NATO After Brexit

Will Security Cooperation Work?

U.S. army personal take part in the "Saber Strike" NATO military exercise in Adazi, Latvia, June 13, 2016. Ints Kalnins / Reuters

Commentators have rushed to weigh in on the political and economic implications of the Brexit referendum. But the potential security effects are just as important. At risk are operational matters such as data and intelligence sharing. But also in question is something more fundamental: the relationships that allow security services to live and breathe. The United Kingdom, EU, and other partners will now have to redefine their security and intelligence relationships.

Such negotiations will take time. And before taking a seat at the table, all parties would be well served to think carefully through some of the critical strategic and tactical questions that will have to be addressed, even as they bear in mind that fissures among EU member states’ law enforcement and intelligence communities predate the referendum and that adversaries are likely to seize any fragmentation as an opportunity to test resolve.

Europe’s fracturing gives Russia a chance to push the envelope, as it has been doing in recent years in Ukraine and elsewhere. For months now, Russia has been testing the continental and transatlantic alliance by bringing difficult and potentially divisive issues to the fore. Recent Russian exercises, deployments, and rhetoric have seemed intended to probe the depth of the EU’s and NATO’s commitment to securing their borders.

Russian fighter craft have buzzed the edges of NATO airspace for months, trying to ascertain the limits of allied discipline and restraint. Beneath the sea, Russian submarines have been “aggressively operating near” the undersea cables that are instrumental to the functioning of the U.S. military and the world economy. In cyberspace, meanwhile, Russia has tried to destabilize foes through propaganda, including by depicting Germany as “a society in chaos because of migration.” And pulling no punches, within hours of the British referendum, the mayor of Moscow stated that “without Great Britain in the EU, no one will so zealously defend the sanctions against us.” In short, Brexit is effectively a gift to Russia, and it will likely

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