Rethinking Europe

Theresa May: The Lady Who Loves Nuclear Submarines

An amazing turn in Britain’s post-EU strategy by Britain’s next “Iron Lady.”

Credit: UK Home Office www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • The question Theresa May is pondering: How to punch in a higher weight class than the EU?
  • Theresa May centered modernization of the British nuclear submarine fleet in her campaign.
  • After the Brexit vote on June 23, 2016, one of the EU’s two nuclear pillars has broken away.

Viewed from the vantage point of Britain’s likely new Prime Minister, Theresa May, it is not enough to break away from the European collective. Britain needs to restore its past glory and underline its independence on a rock-solid basis.

The key question she is pondering: How to project power around the world? How to punch in a higher weight class than the EU, that weakling?

The “new UK” – under May’s assertive leadership – must be able to project into Africa to fend off the Islamist threat. It must also be seen as a valid player in all matters of global competition as far away as East Asia.

That is the motivation that seems to drive Theresa May, now one of only two candidates left in the battle to lead the Tories and hence take the post as Prime Minister.

Read her lips

On July 4, 2016 (perhaps not so accidentally, on the U.S.’s Independence Day – and in the midst of national hand-wringing in the UK, not least about the continued pounding of the British pound – she made a surprising, but telling choice.

Mrs. May put the modernization of the British nuclear submarine fleet in the center of her leadership campaign. As she argued:

It is vital for our national interest that we maintain what is the most significant security and military capability in Europe – backed up by our commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense – and that we are able to project our power around the world. In particular, it is crucial that we maintain our independent nuclear deterrent.

And she added:

It would be sheer madness to contemplate even for a moment giving up Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.

When it comes to the nuclear deterrent, the national interest is clear, the Conservatives are united, and we have waited long enough. The House of Commons should, before the summer recess, vote on Britain’s next-generation nuclear deterrent – and we should get on with getting it built.

The 59-year-old pastor’s daughter is determined to do more than just keep the 4 “V’s” – the Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance – in active service.

These 16,000-ton colossuses with sixteen missiles each that can carry eight nuclear weapons in a range of 12,000 kilometers are no longer youngsters, with up to 30 years of service.

Prime-Minister-in-Waiting May therefore wants to ensure that they are replaced by more modern equipment by the end of the decade. She wants her country to be prepared for a growing number of conventional and nuclear threats.

Time for a reality check

Surprising as taking that stance in the wake of the Brexit crisis may sound, it has a great deal of inherent logic to it. Amazingly, that logic becomes even more compelling when one looks beyond just the military sphere.

Consider that Germany, for all its presumed might in Europe, can offer little more than cautioning Iran against pursuing its latest advances in long range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons — as Chancellor Merkel did on July 7, only to be called to order by the mullahs.

Such words aren’t exactly a potent safeguard against nuclear blackmail. Germany would be helplessly exposed.

This sober fact of life has not remained hidden by those countries in Northern and Central Europe that generally like to travel in the German orbit.

Even if they have their reservations about Brussels, they actually rather like the current combination that is on offer — economic partnership in the EU and a military alliance within NATO.

The trouble for them (and not just the CEE countries) is that, after the Brexit vote on June 23, 2016, one of the EU’s two nuclear pillars has broken away. Only France, which also has four — albeit slightly smaller — submarines (in its “Triomphant” class) is as untouchable as Russia or Great Britain in Europe.

Theresa May’s package deal

Now imagine that London, under Theresa May’s leadership, immediately advertises to the CEE and Northern European members an optimized European Union — with natural free trade, open capital markets, no more global “social assistance,” but with a serious investment on the UK’s part in the nuclear umbrella.

That could be an amazingly appealing package for those countries. Europe’s entire north – from Iceland to the Scandinavian Peninsula, all the way up to Estonia — does feel concerned.

No one there can really really defend themselves alone. They generally feel a distinct kinship to the UK in economic and cultural terms. Their people basically all speak English.

If that sense of partnership and kinship is now amped up by a strengthened British military shoulder on which they could lean, that is an attractive option many have secretly been longing for.

Multinational and anything but chauvinistic character, such a new alliance could well represent the best of Europe.

And it could inspire the rest of Europe at some point to join such an emerging progressive and realistic pact to safeguard Europe’s interests and protect its future.

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About Gunnar Heinsohn

Gunnar Heinsohn is a German sociologist and economist.

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