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Britain and the origins and future of the European defence and security mechanism

Heuser, B. (2017) Britain and the origins and future of the European defence and security mechanism. RUSI Journal, 162 (2). pp. 16-23. ISSN 1744-0378

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/03071847.2017.1335557


Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the UK played a key role in the creation and development of a flexible and sustainable mechanism for European defence and security. Beatrice Heuser reviews the history of this engagement, and argues that changes in the UK’s institutional relationship with European partners should not be allowed to undermine the overarching principles of defence cooperation. Lessons learnt from history can be wrong or irrelevant, but one lesson that to a student of international relations seems both right and relevant appears to have been forgotten: that Britain’s security depends on a peaceful Europe; that Europe’s stability is enhanced by a firm British commitment to the defence of democratic states in Europe; and that the fine skills of British officials have been essential in overcoming many a crisis not only in transatlantic relations, but also in intra-European relations. Yet, today, Europe’s carefully crafted defence mechanism, engineered above all by Britain, is crumbling. This mechanism and the rules to guide its employment took decades to construct, and Britain was one of the leading powers in initiating, amending and then fine-tuning it. In key periods, this was achieved along with France; in others mainly alongside the US and West Germany. It was a mechanism that allowed for dynamism, elasticity and perpetual adjustments to ever-new events, which had to be accommodated without undermining the foundations of the entire structure. The British leaders and officials involved drew on centuries of failed experiments with alternative structures, all of which were eventually unable to keep the British Isles out of the two world wars, resulting in unprecedented numbers of casualties, damage and suffering. The mechanism, designed as much as cobbled together in ad hoc salvage operations by British politicians and defence planners, was at once robust and flexible, allowing it to weather a series of crises. But it relied and still relies crucially on Britain as the central lynchpin keeping the construct together. The British withdrawal from the EU risks removing this central lynchpin, upon which the entire construct may come apart.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:71841


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