Stephen Booth: AUKUS has been an encouraging test for post-Brexit Britain

23 Sep

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

The landmark security partnership recently announced by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States reflects the new geopolitics of great power competition, prompted by the rise of China.

The new alliance, dubbed “AUKUS”, will see deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains, ranging from artificial intelligence to cybersecurity and quantum computing.

The first initiative will be a collaboration on future nuclear-powered submarines, providing the Australian fleet with the US and UK technology for the first time. Canberra’s mounting concern at China’s growing naval capacities encouraged it to cancel an order for French diesel-electric submarines, prompting fury in Paris, and seek the higher spec US and UK nuclear-powered technology instead.

The new trilateral alliance is the latest pillar in US-led efforts to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and balance China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region. The US President has highlighted that this new phase of security cooperation will take place alongside a network of other relationships in the Indo-Pacific, such as the Quad, comprised of the US, Australia, India and Japan, whose leaders will meet in-person for the first time in Washington tomorrow.

New polling commissioned by Policy Exchange illustrates that the British public strongly welcomes a continuing US leadership role supported by allies. 54 per cent of Britons believe that when the US has strong cooperation from allies like the UK, the UK is more safe, as opposed to just eight per cent who believed it was less safe.

It is notable that Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, was quick to welcome the AUKUS announcement. Predictably, China has responded negatively to AUKUS, criticising its “cold-war mentality” and describing it as “extremely irresponsible”.

Ultimately, security is only one dimension of the changing strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific. Chinese growth has been central to Asia’s rising global economic importance.

But China has also sought to use economic levers to exercise its power in the region. Following Canberra’s public calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia has had to weather formal and informal Chinese trade restrictions on several of its export industries.

It may or may not have been a coincidence but, the day after AUKUS was announced, China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – the most advanced trade agreement in the region.

The forerunner to the 11-member CPTPP, known simply as the TPP, was not originally conceived as a grouping of geopolitical importance. However, when the US became involved and took a leading role in developing it, the Obama Administration was keen to highlight the strategic dimension. “With the TPP, we can rewrite the rules of trade to benefit America’s middle class. Because if we don’t, competitors who don’t share our values, like China, will step in to fill that void,” a White House factsheet said.

Ultimately, President Trump pulled the US out of the deal and it is Japan, as its largest economy, that has taken an increasingly important role within the CPTPP, including encouraging the UK to join it.

China’s application is unlikely to progress for the foreseeable future, since it will struggle to demonstrate adherence to some of the key elements of the deal, particularly the disciplines on state-owned enterprises, intellectual property, the free flow of data and labour standards.

Moreover, accession requires the unanimous approval of the existing members, including Australia and Japan, which would need some convincing given the current political climate. However, China’s application may be designed to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, forcing the wider CPTPP membership to debate the pact’s geopolitical role in relation to Beijing.

The UK is ahead of China in the queue to join the CPTPP, after all the existing members recently agreed to commence the formal accession process. If the UK’s membership bid is successful, it could work with others to facilitate US reengagement with the pact.

Biden’s team has suggested that trade agreements (not simply with the UK) are not a short-term US priority. However, China’s application might act as the catalyst for a reassessment of the CPTPP in Washington, which would greatly increase the economic and strategic benefits of membership to the UK.

Taken together, AUKUS and the UK’s CPTPP membership bid provide long-term substance to the UK’s “Indo-Pacific” tilt outlined in the Integrated Review. Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission, which presaged the tilt, stressed the need for a mutually reinforcing “twin-track” UK approach. One focused on trade, economics and technology issues, and another on security. Both aspects of Global Britain are now very much in action in the region.

Meanwhile, French anger at the loss of a lucrative submarine contract has been compounded by its exclusion from a new strategic alliance. In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Paris sees further evidence of the need for European “strategic autonomy” to reduce dependence on Washington. However, the same formidable hurdles to realising this ambition remain.

AUKUS was announced on the eve of the publication of EU’s own Indo-Pacific strategy and caught Brussels somewhat on the hop. Interestingly, Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, was in London in the days immediately after the AUKUS announcement.

Rutte was reportedly laying the ground to invite the UK to take part in discussions about greater European security cooperation. Whether or not the current Government is open to exploring such an offer, the overture demonstrates that many smaller and Atlanticist EU member states are wary of a greater European role in defence and security, if no role can be found for the UK.

Ultimately, the UK might have entered the AUKUS were it still a member of the EU. But one of the major question marks against Brexit was whether it would see the UK lose its influence over global affairs as an independent nation state.

Recent events demonstrate that economic and security interests are becoming increasingly intertwined and adaptable alliances are becoming increasingly important. A flexible and nimble Global Britain has much to offer in such a world.

Jon Moynihan and Christopher Howarth: In an age of global insecurity, Truss’s appointment could mark a watershed in foreign policy

23 Sep

Jon Moynihan was the CEO and Chairman of PA Consulting Group, as well as a member of the board of Vote Leave. Christopher Howarth is a former accountant, lawyer and TA soldier.

The promotion of Liz Truss to Foreign Secretary has the potential to mark a watershed in British foreign policy. Creative, iconoclastic, and bullet resistant, Truss has, as Trade Secretary, made multiple trade breakthroughs by combining pragmatism and optimism.

Recognising as she does the great geopolitical changes around the world during just this past decade, she has the opportunity to make her mark on our history by formulating, with the Prime Minister, a new foreign policy approach for the UK, one that cashes the Brexit Dividend while recognising the dramatic changes in the world that have occurred over the past decade.

There has never been a golden age of global peace and prosperity, but the world has definitely worsened recently. The EU, not yet reconciled to UK departure and torn between an anxiety to contain Russia and a desire for Russia’s energy, is an always unreliable partner, with the France/AUKUS row showing that the EU and its member countries often act in opposite directions.

The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan threatens to recreate a safe haven for arms and terrorism exports. Biden’s fumbles and abandonment of Trump’s Middle East gains give Iran a renewed chance to further its nuclear and regional ambitions within the Shiite Arc and beyond, destabilising states from Yemen to Iraq and threatening Israel.

In Africa, South Africa’s continued implosion has accelerated. Further north, the arena around east Congo contains Hieronymus Bosch-like scenes of civil and interregional war, rape, slavery, and economic exploitation. Across Africa, an old tradition, the military coup, has re-emerged; both military and civil autocrats bolster themselves with Russian mercenaries.

The Indian subcontinent is now a more dangerous place because of Afghanistan’s implosion. Myanmar has taken a huge step backward. Thailand is repressive. South and Central America are the least concerning areas, but only by comparison; democratisations that followed the Falkland Islands war in the 1980s have steadily drifted leftwards, with Venezuela a stark yet apparently unheeded warning.

This brings us, finally, to the two greatest problems: Russia and China. Russia, even in its position of weakness, creates instability, threatens invasion, in its near abroad – Ukraine and Baltics in particular. In further-away countries, the Wagner Group spearheads a new colonialism.

The group of thugs and oligarchs around Putin maintain a steely extractive grip on their own country. Russia has a formidable cyber hacking arm which makes money (through ransomware) and disrupts the West.

Russia opportunistically allies itself with the far stronger China, whose intelligent and to date successful long-term policy, starting with the Belt-and-Road initiative, is quite clearly that of world domination.

In its near abroad, China extends its reach bit by bit, building roads into Pakistan and Afghanistan and railways toward Europe; building illegal villages in Bhutan and pushing Indian soldiers off Himalayan precipices. It refuses to bring North Korea to heel even as that country becomes an ever-greater nuclear and cyber menace (even as large numbers of North Koreans starve to death).

Despite the West’s long-held concern, that led to Obama’s “pivot to Asia”, China continues with its long-term maritime strategy, building piece-by-piece what is eventually likely to become the most formidable Navy in the world.

It builds ports in Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Gwadar and on; it fortifies islands and atolls across the vast expanses of China’s 9-dash-line claim; it threatens Taiwan. In the meantime, China extracts every last ounce of the West’s technological capability via legal and illegal routes; buying, spying, hacking, sending its students in waves to the west so as to learn and return.

The spectacle of China building a F-35 clone 10 years before expected was a wakeup. It highlighted that the role of science – in weapons development, cyber defence and offence, intelligence, and industry – is key, yet in the UK, as in most of the West, we are falling behind and are increasingly unable to protect even what IP we have.

These are some of the strategic challenges facing the UK. What should the UK response be?

In short, our new foreign policy doctrine should first, realise the Brexit dividend, and second, respond to the new bifurcated hegemonic structure: The US (no longer the global hegemon) with its allies, versus China and Russia with their satrapies.

The Brexit Dividend: The UK has not been a super-power for 100 years, but it is a significant power, one with a unique ability to be at the centre of alliances addressing current and future threats. Now we’re a fully sovereign power, we can forge our own policy based on our own interests, with full control of defence, trade and development.

The EU, built around a single market and customs union, always lacked a coherent foreign policy. The UK as a member was saddled with a trade policy serving the interests of others, not us, and a foreign policy unaligned even with the EU’s own trade agreements – the German or Cypriot veto, for example, preventing any serious criticism of Russia or China.

The Bifurcated Hegemony: things are going to get tougher. We will have to tighten our uses of trade and subordinate it and Aid to new geopolitical imperatives; anticorruption and cementing new treaties will have to take precedence over softer fashionable favourites.

Our new ability to focus on our own (and global) security came good in the recent AUKUS negotiations. The UK played to its strengths; a trading partner, trusted and with unique technology (more Brexit dividend: as an EU member the UK could not have discussed trade policy; would have had to support French interests; and would have been pressured to be more accommodating to China).

Promoting specific UK interests becomes central; no more need to outsource our development money (and trade deficit) to Brussels. A sovereign UK can use its aid and trade policy as twin tools to improve stability and growth in Africa, helping countries trade their way out of poverty –win-win for the UK in prosperity and influence.

In the Middle East we can work better with historic partners on security and trade. Joining CPTPP (the pacific trade partnership), and the hinted deemphasis of Canada and NZ from the 5eyes network, points to a more complex future, awash with interlocking networks and relationships of different strength.

We can also now push our objectives in global councils – protecting intellectual property, combating cyber espionage and theft, resisting authoritarian states seeking to subvert international organisations and our values. The UK now has the opportunity to work flexibly with different models to meet differing and emerging threats and opportunities. It’s an exciting new chapter in UK foreign policy.

Such an approach has the makings of a distinctly Conservative foreign policy; pragmatic but optimistic, believing in Britain, British values and a global role; with loyalty to old allies and friends and an instinctive belief that global engagement is good for both us and the world.

As Margaret Thatcher always clearly said: a decrease in British (and American) global influence would be very bad for the world. Fortunately, Truss, being a Thatcherite, recognises the opportunities the UK has. She brings to the Foreign Office unique insights into how to further UK interests and global stability. A new Johnson/Truss doctrine can put them into action.

AUKUS and the Indo-Pacific. A tilt to it, yes. A lunge, no.

20 Sep

In a chapter of their book on Britain’s defence capability, White Flag, our proprietor and Isabel Oakeshott describe “Operation Tethered Goat”.  It sets how in the event of a Russian incursion a small NATO force would attempt to defend a 65-mile stretch of the Polish-Lithuanian border “straddled ominously by Kaliningrad to the west and the Russian satrapy of Belarus on the east.”

“If Russia were to attempt to close the gap, NATO’s only option would be to punch north with the US-led brigade based here. Until then, it would be up to the Baltic states to hold their ground, supported by small detachments of NATO forces stationed inside their borders.

“One of those forces would be headed by a small but fierce battalion of UK troops stationed in Tapa, Estonia. Some 800 troops from the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh are here, supported by smaller deployments from other member states”.  The isolation and vulnerability of our troops gives rise to the operation’s grim nickname.

This is the background against which to see the Americo-British-Australian deal over nuclear-powered submarines, the wounded reaction of France, and the new security pact between the two countries: AUKUS.

Further war in eastern Europe is relatively unlikely, for all the recent tangle between Russia and Ukraine.  But were it to happen, it would directly affect Britain and the alliance on which our security has depended for the best part of three-quarters of a century: NATO.  It would be war in our back yard.

Conflict in the South China is perhaps more likely, but would affect the UK less directly.  We wouldn’t be bound by our NATO obligations to participate.  And whatever may be said of the South China Sea, it is not in our neighbourhood.

None of which is to say that either the new deal or the pact is a bad thing.  Their core for us is the transfer of material – including in “cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and undersea capabilities”, as Boris Johnson put it last week – not that of troops, for all the recent journey of the Carrier Strike Group to the South China Sea.

As he went on to say, “this project will create hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the UK, including in Scotland, the north of England and the midlands,” including perhaps the Red Wall-ish areas of Barrow and Derby.

The deal also shows how fast time moves and frail attention spans can be.  Only a month ago, Joe Biden’s sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan raised the prospect of an isolationist America withdrawing into itself.  Any prudent British government should be alert to the possibility and what it could mean for the future of Europe.

AUKUS is a sign that, whatever else might happen elsewhere, the United States is commited to the Indo-Pacific and that, as in Afghanistan, there is continuity between what Donald Trump did and what Biden is doing.

There has been a startling shift there in attitudes to America within the last five years or so – just as there has been one here since David Cameron declared a new “golden age” in Anglo-Sino relations.  That was before Brexit.  Of which there is a point to be made about the pact and the deal.

In the wake of Biden’s Afghanistan decision, Remain obsessives raised our exit from the EU, suggesting that it was responsible for Johnson failing to persuade Biden to delay the withdrawal, because Washington no longer listens to us.

Never mind that Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel took much the same position.  The boot is now on the other foot.  Some of our fellow Leavers argue that were it not for Brexit, Britain would never have abandoned France for America and Australia – just as, were it not for our exit from the EU, the Government wouldn’t have summoned up the nerve to get on with our own Covid vaccine programme.

Like other counter-factuals, this one is unprovable.  And the lure of new jobs, plus the tug of Anglo-American and Anglo-Australian relations, might have been enough to lure some other Prime Minister in an EU member Britain to make the same decision.

What can safely be said is that our relationship with America carries on as before, regardless of Brexit, and that Britain remains a member of the UN Security Council, the G7, NATO, the Commonwealth, and is one of Europe’s two armed powers, a top five aid donor, and in the top ten influential nations list on any reckoning.  All of which Leavers spelt out during the referendum campaign.

The Global Britain slogan has been ridiculed but, whatever one’s view of leaving the EU, it touches on a fundamental reality which AUKUS, that G7 membership, that Security Council presence and all the rest of it helps to illustrate.

Liz Truss is straight out the traps banging that drum, but it is worth pondering Global Britain, as suits that spherical image, in the round.  Europe is part of the globe.  It is a lot closer to us than Australia, if not in kinship than at least in distance.  And, as we have seen, a conflict in our continental hinterland would disturb us more immediately than one in an Asian sea.

Which takes us to France, and an entente that at present isn’t all that cordiale.  It’s scarcely unknown for Macron to withdraw its ambassadors when piqued: in recent years, they were brought home from Italy and Turkey.

But he will be very bruised, not least because the deal and the pact seem to have been firmed up in private between the three powers during the recent G7, while he was talking up France’s relationship with America (plus its interests in the Indo-Pacific), and taking potshots at Britain over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The real-life cast of The Bureau – i.e: the French intelligence services – may have been asleep on the job, and there is certain to be an inquest.  British crowing at the Gallic cockerel’s embarrassment is inevitable.

But while your own neighbour next door may eventually move out, France won’t be going anywhere, and it isn’t in our interest for this complex relationship to cool further.  France is our only major military partner in Europe (and elsewhere: see Mali), a top five trading one, home to up to 400,000 Brits, the source of most of those channel boats, and tortously intertwined with our culture and history.

Nord 2 has brought Germany closer to Putin’s orbit.  The former’s election takes place soon.  Whatever the result, France will feel the tug from Germany, as will the whole EU.  We don’t want to see the latter plump itself up as a potential rival to NATO.  But it would help us, America, and Europe itself for our neighbours – bearing that Russian presence in mind – to spend more on defence.

Their unwillingness to do so (Mark Francois recently set out the figures on this site), Germany’s passivity and a certain strain in French thinking suggests a drift into the Russian orbit.

De Gaulle’s ambivalence about the old Soviet Union, on which he blew cool post-war and warmer later on, had its roots in a French cultural antagonism to America and periods of alliance with Russia.  The ghost of the General will believe that AUKUS proves him right: that when push comes to shove, Britain will always throw its lot in with its American cousins.

We should turn a new page with France, or at least try to  – and remember that while a tilt to the Indo-Pacific is a one thing, a lunge there would be quite another.  Putin hasn’t “gone away, you know”. And Islamist extremism hasn’t, either.

Rehman Chisti: How mainstream Islamic teaching can help to hold the Taliban to account

19 Sep

Rehman Chishti is MP for Gillingham and Rainham, and previously served as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2019-20).

The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has raised serious questions about the rights of religious minorities, women, and others under its rule in Afghanistan – and its interpretation of Islam. As the Prime Minister has stated, we have to judge the Taliban by their actions, not their words.

As someone from a Muslim background, whose father, uncles, and grandfathers were Imams, religion and faith are a central part of my life. This was reflected during my service as the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, when I worked with colleagues to challenge the persecution of individuals based on their faith around the world.

In fact, faith is an integral part of many people’s lives across the globe, especially in the Middle East and Central and South Asia region. According to a Pew Research Center report, 84 per cent of the world’s population claim to identify themselves with a religion. In my view, if we don’t understand religion, including the abuse of religion, it will be even harder for us to understand the world.

Having had the honour of working as an adviser to Benazir Bhutto, the first female Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and first female head of state in the Islamic world, from 1999 to 2007, I know full well the strong and inspiring leadership role that women can play in Islamic nations. Islam has a rich tradition of inclusivity and respect which we must put forward and be proud of. In fact, we can see examples of strong female leadership in Islam throughout history, both in the distant and near past.

Muslim women have always played a crucial part in society as rulers, jurists, businesswomen, scholars, and benefactresses. Khadija, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, was not just his companion, but a businesswoman in her own right; Aisha bint Abu Bakr, another of the Prophet’s wives, became a brilliant scholar and tutored many men.

We can also see this in Shifa Abdullah, one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions, who held a leadership role in supervising transactions in the marketplace of the Islamic empire’s first capital, Medina. Or with Rabi’ah Bint Mu’awwad, an eminent scholar and jurist of Islamic law in Medina who taught famous male scholars. And with Fatima al Fihri, a Muslim woman who founded, in 859, what is today the oldest continuously operating university in the world, al-Qarawiyyin University in Fez.

In more recent times, we can look of course to Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, but also to Bangladesh: this country, which has the world’s fourth-largest Muslim population, has had a female prime minister for nearly 28 of the past 30 years.

Khaleda Zia, the country’s first female Prime Minister, and Sheikh Hasina, the incumbent, have been two of the country’s pre-eminent political leaders, and have overwhelmingly held the office of Prime Minister since 1991.

In Europe, Atifete Jahjaga served as the first female President of Muslim-majority Kosovo, from 2011 to 2016. During her time in office, she fought against extremism and radicalisation, fostered reconciliation between religious and ethnic groups in the country, and hosted a key International Women’s Summit.

Of course, there are divergences on theology in Islam as there are in every faith. But as set out above, Islam’s past and present has at its heart the values of all other faiths: respect, inclusivity, and tolerance. It is this version of Islam that we must champion.

As I set out to the Prime Minister last week in the House of Commons, he should call on the 57-member state Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to ask Al-Azhar, a widely respected and leading institutional authority on moderate Islamic thought, to issue a statement confirming the rights of religious minorities and women in Islam.

The Taliban in Afghanistan claim that they will rule within the confines of Islam. A statement from an institution such as Al-Azhar will let the world judge whether the Taliban’s actions are indeed in line with the teachings of Islam.

In my recent meeting with the Kuwait Ambassador, Al-Duwaisan, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in London, who has served in his role for nearly 30 years, he was very supportive of calling on the OIC to ask Al-Azhar to set out the inclusive approach to the rights of women and religious minorities in Islam.

On this occasion therefore, when we have the support of Muslim-majority countries, I would urge the Government to move forward urgently with this proposal. Al-Azhar is a hugely well-respected institution across the globe, founded over 1000 years ago. Recently in 2019, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar jointly signed with Pope Francis a Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, and when the UN Security Council held a session to discuss anti-terrorism, al-Azhar was the only Islamic institution invited to take part.

If we are to build an inclusive society and world, we must all play our part and that means setting out the true virtues and values of our faiths.

Garvan Walshe: Leaving Afghanistan wont’ stop terrorists using failed states. How do we learn from this failure?

16 Sep

Garvan Walshe is a former national and internationals security policy adviser to the Conservative Party.

The rewriters of history have got to work in the weeks since the American rout in Afghanistan. The mission failed because Afghanistan was a graveyard of empires. Or because humanitarian intervention never works, according to realist high priest Stephen Walt.

This is far from the truth, as Robert Kagan explains at length. We went into Afghanistan because of 9/11, not for purely humanitarian reasons. Even in more overtly humanitarian interventions, like NATOs in Kosovo or the removal of Gaddafi in 2011, strategic considerations mattered.

Success in Kosovo owed much to Milosevic, always an opportunist with a healthy sense of his own self-preservation, agreeing to give in after NATOs bombing campaign. The alternative, an invasion of Serbia and Montenegro through Albania and Hungary, while Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia rose up against the Dayton peace settlement would probably have led in Serbia to a destructive guerilla war not unlike that in Iraq or Afghanistan. The last minute paradrop into Pristina airport should remind us that even late Yeltsin Russia would not have been helpful.

Nonintervention is not the easy option frozen-blood realists like Walt would like it to be. They would have stood by as Kosovars were raped and murdered, or the inhabitants of Benghazi driven into the sea. They got what they wanted in Syria: hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of people displaced. Whether this sits more easily with their conscience or ideas of a globally influential West, I leave to readers to judge.

It is harder still where there is a strategic objective. How comfortable would we have been, for example, relying on Polish tanks to dash through Eastern Ukraine to protect Lviv? (Hint: it matters that the Poles call the city Lwów).

Or consider the French intervention in Mali, against central African jihadists. Would you be the President pulling troops out only to find your citizens attacked by a plot originating there? What of an allied government, with which you had important commercial or strategic ties, being toppled by hostile rebels?

Commercial ventures, military operations, people, religion and ideas now flow across borders more easily than they could in the past. Or rather, they have started to flow back the other way. Western business, armies, people and ideas have after all been flowing out of Europe to the Americas, Asia and Africa for five hundred years. Along with supply chains and investment flows, conflicts have become globalised.

It’s not viable any more for a single country to retreat, and there is no disputing the principle that if we’re to provide security at home, we need to get involved abroad. Disagreement is only over the manner of involvement.

In the last twenty years, the difficulty has never been to remove a hostile force from power, either through direct intervention, or Western air power supported by allies. Problems have set in afterwards, even though the need for long term post-conflict stabilisation is very much a “known known” (however much Rusmfeld himself was in denial about it). The question is why we’ve made the same mistakes over and over again.

Afghanistan suffered from intermittent attention and dispersed accountability. It only drew high level political focus at the beginning and when problems mounted. Different administrations tried varying strategies, with greater or lesser emphasis on state building, smaller footprints, or a “surge” of troops.

Meanwhile the mission was split, between the mission to capture bin laden and that to stabilise the country. The former a unilateral American operation. The latter a multilateral NATO one. Similar problems bedevilled the postwar reconstruction in Libya (with France and Italy backing rival governments), or Iraq, with the US reducing troops only to find it had to increase them to fight ISIS.

Without attention, disorder was allowed to fester, more civilians and troops got killed, and governments were unable to justify the intervention to their publics. Politicians picked up the public dissatisfaction, and rushed to leave as soon as they could.

Direct political control works best when there’s a single locus of accountability and continuous attention on the problem. In these multilateral interventions there’s neither, so public attention wanders, and the pressure on the different components of the alliance causes friction. This should not have been a surprise. These problems affect all complex and long-term international cooperation, which needs a certain amount of structure if it is not to become a sequence of ad-hoc adaptations to circumstance.

Towards the end of the Cold War, the CSCE (later OSCE) was set up to supervise disarmament, and continues to engage in security and democracy related aspects of the European international architecture. On climate change, the “Conference of Parties” has evolved into an organisation with an indefinite timescale (we are now on number 26).

A specific, but permanent organisation has a number of advantages: consensus on strategy is achieved through multilateral diplomacy. Participants allocate budgets that are spent by the organisation as a whole. A permanent secretariat maintains focus even when political attention is lacking. Membership can be limited to countries that agree with the organisation’s aims (to avoid the fate of the UN Human Rights Council).

Perhaps it is time to consider some sort of international stabilisation and counter-terrorist organisation.

Those establishing one will face a number of difficult questions about how it should work, not least over how to get security forces and human rights organisations to tolerate each others’ involvement, and over who should be included. For example, what roles should hostile powers like China, or highly relevant friendly countries with terrible human rights records, have?

But the last twenty years of unstructured unilateralism have hardly been an unqualified success. It’s surely time to give more structured alternatives a go.

Ed McGuinness: Afghanistan – and the changes that should now be made to better support our veterans

10 Sep

Ed McGuinness is a founder of Conservatives in the City, and contested Hornsey & Wood Green during last year’s General Election.

This week the summer seemed to return and, as the sun rose over Westminster, MPs began filling the House of Commons once again, bringing a buzz to the start of a new political term. In a week packed with domestic legislation, the Prime Minister took to his feet to make a statement on what was surely the major story of the summer: Afghanistan.

Many have pored over the strategy of the withdrawal – and will continue to.  Even more will consider the operational and tactical decisions that led to chaotic scenes at Kabul airport. What can, I believe, be objectively said is that the bravery, dedication and professionalism of our Armed Forces and diplomatic service is without question. However, as the Prime Minister pointed out, those men and women were only the final team of the over 150,000 British service personnel who have served in the country since 2001.

It was therefore welcome that the Government laid out extra support, in the form of an extra £5 million, for veterans of the conflict who are undergoing mental and physical health issues as a consequence of their service to the nation.  A quick calculation, assuming that five per cent of those who served are undergoing or require treatment, is that this new measure will provide an extra spend of around £650 per person.

But however welcome this extra funding may be, it is not is not enough in and of itself. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge and best practice in the public domain with respect to promoting aspects of service life: one need only look at the number of military charities that are out there. And the Veterans Affairs Office was a good start to coordinating the Government action to protecting and promoting veterans’ interests from a top-down perspective.

However, structures do not make a strategy, and I believe that there are three changes that could be made to strengthen the bonds between the Government and the Armed Forces.

First, the Government should make the Minister for Veterans Affairs a Cabinet-level position – or else place it under the purview of the Secretary of State for Defence with a Defence Minister (it currently resides in the Cabinet Office), so that it has the requisite clout when negotiating for funding with other departments.

Second, there ought to be a serious consultation with the Armed Forces charity sector. In 2020, there were around 2,000 Armed Forces charities. Some of these charities have a very broad remit, and some very specific. The Government should establish an umbrella organisation to act as a forum to share best practice, identify areas not covered and allow better co-ordination. Most importantly, this would allow for the identification of where public funding can be more efficiently allocated to better support serving and retired service personnel.

Third, and perhaps the most difficult objective to implement, is a mindset change. There needs to be a recognition that the Armed Forces are a unique public service. Whilst many public servants, especially the emergency services and health services, will undergo traumatic experiences through their careers, there is no expectation that those public servants will explicitly lay down their lives in the service of the nation, although it is recognised that many have made brave sacrifices.

Furthermore, the Armed Forces are the only public service whose major purpose is to actually stand ready to act for the majority of the time, rather than to be acting all the time. To this end, resourcing the Armed Forces for “outcomes” is not an appropriate mindset. Instead, Ministers should resource single living accommodation for serving soldiers, provide sufficient funding for equipment and good food, and make sure there is adequate housing (including families) and employment for retired soldiers. Changing mindset from quantitative outcomes to qualitative is more appropriate in this respect.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was painful for a whole spectrum of people, for a whole series of reasons, but it presents an opportunity to reform our approach to the Armed Forces and how we support soldiers. There has been a hugely positive change in mindset over the past 20 years when it comes to soldiers’ mental and physical health.  But in order to solidify this and build on it more reform is needed.

Not all of it requires lots of additional funding; most simply requires a willingness to engage and support. Our Armed Forces come to our need, domestically and overseas, time and time again. Our efforts to support them should never be exhausted – there is always going to be scope to do more, and it is government’s duty to do so.

Robert Halfon: America has abandoned the Afghans. But we must stick with the Kurds.

8 Sep

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has jangled nerves in allied nations. One such place is the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

The situation in Kurdistan and Iraq is quite different from Afghanistan. American armed forces
 in Iraq and Kurdistan will end combat operations by the end of the year. But Iraq and America 
have recently agreed that 2,500 American troops will stay to assist, advise, and train.

The Americans stress the continuing importance of their strategic relationship with Iraq and are
 building the single biggest consulate in the world in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.

The UK
 supports a strong Kurdistan Region in Iraq and also has a sizeable diplomatic presence in Erbil.
The presence of American troops and bases in the Kurdistan Region is certainly desired by its
 people and government. American, British, and German soldiers are providing invaluable training to the Peshmerga, and
 are seeking to unify it under the authority of the government rather than the two main parties – a
 legacy of the past.

A strong Peshmerga is ever more necessary, as the fall of Kabul to the Taliban will embolden 
what Tony Blair calls Radical Islam elsewhere. The Peshmerga have proved a dedicated and capable ally in resisting such extremism. They held
 out almost alone for several years after ISIS took Mosul, and then attacked Kurdistan in 2014.
 Eventually, the Peshmerga and the revived Iraqi Army dislodged Daesh from its genocidal
 caliphate. RAF jets were essential to this achievement.

But it is not complete. Isis is smaller, but regrouping in the gaps between the Iraqi Army and the
 Peshmerga. Erbil and Baghdad are building better relationships, but judicious American and 
British engagement can help them to do so more quickly.

Of course, we should carefully examine the experience of Afghanistan, but my great fear is that 
isolationism on the left and right could take root.

Friends of the Kurds can say that there are times when there’s one thing worse than a Western 
intervention – and that’s no Western intervention.

Not all interventions have been disastrous, let alone about imposing our values. John Major’s
 no-fly zone and safe haven for the Kurds in 1991 averted certain genocide, and helped the Kurds
 create an autonomous region that increased health, education, living standards, stability, and
 opportunity. Our jets saved Kurds from ISIS in the last decade.

Such interventions are the baby that should not be thrown out with the bathwater amid any
 isolationist backlash. They go with the grain of change desired by our partners and enable their self-defence, with
urgent and direct aid in existential emergencies, and self-improvement.

The need to deploy military muscle in extremis is on the spectrum of liberal intervention, and
 provides the solid assurances without which other engagements are more difficult.

Our wider range of cultural, commercial, and political engagements clearly say that the fate of the
 Kurds remains important to the West. It also gives them the confidence and stability to further
reform their institutions.

The Kurds are an ancient people, but they have only had a coherent and recognised near-state in
 Iraq for a generation. They have come far in that time but have much further to go. From my visits over many years, I can testify that they welcome our involvement in ventures as
varied as training MPs and judges, measures to advance transparency and tackle corruption,
boosting agriculture, and film, for example. I suspect many films about Afghanistan could be 
produced in Kurdistan.

A major imperative close to my heart is their desire to modernise their education system and
 encourage new thinking in a more vibrant civil society as they reduce their reliance on oil and
 state employment while designing new futures in technology, tourism, and light industry.
One of our country’s great soft power offers in higher education. My predecessor as MP for 
Harlow, Bill Rammell has recently become Vice-Chancellor of one of their prestigious English 
language universities.

Another such university in Kurdistan has just taken in female students from Afghanistan. It
illustrates the deep generosity of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, so often exiles and refugees from 
injustice themselves.

Iraqi Kurdistan also continues to host nearly a million refugees and displaced people from Syria 
and from the areas once occupied by Isis to which they cannot yet return. That has been an
 enduring and willingly given duty for them.

Their respect for religious and national minorities as well as improved women’s rights powerfully 
defy Radical Islam. All countries act in their own national interests and not just for altruistic reasons. American and
 British engagement is both. The fall of Kabul highlights how much more we need Iraqi Kurds as 
allies and partners, and vice-versa.

John Baron: We need a new defence alliance with other allies as well as the United States

6 Sep

John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay.

The precipitous collapse of the post 9/11 Afghan state has taken the world’s chanceries by surprise, and reminded them that no-one can accurately predict the future, just as the Iranian Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union reminded previous generations of this simple fact.

This mistaken intervention sits alongside Iraq, Libya and Syria. The lessons of this defeat though need to be particularly heeded – fine intentions and phrases in the Integrated Review are worthless if the required realpolitik and strategies are sidelined. If not, such an approach will not just prove illusory, but also dangerous.

The fundamental error in Afghanistan was to allow the initial, limited and well-resourced mission to expel al-Qaeda in 2001 to morph into the much wider intervention of nation-building. The Armed Forces deserve our fullest praise. However, as we showed in Northern Ireland, soldiers can only buy time. The politicians may now have accepted their error of trying to reshape the world in our image, but the mistakes regarding the intelligence that accompanied those interventions have yet to be heeded.

The first chapter of the Butler Review into the Iraq War contains an insightful section on the nature and limitations of intelligence and, by extension, of basing a strategy entirely on it. In particular, it highlights the differences between ‘secrets’ – which can be detected – and ‘mysteries’ – which can not. Although we knew the ‘secret’ of how much training, men and equipment the Afghan security forces had, we did not know the ‘mystery’ of how the Afghan troops would react to the advancing Taliban.

Part of the problem is the lack of intelligence on the ground. Technology and satellites, useful though they are, can only tell you so much. In recent decades the dull slog of human reporting has taken a back seat to the technological revolution, in which the US and its allies have created a formidable apparatus to intercept and analyse electronic communications. Though highly effective, it falls down when your adversary eschews modern communications – as indications suggest the Taliban may have done at key moments.

First-in-class technology has to be complemented with better political reporting and intelligence on the ground. In the Foreign Office’s internal review into why it was caught unawares by the Iranian revolution, Nicholas Browne noted that the reporting from those officials who had travelled around Iran in the months and years before the revolution had generally caught the public mood much better than the reporting from Tehran. For these reasons, much of our picture of what is going on in large parts of the world is a heady mixture of incomplete information and informed judgement, both of which can lead us down the wrong alley.

Yet since 9/11, we have placed enormous store on this mixture and have, as a result, often made substantial errors. The worst was the central premise of the Iraq War – weapons of mass destruction were never found. The Libyan intervention was in part informed by confident yet mistaken assessments that Libyans would subsequently embrace multi-party democracy. Optimistic judgements that Afghan society could be reformed wholesale in a matter of years proved well wide of the mark. Ignorance about the composition of the Syrian rebels and then naivety about our ability to arm only the ‘good’ ones contributed eventually to a complete change in approach which involved bombing the rebels.

However, Afghanistan starkly highlights other shortcomings with Britain’s overall strategy. Some of us in Parliament have long argued that the trend of reducing defence spending is severely limiting our ability to protect our interests. Judging from the mood in Parliament, it seemed a shock to many MPs that operating without the Americans was deemed impossible – even securing and running Kabul airport was beyond British capabilities.

Regardless of expensive kit and technology, there remains value in ‘boots on the ground’. No one can predict the exact nature of the next major threat, so sufficient margin is required in both the breadth and composition of our defence forces. Furthermore, a country of little use is little worth listening to. British objections to the American withdrawal timetable might have landed with more weight if we had had more to offer or at stake.

This point is not limited to Britain – all of NATO needs to reappraise its defence capabilities, and increase spending accordingly. Washington will be devoting more time and effort into countering China. Europeans should wise up to this before the Russians truly capitalise on this and start causing more problems. We must not forget the value of deterrence, which costs a tiny amount in money and resources when compared to actually having to fight a war – qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum.

Britain also needs to better defend its key defence industries. We should be extremely wary of allowing companies of great strategic value to be snapped up and hollowed out by foreign buyers. Recent legislation has given Ministers much greater scope to intervene in such scenarios but this will add up to nothing if they are not actually employed. This applies to takeovers from American companies as much as those from other countries.

On a broader level, the liberal democracies must rediscover a sense of seriousness when undertaking grand strategy. What message does our ignoble withdrawal from Afghanistan convey to our allies? The Chinese certainly strategise in terms of many decades, yet our policy can sometimes be influenced by electoral cycles. Worthwhile strategies usually require long-term commitment, as NATO has shown in Germany and the US in South Korea – if we’re not prepared to put this effort in, then we shouldn’t get in at all.

Britain also needs to reassess its relationship with key allies. Kissinger’s remark that the US doesn’t have allies, just interests, is a reminder that it is folly to rely heavily on one ally. While continuing to recognise the many merits of a strong relationship with the US, we need to reassess other allegiances. For example, in tandem with countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France, we should consider a stronger defence and humanitarian-orientated alliance which has teeth – and which is perhaps centred on one of our two aircraft carriers. This would better guarantee the defence of our common interests.

However, perhaps the most important lessons from Afghanistan relate to leadership and mission. While accepting that war should be legitimate and the measure of last resort, sufficient force should always be deployed when finally despatching troops to theatre. Otherwise, lives will be needlessly lost and the mission compromised. Initially sending a Brigade-minus instead of a Division to Helmand was a derogation of duty.

Furthermore, the soundness of the cause should never be underestimated – did we truly believe we had a right to impose our version of democracy on Afghanistan, especially when the limited 2001 intervention achieved its goal? Joe Biden’s decision regarding this shambolic withdrawal perhaps at least acknowledges the question.