NATO and the security blanket thrown over Western Europe by the United States

Some critics claim that peace in Europe is the result of the formidable strength of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) alliance. They imply that had it not been for NATO, the Soviet Army would have invaded Western Europe. 

We cannot prove or disprove a counterfactual history. The important question is whether that military alliance, far from rescuing Europe, is actually endangering it.

NATO’s greatest rival, the Warsaw Pact, disbanded in 1991 but NATO did not. The US lobbied the EU to expand eastwards and suck countries from Russia’s orbit. We must bear in mind that those countries had been one nation with Russia for 400 years and had only recently become independent. By 2014, the EU had absorbed nine countries that were formerly members of the Russian-led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, the Soviet Union's equivalent of the European Economic Area, and NATO was carrying out military exercises not far from the Russian border. Led by the US, NATO made efforts to outmatch Russia militarily, building anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe, and isolating Russia diplomatically. While in the 1990s Russia had seemed reconciled to re-joining the West, it began once more to view NATO as a threat. 

Tensions came to a head in Ukraine in 2013. It was NATO’s refusal to give up its Cold War mindset and disband, as the Warsaw Pact had done, that cornered Russia into hostility. The EU’s intentions became confusable with those of NATO, in Russia’s eyes. NATO encourages military tensions. As fellow Europeans it is vital that we renew and maintain good relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, both the NATO countries and Russia are major arms exporters and the arms often find their way into the hands of insurgent groups and brutal regimes in other parts of the world. If Russia did not perceive NATO to be a threat, it could reduce its arms production and concentrate on the economic challenges it is facing domestically. Friendship and disarmament go hand in hand.