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Britain's coalition government and EU defence cooperation: undermining British interests

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The formation of a coalition government by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, combined with the need for important cuts to Britain's armed forces has raised significant uncertainties about Britain's attitude to defence cooperation within the European Union. Since taking office the coalition, while grappling with the implications of Britain's fiscal challenges, has shown an unprecedented interest in strengthening bilateral defence collaborations with certain European partners, not least France. However, budgetary constraints have not induced stronger support for defence cooperation at the EU level. On the contrary, under the new government, Britain has accelerated its withdrawal from the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). This article assesses the approach of the coalition to the CSDP. It argues that, from the perspective of British interests, the need for EU defence cooperation has increased over the last decade and that the UK's further withdrawal from EU efforts is having a negative impact. The coalition is undermining a framework which has demonstrated the ability to improve, albeit modestly, the military capabilities of other European countries. In addition, by sidelining the EU at a time when the UK is forced to resort more extensively to cost-saving synergies in developing and maintaining its own armed forces, David Cameron's government is depriving itself of the use of potentially helpful EU agencies and initiatives—which the UK itself helped set up. Against the background of deteriorating European military capabilities and shifts in US priorities, the article considers what drove Britain to support EU defence cooperation over a decade ago and how those pressures have since strengthened. It traces Britain's increasing neglect of the CSDP across the same period, the underlying reasons for this, and how the coalition's current stance of disengagement is damaging Britain's interests.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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