Collateral Beneficiary

LONDON/BERLIN | | grossbritannien

LONDON/BERLIN (Own report) - Despite the "No" in the Scottish secession referendum, experts predict that the vote will, in the long run, have far-reaching geopolitical consequences. Given the high proportion of secession supporters, London will have to begin reorganizing its state structures. Some of the measures now in discussion are drastic and raise the question "of where power lies in the UK." Over the next few years, Great Britain will be preoccupied with itself and its global role will shrink in the medium - perhaps even in the long - term. The "special relationship" between London and Washington will therefore become "less special," concludes the president of the influential US think tank "Council on Foreign Relations." The shift in US global policy from the Atlantic to the Pacific could be accelerated: "Europe" is no longer "the center of geopolitical competition." However, Germany will be the beneficiary of British weakness.

No Return to the Status Quo

Following the "No" in last week's referendum on Scottish independence, the discussion has been launched in the UK about the far-reaching changes in state structure. Already before the referendum was held, experts were noting, that a "No" certainly would not signify a "return to the status quo ante." "A No vote in which 45 per cent or more of the population in Scotland vote for independence would still raise major questions about the long-term future of the union," according to the London think tank "Chatham House."[1] This is exactly what happened. Already the morning after the referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that, in the near future, he would implement the extended autonomy, which he had promised Scotland during his campaign against secession. Observers note, "constitutional change" will not be limited to Scotland, but will be on the agenda "for England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well." The referendum "lit the touch paper on the explosive question of where power lies in the UK."[2]

Tricky Questions

German media are also referring to the fact that this raises "tricky questions." For example, it raises the question, "how far ... Scottish autonomy should extend" and what will the regional government be allowed to decide on its own.[3] For example, it is unclear whether the new competence will affect the stationing of the British nuclear fleet. If this should be the case, the broad Scottish opposition to nuclear weapons could mean that the fleet will have to be moved elsewhere. This could cost billions. It remains unclear, whether Edinburgh will demand a greater share - at the expense of the overall British budget - of returns from oil and gas extraction off the Scottish coast. Observers are also raising the question "whether, at some point, the question of the full autonomy of the northern part of the country" will not, ultimately, again be placed on the agenda.[4] It cannot be excluded that "not only Wales and the Northern Ireland Province, but also English provinces may demand rights similar" to those in Scotland: "In the future, they could possibly go their own ways - with loose ties to one another within their common kingdom, having a stunted central government."

A Weaker Voice in Europe

Richard N. Haass, President of the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), recently addressed the global political consequences. From the perspective of the United States, the biggest danger over the next few years lies in London's being preoccupied with itself - and also whether the United Kingdom intends to remain a member of the EU. "This will inevitably mean that the UK’s relatively modest world role will shrink further," predicts Haass, because "a more divided UK" will have "a weaker voice in Europe and even fewer political, economic and military resources at its disposal for overseas involvement." The "special relationship" between Washington and London will therefore be less special.[5]

No Longer Central in the World

This will reinforce a trend already under way, explains Haass, "the demise of the Atlantic era of American foreign policy." Europe had been "central" to US involvement in the world for a century, because of "the continent’s strategic importance," on one hand, and the fact that Europeans could often be counted on to work with the US in handling "far-reaching challenges around the globe," on the other. Little of this remains the case. Europe is no longer "the centre of geopolitical competition and uncertainty," as was the case during the confrontation of the systems. The greater Middle East, which promises to be "turbulent," and Asia, which possesses many of the ingredients of major power rivalry and potential conflict have inherited this distinction. Europe is "no longer as central" to "what is happening in the world." In its global activities, the US can no longer really count on European governments. Often missing is "agreement over what is to be done" along with "the capacity and the will to do it."[6] Great Britain becoming weaker could accelerate this process.

The Road is Open

Beyond the question of whether the Transatlantic Alliance is loosing importance - according to what is to be heard in Berlin, this must be prevented at all costs - Germany is the provisional beneficiary of British weakness. It seems that in London, major slumps having a direct impact on the defense budget - and consequently, on the UK's military clout - could be avoided,[7] which from Germany's point of view is quite convenient, because the powerful British military can be called upon in the framework of EU missions in Germany's interests as well. At the same time, through the Scottish "No," the UK is less likely to withdraw from the EU, which, from Germany's standpoint, is also beneficial because the EU's power base is not diminished. The fact that a Great Britain, embroiled with its own problems, will not be able to intervene as forcefully in European policy, facilitates Europe's predominating power's possibility of imposing its interests on Brussels. In the aftermath of France's obvious degradation,[8] the road has been opened still wider for Germany to make a clean sweep.

[1] Chatham House: Disunited Kingdom? Six Foreign Policy Implications of the Scottish Referendum. London, September 2014.
[2] Nick Robinson: The people have spoken. But it's not over. 19.09.2014.
[3], [4] Ludwig Greven: Zum Föderalismus verdammt. 19.09.2014.
[5], [6] Richard Haas: UK will grapple with the unsolved problem of greater autonomy. 19.09.2014.
[7] See Das schottische Referendum.
[8] See Le Modèle Gerhard Schröder, Descent into the Minor League and Under the German Whip (I).