Terry Barnes: The significance of this new U.S-UK-Australia security pact – and Johnson’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific

17 Sep

Terry Barnes advised Tony Abbott when he was a Cabinet minister in John Howard’s government.

It may have been missed in Britain midst the excitement of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle and the attention-greedy Sussexes making the cover of Time, but this week’s announcement by Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Scott Morrison of a ‘trilateral security partnership’, to be known as AUKUS, is hugely significant.

It is to be a relationship of defence, technological and security cooperation. While it essentially formalises existing exchanges between three traditional allies, that in itself has historic strategic and geopolitical implications.

Here in Australia, this announcement is huge news. Not only is Australia formalising a security pact with her two greatest and closest traditional allies, but she is also being admitted by the US and UK into a very select club: countries operating nuclear-powered submarines. Morrison’s government is thereby walking away from a costly but irretrievably dysfunctional contract with the French to co-build a dozen conventional next-generation submarines, exposing itself to billions of dollars in termination costs.  But this hasn’t been a deal-breaker.

That AUKUS was announced, within eight months of the next Australian general election, is even more significant. It’s one thing for a conservative government to sign such a security agreement and pursue nuclear submarines. It’s quite another for a traditionally anti-nuclear and US-skeptical Labor party opposition to endorse such a radical reshaping of Australia’s national security framework. Yet it has – today publicly committed itself to the agreement should Labor win next year’s election, a possibility if opinion polls are right.

Furthermore, just weeks after marking its 70th anniversary, the joint announcement confirms that the ANZUS alliance of Australia, New Zealand and the United States is officially dead.

New Zealand suspended ANZUS almost 40 years ago, because it refused to allow US nuclear-powered ships into her ports: this week, Jacinda Ardern insisted that this bar would apply to nuclear-powered Australian submarines as well. Since New Zealand’s inflexible opposition to nuclear-powered ships sits with Ardern’s refusal to join any Five Eyes strategic arrangements that might antagonise China, AUKUS effectively kills off whatever vestiges of ANZUS are left.

Australia, on the other hand, has been increasingly vocal about the Chinese regime’s geostrategic muscle-flexing, as well as its internal behaviour. Morrison was the first world leader to demand that China account for the origin and escape of Covid-19 from Wuhan, and has given his MPs free rein to criticise China’s strategic ambitions and human rights record – despite the regime’s wolf warrior bullying diplomacy and trade retaliations. AUKUS reminds Xi Jinping that ‘little’ Australia has great and powerful friends, and that she does not stand alone in calling out his bullying.

Jinping certainly should sit up and take note of this critical new development. The two great Anglosphere powers are joining a third, Australia, in making it emphatically clear to China and the world that the Pacific and Indian oceans are not Chinese lakes. The UK and US giving Australia nuclear-powered submarine capability – with the speed, endurance and stealth that this capability ensures – means that there will be a local nuclear-powered, if not nuclear-armed deterrent straddling the approaches to busiest blue water sea-lanes in the world running through the South China Sea.

But from Britain’s perspective, this is a truly remarkable strategic development, the significance of which may not be immediately realised outside Whitehall.

AUKUS is not just sending HMS Queen Elizabeth through the Indian and Pacific Oceans to make an important but nevertheless symbolic freedom of navigation gesture to demonstrate Britain’s resistance to China’s increasingly bellicose aggression. For the first time in the half a century since she withdrew a standing presence from east of Suez, the United Kingdom is joining a formal geostrategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific.

That sends not only a starkly clear message to China: it reassures the entire Indo-Pacific region, and especially India, Japan, and South Korea – and Hong Kong and Taiwan – that their security interests are also British interests. Johnson, Ben Wallace and Liz Truss – fresh from negotiating, with Australia, Britain’s first post-Brexit free trade deal – have grasped the importance and necessity of the UK re-engaging in the Indo-Pacific strategically as well as economically.

And the United States benefits, too, in that strengthening the offensive as well as the defensive capability of a key regional ally in Australia will, in time, ease the burden of what Paul Kennedy years ago called ‘imperial overstretch’. Biden may have forgotten Morrison’s name in the leaders’ announcement hook-up, but surely realises how strategically important a politically stable, but strategically-strengthened, Australia will be to the overall peace and stability of the entire Indo-Pacific region.

To be sure, in Britain this announcement was overshadowed by other events. But in the longer term, AUKUS may well be part of any tangible and lasting legacy of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

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.

David Richards: Offer a single point of contact and overhaul the National Security Council. How to help the Afghans we left behind.

5 Sep

Baron Richards of Herstmonceux is a former Chief of the Defence Staff.

We have all just witnessed the rapid collapse of the Afghan Government and the desperate attempts of our Armed Forces to evacuate both British Nationals and those Afghans who worked most closely with us throughout the campaign.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the team running the evacuation, many have been left behind. Their urgent pleas for help now fill the inboxes and WhatsApp feeds of many an Afghan Veteran. I am informed that last week the Ministry of Defence crisis box had 40,000 emails to process, and was receiving them at the rate of 10,000 a day.

Now that we no longer have a presence on the ground, helping those left behind is a challenging task and one that we appear to have been slow to start. The Foreign Secretary’s visit to the region is a positive, if belated, step in the right direction but there is much more that could be done now. Here are some suggestions.

The Government needs to communicate much more effectively with those left in Afghanistan. Understandably, perhaps, its media statements have been focused on the domestic audience, but there is an urgent need to provide reassurance to the many Afghans who are now trapped and fear for their lives.

This not difficult to do, doing it would show a nervous community that we are looking to help them. A page on the Government website in English, Dari and Pashtu would be a good start.

There appears to be no central command and control node that brings together the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the MoD and the Home Office to which Afghans can communicate and from which practical solutions to their problems can be devised.

This is a major omission. It is a symptom of a wider command and control issue that lies at the heart of the slow and poorly planned national response to Donald Trump’s original decision, let alone Joe Biden’s more recent one. The National Security Council chaired by the Prime Minster is responsible for agreeing and then directing national strategy. The National Security Adviser and his team is then responsible for ensuring its efficient and timely execution.

It’s quite clear that this mechanism is completely broken. It needs a major overhaul to turn it from a nineteenth century talking shop into a dynamic twenty first century cross-government coordination and communications centre that can handle domestic disasters such as Grenfell Tower as much as international crises of the kind we are witnessing so tragically and dangerously in Afghanistan.

Absent a crisis, its core business would be obliging a politically focused group of strategically inexperienced and sometimes disinterested politicians to think, prepare and plan long term and strategically.

Probably the hardest immediate nut to crack, which is also the most important, is the lack of documentation of those who still need to be evacuated. Many do not have passports and fewer have visas. It appears that we are reluctant to issue letters of authority or electronic visas without biometric enrolment (fingerprints and photos), and without such documents neighbouring countries will not let them pass for they fear ending up with yet more Afghan refugees. Yet, currently, biometric enrolment in Afghanistan is not possible.

Hopefully, the Foreign Secretary’s trip will begin to unlock this circular problem, but the solution will also require us to take some risk on the quality of documentation needed for onward travel to the UK.

Finally, when those who have been left behind, because of the rapid collapse of the last Afghan Government and the limited time available for the evacuation, finally make it to the UK it would seem to compound an injustice to invite them to join the back of the queue for resettlement assistance. Hopefully, Victoria Atkins already has this issue in her sights.

It is clear that we knew early in the evacuation, and most likely before, that good people would get left behind. The Defence Secretary admitted this during an interview on August 21st. But it is also clear that we then failed to adequately prepare the ground, particularly with neighbouring countries, to help those not evacuated. We are in catch-up mode. Time is short, but it is still not too late to put things right. Failure will create a long running sore with equally long running political reverberations.

Garvan Walshe: Behind the return of the Taliban is the not-so-hidden hand of Pakistan

2 Sep

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

As the rout in Afghanistan came to its shameful conclusion, most of our focus turned on ourselves. It was a war of necessity, provoked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and a defeat of choice.

The speed with which the Afghan army collapsed surprised many, but cannot have caught out people who knew how dependent it was on air support. Once American technicians and advisers left, it is hardly suprising that morale in the Afghan security forces, not particularly high in any event, fell away completely.

Our tactical failures have been compounded by the moral consequences of defeat. We’ve abandoned thousands of Afghans who helped the Western mission there, and millions who depended on it for the protection of the most basic human rights, including the women who are now left to rot under the Taliban’s systematic regime of misogyny. The shame belongs to us because we failed to win.

The United States excepted, which has its Special Immigrant Visa programme, we, the countries who sent thousands of soldiers over there 20 years ago, now outdo ourselves in wourking out how to meet the letter of the Refugee Convention while letting the minimum number of unarmed Afghans actually arrive to our shores. Have we become so befuddled by loudmouthed populists that we are unable to find it in our hearts to offer them sanctuary, and in our heads to work out how they can become part of our society?

Much of this has been entirely avoidable. Far from doing our best in an extremely difficult situation, we piled errors upon each other. I won’t list them here, but think it’s important to focus on one which has been particularly fateful: the failure to address the Pakistan dimension at the highest political level.

We intervened in an Afghanistan that had spent decades at war. It had become a battleground between the Soviet Union to the north and Pakistan to the south. Though Pakistan had itself taken an Islamist turn under Zia ul-Haq, the Soviet involvment drew in the United States, and the rivalry with revolutionary Iran drew in Saudi Arabia to support the anti-Soviet Mujahideen, Pakistan’s interest was more geographical than ideological.

Since losing the Western half of itself to Bangladeshi independence, Pakistan’s policy has been driven by the fear of another disastrous war with India. Its overwhelming focus has been on what it calls “strategic depth”, by which it means the ability to retreat to the mountains around the Afghan frontier, in order to wait out a numerically overwhelming Indian advance.

For Pakistan, which was aligned with the West, this clearly needed a friendly, not a pro-Soviet, Afghanistan. The alliance and cultivation of radical Islamic fighters, in which Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence (ISI) was instrumental, and which would later become the Taliban, was born.

Though Pakistan was formally a close American ally, operated American military equipment, and agreed to allow the United States access to Pakistan for its mission against Osama bin-Laden, it has spent the last two decades playing both sides. It is no coincidence that Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, nor that the Taliban leadership continued to live semi-openly even in Islamabad’s suburbs.

The Taliban were simply too important to Pakistan, because of their role in Afghan politics, to abandon. Indeed, rather than abandon them, it seems that Pakistan has tolerated and, most likely, enabled the funding and equipping of a large force responsible for the deaths of 2,500 Western troops and 45,000 of their Afghan allies.

All this is known in professional circles, but is largely missing from the public debate about the Afghan war, which imagined it as a two-way contest between Islamist rebels, and a Western-supported Afghan government – as though Afghanistan could be insulated from its geographic environment.

In public, though not necessarily in private, it was given less prominence than the mission to eradicate opium production and, after Bin Laden was killed, our attention waivered to the more immediately pressing eruption of Isis.

Addressing the Pakistani dimension would not have been easy. Pakistan faced its own Islamist insurgency on its own side of the Durand line. Imran Khan’s government is weak, and the ISI highly autonomous. Pakistan’s interest in stability on its northern frontier is legitimate, but we had an equally legitinate interest in their not using the Taliban to do so.

Now we’re paying the price for our neglect.

Stephen Booth: As next month’s federal election draws closer, is Germany set for three party government?

26 Aug

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

What direction will Germany take in the post-Merkel era? Change is coming, but the German electorate appears to be undecided on the form it should take. With only a month to go, the outcome of the federal election on 26 September is currently impossible to call.

German politics has become increasingly fragmented in recent years as traditional party loyalties fade. This has been compounded by the end of Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign as Chancellor. More than ever, this election campaign has been dominated by personalities rather than policies, but no standout heir has emerged.

Armin Laschet, Merkel’s successor as CDU leader, was chosen as the conservative candidate best suited to continue Merkel’s brand of consensual, pragmatic politics. He was preferred over Markus Soeder, leader of the CDU’s smaller Bavarian CSU sister party, even though Soeder was the more popular figure with the public.

But Laschet has not enjoyed much personal support and he is perceived to have made several personal missteps in the campaign. The CDU/CSU have fallen from polling numbers of 35 per cent in February, before they announced their candidate, to under 25 per cent in recent weeks, which could herald the party’s worst ever performance.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green’s candidate, enjoyed a short honeymoon after her selection over party co-leader Robert Habeck. The Greens briefly overtook the CDU/CSU as the largest single party in the polls. But after riding high in the spring, the Greens have fallen back into third place, in part following accusations against Baerbock of plagiarism and inflated claims on her CV. Some commentators suggest the Greens, like the CDU/CSU, have chosen the wrong candidate.

Making a late surge to rival the CDU/CSU as the biggest party is the centre-left SPD. The party has struggled following several years as the junior partner in successive Merkel-led ‘grand coalitions’, but its lead candidate, Olaf Scholz, is now by far the most popular choice for Chancellor. Scholz, whose party is largely to the left of him, has benefitted from the lacklustre performance of Laschet and Baerbock, and is the only candidate with experience in senior government posts, currently serving as Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister.

Meanwhile, Christian Lindner, the leader of the liberal, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) has also had a strong campaign. The party has benefitted from the Greens’ rise, since the FDP is seen by many centre-right voters as an economically conservative counterweight, and it now stands a strong chance of entering government. The FDP has successfully positioned itself as the defender of small government as the CDU has moved to the centre. At the same time, the FDP’s reputation for modernisation and digitisation has been beneficial as the pandemic, and slow start to the vaccine roll-out, revealed inefficiencies in the public sector.

Ultimately, the race remains wide open. A Forsa poll this week put the SPD on 23 per cent, one point ahead of the CDU/CSU on 22 per cent, the Greens in third on 18 per cent, the FDP on 12 per cent, the Eurosceptic AfD on 10 per cent, and the Left party on 6 per cent.

If recent polling is correct, the only possible governing coalitions would need three parties to work together, likely with either the CDU/CSU or SPD at the helm in combination with the Greens and/or the FDP.  An outside possibility is a left-wing coalition of the SPD, Greens, and the Left. Coalitions of three parties have often been adopted at the state level, but not at the federal level, potentially making post-election negotiations complicated.

This makes the future direction of the EU’s most powerful member state very difficult to predict.

On the domestic front, the big economic debate is about fiscal restraint versus greater levels of investment in climate policies and greater digitisation of the economy. Most of the coalition options would straddle this divide uncomfortably.

When it comes to European and foreign policy, the Greens have offered the most comprehensive change from the Merkel era, but have fallen away in the campaign. The Greens are explicitly in favour of deeper Eurozone integration, calling for the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund to become a permanent fiscal capacity, and favour a loosening of the EU’s debt rules.

In contrast, the CDU insists the recovery fund, which allows the EU to borrow collectively, was a one-off crisis measure. Despite describing it as a “Hamiltonian moment”, Scholz has been cautious when asked whether the recovery fund is a step towards a permanent EU borrowing capacity. “That’s not a debate we’re having right now,” he has said. Both the CDU and the SPD seem unwilling to break from Merkel’s cautious, piecemeal approach, where action was often prompted only by crises.

Meanwhile, the Greens are calling for a more active German foreign policy, which is tougher on authoritarian powers, focused on values and human rights. They have suggested that the EU impose import duties on state-backed Chinese companies to prevent environmental dumping and human rights abuses. The Greens have also called for the Nord Stream 2 Germany-Russia gas pipeline to be scrapped, arguing that it undermines security in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

It should be noted that the Greens have not completely shed their pacifist roots. They remain opposed to nuclear weapons and have criticised demands to meet the NATO two per cent spending target, which Germany has consistently missed under previous governments. But, taken together, the Greens’ stance would tilt German policy in a more Atlanticist direction on the big issues of Russia and China.

While the CDU considers the transatlantic relationship and NATO central to Germany’s prosperity and security, it has also sought to preserve its economic engagement with China and Russia, resulting in a degree of geopolitical ambiguity. Merkel was instrumental in pushing the EU-China investment treaty over the finishing line, despite misgivings from Joe Biden’s team. Both the CDU and SPD have pushed for the completion of the Russian Nord Stream gas pipeline, and Scholz has called for a “new Ostpolitik”, referring to the Cold War-era detente strategy towards the Soviet Union pursued by Willy Brandt, SPD chancellor in the early 1970s.

The situation in Afghanistan is understandably the issue of the moment. Policymakers and commentators will digest the implications for Global Britain and the broader role of the West. Some have argued that the inevitable conclusion to be drawn from the episode is that the UK needs closer foreign policy cooperation with European partners to reduce its dependence on the United States.

There are of course many areas where UK cooperation with the EU and individual member states, such as Germany and France in particular, will continue to be important and this can be assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, it is worth noting the lack of a German, and therefore European, consensus on the major foreign policy challenges facing the West, particularly on Russia and China. Whether desirable or not, any ambitions for a more geopolitical or assertive EU have always been limited, among other reasons, by Germany’s reluctance or inability to take on a leadership role in such a project. There are few signs this is likely to change in the medium term and it is therefore not clear that there is much for the critics of Global Britain to reengage with.

Alan Duncan: The recently-rehashed Foreign Office is facing an identity crisis

24 Aug

Sir Alan Duncan is a former Minister of State at both the Foreign Office and the International Development department.

Any mention of Afghanistan deserves an immediate outpouring of respect for those killed, wounded, or traumatised in the service of their country.

They have been defending a just cause. During the last few days, the dutiful resolve of Sir Laurie Bristow, our Ambassador, who has remained in Kabul to the sound of gunfire, speaks volumes for the best traditions of UK diplomatic service. The danger he faces, and the apocalyptic scenes of desperation around him, starkly illustrate how decisions made in the comfort and security of a political capital can have such massive consequences for people far away. And so it has proved for Joe Biden.

After Donald Trump’s moody and fractious foreign relations, there were high hopes that the new President’s would be more thoughtful. His early focus on Yemen offered hope but, since then, there has been little else of significance – until now.

His historic error has been to think that withdrawing from Afghanistan would be a simple matter – just tidying-up a remnant of 20 years of US engagement. War, some say, is the only way to teach Americans geography: tragically, this catastrophe has now become a cruel lesson in history.

The experience of the last fortnight is not specific to Afghanistan. The history books contain many examples of conflict and upheaval which have resulted in the supposed victor leaving havoc in their wake. Nature abhors a vacuum and, where strong authority is removed, the hole can be rapidly filled by something much worse. That is the lesson that has been so willfully ignored in Afghanistan.

You don’t have to look back very far to understand this obvious danger. There is ample evidence from just the last ten years. There has been near-continuous chaos in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi; and the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen let the Houthis walk freely through the gates of Sana’a, starting a conflict which has condemned Yemenis to famine, disease, and violence. The US was involved in both, and the West should have learnt from the experience.

US policy has frequently been ‘smash in’, or ‘crash out’, or sometimes both. Any defence capability should be prepared for rapid reaction to unforeseen events, and the coalition response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was a classic case of successful and fully justified military action. The same can be said of the UK’s re-taking of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

But most such interventions are far more complex, and require massive planning and understanding. In the case of Kuwait and the Falklands, the objective was absolutely clear-cut, and everyone understood why armed forces had been deployed. They also benefited from unequivocal political leadership which, when combined with the highest standards of military competence, ensured that popular support for the action was massive. In each case, political authority was restored to the previous government: job done.

However, it is precisely because the reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place were more complicated, that the process of departure is too. What are you leaving behind? The experience of invading Iraq should be deeply engrained in US thinking. It is essential to ask oneself not just whether and how to become involved in military action, but also how then to get out of it.

Put simply, the process of departing is as great a strategic and moral decision as the one to become involved in the first place. The failure to appreciate this crucial truth has been President Biden’s colossal mistake. Military engagement has a beginning and an end, and each decision is as important as the other. Starting something, be it an argument or a conflict, can look easy at the time, but ending it rarely does.

The appalling chaos in Afghanistan, and its possible relapse into medieval barbarity, highlights a broader malaise: the world is preciously short of leadership and political wisdom. There is a dearth of intellectual and moral authority across international politics. This is not a golden age for the wider world.

Donald Trump’s approach to foreign affairs was volatile, arbitrary and shallow, dominated by fuming outbursts on North Korea, China, and Iran, and tetchiness with even NATO and the EU. He showed no interest in proper policy, and stripped the State Department of much knowledge and expertise. This will have undermined the new President’s foreign policy capability, but ultimately it was no excuse for choosing to walk away from Afghanistan, and for proving so naïve about what would ensue. Twenty years were spent containing a bestial force: it has taken Biden 20 days to release it again.

The consequences go far beyond the terrified Afghans at Kabul airfield. Those they leave behind fear vicious oppression, the UK’s immigration policy is in shreds, and Moscow, Beijing and Teheran are all looking on with glee. They will be dancing a jig at the humiliation of the West.

Our commitment to Afghanistan, and the courageous sacrifice of so many, have brought pride and dignity to the UK. We have been there alongside the US; but we are not their wholly-owned subsidiary. Being a strong ally of the US should never stop us from firmly expressing our own opinions. But we have become too supine. We should talk more confidently of our own foreign policy, and not just mimic that of the US.

The Foreign Office used to be a beaming lighthouse of global competence and influence. It still contains a cadre of highly impressive people, but its status has been battered and diminished during the last 20 years. Embassies have been sold off; a diplomat’s career path has become arbitrary; the last Permanent Secretary prioritised diversity over diplomacy; and too much experienced advice has been ignored and subordinated to the whims and instructions of Downing Street. Its recent amalgamation with DFID has never been convincingly justified, and it has created a muddle of purpose and practice which is far from settled.

Intellectually, the newly-labelled FCDO is facing an identity crisis. Its development reputation has been tarnished, and nobody is able to define quite what the UK’s foreign policy actually is. Intoning the words ‘global Britain’ or ‘the rules-based international order’ ring hollow, and have become meaningless. We have cut funding to poor desperate Yemen, and while so many voices across the world were condemning Israeli illegality and excess in East Jerusalem, the UK hardly emitted a squeak.

Personal relationships, which are so essential to our diplomacy, seem few and far between; and where they do exist, they must be prepared to be gritty, not sycophantic. We have ambassadors and officials of unrivalled competence and integrity, but their morale is low. The new order seems to rely heavily on less experienced special xdvisers, who unacceptably filter the flow of paperwork and access to their master.

Our Prime Minister is a former Foreign Secretary. His most impressive moment was when he took personal control of the Government’s response to the Russians’ use of Novichok in Salisbury. That experience should give him the confidence to re-empower the Foreign Office, and appreciate that doing so would enhance him as Prime Minister, not threaten him.

Had the Foreign Office been a much greater force, it could have offered the antidote to President Biden’s folly.

America 1) Bim Afolami: Yes, the United States is withdrawing from its role abroad. So we need to reinvigorate our alliances.

23 Aug

Bim Afolami is MP for Hitchin & Harpenden.

Does “The West” mean anything any longer? Over the past week, we have watched the 20 year old US-led invasion of Afghanistan come to an inglorious end, with the final exit of US military forces in a way that was visually reminiscent of the American exit from Vietnam in 1975.

This has not just been an American story. Four hundred and fifty-seven British troops lost their lives there, as did over 600 soldiers from other allied countries. As a result of this shared investment in trying to save Afghanistan from the Taliban, the departure from Afghanistan has been met with much hand wringing and emotion in the UK and much of Europe, with much criticism of Joe Biden for both the fact and manner of withdrawal.

At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, we knew what “The West” was. Broadly speaking, it was a collection of like-minded, democratic countries – a long term partnership between the US and Western Europe which had eventually won the Cold War.

NATO was its core infrastructure, largely funded and buttressed by the America, supplemented by the European Union and different bilateral partnerships. The US acted as a superpower and often acted selfishly in its own interests (lest we fool ourselves otherwise), but it retained a sense that the unity, purpose, and values of the West meant something, and that it was America’s responsibility to lead it. Isolationism was still a dirty word.

Henry Kissinger wrote: “torn between nostalgia for a pristine past and yearning for a perfect future, American thought has oscillated between isolationism and commitment”. Isolationism has always been a recurring force in US foreign policy. In his famous Farewell Address, George Washington warned against what he called “entanglements” and against permanent foreign alliances, and regarded Europe as having “a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relationship. Our detached and distant situation invited and enables us to pursue a different course”.

America was extremely reluctant to enter both world wars, and were late in doing so. After 1945, the Cold War saw a renewed American commitment to engagement on a global scale, but after the fall of the USSR and the resultant ideological “End of History” of the early 1990s, the oscillation that Kissinger talked about remained through the controversies of Bosnia, Afghanistan and then Iraq.

Anyone watching President Biden’s speech last week would have noticed that the Trump “America First” stance is alive and well. If this stance is the new normal for the US, at least for the foreseeable future, what does this mean for Britain? It appears to me that there are three potential strategic futures for the UK.

One option is for us to shrug our shoulders and accept the current situation as the new reality. The West’s period of dominance cannot last for ever. China is on the rise, the US is in decline, and therefore we – as part of the old “West” – will decline along with it. We should focus on our domestic problems, and be highly pragmatic with our international relationships to keep us out of entanglements as much as possible, ignoring much of the value-driven approach that we have championed over the past generation.

The second option is for us to try and reinvigorate our existing alliances and institutions, and somehow find new strength, unity and purpose to tackle the pressing challenges we face. Unless faced with a changed approach from Washington, this will mean a significant investment in military and diplomatic power from European powers.

To achieve this would require much better relations with them, and improving our defence and foreign policy cooperation. Do they really want to partner with us fully with Brexit, still an open wound for them? Is Europe really willing to improve its NATO contributions, and explain to its electorates that there is the need for less butter and a more guns?

The third option is perhaps the most radical: a fusion between these two. We need to breathe fresh life into the phrase “Global Britain” and rethink our foreign policy not in the world we would like, but in the world we actually live in. America is no longer likely to act as the “leader of the free world”, in the short to medium term. The Chinese are increasingly willing to flex their muscles in foreign affairs (only hours after the Taliban overran Kabul, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said Beijing was ready for “friendly cooperation with Afghanistan”), and India is not far behind.

Yet in the UK our values matter to us, and our partnerships with the US and Europe are not just historical: they are based on fundamentals of our culture and shared understandings in the modern day.

I believe that the UK can help play a truly global role by seeking a more independent route in foreign affairs, by leveraging our strong relationships all over the world and our soft power. We should act as a global convenor – a trusted and safe network hub in which all the major powers wish to operate, and bring our positive influence to bear in this way.

This could be in areas as diverse as international finance (e.g. rules on international tax), diplomacy (e.g. reforming the UN and WTO), humanitarian assistance (i.e: ensuring more vaccines are sent to the developing world and tackling climate change). Not to act as a bridge between the US and EU, but to continually act as several bridges between many more powers – the US, EU, China and the Commonwealth.

Thereby, we could play a central role in reshaping the global institutional framework of tomorrow – one in which China, India, and many in the developing world feel that their status is more fairly represented. A retreat from a unipolar world into a multipolar world does not necessarily mean chaos if we have the institutions to manage that new reality.

Whatever one’s view of the right path forward, it is my strong belief that in Britain we need to shift gears. We need to accept that American power is waning, and they are no longer interested in using its blood and treasure in faraway countries of which they know little. We can either just accept this reality and continue pretending that the West’s dysfunctional institutions and military weakness doesn’t matter, or we can reinvigorate our alliances, reshape the international system, and work much more closely with the new ascending powers to try and adapt to the new multipolar reality.

America 2) Michael Fabricant: No, the United States isn’t withdrawing from its role abroad. We’ve been here before and it will be back.

23 Aug

Michael Fabricant is MP for Lichfield.

It’s fashionable right now to write off Pax Americana and the influence of the West.  Comparisons have been drawn with the decline of Britain in those dark years following World War Two. These point to impotence abroad and division at home.

The commentariat is wrong. Some members of it are wishful thinking. America remains deceptively strong, and the foundations of its global dominance unshaken.

Of course, it would be absurd to deny the seriousness of the current moment. Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan represents America’s most humiliating moment on the world stage since the 1979-81 Iran Hostage Crisis.

However, what we are living through right now is not the twilight of American hegemony, but simply the nadir of a regular cycle of American self-doubt and renewal.

Our cousins across the Atlantic have been here before. During the 1970s, America faced a similar period of malaise and weakness. The decade that saw the Fall of Saigon is ubiquitous with political instability, rising crime, a sluggish economy and intergenerational strife. Then as now, pessimistic predictions abounded about the health of the nation and its place in the wider world. Enter Ronald Reagan, George H.W Bush and resounding victory in the Cold War.

Even if there is no Reagan-esque figure waiting in the wings to take over from the Jimmy Carter-like President Biden, reports of America’s death are premature. Proponents of American decline have yet to provide an answer to the following conundrum: who can match, let alone surpass the United States?

In the 1970s, it was supposed to be Japan, now the commentariat prophesy that it’s China’s turn.  (Russia doesn’t get a look in. Its economy is weak with a GDP only just over a half of that of the UK.)  But while the Chinese economy is an undoubted juggernaut, its GDP is just two-thirds of that of the United States, and it has juddered to a crawl.

And while our undignified retreat from Afghanistan has posed questions over the West’s determination to fight future wars and defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression, China’s military spend at over $200 billion is dwarfed by the US, which stands at around $715 billion.

That is reflected in the available hardware of war.  While the US currently has 20 aircraft carriers currently in service, with a further three in reserve and three under construction, China has only three, with another three on the way. This disparity is reflected in other areas too, from fighter jets to nuclear weapons. The only arena where China has a definitive edge is in terms of total military personnel, but infantry-based battles will not win wars.

With this yawning gap in military capability which already exists between the two countries, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that China cannot realistically hope to catch up in the foreseeable future.

Demographically, China faces a ticking time bomb of stagnant birth rates and an aging population, with the median age in China projected to far surpass the US in the coming decades. Like Russia, it is bordered by large states that are friendly to the US, and China’s actions in Hong Kong and against the Uighurs have only served to push developing powers such as India and Vietnam further into the arms of Uncle Sam.

And this is without even mentioning the West’s cultural dominance, which is stronger than ever. If China is second to the US in economic and military might, in cultural terms it would probably struggle to crack the top ten. The entrenchment of English as the world’s lingua franca further guarantees American cultural hegemony.

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students flock to the US and Britain every year to study at our world class universities, with very little movement going the other way.

And while many see the current social conflicts in the US as evidence of weakness, it’s actually a strength, a sign of a society that is constantly striving to better itself one way or another. It is this introspection which wards off complacency. After all, America is an empire of immigrants, constantly renewing and rejuvenating the nation, in stark contrast to the rigidity of China

There is no “Chinese Dream”, no lofty ideals for its people to aspire to, merely communist dogma and imposed cultural homogeneity. What many see in the West as order and self-assurance is simply a charade; a result of China’s closed society. We can only see what the Chinese Communist Party want us to see.

While the horrific scenes of desperation at Kabul airport shames the US, they are also a reminder of something else: for all America’s warts and problems, people still risk their lives to try their hand at the American Dream.

That – more than anything else – is why American dominance will continue long into the future. And, inevitably, why this debate will crop up again.

Michael Nazir-Ali: After the betrayal of democracy in Afghanistan, will other countries in the region ever trust the West again?

22 Aug

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali was Bishop of Rochester for 15 years. He is originally from Southwest Asia and was the first Diocesan Bishop in the Church of England born abroad.

I was born and brought up in neighbouring Pakistan and ministered up and down the land during the first civil war in Afghanistan, when five million Afghans took refuge in Pakistan. I was involved in the Church’s efforts to relieve their sufferings and to provide educational and medical facilities for them.

As Bishop of Raiwind, though, I warned both Pakistan and the West that the arming and training of extremist groups, from within Pakistan and Afghanistan and from the wider world, to fight the Soviet presence in Afghanistan would lead to the emergence of groups like the Taliban and would internationalise extremist Islamism.

This is, indeed, what happened. The Soviet threat was contained and, in fact, led to the dismemberment of the Soviet Union itself but, since then, extremist Islamism has flourished both in the region and more widely than that.

As General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), I worked closely with the local churches in supporting the vital work of hospitals, founded by CMS, all along the long Pakistan-Afghan border serving the neediest people of both countries. They will, undoubtedly, be needed again.

From such a long association with the region, what has struck me most forcibly this time is the way in which the American-led West has simply abandoned a society it has helped to create. The oft-heard nostrums of politicians, that the West had gone in simply to avenge Al Qaeda’s attack on 9/11 and to make sure it never recurred again, ring hollow. The establishing of a culturally appropriate form of democracy, encouraging and funding civil society, female education and much else besides was not extra to the task of eradicating the threat of regional and international terrorism from the soil of Afghanistan, but integral to it.

Will nations, for example in the Indo-Pacific area, even now being garnered to protect the West’s interests there, ever again be able to trust the West? When, they will ask themselves, will they be told that Western self- interest no longer needs their friendship? The unilateral American decision to withdraw all troops is morally irresponsible, as is collusion with it by other Western powers, even if some, like Britain, had reservations about it.

It seems to me, that the least that could have been done was to have made withdrawal conditional on a comprehensive peace agreement between the government in Kabul and the Taliban. Without such an agreement, withdrawal is tantamount to handing over large sections of the Afghan people to the whims of a movement known for its past and present brutality.

Sensing blood, the vultures are circling: ISIS is active already, and not only in the remoter parts of country. We can be sure that others like Al Qaeda and the notorious Haqqani Group, for long allied with the Taliban, cannot be far behind.

The resurgence of extremist Islamism on Afghan soil has significant implications for the region. The Central Asian nations, consisting of the former Soviet republics, are terrified of Taliban infiltration, and will become even more draconian in their determination to stamp out what they see as extremism. Most of them remain within the Russian circle of influence and Russia also needs to make sure its own southern flank is not radicalised further.

China, similarly, has become alarmed at what it sees as extremist influence permeating its Western region of Xinjiang and we can expect a further tightening there of the plight of the Uighur ethnic group. The security situation in Pakistan has greatly improved of late, but the Afghan Taliban owe a great deal to safe havens provided by radical groups in Pakistan. There will certainly be ‘quid pro quo’ demands for them now to find hospitality in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. What will be the implications of such cross border bases for security in Pakistan? I am not holding my breath.

Within Afghanistan itself, there is the possibility of civil war with Northern Dari speaking tribal groups and their leaders( sometimes misleadingly called ‘warlords’ in the West) likely to resist the Pashtun-led Taliban and their interpretation of Shari’a. Civil and military chaos, if not Taliban complicity, will surely result in the country, once again, becoming a base for extremist violence not limited to the region. If and when this happens, the West’s decision to withdraw unilaterally and unconditionally will begin to look not just morally weak but strategically foolish.

In the meantime, American female journalists in Afghanistan donning hijab and chador to report is a sign of what is coming for Afghan women and girls. Women have already been told to wear the burqa (the all enveloping veil which covers the face) or to wear the niqab (a face mask) and gloves in any public appearance. They will not be allowed to work with men and their access to education, especially higher education, remains in doubt. All the gains made by them in the professions, in public life and in civil society could be just wiped out as they were when the Taliban were last in power.

The situation of religious minorities is also parlous. The minority, and largely Shi’a, Hazara have already declared that they are facing genocide. My post bag and reports from aid agencies bear witness that Christians, Sikhs and Hindus are desperate to flee and the rich Buddhist heritage of the Gandhara Indo-Hellenistic civilisation is again in jeopardy.

The reimposition of Shari’a penal law could bring us the spectacle of public executions, mutilations and floggings, sometimes for minor offences like violating the strict dress code, petty theft or ‘obscene’ entertainment like mixed dancing, even in private.

Britain, of course, needs to honour its obligations to those who assisted its mission in Afghanistan but, in the face of such an apocalyptic situation, there must be urgent international agreement about the flood of refugees that is likely to result from a Taliban takeover

Europe should not be left to bear the brunt of such a mass movement, as it was with the war in Syria. North America, Australasia and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation must all take their full share of refugees. A condition of any recognition of a Taliban-led government should be respect for fundamental freedoms, especially for women, girls and religious and ethnic minorities. The Taliban should accept UN and other accredited rapporteurs to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan from time to time. Such monitoring and reporting will include not only the condition of groups like women and minorities, but also matters like respect for the person in the application of penal law and the withholding of inhumane and degrading punishments. The rapporteurs must have access to the country and to the groups they are monitoring.

Many of these measures, whilst urgent and necessary, are but bandages for a wound which will take much time to heal. In the longer term, the aim must be the promotion of a culturally appropriate democracy, adherence to the UN Declaration on Human Rights, particularly Article 18 which deals with freedom of belief and expression, and guarantees regarding female access to education and employment. We must ensure, now western troops are home, that the world does not forget the vulnerable in Afghanistan and that may mean a majority of the population.