- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2016

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and British Defense Minister Michael Fallon discussed the potential national security fallout from the United Kingdom’s vote to separate from the European Union, hours after the polls closed in the nonbinding referendum.

Mr. Carter re-emphasized that Washington and London “will always enjoy a special relationship reflected in our close defense ties, which remain a bedrock of U.S. security and foreign policy” during the call, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Friday.

“Those bonds [will] endure [despite] yesterday’s vote by the United Kingdom to exit the European Union,” Mr. Cook told reporters at the Pentagon.

He made the comments less than 24 hours after U.K. voters shocked the British political establishment and the international community and opted to leave the European Union, dissolving Britain’s more than 40-year relationship with the alliance.

British Prime Minister David Cameron quickly announced his resignation in the wake of the landmark decision, which passed by a slim margin, with 51.9 percent of Britons voting to leave the European Union.

With other ousters from Downing Street expected in coming days and weeks, including possibly Mr. Fallon, the Pentagon is adamant that Britain’s military engagement with the U.S. — including the multinational fight against the Islamic State group and London’s role as the largest investor in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program — and with NATO will remain unchanged.

Mr. Carter is expected to discuss those issues and others with Mr. Fallon during the annual NATO summit July 8-9 in Warsaw, Poland. One key decision is whether the U.K. will maintain its presence alongside its NATO allies in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom has 450 soldiers in the country to train and advise Afghan forces under NATO’s Operation Resolute Support mission.

During a recent trip to the alliance’s headquarters, Mr. Carter reportedly expressed concerns that the United Kingdom would depart from the European coalition in Afghanistan.

Those concerns specifically focused on the effects that the so-called Brexit would have on European regional security and the country’s future dealings with NATO.

“I think [Mr. Carter] made clear that he thought that the European Union with the U.K. in it would give the U.K. a stronger voice,” Mr. Cook said in response to Mr. Carter’s stated concerns.

“The reality is the British people have spoken, and we have to respect that decision,” he said.

Mr. Cook declined to comment specifically on what London’s departure may mean for regional security in Europe, specifically in the eastern bloc where Russia has continued to aggressively assert its dominance in the Baltics.

British troops were expected to play an active role in NATO’s plans to stand up a 4,200-member force in Eastern Europe to counter Russian aggression.

The main task facing the Defense Department in the wake of the Brexit vote is to assist London as it transitions from being an EU member to a nation on the outside looking in, Mr. Cook said.

“There are issues the European Union and the United Kingdom will have to resolve in terms of [military] commitments that are current right now,” Mr. Cook said.

Although those issues will affect how Washington proceeds militarily with its longest-standing ally in Europe, the outstanding issues between the U.K. and EU are “not necessarily items for the Department of Defense to be involved in directly.”

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