On September 19, the eighth New Buds Salon was held by Institute of Area Studies, Peking University (PKUIAS). Focusing on the theme of “Brexit and European Security,” Prof. Ben Tonra from the School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin (UCD), shared his views with the students. In his keynote talk, Tonra explained the UK's place in European security, and why Brexit is so important to Ireland in terms of security. He also discussed broader issues, such as the prospects for European security and the impact of Brexit on the UK's role in the international community.
According to Prof. Tonra, the UK has always been a major power in Europe. Today, it is at the core of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is vital to the security of other European countries. Over the years, the UK has made major investments and commitments to European security and defense, and it also has served as the main architect of EU security and defense policies, playing an important role in the policy making. Brexit has not produced a “winner.” The EU has lost Britain's contributions to geopolitical power, military, diplomatic networks, intelligence agencies, and decision-making, while Britain has deprived itself of the weight of the 27 other EU partners. As history has repeatedly shown, be it in the United Nations (UN) or any other organization, this weight was significant for the UK, because, with it, the UK was given a voice louder and with more energy than it otherwise would have had through standing on the shoulders of 27 other European countries; France and Germany enjoy a similar advantage too. Both the British Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs know that Britain loses power this way, but they must respect the vote and the desire of the British people to leave the EU. Therefore, the question before those two ministries is how to minimize losses.
When it comes to the impact of Brexit on Ireland's security, Prof. Tonra maintained that when the vote on Brexit happened, Ireland was afraid of being caught between the two major global powers — Britain and the EU. However, the Irish government, all political parties and other members in society all believed that Ireland would not be destroyed, but would rather be strengthened, and its commitment as a member of the EU would be enhanced. Nevertheless, Northern Ireland was indeed an issue that could not be ignored. There were many consultations between London and Dublin on how to solve the problem and how the UK could maintain an open border during Brexit; indeed, it was a difficult negotiation, sensitive and dangerous, especially considering the premise that the Good Friday Agreement already provided both sides with a solid foundation for peace. This issue exerted much pressure on the bilateral relations and become the main security concern of Ireland.
In addition, Brexit will also bring other problems, involving the EU's security and defense cooperation and its integration, the lack of traditional impetus for European integration, and the future development of EU-UK relations. Prof. Tonra expressed his belief that, in short, the UK is consequential to European security, and this status will not change soon. The EU and the UK face some of the same threats and risks, and they also share certain methods to deal with them. If the EU and the UK could work together, they would both become stronger, but the problem is that people currently don’t know what the UK wants and what the EU can provide.
At the end of the salon, students from the School of Government exchanged ideas with Prof. Tonra on the theme of his talk.