Americans Should Applaud the Brexit Vote
We Americans have a profound interest in helping ensure the success of Brexit, the June 23 decision by British voters to leave the European Union. The United Kingdom has launched a geopolitical revolution, the most important event in Europe since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 or since Germany’s final defeat in 1945.
Our historical special relationship with Britain impels us to stand at Britain’s side as it extricates itself from the morass of EU regulations and restrictions and forges an independent path. Specifically, we should reject President Obama’s threat to put London “at the back of the queue” for negotiating a bilateral trade agreement as the UK leaves the EU framework. (Obama’s more even-handed Friday statement omitted this threat, but the British media reported the White House saying the threat was still operable.)
Beyond US-UK trade, there must be additional bilateral economic deals to facilitate a fully independent Britain leaving the increasingly sclerotic EU governance structures, and regaining its democratic sovereignty.
Most importantly, America must now address the larger “European project,” the effort to create a European superstate. We should understand that the EU’s founding intellectuals always had in mind an expressly political objective, rather than merely economic ones. Although we have been deluged by economic arguments before and after last week’s vote, these have always been secondary to the goal of “ever closer union.” This is what British voters emphatically rejected.
“Ever closer union” rests on a fundamentally flawed premise, and its logic leads inexorably to reduced US influence in Europe and globally. Its creators and adherents believed the very concept of the nation-state led to the 20th century’s two great wars; their principal goal was nothing less than eliminating nation-states on the continent.
They utterly misunderstood the reality that not all European states had caused military conflicts (and the Cold War), but a select few. Totalitarian ideologies were the problem, not the nation-state generally. Accordingly, creating a European superstate is irrelevant to preventing future conflicts.
EU theology manifests itself most clearly in the often-made, utterly fanciful, claim that the union is responsible for the absence of war in Europe since 1945. Instead, what’s responsible is NATO, led from the outset by America. Using our military predominance in Western Europe during the Cold War, and continent-wide since 1989, we have fully integrated the military-industrial complexes of NATO members into NATO structures.
For 70 years, not a military sparrow has fallen in free Europe that we didn’t know about. No European state could revert to authoritarian militarism in such circumstances. And so powerful was our presence and our nuclear umbrella that the Soviet Union was kept at bay.
Here is where “ever closer union” constitutes a direct threat to US interests. An alternative EU “pole” in a multipolar world is inevitably not a collaborator, but a competitor and perhaps worse. The EU’s advocates have always understood this. That’s why, pressing for greater political integration after the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and others decried America as a “hyperpuissance” to be counterbalanced. This is not the logic of a US ally, but of an adversary.
Rescuing full sovereignty means Britain will no longer risk being subsumed in a separate EU military capability. (Such as it is; yet another problem with the European Union is that its members are strong on defense rhetoric and weak on performance.) Instead, we have the prospect of reviving a flagging NATO, strengthening its deterrence capabilities against rising Russian belligerence and taking on today’s threat of radical Islamic terrorism.
Accordingly, America’s EU policy must extend well beyond Brexit. The shattering effects of British withdrawal mean that the EU as we know it is about to change profoundly and perhaps quickly. More members may exit, and the relationships among those remaining will never be the same.
We shouldn’t turn away from NATO, but focus our efforts on making history’s most successful politico-military alliance even more successful.
Much work lies ahead for Britain, America and those who understand that popular sovereignty is the only sure source of national legitimacy. Americans should thank Britons for reminding us of this fundamental truth, and salute the “land of hope and glory, mother of the free.”
John Bolton, now at the American Enterprise Institute, was the US ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006. This article was originally published by the New York Post.