Brexit’s Blowback on the Liberal World Order
Britain’s narrow vote to leave the European Union does not mean the end of the United Kingdom as a great power. It remains the world’s fifth-largest economy, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and one of the few military powers with the capacity to mount global expeditionary missions. The risks come more from Brexit’s second-order impact: the splintering of the EU single market, the diminishing of the EU’s soft and hard-power resources, the potential for populist politics to infect and cripple other core EU member states, and the possible breakup not only of the EU but of the U.K. itself.
Ironically, political risk at the core of the world’s largest common market could become the principal driver of instability in a world already buffeted by protectionist politics in the United States, terrorism in the Middle East, and Russian and Chinese revanchism. America, Europe, and the U.K., will need to come up with a new compact to restore the strategic unity of the West as Chinese and Russian leaders look to take advantage of its fragmentation.
Although some within the EU have quietly celebrated Britain’s promised departure as a way to deepen the continent’s political integration along federalist lines, the British may be less the outlier than the avant-garde among Europeans. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent in France hold a negative view of the EU. A French referendum could possibly produce a result similar to Britain’s. Even Germans are evenly split over whether the EU has been a good thing for their country. Voters in the Netherlands and elsewhere are clamoring to have their own referendum on EU membership.