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European Geostrategy: ‘Britain will never accept German leadership’

S ource: IdeasonEurope

Over the past five years, Germany has become very powerful. Since Britain’s (hopefully temporary) economic difficulties, the German economy has emerged not only as the largest – but by far the largest – in the European Union. Consequentially, some have asked whether we are now entering a period of German hegemony, a kind of German ‘unipolar moment’. Yesterday, however, the British strategist, Julian Lindley-French, explained that this is impossible – Germany will not become a European hegemon. Why? Because – as he puts it – ‘Britain will never accept German leadership.’ He argues that any attempt made by Berlin to ‘shackle’ London will fail, for three key reasons:

  1. Britain’s economic power – even after the Financial Crisis – is still too great and too different (being heavily financial and increasingly globalised) to allow Germany to apply the same kind of pressure on it than it has on places like Greece, Italy, Spain and France.
  2. Britain is a political counter-weight to Germany, for historical and political reasons. The United Kingdom is ‘not-Germany’, which means other European Union Member States will flock to it when German power becomes too overbearing. Britain will capitalise on this, particularly in in the European peripheries.
  3. Britain’s military power remains robust, while Germany’s is pitifully weak. Of all the European Union’s Member States, none can mount the kind of expeditionary operations the British can; no country has battle-hardened regular forces like those of the United Kingdom. The British military has fought battles or has seen tours of duty all over the world for decades; it also retains a global geopolitical footprint, with military stations reaching into the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic.

Lindley-French counsels that London should consolidate its European position by building coalitions to further maximise its power. Again, he is right. As I argued with Luis Simón in The RUSI Journal in 2010 and 2011, Britain needs to carefully construct closer military relations withFrance, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands, as well as, and particularly, the Nordic and Baltic states – something we described as London’s ‘Nordic drive’. The Baltic zone is critical to Britain’s geopolitical objectives: along with the Low Countries and the Mediterranean axis from Gibraltar to Cyprus, the Baltic is one of the three main anchors of British power. If London allows another country – like Russia – to gain control over the Baltic basin, the North Sea and Britain’s maritime routes would come under immediate and acute threat.

Importantly, the long-term indicators – geopolitical, economic and cultural – suggest that the future is on Britain’s side: by 2050, it will be the European Union’s most populous and wealthy society (unless the Scottish Nationalist Party succeeds in tearing the British union apart, rendering Scotland a de-facto English colony), meaning its ability to act as the ‘pivot state’ is likely to grow. However, Lindley-French identifies one problem: he claims the British will never think strategically about the European mainland, because they do not want to relinquish their ties to the United States. I would respond: this is not the problem. The problem is a failure on the part of both Britain and the United States to re-asses what they both want – and what is required – of their close and vital relationship.

In short: since the end of the Second World War, Britain and the United States, along with France, have been, and will remain, the ‘grand anchors’ of Western civilisation. Their military and financial power – sustained by their ideals, i.e. the rule of law and constitutional government – has continued to undergird the current European and world orders. Initially, to uphold this system, they had to focus their power into the heart of Europe to rehabilitate Germany and prevent Soviet Russia moving in; today, however, as the world’s geopolitical heart is tilting towards an axis running from India, through China, and on to Japan, it is essential that both London and Washington divide their areas of concentration.

Hence, what is needed is a re-alignment of the two powers’ focus: if the United States is now ‘pivoting’ west towards the Asia-Pacific region, Britain must focus all its might east onto the West Eurasian zone, ensuring that Europeans have constant access to both the warm and tropicalSuez-Shanghai belt (i.e. the Indian Ocean) and the cold and icy space from Tallinn to Tokyo (i.e. the High North). Consequentially, London must advance its influence on the European mainland – through a reformed and strengthened European Union – in order to keep hostile powers out and to prevent democratic backsliding from jeopardising the ‘democratic enlargement’ of the post-Cold War era. As it strengthens its hand, Britain must also court Germany (along with France) more comprehensively, in order to work out any differences and reach a consensus that will prevent the European house from being pulled down into a quagmire of competition and acrimony. This will also be the only way to guarantee that the European half of the West retains the capacity to defend itself in the big power age of the twenty-first century, while ensuring that Europeans contribute their rightful share to the protection and development of the noble ideals of Western civilisation.


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