The Washington Post-The stunning British vote to leave the European Union has roiled foreign and economic ministers and central bankers across Europe and the United States.
The political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic are finally beginning to get the message.
For too long, their policies have failed to provide either shared prosperity or security. For too long, they have ignored the many who are struggling while catering to the few who are thriving.
The British vote should force fundamental reassessments in the E.U. and the United States — of austerity, of rule by technocrats, of immigration policy, and of economic and foreign policies.
With its allies in NATO, the United States should join in this reassessment, with a particular focus on the dangerous descent toward a new Cold War with Russia that has received shamefully little attention.
William Perry, defense secretary under President Bill Clinton and a scientist with a lifelong expertise in nuclear deterrence, warns that “today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.”
U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated dangerously in the past few years. The dominant Western media and establishment narrative has treated Russia as the sole aggressor while failing to account for the E.U. and NATO members’ role in the crisis in Ukraine and worsening relations.
In the past few years, the United States and its NATO allies have imposed sanctions on Russia, deployed anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland and Romania, dramatically augmented land, air and sea forces, and expanded military exercises on Russia’s borders.
Not surprisingly, Russia has responded by reinforcing its forces along its Western borders, including more nuclear-capable missiles — increasing the risk of accident, miscalculation and escalation.
Meanwhile, E.U. members France and Germany have either failed or refused to move the Ukrainian government to live up to its agreements under the tenuous Minsk accords, which were designed to bring about a negotiated end to the civil war.
The roots of this escalating tension and military buildup come from the U.S. decision to expand NATO to Russia’s very borders after the end of the Soviet Union.
Instead of building a zone of peace that would acknowledge Russian security concerns, the United States pushed to incorporate former Soviet satellites into NATO, even including newly independent states such as Georgia and Ukraine that were historically part of Russia and the Soviet Union.
George Kennan, one of the fabled post-World War II “Wise Men” and author of the famous X Article, which formed the basis of the Cold War “containment” strategy, warned prophetically that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territory would be a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.”
The United States and NATO countries have compelling reasons to try to cooperate with Russia: to coordinate efforts to take out ISIS, to help negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war, to restart progress on loose nukes, to halt nuclear proliferation and to advocate nuclear disarmament.
Commentary about the Brexit vote has focused largely on its potentially destructive economic consequences to Britain and the E.U., and on the ignorance and supposed second thoughts of “leave” voters.
Foreign policy commentary has sounded the dangers that Brexit might weaken NATO or strengthen Russia’s role in a divided Europe.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the people’s vote forced the E.U. to lighten its destructive austerity, gave impetus to a negotiated settlement in Syria and led NATO to reconsider its increasingly reckless posture toward Russia? If that happened, the voters in Britain, unknowingly or not, will have done a great service.