The shock waves from the Brexit referendum are still being absorbed in Britain, Europe and around the world. But the landmarks of global security have already been reshaped. Here are four consequences of Brexit:
1. Brexit completely transformed the tenor of the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw. This summit was meant to shore up the alliance’s response to a resurging Russia in the East and to demonstrate that European solidarity to counter the actions of the Kremlin. Yes, the British have not voted to leave NATO, nor is there any indication that a “Nexit” is forthcoming. But the vote validates two developing trend lines in Europe. The first is the hesitation within Western European countries to want to be drawn into conflicts and problems happening on the eastern periphery of the continent or within the post-Soviet space. The second will be to reawaken the lingering regional split within the alliance—with some members arguing that if NATO had paid much more attention to dealing with the cross-Mediterranean threats to European security, rather than on being drawn into playing geopolitical games in Eurasia, the migration crisis might have been avoided or blunted—and thus one of the key drivers of Brexit might have been neutralized.
2. Brexit signifies a weariness with continuing to expand the Euro-Atlantic eastward and making Russia’s problems with its neighbors Europe’s problems. Along with the nonbinding referendum in the Netherlands on the EU-Ukraine accession agreement and the French Senate voting to recommend lifting sanctions on Russia, the nationalist-populist parties in Western Europe (Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Nigel Farage’s UKIP and so on) have all argued that involvement in the Russia-Ukraine dispute was not in their countries’ national interests and damaged their countries’ profitable bilateral relations with Russia. In turn, the Kremlin’s own direct investment in these parties has now had its first major payoff. If Brexit now fuels referenda in other EU countries or boosts the standing of the Euroskeptic groups, Russia further benefits because Moscow would prefer to deal with a Europe of separate national states rather than with a Union of 500 million people. The sanctions regime imposed on Russia in the aftermath of the seizure of Crimea and Moscow’s support for separatism in Eastern Ukraine is already looking much more fragile, but the Brexit vote—and the message that national interests should be elevated over European ones—will strengthen the case for those arguing for an end to sanctions. If, as some are predicting, Boris Johnson becomes the next prime minister of Great Britain, London may signal that it is less interested in subordinating British business and commercial interests to a resolution of the Ukraine crisis.