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31st Oct 2020

UK will still defend Europe, Nato chief says

  • Stoltenberg: 'The UK will remain a strong and committed ally' (Photo: nato.int)

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg has said Brexit will make no difference to the UK’s role in the Western alliance.

“Brexit will change the relationship between the UK and the European Union, but it will not change the UK’s position in Nato. The UK will remain a strong and committed ally”, he said in Brussels on Monday (4 July).

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  • British troops played leading role in Afdghanistan (Photo: Defence Images)

“I am certain … that the new government in the UK will confirm this”, he added.

“It’s important because the UK is a major provider of security in Europe … It accounts for nearly one quarter of defence spending among European Nato allies”, he said.

He said that “in an age of uncertainty” the EU and Nato “need each other more than ever”.

Stoltenberg spoke to press one week after the UK’s shock vote to leave the EU and a few days ahead of a Nato summit in Warsaw.

Some British commentators have said that if the EU got tough in future exit talks, for instance, by shutting the City of London out of the single market, then the UK could threaten to withdraw Nato security guarantees.

But Andrew Dorman, a scholar of security issues at Chatham House, a think-tank in London, said that would be surprising.

“I would be surprised because for at least the past 400 or 500 years it has been accepted that it’s in Britain’s interest to have a peaceful and stable Europe, a Europe that isn’t dominated by a single country or a single group of countries”, he told EUobserver.

“The last thing Britain would want to do is to leave Europe alone to face a resurgent Russia”, he said.

Judy Dempsey, a Berlin-based scholar of EU affairs for the Carnegie Europe think-tank, agreed.

“It would be a very strange blackmail. I cannot see anyone making such a linkage [on Brexit and Nato security obligations]”, she said.

“It would be totally self-defeating because it would strike at the heart of the transatlantic special relationship”, she added, referring to the US and UK post-WWII security alliance on Europe.

Brexit might have consequences in the EU security arena, however.

For his part, Stoltenberg on Monday warned the EU against duplication of military command and control structures.

The UK had opposed the creation of an EU military HQ, but France and Germany are interested in the idea.

Chatham House’s Dorman said that Brexit talks could see the UK leverage some of its military assets in terms of EU-flag overseas missions.

He said that France, for instance, needed UK heavy air-lift craft to move its soldiers around Mali and that the UK has prized surveillance and military intelligence capabilities.

He also said that the UK could give EU citizens fewer privileges in the event of British-led evacuations from conflict or natural disaster zones in future if the EU divorce talks went badly.

Warsaw

Nato will in Warsaw finalise plans to deploy thousands of soldiers to the Baltic states and Poland and, later on, to Romania to act as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

It will increase support to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which are trying to break away from Russia's sphere of influence, and upgrade relations with Finland and Sweden, two non-aligned states who are seeking closer Nato ties due to Russia’s behaviour.

It will also declare that its anti-ballistic missile shield has attained “initial operational capability”.

Stoltenberg said the moves are defensive and that Nato ambassadors aim to hold talks with Russian diplomats after the Warsaw event to lower tensions.

Russia has said that the missile shield was designed to undermine its nuclear capability. But the Nato chief said the “location and the physics” of the anti-missile system’s interceptor rockets “make it impossible for them to intercept Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles”.

He also said it was wrong of Russia to threaten the non-aligned Nordic states with military consequences if they one day joined Nato.

Only dinner

The two states’ leaders are to take part in a dinner with Nato member states’ leaders in the Polish capital on Friday in a historic first.

“Sweden ad Finland are really close friends of Nato and one invites close friends to dinner,” Stoltenberg, who is a former Norwegian PM, said.

“It’s up to Sweden and Finland to decide if they want more. This is only dinner”.

Opinion

Brexit is an opportunity for EU defence policy

With the UK out, the EU will lose an important contributor to its security and defence policy, but also one of the member states that blocked the most progress in this policy area.

UK to 'make most' of Nato after leaving EU

The UK will continue to play a role in EU foreign policy after it leaves, but will “make the most” of Nato and bilateral ties to pursue national interests, Cameron has said.

Nato's Russia-deterrent takes shape in Warsaw

Canada, Germany, the UK and the US to take the lead in defending Europe from potential Russian aggression. France to also send troops, despite saying Russia is its "partner".

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