Politicians have never really come to terms fully with globalisation. Perhaps it is the inevitable loss of sovereignty that provides the reticence, but it is a reality. We live in a world that is more interdependent and interconnected than at any time in history. Examples of the impact of that are all around us, from the financial crisis to the effects post 9/11 and the covid pandemic. Events in other parts of the world ricochet quickly to wherever we are, to the extent that the concept of “over there” is almost redundant, because whatever risk is over there today will be over here tomorrow, whether that risk comes from terrorism, economic issues or, as now, a public health emergency.
We need to have a proper response to the reality in which we find ourselves. I draw a distinction between globalism—the idea of global government—and globalisation, which is an economic reality. One is a pipe dream and the other is the situation that we must address today. We require multilateral co-operation in a much more concerted way than we have in the past and we have to have better institutions. Many of the institutions on which we depend today for global co-operation were designed for a very different world. The United Nations, the Security Council, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the World Health Organisation all need to be brought up to date, and Britain can play a lead in that.
We need to be at the centre, and we are well placed. We have a permanent seat on the Security Council, and we are in the G7 and the G20. We are at the heart of the Commonwealth. We are a key member of NATO and a big contributor to the World Bank and the IMF. All those have already put Britain in a key position to help.
Post Brexit, we need to remodel Whitehall to reflect the reality of the change, whereby risk is multifactorial, and defence, economic security and commodity security, including water, are all risks that need to be addressed together. I sat on the National Security Council, which was supposed to take a wider view of risk, but it is all too easy for it to become focused on short-term threats to national security rather than take a wider strategic view of longer-term threats.
Issues such as NATO are ongoing problems. The underfunding of NATO by many of its European members needs to be addressed—and they need not think that a change in the American presidency is going to give them much of a breather at a time when the patience of American taxpayers has been sorely tested for far too long. We need to take a strategic view not only of our own interests, but of the interests of those whose world view competes with ours. That is particularly true when the Chinese Communist party is trying to create a more permissive environment for totalitarianism and when we need to create one for democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
I end with a short story. When I was Defence Secretary, I asked a senior official at the Élysée Palace why during the cold war we were happy to use the word “better”—freedom was better than tyranny, capitalism better than state planning and democracy better than totalitarianism—but we were reticent during the Islamic threat to say that religious toleration was better than imposed orthodoxy, that equality for women was better than their being second-class citizens and that democracy was better than theocracy. The answer that I got was, “I think that today we can only say that we are different, not better.” If we believe that what we stand for is only different and not better than the alternatives, how can we lead? We either have to shape the world or be shaped by it. I believe that the values we hold are the key to that better future.