How Brexit could weaken France at the Security Council

By David Bosco

Alongside the cascade of commentary on Brexit’s implications for Britain and the European Union, a few observers are asking what it will mean for the United Nations, and particularly for the Security Council. The consensus view seems to be that Brexit will weaken London’s claim to a permanent Council seat. Foreign Policy‘s Colum Lynch makes the case that the UK’s EU exit will weaken British diplomats on the Council:

Over time, European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros. That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as “the runt of the Security Council,” quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

There’s a strong logic to this argument, but I wonder if Brexit might in the long run make the French hold on a Council seat even more tenuous. With Britain in the EU, the two European powers have been able to jointly resist calls for a consolidation of their seats into an EU seat. With the UK on its own, France will bear the full brunt of that pressure, which could increase in a post-Brexit Europe. An EU without Britain’s skepticism might accelerate its integration on foreign policy and security matters. If and when Germany finally acknowledges that its own prospects of acquiring a permanent seat are hopeless, it may make the creation of an EU seat a diplomatic priority. And at that point, France may have trouble resisting the logic of an EU seat at the Security Council table.

About David Bosco

Assistant Professor at American University's School of International Service. Contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics and Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World
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