Undeniably, there were countless points of great interest at the 54th Munich global security conference – truly the most important annual conference of its type in the current international system. They revealed the hotspots of the current international situation, and the grand strategy orientations of various actors – greater or smaller – involved in conflict situations. The summit’s organisation outlined the preoccupation of diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger – the senior European expert in the field – who knew to choose both the general topic and the general schedule sequences requiring thorough study. The report of the conference, drafted by Ischinger’s team and titled The World on the Brink and Back, the ballet of the succession of rounds of debate and the personality/specific and global weight of the guests sought to give chances to the finding of solutions to situations that seem unmanageable and that threaten to descend into regional war or even more. But on the strategy of discussions and of measurement of strategic horizons, with declared enemies placed face to face, on a later date. For the time being, let us refer to what was for me, as an onlooker from Romania, via live broadcast, the way in which Brexit continues (the chances of a war against Iran was another topic of great interest we will return to).
Why Brexit? Because I find the evolution of post-Brexit EU-UK relations – namely from 2019 on – to be essential for the “health” of the European continent, for the avoidance of internal European turmoil that could sign the end of the EU and, by impact, deliver a powerful blow to Western civilisation as an ensemble of values, ideas, and systemic weight. Romania occupies almost half of the strategic space of the so-called Pontus – Baltic isthmus, namely of the line that unites the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea in Eastern Europe, essential for the security of Europe basically up to the Atlantic Ocean, due to current geopolitics, hence to the vicinity and hostility of Russia. Here, in Romania’s geopolitical position, now just as before, resides Romania’s European role. The way in which it will know to capitalise on its presence at the Black Sea, through efficient linking with the NATO deterrence alignment built in the last two years, depends very much on the UK’s presence in the future strategic thinking and development of this alignment.
Hence, firstly, what did UK Premier Theresa May say in Munich last Saturday (February 17)?
First, an issue regarding the summit’s atmosphere. In response to the decision-makers and experts present in the audience applauding at length what seemed to be an encouragement of the abandonment of the Brexit process – via a new referendum –, T. May felt she had to reiterate with great assurance that Brexit “will take place.” Hence that there is no turning back in this process, because the British electorate is expecting its government to carry out its will as expressed at the polls in June 2016. Of course, May, as leader of the conservative government, is right to express herself that way. It is just that the government that promoted the Brexit referendum, as already proven, just as May’s current cabinet, are not eternal and can be changed by the same electorate. Personally, I found Mrs May’s determination to take Brexit to completion superb, but, in the last elections – triggered by May herself in order to gain the necessary support to carry through Brexit –, her just-barely victory on 8 June 2017 was equivalent, according to some experts, to a defeat (the uncertainty/instability of her governance being proof of that). But this is a matter of UK domestic politics, not at all a concern of the European continent, meaning of “the 27.”
What was extremely important in the Mrs May’s statements at the Munich security conference was the fact that she simply proposed that the UK should continue cooperation with the EU in the field of European security and defence, after Brexit, based on a bilateral accord. In other words, the UK affirms its desire to be a contributor, just as before, to the defence of Europe. Here is how Mrs Theresa May’s proposition is reflected on the Munich Conference’s official tweeter feed: “Europe’s security is our security. The UK will remain unconditionally committed to it in the future.”; May “reminds the audience that the UK is the only EU member state that spends more than 2% of GDP on defense and 0.7% on ODA / official of development assistence”; “The UK is just as committed to Europe’s security in the future as we have been in the past. Europe’s security is our security.” These statements are undeniably convincing, but they have the defect of making incomprehensible the May Government’s decision to persevere in splitting the UK from the EU.
Of course, these statements can also be taken to be a response to the statements made by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen the day before: “We want to remain transatlantic but become more European,” which could be interpreted as the EU isolating the UK. (https://twitter.com/MunSecConf/status/964493150994747392). Here is one of the comments posted on the German official’s statement: “Translation: with the US less engaged, we can finally dominate Europe.” (Ibid.) And another statement from the same official: “I believe we also need a PESCO in foreign policy – and a common strategic culture. There is no military short-cut to a sustainable order of peace.” It was able to strengthen this perception of isolation. Especially since the German official’s French counterpart – Mrs Florence Parly – talked in the same sense: “Europe is not a luxury, it is a necessity. But we have left it to bureaucrats and the tyranny of consensus.” Announcing an innovating process in this field. Leaving aside the reader’s opinion quoted above, let us reflect on the fact that one of the main dossiers that the UK focused on – when it was a veritable force of rendering European defence dynamic – was that this direction would not be taken to the detriment of NATO. London’s opposition on this issue was successful. British officials state even today that they will never agree with the existence of autonomous European defence, capable of living up on its own to the challenges facing the the Old Continent, albeit in complementarity with NATO. Does the UK want to have an accord with the EU in the field of security and defence in order to continue this policy of drastic opposition to the establishment of a Europe of defence?
Analysts have even noticed that May launched a subtle warning to Europe in case its proposition is refused, guided by the belief that ideological intoxications and institutional formalisms should be left aside: “Theresa May increasing stakes in #Brexit negotiations about internal security. Asks for new form of cooperation agreement and issues thinly veiled threat: failure to get bespoke deal will end internal security cooperation with ‘damaging effects for both sides.’” (https://twitter.com/henrikenderlein/status/964785004126654466) Practically, many commentators see in May’s proposition a normality in an extremely difficult negotiation process in which the UK – already half-way through it – seems not to benefit from a favourable position.
Critical of May’s proposition, former Swedish PM Carl Bildt points out that: “PM May appeals for close cooperation with the EU on primarily domestic security issues. ‘Europe’s security is our security’. Yes, but institutions matter, and Brexit unfortunately means Brexit.” Hence, the contradiction between claiming that the UK wants to remain tied up with Europe in issues of security, and the fact that this would mean related institutions and processes, and Brexit means precisely abandoning them. A European citizen sincerely comments on Bildt’s statement: “Brexit was hyped up to mean that the UK could go it alone. Now we see them scrambling to re-attach themselves to the surrounding world, because in today’s world countries need to rely on the help of other countries. It’s mind-boggling.”
However, it is true that now, after May’s proposition, the ball is in the EU’s court. Will the organisation stick to the line initially established, that any post-Brexit cooperation in the field of security depends on UK’s presence in the single European space with everything that it entails, including from the standpoint of common legislation?
Why on a potential war against Iran? For the simple reason that Romania is linked through strategic and historical fibres to what is happening in the Middle East, being, along with Bulgaria, geographically closest to its epicentre – given the vicinity to Turkey – among all European Union states. But, there is yet another argument. Namely that Russia has now positioned itself as the main player at the centre of events, in relation to the civil war in Syria, and Russia’s strategic assets in accessing this region are Crimea – located in the close vicinity of the Romanian coast –, the Straits – through which runs the logistical line of the Russian forces in Syria, hence also so close to Romanian territory –, and everything that a war against Iran entails would activate such geographical vicinities in circumstances that are difficult to identify but surely with bigger consequences for Bucharest than for other EU capitals.