December 5, 2016

Brexit and Baltic Sea Security

Caroline Davies, Royal Navy Media Archive / Flickr

The result of the UK’s June 2016 referendum on continued membership of the EU was unexpected and its consequences may be wide-ranging and grave. This report considers the impact of the UK’s exit from the European Union (‘Brexit’) on the security of Estonia, the Baltic Sea region and Europe more widely. Its focus is hard security – military security and defence.

The UK is a defence and security actor of considerable prominence, able to contribute significant military capability to the organisations and operations in which it participates. It is, however, sceptical about the place of the EU in defence matters and has achieved a certain level of infamy for its perseverance in obstructing the further development of an EU defence dimension. One immediate consequence of the Brexit referendum result was a burst of ideas for further EU defence integration, which has led to an agreement on the first steps for implementing the EU Global Strategy in the area of security and defence.

Not all member states, however, are enthusiastic for these ideas. Interviews conducted for this report with officials and researchers in the Baltic Sea states of Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, and also in the UK found that interviewees believed that their countries shared with the UK approaches to security that would be harder to pursue after Brexit without the active support of the UK itself, and were largely sceptical about the need for further defence integration in the EU. In general, though, interviewees felt that the character of the European security environment post-Brexit is very difficult to forecast and the many factors that will contribute to shaping it are highly uncertain, complex, and intertwined.

In these circumstances, scenario planning methodologies offer perhaps the best means of thinking about the future and informing policy decisions. The report thus identifies a range of possible post-Brexit scenarios as a vehicle for testing policies and identifying those likely to result in maximum benefit and minimum cost.

Download: Brexit and Baltic Sea Security (PDF)