Geopolitics will keep Britain and mainland Europe together

5 December 2012
James Rogers (External authors)

"The United Kingdom has long been Europe's leading political, cultural and military power. By 2050, based on current economic and demographic projections, it will also be the most populous and economically strong European nation – the European Union's California, New York State and District of Columbia all rolled into one. It therefore makes no sense for Britain to even contemplate leaving the European Union, for to do so would be to sacrifice the prospect of assuming the role of 'Empire State'. Likewise, it is equally foolish for some mainland Europeans to fantasise about booting the British out.

There are three reasons for this – and they are all geopolitical:

1.   The United Kingdom will not ignore the European mainland; what happens there can rapidly frustrate Britain's worldwide reach. London may get easily distracted by events overseas – in Africa, South Asia, or the South Atlantic – but it knows its security perimeters are closer to home.

British anti-Europeans see their country's future across the horizon in the blazing sun; unfortunately, they cannot ignore geography. Likewise, some mainland Europeans, whose Anglophobia bubbles just below the surface, must understand that the British will never leave them to their own devices.

2.   The rest of the European Union cannot ignore the one European power with the ability to command the sea. While the British can sometimes be uniquely self-interested, it has been British strategic power – along with American – that has maintained a permanent peace in Europe since the end of the Second World War. Without British strategic power, the geopolitical environment that enabled European integration to take place may have never materialised.

3.   A United Kingdom cut off from the European mainland would divide Europe into two power blocs. On the one side would sit a uniquely global maritime, financial and cultural power; on the other side, a landward-focused and industrial behemoth. There could be no surer way to ensure European irrelevance, as the two sides seek to counteract one another's influence – which, as geopolitical theory dictates, would be precisely what they would do.

So the British Isles and mainland Europe are destined to remain wed. The European Union needs reform – wasteful agricultural subsidies need to be scrapped; infrastructure and high-tech economic activity needs to receive the bulk of the European budget – but British self-disengagement or attempts by other Europeans to push London out are not viable options.

The British must commit to European integration; but mainland Europeans must accept more British leadership. The United Kingdom is both a European and a global power; and for the good of both the British Isles and the European mainland, the two dimensions must always be kept in sync."

James Rogers is an Academic (International Relations) at the Baltic Defence College.

Disclaimer: Rogers' views are his own and do not represent those of the Baltic Defence College or its financial backers.