How does Brexit impact on NATO and the UK’s membership of it?

I’ve asked for questions that people have about the impact of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union on Thursday and one that’s come up a few times, after being originally asked by Lewis Christie, is what the impact is on UK’s membership of NATO.

So in this post I’m going to take a look at what NATO is, who are it’s members, what it does and how the Leave vote impacts on our influence and membership.

What is NATO?

NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also called the North Atlantic Alliance, an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty which was signed on 4 April 1949. NATO was originally a political association of countries until the Korean War when more of an integrated military structure developed under two US Supreme Commanders.

NATO has twenty-eight (28) member states with an additional 22 countries that participate in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and 15 other countries involved in institutionalised dialogue programs and is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

NATO Members List - June 2016

The current full members of NATO and the year they joined listed at

As a condition of membership member states are supposed to spend a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence and the current military spending of all NATO members constitutes over 70 percent of global total defence spending.

What is purpose of NATO?

NATO describes its essential purpose as “safeguarding the freedom and security of its members through political and military means” and it gives a useful explanation of what that means on it’s website.

POLITICAL – NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defence and security issues to build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.

MILITARY – NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military capacity needed to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – NATO’s founding treaty – or under a UN mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organizations.

What is Article 5 of the Washington Treaty?

Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is the agreement between NATO members that an attack against one member is considered an attack against all members, also known as collective defence. Collective defence measures are not solely event-driven and NATO has standing forces on active duty that contribute to the Alliance’s collective defence efforts on a permanent basis.

These include NATO’s standing maritime forces and an integrated air defence system, designed to protect against air attacks and provide ballistic missile defence. These standing forces perform different tasks ranging from exercises to operational missions, in peacetime and in periods of crisis and conflict.Collective Defence

NATO also conducts several air policing missions, which are collective peacetime missions that enable NATO to detect, track and identify all violations and infringements of its airspace and to take appropriate action. As part of these missions, Allied fighter jets patrol the airspace of Allies who do not have fighter jets of their own on a 24/7 basis, 365 days a year.

Has Article 5 even been used?

Article 5 was invoked for the first time since NATO’s founding, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, however NATO say they have have taken “collective defence measures” on several occasions, including in response to the situation in Syria and in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

So does the Leave vote impact on our membership?

The NATO alliance has existed since 1949 and the UK has been a member since then, the UK only joined the forerunner to the EU in 1973, which is a completely separate entity, so the leave vote does not have any direct impact on our membership of NATO.

However that being said several of the UK’s allies in NATO, most notably the United States, valued the UK’s membership of the European Union and it’s veto’s. This ‘added value’ helped to increase the UK’s overall influence in NATO, the EU and several other international organisations.

The timing of the EU Referendum, just ahead of a major NATO summit in Warsaw, has led to concerns among member states that ill will between the EU countries will be a potential distraction that the alliance could do without.

Before the referendum Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO said that the “UK staying in the EU is key to fighting terrorism” adding “The UK is the biggest force provider among European Nato allies, so it matters what the UK does and for Nato it is an advantage to have UK leadership inside the European Union being a strong advocate for transatlantic cooperation and also for EU-Nato cooperation,”.

Since the result of the referendum Jens has met with John Kerry, the United States Secretary of State, to discuss the impact of the referendum and issued a press release to reassure the UK that their position in NATO remains unchanged and “The UK will remain a strong and committed NATO Ally, and will continue to play its leading role in our Alliance.”



The UK leaving the European Union doesn’t impact the UK’s membership of NATO, the UK’s influence on the international stage is seen to have decreased by several of our key allies, although we are still one of the largest force providers to NATO as a whole.

Whether the perceived decrease in influence is temporary or permanent remains to be seen and, although some see the UK’s exit from the European Union as an opportunity to push to leave NATO from what I’ve read this seems to be very unlikely as political leaders in the UK are all committed to the alliance.

It’s also important to note that the UK is the member of several other key global bodies like Interpol, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Group of Seven (G7), Group of Eight (G8), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and a founding member of the United Nations to name a few.

From this list you can see that the UK does still have a seat at the top table in global politics and it still has influence in areas that within Europe that allies outside of Europe do not and they value the influence this brings.

However we only have this influence when we have a good relationship with the other member organisations and it would be very optimistic to describe our current relationship with many EU countries as good at the moment, though this will hopefully improve over time.

What do you think?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, or at the very least found it useful/through provoking.

I’ve tried to pull together an unbiased view and provide my sources but if you have a different view and think I have it wrong please let me know in the comments section or by getting in touch. It’s always interesting to hear a different view and if I’ve made mistakes I’d like to know about them.

If you have questions about the impact of the Brexit vote or if you have a subject you’d like me to write about let me know and I’ll do my best to provide a straightforward answer based on the facts.

Sources and Further Reading

I believe it’s important to share your sources and I’ve pulled together a list of the sources I’ve read while pulling together this post. Just because they’re listed here doesn’t mean I agree with them or their editorial views, just that I’ve read them or there is thought provoking arguments provided whether I agree with them or not.


Conflict News

Council of Europe

International Policy Digest


Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)


The Guardian

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)

US News



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s