Anand Menon: What does Global Britain mean in practice, and when will the Government deliver it?

1 Mar

Anand Menon is Director of the UK in a Changing Europe.

“In leaving the European Union we restored sovereign control over vital levers of foreign policy,” declared Boris Johnson in his speech to the Munich Security Conference. To be frank, that is debatable. The EU’s competence over foreign policy is limited – so membership provided little in the way of constraint on national autonomy.

What is less open to question is the assertion, as the Prime Minister clearly laid out in what was an important speech, that this is a moment of opportunity for British foreign policy. Seizing it, however, will pose several challenges.

Brexit has already allowed the UK to take some actions it would not otherwise have been able to. By 1 January, continuity trade agreements had been signed with 58 countries. The UK moved to impose sanctions on Belarus, while the EU dithered and delayed.

There are costs as well as benefits, though. The new trade deals largely replicate what we had as a member state, and their impact is paltry compared to the negative impact of new barriers to trade with our nearest and largest trading partner. Equally, sanctions are more effective when applied by several states, and autonomy from the EU comes at the price of a decline in influence over what the EU does.

Indeed, it might yet be that the most important foreign policy impact of Brexit turns out to be indirect. ‘Global Britain’ was dreamt up as a way of underlining that Brexit did not mean insularity. And the desire to ensure that Brexit is seen to succeed provides a powerful incentive to make Global Britain real.

Consequently, at Munich, the Prime Minister sketched out an ambitious agenda. He clearly intends to use his convening power to push his agenda. He has used the UK’s chairmanship of the G7 to issue invitations to Australia, India and South Korea to attend the summit in Cornwall in June. This may mark the inauguration of a formalized D10 intended to present a united front against China.

On climate change, the 26th United Nations ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP) on climate change will be the first such event to be held in the UK, presenting a golden opportunity to establish the UK as a continuing big player in global climate diplomacy in its own right.

Yet turning ambitions into reality will require several things.

First, a clarity of vision and ability to make difficult choices. When it comes to the D10, Mr Johnson needs to consider whether it really makes sense to create a grouping of democracies without engaging closely with the EU, whether some of those he is inviting really merit the label ‘democracy,’ and, indeed, what balance he wishes to strike between sanctioning and engaging with China.

It is hard to believe now, but the Prime Minister repeatedly called for a free trade agreement with China. Domestic pressures are going to make that impossible to deliver. And yet an overlooked implication of Brexit is that Beijing can retaliate against UK measures in response to perceived human rights abuses without the need to get embroiled in a wider fight with the EU as a whole.

Dealing with China and – more so – addressing the climate crisis are the work of decades. Success is not a question of quick political ‘wins’, but requires sticking power. For partly understandable reasons related to the pandemic, this is not a Government that has, as yet, shown an aptitude for thinking beyond the short term. If it is genuine about its environmental aspirations, however, it must.

This will involve not only confronting those among the Prime Minister’s own supporters who do not share his liberal international vision, but also building a consensus that can outlive his time in office.

None of which will be altogether straightforward. According to recent polling by the British Foreign Policy Group, while 34 per cent of Britons think ‘Global Britain’ implies the UK being a ‘champion of free trade and globalisation,’ more than a fifth (21 per cent) – including 35 per cent of Conservative leave supporting voters – take it to mean the UK is a nation with strong and secure borders focused on issues at home.

And when it comes to climate, while 68 per cent support the UK taking a global leadership role, Conservative voters appear less supportive and the least willing amongst voters to take individual action to address climate change.

This matters, because tackling the climate crisis involves a combination of diplomacy with action at home. Just as claims to be a champion of a rules-based international order were undermined by a stated intention to contravene international law so, too, the UK’s international climate leadership will hinge in part on it setting an example at home. The Government’s Ten Point Plan of November last year marked a good start, but more will need to be done to meet the ambitious targets set, and a failure to do so will hardly burnish our international climate leadership credentials.

And all this is without mentioning the domestic bases of international influence. It perhaps goes without saying – yet nevertheless I will mention it here – that the UK’s ability to make Global Britain a success will hinge every bit as much on the pace of its economic recovery from both the pandemic and from Brexit, and its ability to retain its unity in the face of separatist challenges.

The year ahead holds real promise in terms of the UK’s ability to finally put some flesh on the bones of its claims about Global Britain. Brexit adds a degree of political urgency to the quest to show the UK continues to wield influence. And the Government has laid out a pretty impressive agenda committing itself to the defence of the liberal, rules based international order. But declarations are merely a start. To deliver on its rhetoric, the Government will need to make hard choices and to show evidence of a clarity and long-term vision that, to date, have been rather notable by their absence. The long-awaited Integrated Review of security, defence, foreign policy and international development will represent an important signal as to whether it is willing to do so.

ConservativeHome and UK in a Changing Europe will be discussing Global Britain – navigating the post-Brexit world this evening with: Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade; Katy Balls, Deputy (Chairman). Paul Goodman, Editor of ConservativeHome, will chair the event. Please register via this link.

Ben Roback: China. Under Trump, a threat. Under Biden, a competitor. The President’s speech at the Munich Security Conference.

24 Feb

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Joe Biden’s speech for this year’s Munich Security Conference (MSC) was probably an easy one to write.

“Don’t be like the previous guy” will have been the simple steer given in advance. And in just his third paragraph, the president delivered that message: “Two years ago, as you pointed out, when I last spoke at Munich, I was a private citizen; I was a professor, not an elected official. But I said at that time, “We will be back.” And I’m a man of my word. America is back.”

Turning the page on Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ philosophy in rhetorical terms was hardly a surprise. Joe Biden has been an internationalist and a multilateralist throughout his political career, and so the recent brief chapter in which the White House was sympathetic to autocratic strongmen was slammed shut.

An immediate return to the Paris Climate accord and a U-turn on the US approach to the European Union – once again a key strategic ally – mark further divergence, although it is reasonable to expect Biden to retain the pressure applied by Trump on European countries to spend more on defence.

Biden also marks a difference on Iran. He retains a hawkish view, like his predecessor – although in this speech he reinforced his “willingness to re-engage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program” while addressin “destabilising activities across the Middle East”. Concurrently at the MSC, Boris Johnson referred to Iran as one of “the most pressing security issues”.

“I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship”

The MSC is hardly a lynchpin in the political calendar in the same way as the presidential inauguration or a State of the Union address. On that basis, with domestic America hardly tuned it, the President spoke to European allies to whom he felt the Trump administration had given the cold shoulder.

There was a reminder of a recent order to halt the withdrawal of American troops from Germany, and a lifting of the cap imposed by the previous administration on the number of U.S. forces that can be based there.

For the United Kingdom, there was perhaps a curious absence. Biden quickly cantered through a reference about the importance of democracy and the need to “fight for it, strengthen it, renew it”, but did not mention the Government’s proposal to create a “D-10”.

In Boris Johnson’s speech, the Prime Minister confirmed he has invited South Korea, and Australia and India to attend the next G7 summit as guests. This chimes perfectly with Biden’s proposal to host a ‘Summit of Democracy’, which is likely to include the three nations mentioned above.

Making the case for democracies around the world is expected to be a core pillar of US-UK foreign policy, alongside a shared approach to China and increased military spending. As proof of the latter, UK carriers will be deployed to the Indo-Pacific and will be fully integrated with the US Marines.

A pivot away from the pivot to Asia?

Whilst Biden is a known internationalist, the world has changed around him. Trump left the Oval Office with Sino-scepticism seemingly a part of the White House furniture. And yet, the 46th president struck a softer tone that would have been unconscionable for the 45th, referring in his speech to building democratic allegiances in order to “prepare together for a long-term strategic competition with China”.

As well as seeking to lower the political temperature at home, this was a speech by Joe Biden that perhaps looked to do the same in the Asia Pacific area. Biden spoke about the need to “push back against the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system.” The politics of economics, not conflict.

Barack Obama initiated the ‘Pivot to Asia’ – a political and diplomatic shift towards the Asia Pacific.  Biden’s first foreign policy foray may have indicated a pivot back – three mentions of China, compared to seven of Russia. Time will tell whether that was accidental or by design. Perhaps it was a mere reminder to the world that America would revert to a much firmer stance on Russia than we had become used to with Trump in the White House.

The tonality was stark. Whilst China was a mere “competitor”, Russia was described as a “threat”. Here, no punches were pulled. “The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponises corruption to try to undermine our system of governance…Putin seeks to weaken European — the European project and our NATO Alliance.” Even more words that it was impossible to think Trump would ever have deployed.

Republicans have tried to label Biden as a “radical” in every respect – immigration policy, climate change, Cabinet nominees, the pricey Covid relief package. But on foreign policy, Biden’s first major intervention appeared anything but radical. Russia was painted a familiar threat, but Johnson went much further in explicitly calling out the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny. China was reframed from a direct threat (Trump) to a mere strategic competitor (Biden). President Biden’s MSC speech was far from radical. If anything risked being disappointingly tame.

Mattie Heaven: Iran’s government is a terrorist regime. British Ministers must face this truth – and act on it.

15 Feb

Mattie Heaven is a policy and advocacy advisor to the International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights. She was Parliamentary Candidate for Coventry South in the 2019 general election.

Having lived in the UK most of my life, I’ve been faced with the challenge of explaining why human rights violations in Iran should greatly concern our government and my fellow citizens. The short answer is that the extremism of the Iranian regime is not limited to Iran itself – but is exported across the globe.

Aside from the brutal violation of human rights inside of the country, the Islamic Republic of Iran has openly funded terrorist organisations across the Middle East, using proxy wars to gain further control of the region, and uses diplomatic channels to carry out terrorist operations against both Iranians living abroad and the international community, as a means of eliminating any opposing viewpoint that they may consider a threat.

For example, consider the recent case of the senior Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi. According to reports released by German police and an indictment in a Belgian court, Assadi, the third secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Austria, attempted to organise an atrocity on European soil.

He smuggled half-a-kilo of explosives onto the continent, with the intention of bombing a rally in France organised by the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran.  Had it gone off, the victims could have included four Conservative MPs – David Amess, Bob Blackman, Matthew Offord and Theresa Villiers, plus a Labour one, Roger Godsiff.

Clearly, the plan was not that of an individual carrying out an unauthorised act of terror, but a plot approved by the heads of the Iranian regime and organised through diplomatic channels.

If you want another recent example, mull the example of Mohammad Naserzadeh, a staff member of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, who was recently arrested by the Turkish authorities for his alleged involvement in the murder of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, a vocal critic of the Iranian regime.

The extremist actions of the Iranian diplomats can be understood better when we ponder the ideology of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, the most powerful official in the Islamic Republic, who has compared Israel to a “cancerous tumour, that must be wiped off the map”.

This is the state-sponsored radical and extremist ideology which led to the Buenos Aires bombing in July 1994 in Argentina. This terrorist attack orchestrated by the Islamic Republic of Iran resulted in the death of 85 innocent people, and injured hundreds.

It is clear that the Iranian regime, over the last 40 years, has consistently shown an unwillingness to reform, or even attempt to improve the quality of life of its citizens, its troubling human rights record and its relationship with the western world. So maintaining the current diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran would be a devastating mistake – potentially with fatal consequences.

The regime has resisted reform, since it is fundamentally an undemocratic, and has frequently persecuted and arrested not only its critics, but also those such as the diverse religious and ethnic groups throughout Iran who choose to live a life other than the one officially prescribed its fundamentalist ideology,

Moreover, the issue of women and children’s rights in the country are of serious concern.  Women, half of Iran’s population, are under consistent oppression, with the underage marriage of girls being encouraged by the Mullahs. Not to mention the sobering fact that more child offenders are executed in Iran than in any other country in the world.

Unfortunately, during recent decades, the EU has mostly ignored the suffering of the Iranian people in the interest of economic gain, and has thus largely turned a blind eye to the inhumane actions of the Iranian authorities. This short-sighted view has not only led to the abandonment of human rights principles that the EU is based on, but also has worked against Europe’s own longer-term potential gains, by fuelling and empowering Iran’s ruling regime, and the global threat that it poses.

A Global Britain, as outlined by Dominic Raab, must means establishing our own standards here in the UK, and reinforcing sanctions to hold those who commit serious abuses of human rights to account, as part of UK’s commitment to democracy, freedom, and the rules-based international system,

Systems based on dictatorship will not last forever, and the people of those countries will always remember governments that stood by their side. A free Iran with a truly democratic system will no doubt provide the UK with much more profitable and long-term investment opportunities than the current regime can offer – unleashing the true potential of its citizens, and becoming a productive member of the international community.

Furthermore, since Iran is among the world’s largest sponsors of terrorism, its resources – some 84 million people, with vast resources of gold, oil and gas – are currently being employed in order to facilitate the regime’s terrorist ideology. Which in turn can lead to the mobilisation of hundreds of millions of potentially dangerous people around the world, with an extremist agenda to destroy western civilisation, or take it hostage.

Finally, a note on the freedom of press – following Iran’s recent execution of the prominent journalist, Rouhollah Zam, during December last year, and the ongoing threats against Iranian journalists outside of Iran. A free press in a democratic system is considered the ‘fourth pillar’ that can prevent collusion amongst the other pillars of State.

So if the regime in Iran is pressured to enforce human rights standards, we can be sure that any dangerous action in Iran that could jeopardize world peace and security would then be thwarted by the free flow of information within Iran itself.  There then would be reasonable hope for meaningful dialogue towards stable economic and diplomatic relations.

Were Iran’s human rights to be put at the forefront of the Government’s foreign policy, those who control the Iranian regime would soon come to realise that its inhumane actions and spread of terror across the world has severe consequences for it – thus providing the only incentive that can bring about legitimate change within the country.

Nus Ghani: China and genocide. Our new proposal answers Ministers’ objections. So they should support it.

4 Feb

Nus Ghani is MP for Wealden and a member of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Select Committee.

In Donald Trump’s last days as President, his outgoing administration did something particularly bold. In determining that China has committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” in its repression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the eyes of the world are now focusing on the appalling atrocities that have gone on for far too long.

Two million Uighurs and other minorities have been forced into slave labour prisons and camps in Xinjiang’s cotton fields, with state organised violation and abuse of women, as well as forced sterilisations.

But while the US has repeatedly acted decisively – including with its own Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act – and decided that they have enough evidence to act, the UK has found itself languishing on the sidelines. This is not where Global Britain ought to be.

The UK has entered a new era. We have left the EU and taken back control of our laws and our trade policy. We should be using this freedom to make our mark in the world, and to play an active part in the global civic community – not to retreat into isolationism and irrelevance.

With Joe Biden as America’s President and Britain soon to take on the presidency of the G7, now is the time for us to show what post-Brexit Britain is really about.

It’s entirely understandable that the Government wants to be exceptionally cautious about using the term “genocide”. It is the most heinous of crimes, and the term should not be used inaccurately or lightly. But it is maintaining a policy on genocide that is, by its very nature, fundamentally dishonest, and which ensures that Britain will always look the other way when a genocide is ongoing.

The UK position has always been that “genocide is a judicial matter” – as stated once again by the Prime Minister last week in the Commons. And the court we defer to is the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But everybody knows, including Government ministers, that the ICC is in a state of frozen paralysis – held hostage by Russia and China’s veto at the United Nations. The UN is simply incapable of holding genocidal states to account.

So I am suggesting an amendment to the Trade Bill that brings to an end this incoherence, and allows a UK court to be able to play a role in this decision instead, given the ICC’s inability to. And I’m delighted that the Lords has listened to concerns raised by MPs on all sides of the House, and has returned us a New Genocide Amendment which we will be debating next week.

Rather than say that genocide is a matter for international law, knowing full well that it is paralysed by global politics, we must give British courts a role instead. It is the only way to make sure that the Government’s policy on genocide actually does anything.

The Government can’t have it both ways. Ministers can’t come to the despatch box saying genocide is a “judicial decision”, but then ban the courts from making even a preliminary decision.

The so-called “genocide amendment” is so desperately needed because China and Russia are making a mockery of the international legal order. In the 75 years since the Nuremberg trials, the UK and the UN have never succeeded in recognising a genocide whilst it was ongoing. And if we don’t adopt the genocide amendment, China and Russia will continue to make a mockery of our domestic law too, and we will be outsourcing to them all future decisions on genocide.

I know that some of our colleagues were desperate to support it, in both the Lords and Commons, and know it’s the right thing to do. Some were worried about UK courts being clogged up with vexatious or improper claims, despite the fact that British judges are some of the most experienced and respected in the world.

And some were concerned that the courts might be able to strike down trade deals, or that this new law might erode parliamentary sovereignty. That would of course be unconstitutional and improper.

The beauty of the New Genocide Amendment is that it addresses all of these concerns and we have conceded to Government objections. So the only question to ask now is given that the New Genocide Amendment is the compromise, what is the Government’s objection now?

When the Commons comes to debate this one final time, we all have a very simple choice to make. Do we want the UK to be handcuffed by Russia and China when it comes to genocide, or do we want to take back control and empower ourselves to actually do something?

Over 50 years ago the UK signed the UN Genocide Convention, to ensure that atrocities like the Holocaust could ‘never again’ take place. It’s time we stood by the international rule of law, promoted our hard won values and standards across the world and showed what British values are about.

Brexit wasn’t a vote for Britain to pursue isolationist policies, to pull up the drawbridge or to downgrade our values. We are not a country that will ever want to enrich itself on the back of slave labour, or to use its new found freedom to trade with states that commit and profit from genocide. Britain is better than that.

Brexit was a vote, full of hope and optimism, which said that Britain should play its part in leading the global world order, rather than having the EU set our values for us. Unless we shift this cavalier attitude on genocide aside, we will continue to shrink on the world stage and our influence will wane.

It’s time for Britain to be on the right side of history.

Benedict Rogers: It seems plausible that this brazen assault on democracy in Myanmar is driven by one man’s ambition

1 Feb

Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is Senior Analyst for East Asia at CSW, co-founder and deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, author of three books on Myanmar (Burma), including “Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads”, and a former parliamentary candidate.

Today’s coup in Myanmar (Burma) is a devastating blow to a decade of fragile democratization, and a major setback for a beautiful but benighted country that has already suffered decades of war, poverty and repression.

Although Myanmar has a long history of military rule, this latest move comes as a surprise. Despite a transition to a civilian-led democratic government under Aung San Suu Kyi five years ago, the military has in any case retained real power.

Under the constitution which it wrote, Myanmar’s military has direct control of three key government ministries – Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defence – as well as a quarter of parliamentary seats reserved for the armed forces. It controls its budget, and many enterprises. Aung San Suu Kyi has bent over backwards to compromise with the military, even defending them in The Hague on charges of genocide. So why would the army move against her now?

One theory is that the military is driven by power and is incapable of relinquishing it. Ever since General Ne Win’s first takeover in 1958, the military has been the dominant political force in Myanmar. His caretaker regime handed over to a democratically elected government in 1960, only to seize power in a coup in 1962.

For over 50 years the army ruled Myanmar directly, rejected Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD)’s first election victory in 1990 and transitioned to a ‘civilian’ government led by former generals dressed in suits rather than military uniforms in 2010. Only after the NLD’s overwhelming win in 2015 did the military move from centre stage to the wings of politics, but even then it continued to exercise overwhelming influence. But perhaps it wasn’t satisfied with that, and wanted to play a starring role again.

Another theory, however, is more plausible, and it is that this coup is not so much driven by the military as a whole, but by the personal ambitions of one man – the Commander-in-Chief General Min Aung Hlaing.

He wants to be President and was dissatisfied that the military-backed party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), did not do well in last November’s election. Knowing that he has to retire from his current post in June this year, he appears to have decided that if he can’t be President using legitimate, constitutional means, he would seize power anyway.

The pretext for the coup – the army’s claim of voter fraud in last year’s election – is risible. An institution that for decades has defrauded the electorate has no right to make such an allegation. While there are concerns that some of the country’s ethnic minorities were disenfranchised in the election, there is no evidence of voter fraud at the ballot box and no legitimate reason to doubt the NLD’s victory.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the President Win Myint, government ministers, regional chief ministers and a number of pro-democracy activists have been arrested, and a state of emergency imposed for a year. This is truly an outrage, and the international community must not stand for it. Britain, the United States, the European Union and others invested significantly in the reform period that began a decade ago, and so cannot allow this coup to pass without consequences.

Reaction has been swift – but so far only rhetorical. Anthony Blinken, the new US Secretary of State, called on the military to reverse their actions “immediately” and “to release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections on November 8.”

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, issued a statement in which he described the developments as “a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar.”

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, condemned the coup in a tweet, calling for the military to release all those who have been detained unlawfully and for the restoration of the democratic process.

And Boris Johnson condemned the coup and the unlawful imprisonment of civilians.

Now the free world must set out what it will do if the military do not back down – and the United Kingdom should take a lead. We should impose co-ordinated, targeted sanctions – not broad-based sanctions against the country, which would hurt the people, but sanctions specifically against the military’s enterprises and assets.

In July 2020, the United Kingdom announced sanctions against two high ranking members of the Burmese military under the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime – otherwise known as “Magnitsky” sanctions – for human rights violations, but what is needed now is measures against military companies and the economic interests of the military as a whole.

The United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, the European Union, Japan and other allies must work together on this, though if a unified approach cannot be reached, those that are willing to go down the sanctions path should do so anyway, and work with allies on other measures they can agree on.

If it is the case that this coup is more about Min Aung Hlaing’s personal ambitions, then it may be possible to cause a split in the military if international pressure is perceived to hit its economic interests. If that happens, perhaps wiser, cooler heads in the military may prevail and force the Commander-in-Chief to back down.

Certainly one thing is clear: if the Myanmar army is allowed to get away with this brazen assault on a fragile democracy, not only will Myanmar’s development and progress be set back, but it will send an unwelcome green light to others in South-East Asia and beyond, that unconstitutional seizures of power will be allowed to go unchecked. And that – in a world where the cause of freedom and democracy is already on the back foot – would be devastating.

Garvan Walshe: Navalny’s given Putin a splitting hedache: here’s how to make it worse

28 Jan

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.

Alexey Navalny’s return to Russia was brave to the point of foolhardiness. The opposition leader was pretty sure that he would be arrested on trumped-up charges, and knew he was putting himself in the life of the hands of the Russian state that tried to poison him only months ago.

The charge against him, of breaking parole by failing to report to a police station – while recovering from that poisoning attempt – wouldn’t be out of place in a Soviet joke book. The message he released, indicating that he has no plans to commit suicide while in jail, was an altogether more grim chronicle of an accident foretold.

In Navalny, the Putin system faces an opponent endowed with the recklessness of ambition. By returning after the state had tried to kill him, Navalny has elevated himself into Putin’s main rival, preparing for single combat against the ruler.

He has thus shown a cynical society that he’s willing to take personal risk. The difficulty for Putin is that his position depends on projecting strength and inevitability. The reason Navalny was barred from running in the last presidential elections was not that he would have won, but that he could have done well enough to make Putin seem beatable – ushering in instability, as even men within the system jostled to suceed the President.

But having failed to kill Navalny, Putin now risks looking incompetent. And while it wouldn’t be difficult to have something to happen to Navalny in prison, it would leave Putin looking weak – a scared dictator who can’t face his opponents, or even admit that the vast palace on the Black Sea is his own.

To Navalny’s personal standing, his Anti-Corruption Foundation organisation must be added. On January 23, it showed it could bring hundreds of thousands out on the streets, all across the country: in minus 50 degree temperatures in Siberia, and third-tier cities such as Ufa and Perm.

This movement cannot be dismissed as reflecting the well-heeled residents of St Petersburg and Moscow – it is composed of the ordinary Russians that Putin himself claims to defend. Perhaps even more importantly, even Russia doesn’t possess enough well-trained riot police to put down simultaneous demonstrations across the country without risking undue bloodshed. It was excess brutality, after all, that drew Ukrainians back out onto the streets after the original Maidan protests had died down.

Navalny’s friends, however, have now to prove that his organisation can maintain its creativity without him (several senior associates of his were also arrested on the 23rd). He has drawn Russians in with skilful media performances and slick reports of anti-corruption investigations – the latest of which exposes Putin’s kitsch Black Sea palace, complete with dancing pole. The upcoming Duma (parliamentary) elections will be a test of whether Navalny’s tactical voting campaign, which worked well in the Moscow City Council elections, can continue with him behind bars.

Navany’s courage has given Putin another headache: getting rid of him risks creating a martyr; keeping him in prison gives a human form to his anticorruption campaign – and releasing him would allow him to continue his opposition.

This choice comes on top of a year in which Putin has found himself outsmarted by Turkey in Libya, spooked by the uprising in Belarus, and losing his biggest ally from the presidency of the United States. The Nordstream pipeline is under increasing pressure, and disinformation campaigns no longer have the advantage of surprise.

The prominence of Russians in the UK — both opponents of the regime and its beneficiaries — means that the UK can play an outside role in making Putin’s headache worse. The 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Launding Act gives ministers powers to apply Magnitsky-style personalised sanctions against figures affiliated with Russian security forces who benefit from the regime’s theft of Russian natural resources.

A good place to start would be the list of regime-affiliated figures published by Navalny’s organisation. The anti-money laundering powers should be deployed systematically against bankers, lawyers and estate agents who have facilitated them.

People working for Russian security forces including the National Guard, could be denied visas, and Sputnik and Russia Today’s broadcasting licenses should be reviewed. Ordinary Russians, by contrast, should be welcomed, by giving them generous rights to work after studying, for example. In Tsarist times, Britain became a place of refuge for dissidents and democrats. This is an area where it can lead the world again.

David Lidington: We have left the EU and there is no turning back. Here’s what our new relationship with Europe should look like.

29 Dec

David Lidington is a former Cabinet Minister and Europe Minister. He is Chair of the Royal United Services Institution (RUSI), and of the Conservative Group for Europe (CGE).

Ursula von der Leyen’s tone was elegiac, Boris Johnson’s conciliatory. Their first public statements announcing that a deal had been agreed marked a significant shift in tone. Both leaders looked to a future in which the United Kingdom and the European Union could move beyond the fractious quarrels of the last four years and forge a new partnership in the months and years ahead.

The Commission President quoted T.S Eliot’s line that “…to make an end is to make a beginning”, while the Prime Minister spoke of how the United Kingdom would continue to be “culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically” attached to Europe. The following day, Michael Gove said that the deal would be “the start of a special relationship” between this country and the EU.

This isn’t about rejoining the EU. Even for someone like me – unrepentant at having campaigned to Remain back in 2016 – the prospect of revisiting in reverse all the agonies and divisions of the last four years is profoundly unappealing, as is the prospect of EU membership without the rebates or opt-outs we once enjoyed. The challenge for our country and for our fellow European democracies now is to work out new ways of working together to uphold values and defend interests that we share.

Every European country wants to address the climate emergency, disrupt and defeat terrorism and organised crime and resist efforts by Russia to subvert democratic values and institutions in our continent. We all want to see political stability in the Western Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa – and know from hard experience that civil war, ethnic conflict and corrupt or ineffective governance allow criminal networks and extremist doctrines to thrive.

The incoming US President values alliances and international institutions, but will also expect European allies not only to spend more on defence and security (where the UK is indeed setting an example) but to show political leadership in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and in Africa, and to contribute support in the Indo-Pacific region, which Joe Biden, like his recent predecessors, will see as the chief focus of United States strategic interest.

Our country remains a European power but one which, like France, also has global interests and a global outlook. We should not see a strategic partnership with the Member States of the EU and the EU institutionally as an alternative to “Global Britain” but as an important aspect of it.

It will take time for bruises to heal, but I’ve been struck by how, even during difficult, sometimes acrimonious divorce talks with the EU, the Prime Minister boosted Britain’s military contribution to the French-led counter-terrorist action in the Sahel and how, announcing the merger of the Foreign Office and DfID, he cited the Western Balkans and Ukraine as places where important interests were at stake.

On key global issues – climate change, the Iran nuclear agreement, Israel/Palestine – the Johnson government has chosen a position closer to the European mainstream than to the White House. The E3 of Britain, France and Germany has continued to work in partnership on geo-political challenges.

Over the next ten years, a United Kingdom outside the EU will need to renew and strengthen both its bilateral relationships with other European countries and its partnership with the EU collectively.

With national governments, this partly about finding a substitute for the regular contact between British Ministers and officials and their counterparts that for nearly 50 years, has taken place at and in the margins of Council of Ministers meetings. It wasn’t only the formal Council that mattered, but the breakfast, lunch or coffee with an opposite number from another country – or even just the quiet word in a corner about some issue.

Since we left the EU on 31 January this year, there’ve not been those same regular opportunities to get to know and do business with other European governments. We’ll need alternatives. It is good that the Government has signalled its intention to strengthen our diplomatic presence across Europe – but we should also consider formalising arrangements for annual summits and joint ministerial meetings with different European countries, as we already do with France.

The UK will also need over time to develop a strategic partnership with the EU as an institution. This is partly because we shall want to discuss issues that under the EU treaties fall to the Union collectively to decide and partly too because the reality is that even the big EU members spend a lot of effort trying to shape a common EU policy approach. The UK will need to operate at both national government and EU level just as the Americans, Swiss and Norwegians already do.

This is to a large extent already envisaged in the Free Trade Agreement, through the Partnership Council and its various sub-committees established to manage and monitor how the deal is implemented. As we go forward, UK policymakers will need to understand the debates within Member States and EU institutions on subjects like data transfer and privacy, and try from outside the tent to influence the outcome in a way that protects our interests.

The same is true about climate, a top-level priority for the Johnson government especially with the COP 26 summit scheduled for 2021. Should the UK’s planned emissions trading scheme be more or less the same as the EU’s? Will the UK’s requirements for green finance be accepted in the rest of Europe? Understanding each other’s positions and, where possible, working together on the global stage should work to our mutual advantage.

NATO will remain the cornerstone of Europe’s collective defence. The EU should not try to supplant or duplicate NATO’s work. Equally, NATO cannot do everything. There are both functional and geographical limits to NATO’s mission. In an age of hybrid conflict, not just military power but economic leverage (including sanctions), information, development spending and anti-corruption work – things that are more an EU than a NATO responsibility -also matter. Truth is, we shall need to work both bilaterally with individual governments and with the different international institutions.

Above all, we need to focus on the strategic picture. Throughout the world democracy, human rights and the rule of law are under pressure. Russia and China are increasingly assertive about the merits of their very different systems of government. The idea of a rules-based international order, fundamental to both our freedom and our prosperity, is being challenged. Criminal and extremist networks operate across national borders and are as internet-savvy as any legitimate business. Outside the EU, the United Kingdom’s interests impel us to find a new model of partnership with our closest neighbours and allies in Europe while at the same time reaching out to like-minded countries worldwide. Now is the time for the world’s democracies, in Europe and beyond, to stand together.

Garvan Walshe: This week’s Israel-Morocco deal. A consolation gift for Trump…and a strategic win for China.

17 Dec

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the British Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy

Since the Second World War, the revision of frontiers, overriding the wishes both of the people who lived in the territories adjusted and their officially recognised governments has been frowned upon, for obvious reasons – as Saddam Hussein found out to his cost in 1991 when he invaded Kuwait (and as he also found out to his cost in 2003 – because revision of leaders could still happen, as long as frontiers were not disturbed).

Like all international norms, this non-revision of borders wasn’t universally upheld. Yet even when Russia annexed parts of Georgia or Ukraine, it went through the motions of holding sham elections to legitimate its land grab. The Trump Administration doesn’t feel the need to be bound by such hypocrisy – which Benjamin Netanyahu has tried, but never quite managed, to exploit fully.

His latest qualified victory has come in the form of Israel’s normalisation this week of relations with Morocco. Morocco has great cities, a large diaspora, one of the world’s major Jewish communities; it also controls territory significantly beyond its internationally recognised borders, and protects itself from insurgents by means of an long separation barrier.

Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, has now won this land for himself – in exchange for the diplomatic gesture of recognising Israel, something he probably wanted to do anyway, so as not to be left behind by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The territory in question is Western Sahara. It had been a Spanish colony for almost 90 years until the decaying Franco regime (which owes its origins to a military putsch that began in Spanish Morocco) decided it could no longer hold on, and offered the Saharawis a plebiscite.

As Franco lay dying in hospital, the then King of Morocco, King Hassan II, forced a Spanish regime that was now confronting a succession crisis to hand the territory over. The last thing Francoists wanted was to have the best units of their army occupied fighting a colonial war to defend territory they wanted to leave anyway, when these troops might be needed to quell an uprising in Spain.

The insurgency in question is led by the Polisario movement, originally backed by Algeria, which operates from the inland desert. The separation barrier referred to above has been constructed to prevent them infiltrating guerillas into the territory Morocco controls.

Morocco and Israel have pulled off a notable diplomatic coup in the Trump Administration’s twilight. Israel gets diplomatic recognition from another Arab country, and access to an important destination for foreign investment. Morocco gets recognition of territory, and Israel’s support in seeking to prevent an future American administration from changing its mind. There are legal consequences too: it should be easier to have Saharawi insurgents designated as terrorists, making it harder for them to raise funds.

This mutual recognition comes, however, with wider diplomatic costs. The West is now divided on Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The EU and UK (not to mention the UN) are opposed. So it is not obvious that Morocco, for whom relations with the nearby EU are far more important than with Israel or the United States, has made the best use of its diplomatic capital. That the agreement was made with a lame duck Trump administration won’t help win over a Biden team bent on restoring the international order.

This trade gives off the whiff of a nineteenth century-style carve-up. Other territories denied international recognition will have been made distinctly more nervous. Perhaps the most important of these is Taiwan. Though Trump will have been booted out of office before he can trade away American protection of Taiwan, Taipei is now a little less secure than it was.

Morocco did extremely well out of this Mohammed-Trump-Netanyahu deal. And Israel got something out of it. But the biggest long term winner will be Beijing, whose diplomats are doubtless already working to turn this egregious lame-duckery into a precedent for the next stage in China’s “peaceful rise.”

John Healey: Ministers have a democratic duty to explain the role of British combat troops in Mali

3 Dec

John Healey is Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, and MP for Wentworth and Dearne.

This month more than 250 British troops will begin a three-year deployment with the UN peacekeeping force in Mali. This is described by the UN as its ‘most dangerous mission’, with 227 personnel killed since 2013.

With the growth of Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, the Sahel is now one of the most unstable regions of the world. The UK will be filling a ‘capability gap’ in the UN force by providing soldiers who are specialist in long-range reconnaissance. Combat and casualties can be expected.

Since 2018 the UK has provided RAF logistical support to the French counter-terrorism operation Barkhane, with three Chinook helicopters and non-combat ground crew, though the MoD stress the new UN deployment is separate from the French mission.

Despite committing British combat troops into a conflict zone, the Defence Secretary has felt no duty to report on this directly to Parliament. The deployment this month was confirmed in an MoD press release during the summer recess.

Labour strongly support this commitment of UK troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, and we do so with eyes wide open to the risks they face. The public have a right to expect Ministers to be more open too.

As a UN P5 Security Council member, Britain has an overdue duty to support the 15,000-strong UN mission in Mali, which was first established in 2013, and which the UN Secretary General says plays “a fundamental political and security role”.

There is significant humanitarian interest in Mali, with the UN estimating 6.8 million in need of humanitarian assistance, and over a quarter of a million people internally displaced.

There is significant development interest in Mali, with 78 per cent of the population living in poverty, 39 per cent of primary age children not in school and the country ranking 184 out of 188 on the UN human development index.

Above all, there is significant security interest in Mali, with al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups active in the region which the Government say have a terrorist reach beyond Africa into Europe.

In these circumstances, the questions about British troops in Mali abound. What role will they play? How will they contribute to the UN mandate? What risks do they face? How does this deployment contribute to the UK’s new strategic approach to sub-Saharan Africa? What are the criteria for a successful mission and bringing Britain’s troops home again?

The practice of accountability to the public via Parliament is decaying under this Government but it should remain a basic principle that no Defence Secretary commits British troops into a conflict zone before a full statement in the Commons so that MPs can secure answers to concerns about the mission and the service personnel.

Peter Oborne: The remarkable Baroness Cox – loathed by Azerbaijan, loved in Armenia. And back there as war rages.

2 Dec

Baroness Cox at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in front of the eternal flame

Peter Oborne is a columnist for Middle East Eye. His books include Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan.

Ali Kemal was a Turkish journalist and politician noted for his pro-British views. He came to an unpleasant though courageous end when he was murdered by a mob after condemning the mass killings of Armenians in what has become known as the Armenian genocide.

After his lynching, the mob inscribed the phrase Artin Kemal in blood on his chest. “Artin” was a common Armenian name.

Today, Ali Kemal would probably be rolling in his grave at the inertia of his great grandson, Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister has said and done nothing to help Armenia in its latest conflict with Turkish-backed Azerbaijan.

Johnson has solid reasons. Azerbaijan has oil. Armenia does not. Total trade in goods and services between the UK and Azerbaijan was £1.1 billion in 2019. Turkey is a fellow member of NATO and important ally.

And even if the Prime Minister had followed his great-grandfather’s example, it would have made little or no difference. Britain does not have the capacity to come to the aid of a tiny landlocked nation squeezed between Russia, Georgia, Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s geographical predicament does not just explain Britain’s silence in the 44 day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia which ended three weeks ago.

It also accounts for the shameful fact that Britain has never acknowledged the Turkish genocide of more than a million Armenians just over a century ago.

The United States, Israel and many other countries won’t do so either.

No wonder the Armenians feel so friendless and bereft. And no wonder Britain – and much of the West – is becoming unpopular in Armenia.

When I reported on an anti-government demonstration in Yerevan two weeks ago, I was unwelcome among sections of the crowd.

One protester shouted “Fuck Britain!” at me as I interviewed local people. Another repeatedly harassed me to explain in no uncertain terms that “Britain has let Armenia down”.

My Armenian companion felt the need to tell numerous protesters that I was a journalist reporting on events, and not a representative of the British state.

But there is one British politician who has indeed stuck up for Armenia through thick and thin.

She is the remarkable 83-year-old Baroness Cox. The Baroness was awarded her peerage by Margaret Thatcher 40 years ago, for her brave role in taking on Marxist agitators as a sociology lecturer at the Polytechnic of North London.

On one occasion, Baroness Cox was aggressively manhandled in the classroom. “I was standing on a table refusing to stop a seminar. I told them they’d have to carry me out, which they did.”

This principled stand brought her to national attention. The legendary Times newspaper columnist, Bernard Levin, devoted no less than three consecutive columns to her fight for academic freedom.

Since then, the doughty Baroness has made no less than 88 visits to Nagorno-Karabkh.

I saw for myself how she was loved in Armenia, when I accompanied her on her most recent trip last month, made at the invitation of the Armenian government which paid some of our costs. (For a part of the time, we were accompanied by an Armenian official.)

The Baroness is revered. She is a nationally known figure who has done more for Anglo-Armenian relations than any other British politician.

During the first Nagorno-Karabakh war, she flew in many times under artillery fire to deliver aid. Today, her charity supports a rehabilitation centre in Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city, Stepanakert. Originally founded to cater for the many injured veterans of the first war, the centre provides support for all kinds of disabilities – and had to quit Stepanakert in a hurry after it was shelled. We met her committed team of approximately 30 medics and physiotherapists in the Armenian capital of Yerevan instead.

Here’s one episode which illustrates the love – affection is too weak a word – with which Caroline Cox is held.

Stopping off at a restaurant for lunch, we were met by a man who had heard by chance that the Baroness was in Yerevan. He had come specifically to talk to her.

Visibly emotional, he explained that they had met almost three decades ago on the 30 July 1992, when Armenia and Azerbaijan were engaged in their first war. The man was then a second year student and soldier who had been wounded in the fighting. The Baroness, who has trained and practised as a nurse, visited him and other soldiers in a basement in Stepanakert.

“You hugged me and you held my hands. They were covered in dirt and blood,” he said Badoyan, tears in his eyes. “When everyone abandoned us, toy arrived to help. You gave us all a lot of hope. I’ve waited 28 years to say thank you.”

It was humbling to watch the two embrace.

The Baroness has been agitating in the House of Lords for Britain to take a much more robust stance on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

At present, her burning priority is the release of prisoners of war. “We have watched video evidence of horrible brutality inflicted on prisoners, including torture, beheadings and mutliations”, she says.

The Baroness is also calling for the protection of Armenian cultural and religious sites that have come under Azerbaijan’s control following the ceasefire agreement, as well as increased humanitarian aid.

“More than 14,000 civilian structures – homes, schools, hospitals – have been damaged during the conflict. We need an urgent plan of economic support,” she says.

There are two sides to every conflict, and it’s important to stress I did not visit Azerbaijan and hear its side of the story. According to reports from Human Rights Watch, there is evidence of both Azerbaijaniand Armenianforces using illegal cluster munitions against civilians.

According to Azerbaijan, Armenia “resorted to the brutal tactic of terror by deliberately targeting large civilian settlements of Azerbaijan … with heavy artillery and missiles, including ballistic and cluster munitions.”

It says that evidence of “reckless attacks of Armenia on civilians and civilian infrastructure” amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Baroness Cox’s support for Armenia has not gone unnoticed by Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijan Ambassador to the UK, Tahir Taghizade,sent a letter to Baroness Cox shortly before the latest conflict broke out stating that her language reminded him of the “inflammatory rhetoric used by the Armenian propaganda”.

Shortly after the ceasefire was agreed, the embassy released a statement regarding the Baroness’ trip last month.

It accused her of supporting “the separatist puppet regime illegally established by Armenia in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” and called her visit “disturbing”, “disruptive in nature” and not in line with the UK government’s official position “which recognizes Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and welcomes the signing of the document ending the fighting

Baroness Cox’s response said: “members of the House of Lords reserve the right to hold conversations with interested parties in any given conflict, and also reserve the right to hold opinions that differ from those of the official UK government position.”

And that: “Members concerned with the actions and history of Azerbaijan towards Armenians will continue to monitor the situation and, where applicable, support the internationally recognised precedent for self-determination.”

In a victory speech, the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, referred to Armenians as “savages”. He describes his victory in the one-sided conflict against the under-equipped Armenian army as the destruction of “Armenian facism”.

Such pronouncements will do little to assuage concerns for Armenians that their latest defeat is not an end to trouble in the region whose security is currently in the hands of Russian peacekeepers.

Baroness Cox is adamant that the only way to secure the long-term future for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is to recognise its independence. But with Azerbaijan securing vast swathes of territory in the region, and little international support for Armenia, this looks unlikely.

It’s easy to dismiss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a far away war with which Britain has no reason to get involved. But whichever side you take, there’s no question that Baroness Cox’s long involvement in this troubled area has served as witness to the terrible troubles faced by the beleaguered Armenian people. She has helped keep their story alive during a time when few others in the west have done so.

I can’t help feeling that Boris Johnson’s great grandfather, Ali Kemal, would approve.

The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, of which Baroness Cox is director, covered a substantial proportion of my expenses.