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Britain

Brexit and Britain’s Geopolitics

Brexit is one of the most debated geopolitical issues of our time. More than two years after the referendum that resulted in the decision to leave the EU, it is still unclear what the exit conditions will be like and the prospects of a “no deal” Brexit are looming at the horizon. With such high degree of uncertainty, it is difficult to foresee how things will eventually unfold, but one thing is certain: Brexit will have a sensible impact on Britain in the years to come.

Britain’s geopolitics & history

The history and the foreign policy of the United Kingdom have been deeply marked by its geographic position. As an island off the European coasts, not far from France, it was isolated enough to be sufficiently repaired from foreign threats but close enough to be obliged to care about the Continent’s affairs. Since William the Conqueror’s conquest in 1066, no invader managed to land on the British soil. After a long process marked by turmoil and civil war, a unified kingdom of Great Britain was established in the early 18th century. Thanks to its favourable position protracted towards the Atlantic Ocean, it managed to consolidate and expand its colonial territories. This, combined with its rich coal deposits and with an institutional system favouring capitalism and the technological innovation, allowed Britain to spark the industrial revolution. Gradually, Britain strengthened its fleet and turned into the world’s leading naval power. The Royal Navy became the cornerstone of its national security and the vehicle of its imperial expansion: its supremacy allowed Britain to impede any invasion from the mainland, but at the same time enabled it to extend its influence overseas and dominate maritime trade. Back then it acted as the “balancer” of European politics: when any given power starter becoming too powerful and consequently threatening for its national security, Britain backed a coalition to counter its rise; sometimes intervening directly with its army such as during the Napoleonic Wars. At the height of its power in the second-half of the 19th century, the British Empire ruled over one quarter of the world and was the first power of its time.

But America’s rise and two World Wars determined its decline. After 1945, Britain gradually lost its immense colonial empire and its industry was disrupted by foreign competition. To ensure its security it joined NATO, the trans-Atlantic military Alliance supported by the US to contain the Soviet Union. On the political and economic level, Britain was initially cautious towards the European Integration project, and preferred to promote its own multilateral institutions like the Commonwealth and the European Free Trade Association. Yet, in 1973 it decided to join the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the EU. Nevertheless, its relations with the EU have always been turbulent. It opposed several integration initiatives and exerted its “opt out” right over several issues, albeit in different forms. In 1992, it rejected to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism and any obligation to adopt the Euro. Another opt out exists on the Schengen agreement abolishing borders controls, which was integrated in the EU legislation in 1997 and that Britain had not signed. It also refrained from accepting the EU’s legislation on police and criminal justice in the context of the Area of freedom, security and justice. A last opt-out exists over the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights included in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty; and its aim is to limit the influence of EU norms on cases brought to British courts.

Then, amid a global rise of populist forces opposed to greater social and economic integration, the Brexit referendum took place in 2016. After a long and heated campaign, the vote resulted in the victory of those advocating for leaving the EU. Since then, in accordance with the EU’s legislation, the UK has been involved in complex negotiations with the Union to define the terms of Brexit. As of today, the Parliament has rejected the plan backed by PM May’s government and an agreement is yet to be reached. A “no deal” Brexit seems more and more likely. In this context of growing uncertainty, the future of the UK and even its tenure as a unified state are being questioned.

The challenges of Brexit

The first set of problems related to Brexit is economic in nature. Since before the referendum, it was widely debated how the UK would perform out of the EU; with opposing and often contradicting opinions coming from the two sides. Determining its impact is still complicated, as the final terms of Brexit remain unclear; and considering the rumours about an extension of the negotiations it is probable that the situation will continue being uncertain. Yet, a few points seem to be generally accepted. First, leaving the EU will damage Britain’s economic growth. This does not mean a contraction of the GDP, but that it will probably grow at a slower pace if the UK leaves the Union.  In the job market, some sectors are likely to be damaged by losing access to the common market, while those mostly exposed to competition from other EU members are likely to benefit from Brexit. The service sectors is particularly important in this regard: it is a major driver of job creation and of innovation, and leaving the single EU market could damage them by reducing the inflow of qualified workers from the continent. In regards to public finances, leaving the Union surely means not having to pay contributions to its budget, but estimates indicate that any saving would be offset with just a GDP contraction of 1% compared to the non-Brexit scenario; and the balance would be negative if the loss were greater. Brexit would also mean losing EU funds to universities, farming and regional development. A positive aspect of Brexit could be the reduction of regulations deriving from EU legislation, but in some cases regulation and standardization is beneficial. Moreover, those British companies wishing to continue trading with the EU will have to comply with its regulations, with the difference from now that Britain will no longer have any voice in determining them. All in all, most analyses expect Brexit to have a negative impact on the economy of the UK; even though there are some who disagree. But again, determining its real effects is extremely complicated and a fully accurate forecast is simply impossible, especially as long as the final terms of Brexit are unknown.

Another major point of discussion is the future of Scotland and Northern Ireland. In 2016, two-thirds of Scots voted in favour of remaining in the EU. Scotland has close and expanding trade ties with continental Europe, and its local government is keener of accepting immigration as a mean to balance its aging population. Until now, it seems that Brexit has not increased much the support for Scottish independence, but much depends on the final terms of the agreement: if its terms were contrary to Scotland’s economic interests, then the pro-independence side would surely gain strength and could win in the case of a new independence referendum, an option which is already being discussed. For what concerns Northern Ireland, Brexit could threaten the equilibrium established by the 1998 “Good Friday” peace deal. The region receives considerable funding from the EU, and most importantly the London’s exit from the Union could translate in the reintroduction of a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the island; with considerable economic and social problems. A potential solution is the so-called “Irish backstop”, meaning allowing the area to remain in the EU common market and custom union until a definitive settlement is reached. Yet, there are fears that Brexit could end up sparking the violent conflict in the area after more than 20 years.

Post-Brexit Britain

As seen, it is nearly impossible to determine how Britain will look like after it leaves the EU. Surely, while it can abandon the Union. It cannot escape geography: it will remain a European country and will have to work together with its partners on the continent on common issues such as terrorism, transnational crime, trade & finance, and more. But this means that while it would recover part of the sovereignty it ceded to the EU when it decided to join, in practice it will still have to comply with many European legislation without being able to influence it any longer. Of course, the UK can try balancing the negative effects by creating deeper ties with other partners, but geography limits it to the United States; and as long as the wave of protectionism initiated by Trump continues, it will be difficult to reach a deal in advantageous terms for the UK. In reality, there is another solution: China and Japan. As the Arctic ice cap melts, the Northern Sea Route becomes a viable trade route for trade with Asia, thus opening new opportunities for Britain. The exploitation of the Arctic’s resources is also an option to boost the British economy. Yet, this process is still in its early stages and will take decades to fully develop its potential, not to speak of the dangers for the delicate Arctic environment.

To conclude, it is hard to anticipate what the impact of Brexit will be. Many supporters considered it as the only way to restore Britain’s sovereignty and pursue its national interest in full autonomy, but geography makes it impossible for the UK to simply isolate itself from the continent and therefore it will need to find a new equilibrium for the post-Brexit period; but this will a long and complex task, that might even threaten its unity as a state.

That’s all for today guys, thanks for watching another KJ Vid. What are your views on Brexit. Do you think it will actually go ahead or will Britain remain in the EU. We would love to hear from you in the comments below. Don’t forget to support KJ Vid by becoming a KJ member on our website kjvids.co.uk. Thanks for watching again and see you next time. 

Will the EU Collapse and lead to a Civil War?

The last decade has been a difficult one for the European Union. In the wake of the 2009 debt crisis, much debate has arisen around its nature, its powers, its governance and its policies.

The situation got only worse when the migrant inflow boomed in 2015, triggering a EU-level crisis.

In this strained socio-economic context, diverging views on the EU as a polity have emerged at the political level both inside the single member states and inside the organization’s institutions.

Recently, two events have revived once more the debate. The first is the re-election of Viktor Orbán, a prominent conservative and Eurosceptic politician, as Prime Minister of Hungary.

The second is the statement by France’s President Emmanuel Macron that the EU is facing a “civil war” on its fundamental values resulting from different opinions between its Western and Central-Eastern members.

This affirmation seems exaggerated, at least at a first glance. But in such a turbulent political context, it raises a legitimate question: is the EU on the edge of a civil war?

The Conditions of a Civil War

To answer this question, the first thing to do is determining in which conditions a civil war does start. Essentially, this happens when two or more socio-political groups belonging to the same political entity disagree on the existing and/or future institutional order; and, being unable or unwilling to peacefully find a compromise through the existing institutional mechanisms, opt for armed conflict to impose their view and determine who will (re)shape the existing order by the use of coercion. Usually, a civil war opposes one group fighting to preserve the standing institutional framework (along with the prerogatives it enjoys thanks to it) and another group who wants to dismantle it (and set up a new order more favourable to its interests).

That said, history is full of examples of civil wars; from those which paved the way to the end of the Roman Republic centuries ago to the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. But one is particularly significant due to its similarities with the situation the EU is facing today: the American Civil War.

The American Civil War

The US Civil War, also known as War of Secession, was an armed conflict that split the United States between 1861 and 1865.

The contenders where two: one was the Union (the North), formed by states that remained loyal to the government of the United States;

and the other was the Confederacy (the South), made up of states which seceded from the US and form a separate political entity known as the Confederate States of America (CSA).

Usually, this war is portrayed as a fight over the issue of slavery, with the Union supporting its abolishment and the Confederacy favourable to its preservation.

But even though slavery was indeed a central issue in sparking the conflict, the situation was far more complex than a clear-cut black-vs-white clash between conservative and progressist ideals. As a matter of fact, there were also major political, juridical-institutional and economic factors linked to the debate over slavery and human rights.

To understand this, it is necessary to perform a rapid historical overview on the prelude to the conflict. After being recognized as a sovereign polity by the Paris Treaty that officially ended the War of Independence in 1783, the United States began developing and expanding to the West. Rapidly, new states were founded and admitted to the Union.

But the economic outlook of the member states started diverging: those located in the North embraced industrialization, whereas the states in the South remained essentially agricultural.

There, rich landlords owned vast plantations, and exploited a large workforce of black slaves to work them. With time, this North-South gap became more and more marked, and it ultimately assumed a political dimension as well.

As a matter of fact, the Northern states needed cheap manpower to sustain their rapid industrialization. The mass of black slaves living in the South was the ideal solution, but it was impossible to hire them since they were a private property of the Southern landowners.

Consequently, the North states started calling for slavery to be abolished, provoking the firm opposition of the Southerners who needed slaves to cultivate the plantations that were the base of their local economy.

Besides, the two sides also diverged over trade policies: the North wanted protectionist measures to shelter its developing industry, while the South supported free trade as a mean to continue exporting its agricultural products abroad.

This led to an intense constitutional debate over slavery, and ultimately over the power of the federal government to introduce and enforce legislation on the matter all over the US territory.

Again, the opinion diverged between the North and the South: essentially, the former claimed the central government had this authority, whereas the latter considered this as a violation of the constitutional limitations on the powers of the federal institutions.

So, the debate took a dimension that went beyond the issue of slavery and focused on the nature of the US as a polity. The Union favored a strong central government having large powers,while the Confederates defended the rights and prerogatives of the single member states. The combination of all these factors finally led them to secede from the US in 1861 and form an alternative polity, the Confederate States of America (CSA).

The name itself is significant, as it reveals the different way these states interpreted the Constitution and conceived America as a political entity: they wanted a Confederation, so a polity granting more powers to the member states; in contrast to a Federation where the central authorities have larger constitutional competences.

Striking Similarities

Now, there are striking similarities between the situation of the US before the Civil War and that of the EU today.

The latter has also expanded during the previous decades by admitting new member states, with the most important “enlargement wave” taking place in 2004 with Central and Eastern European countries; and the most recent new member being Croatia, which joined the organization in 2013.

Again, similarly to America at the eve of the Civil War, the EU is also facing an intense debate over human rights that has greater economic, political and “constitutional” implications (there is not a proper EU Constitution, but the general sense of the term is still applicable to the Treaties at the base of the EU). In this context, two camps are identifiable, the complexity of reality notwithstanding.

Differences

As I argued in another article, one is formed by the original (or at least more ancient) members of the EU, concentrated in Western Europe; while the other includes the more recent ones, located in the Central-Eastern part of the continent and whose core is made of the four countries forming the Visegrád Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia; known also as V4).

The starting point to understand the divergence between these two “factions” is the migration crisis. As a matter of fact, the former group is demanding the Central-Eastern partners to accept a larger share of migrants. But the Visegrád states oppose these requests. As in the 1850s America, the issue is not merely humanitarian, since there are economic and political reasons behind the respective positions.

Countries like Italy, Greece and others (including France and Germany to some degree) worry that the migrant flow will put their socio-economic order under stress and that it may hamper the sluggish recovery from the recent debt crisis.

In contrast, the V4 and other states oppose such policies of migrant redistribution because they may slow down their ongoing economic development. But the divergence is also a matter of past experiences. Western countries have a long tradition of immigration from abroad (often as a consequences of their colonial past) and their societies are more used to the presence of foreigners; thus explaining their softer stance on immigration. This is not the case of Central-Eastern European states, that therefore prefer stricter measures in regard to immigration.

Finally, similarly to America before the civil war, the current debate in the EU also has a prominent institutional dimension. This can be explained from a historical perspective. Countries from the Western part of the continent took their current form as a result of a centralization process, which makes them more willing to accept devolving parts of their sovereignty to a supranational entity like the EU. That is why (in spite of mounting Eurosceptic forces) they remain favorable to further European integration; especially in the case of France, that appears willing to become the driver of deeper integration through devolving more powers to supranational institutions and by crating a true fiscal union (even though this met resistance from Germany).

On the contrary, the Visegrád states and those aligned with them oppose strengthening the powers of the EU institutions and want to preserve their fundamental sovereign rights. The reason lies in their past: these countries arose after the collapse of larger multinational polities affected by severe institutional deficiencies, and also had a long history of foreign domination and meddling which ended only in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. As a result, they see the EU as another cumbersome supranational entity that will put them in a subordinate position and are therefore unwilling to devolve more powers to it.

Can they Compromise?

This underlying contrast over the powers of European institutions is the most important aspect in the current debate, because it will have direct repercussion over the future of the EU. Now, the problem is that, while opinions are discordant among the member states; the complex institutional mechanisms of the EU do not facilitate the search for a compromise

Introducing deep changes (both in the sense of increased integration and of more protection of the states’ sovereignty) requires a revision of the Treaties that form the bloc’s “constitution”; but this demands in turn a long and multi-stage procedure where reaching a consensus is hard and where a single “wrong” step can block the entire process (think of the French and Dutch referenda that sunk the proposed Constitutional Treaty in 2005).

Considering that the divergences are growing, finding a common agreement over the EU, its powers and its values may be impossible; and this could lead to an institutional stalemate.

Is a Civil War Inevitable?

And what then? Will the EU plunge into civil war as the US did in the past? Not necessarily. Modern-day European states and their societies are strongly averse to war, which is already a huge safeguard against extreme solutions.

And if it is true that European powers have been fighting themselves for centuries, it is also true that the EU was established after the trauma of WWII also as a mean to put a definitive end to that continuous bloodshed.

Moreover, in spite of its slowness and difficulties, the EU proved capable to adapt and preserve itself during the past. In more cynic terms, since the EU is not a state, even if one or more of its members decided to unilaterally “secede”, it would not have its own military means to enforce its rule and re-bring them in as the Union eventually did with the Confederates in 1865. Finally, this scenario is unlikely for the simple fact that the Treaty on the European Union (Art. 50) contains provisions allowing a member state to withdraw; as the United Kingdom decided to do after the 2016 vote on Brexit

But it is exactly a mass Brexit-like scenario what can raise concerns over the long-term tenure of the EU.

A full-scale civil war seems unlikely (unless the international situation becomes so severely deteriorated in economic and political terms to bring states to the point of using war to secure their interests); but if the existing divergences continue to mount and no solution is reached, then it is still possible that some member states (most likely the V4 ones) will decide to leave the EU.

The consequences are difficult to predict, ranging from an easier path to greater integration between the remaining like-minded members to a dissolution of the organization. In any case, the EU would be weakened at the international level, possibly leaving room for alternative blocs. All this would bring uncertainty in political and economic terms, and (especially if the EU were dismantled), it would certainly be a turning point in European History, as the Civil War was in America’s.

The Great Game of the 19th Century

The Great Game  was an intense rivalry between the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia, beginning in the nineteenth century

British Lord Ellenborough started “The Great Game” on January 12, 1830, with an edict establishing a new trade route from India to Bukhara, using Turkey, Persia and Afghanistan

The aim was to create a buffer against Russia to prevent it from controlling any ports on the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, Russia wanted to establish a neutral zone in Afghanistan allowing for their use of crucial trade routes.

This resulted in a series of unsuccessful wars for the British to control Afghanistan, Bukhara and Turkey.

The British lost at all four wars — the First Anglo-Saxon War (1838), the First Anglo-Sikh War (1843), the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848) and the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878) — resulting in Russia taking control of several Khanates including Bukhara.

Although Britain’s attempts to conquer Afghanistan ended in humiliation, the independent nation held as a buffer between Russia and India

The Great Game officially ended with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which divided Persia into a Russian-controlled northern zone, a nominally independent central zone, and a British-controlled southern zone.

The Convention also specified a borderline between the two empires running from the eastern point of Persia to Afghanistan and declared Afghanistan an official protectorate of Britain.

Relations between the two European powers continued to be strained until they allied against the Central Powers in World War I

The term “Great Game” was popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his book “Kim” from 1904, wherein he plays up the idea of power struggles between great nations as a game of sorts.

Today, the Great Game is often quoted to describe the Geopolitical competition between America, China and Russia over Central Asia.

Afghanistan plays a vital geopolitical role in this Great Game as it borders Central Asia

The Struggle for Afghanistan lies in an even Greater Game for control over the Eurasian Landmass

This theory was first talked about by Sir Halford Mackinder but reinforced by Nicholas Spykman where he famously outlined his core geopolitical argument in 1944

“Who controls the Rimland rules Eurasia, who rules Eurasia controls the destiny of the world”

Muslims should help full face veil disappear from UK within 20 years, says Baroness Warsi

Read original article on The Independent or read some of the key points below;

  1.  Britain’s first Muslim Cabinet minister has said she hopes women will stop wearing the Islamic face veil in the UK within 20 years.
  2.  Baroness Sayeed Warsi, who served as Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs under David Cameron’s leadership, said she did not want the veil banned, but instead insisted Muslims to lead “lead the charge” against the niqab.
  3.  “I just don’t know what its purpose is in terms of British Islam,” she said at the Hay literary festival.
  4.  “In Britain, and as I am a huge civil libertarian, we don’t ban things. We actually allow communities to say this is not a good thing for us and the argument I’m making is I want British Muslims to lead that charge, to say this is not the best manifestation of British Islam and, therefore, is this a garment which in 10 or 20 years time is going to be part of the landscape?
  5. Debate around Islamic dress reignited in Britain when Ukip proposed a ban on the burqa and niqab in its manifesto. Among the reasons given by the party was that a burqa “prevents intake of essential vitamin D from sunlight”.
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