The EU is worried about losing their American nuclear umbrella.
The UK is worried about losing their European market and their seat at the European top table.
Britain has nuclear weapons. The EU has markets. Is there a fit?
If so, the result could be a tectonic strategic shift with far-reaching political repercussions.
My sources say there is enough of a fit for Prime Minister Theresa May to be thinking of offering to extend the British deterrent to EU countries in return for Brexit concessions. This is most likely to be in cooperation with the French.
The reaction of the strategic eggheads ranges from “not incredible” to “logical,” to “totally unrealistic” and then “utterly crass” with a lot of “no comments” thrown in for good measure.
No comment was what the British Ministry of Defence said. No reply was all I could elicit from The Foreign Office and Downing Street. But The Department for Exiting the European Union, was more forthcoming. It referred me to Mrs May’s 18 January Brexit strategy speech in which she said:
“The third …reason I believe we can come to the right agreement is that cooperation between Britain and the EU is needed not just when it comes to trade but when it comes to our security too.
“Britain and France are Europe’s only two nuclear powers. We are the only two European countries with permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. Britain’s armed forces are a crucial part of Europe’s collective defence.
“…After Brexit, Britain wants to be a good friend and neighbour in every way, and that includes defending the safety and security of all of our citizens.”
A quick phone round the embassies and European ministries of foreign affairs elicited more no comments, until I came to the Poles where a spokesperson said: “Yes that’s right.” The verbal reaction was quickly followed by an email with the more diplomatic “no comment” line.
Dr Ian Lesser, Vice President at the German Marshall Fund, said it is “not incredible” that Britain is considering using its nuclear deterrent as part of the Brexit negotiations. He added: “But it would certainly be controversial.”
Dr Lesser thought it was more likely that what would emerge would be an Anglo-Franco-German relationship which would tie the EU more closely to NATO in such a way that Britain still had a seat at the top table in Europe.
The possibility of Britain extending its deterrent is made credible by President Trump’s comments about America First, Nato obsolence, reluctance to defend cash-strapped NATO members and even cutting defence costs by providing nuclear weapons technology to allies.
The onset of Trump-style American isolationism has prompted talks about greater European defence cooperation, including—at the suggestion of the Polish president– a German-funded European nuclear deterrent. This was firmly and immediately rejected by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Strategists in Europe and America have historically opposed the dominance of a single European country. Germany is currently the number one political and economic power, but it lacks the military capability to project its influence.
One of the roles of the American nuclear umbrella has been to protect Europe while at the same time allowing the ultimate deterrence to be controlled from outside Europe, thus preventing the emergence of the one overbearing European state.
A perpetual fear of Europeans during and after the Cold War has been that America would “decouple” itself from Europe by withdrawing or weakening its nuclear umbrella. This would leave the EU vulnerable to nuclear blackmail from Moscow.
The UK outside of the EU would also be politically removed and there would be a continuing link with the US as the Trident missiles used to deliver British warheads are American-made. Any deal would require American approval.
An Anglo-French nuclear deterrent would be only 515 nuclear warheads. The US has 6,970. But Britain and France currently look a lot more reliable.
Tom Arms is the author of the Encyclopedia of the Cold War and Editor of Lookaheadnews.com