‘THE UK'S POST-BREXIT FOREIGN AND SECURITY POLICY AND THE CENTRALITY OF NATO’
THE RT HON DR LIAM FOX MP
THE CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES (CSIS)
MONDAY 3rd FEBRUARY 2020 15:00HRS
UK FOREIGN AND STRATEGIC POLICY POST-BREXIT
Thank you to Heather and The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) for hosting today.
Last Friday, the United Kingdom left the European Union after two generations of membership and entered what Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as “a new dawn in our country’s history”.
I campaigned to leave the EU and I believe it was the right decision for our country.
For me, it was primarily about sovereignty and our ability to control our own destiny.
When I was asked on American TV, what I meant when I said I was a “constitutional leaver”, I asked ‘how would Americans feel if a court in Mexico City or Ottawa took precedence over the US Supreme Court and US lawmakers had to accept its conclusions’.
The presenters face said it all!
But it was even more than that.
In the referendum on European Union membership, the one thing we were not able to vote for the status quo. It was not on offer, because the EU has set itself on a course towards ‘Ever Closer Union’ which will mean ever greater constitutional, political and economic integration. The logical end point of ‘Ever Closer Union’ is Union.
That is not the destiny of the United Kingdom.
The British Government has now honoured the promise it made to carry out the democratic wishes of the British people expressed in our referendum.
But let me be very clear.
This does not mean that Britain will enter into an era of withdrawal or isolationism.
In fact, quite the opposite.
We want to see a truly Global Britain, working with our friends and allies to promote our common values and objectives across the whole world in our common interest.
We will retain our permanent seat on the UN Security Council. We will continue to be core members of the G7 and G20. We are founder members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and we will take up our independent seat there, pushing our case for Free Trade and liberalisation. We will still be central players in the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD.
We will be at the heart of NATO, its second biggest military spender and we will work hand in hand on security, prosperity and investment with the United States - our close and special partner.
We will, of course, continue to work in close cooperation with our friends and neighbours in Europe, both those inside the European Union and those outside. We will seek new trading and security relationships with the European Union to ensure the safety and prosperity for our citizens that we all want to see.
We continue to face common threats and challenges in the global economy and in global security. Increases in nontariff barriers, particularly by G20 countries, combined with trading frictions between China and the US have resulted in a slowdown in the rate of growth in global trade, to a mere 1.2% this year.
Threats to our security come from state actors and nonstate actors alike, manifested in traditional threat environments and through the war of the invisible enemy in cyberspace.
Let me briefly take just three of these state threats very briefly.
Russia remains alienated from the international community and poses a substantial risk to regional and global security.
Repeated, persistent and targeted cyber-attacks on individuals and institutions provide a daily threat which, if anything, is increasing.
Putin’s insistence in following the old Soviet concept of a “near abroad” i.e. an effective veto on the Foreign and Security policies of its immediate geographical neighbours is incompatible with our concept of international law.
Similarly, the belief that the protection of Russian citizens abroad is the preserve of the Russian state and not the legal or constitutional systems under which they live provides a constant threat to neighbouring states, especially those where larger numbers reside.
Let us not forget that talk of threats to Russian citizens, usually fabricated by the Kremlin, is often the pretext for intervention.
All of this comes wrapped in the old Soviet doctrine of reflexive control – that is to take advantage of your opponent’s predispositions to cause them to make choices that favour your preferred course of action.
It is all is backed up by upgraded military forces and an increased willingness to intrude and test NATO airspace and territorial waters.
Those who think the Russian threat is not a real and persistent one should talk to our friends in Ukraine or Georgia both of whom continue to have illegal occupations of their sovereign territory.
Next, Iran is now replacing the Arab-Israeli conflict as the primary cause of instability in the Middle East. But we should be careful not to see it as simply a regional security problem as its effects are spread widely and Iran’s toxicity is felt well beyond its geographic neighbourhood.
Even as European countries sought ways to try and finance trade with the Iranian regime, Iranian inspired terror groups increased their activities across the continent.
In the Netherlands two Iranian diplomats were expelled in June 2018 for plotting political assassinations in the country.
A bomb plot to target a rally of opposition groups in Paris was foiled by French intelligence and in the UK, it was revealed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper last summer that a terrorist cell with links to Iran had been caught stockpiling tonnes of ammonium nitrate explosive on the outskirts of London at a secret bomb factory.
Iran has been a consistent supporter of US designated Palestinian terrorist organizations, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas.
Lebanese Hezbollah remains Iran's primary terrorist proxy and they destabilise Iraq through their manipulation of Shia militia groups.
Through its proxies Iran continues both direct attacks on Israel itself and on Israeli targets in other parts of the world. They give effect to the hatred of the Supreme Leader for the very existence of the Israeli state.
Iran’s long-term aim is he destabilising of its neighbours with the aim of establishing a regional hegemony.
Their ballistic missile tests that are still being carried out breach United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 and the Khamenei regime continues to brutally repress its own people with widespread human rights abuses.
Billions of dollars unfrozen by the JCPOA have enabled Iran to support the Assad regime in Syria, fund Hezbollah’s terror activities and support the Houthis in the tragic conflict in Yemen.
The IRGC is complicit in the global drugs trade and has supported numerous terrorist acts against the regime’s opponents across the world including in South America.
Illegal maritime actions in the Gulf pose a threat to global oil supplies and therefore to the global economy.
A regional conflict could quickly become a global economic crisis and the recent attacks on Saudi oil refineries show how emboldened the Iranian regime and the IRGC have become.
The current approach to Iran has not worked and has led to the current maximum pressure strategy by the Trump administration.
The twelve points set out by Secretary of State Pompeo could form the basis of a ‘grand bargain’ but only if a way could be found to enable ordinary Iranians to prosper from any liberalisation of trade, rather than pumping money into the Khamenei regime.
The biggest problem for Iran’s regional neighbours and the international community is the near-complete breakdown in trust.
It is almost impossible to believe what the regime says, leaving their actions alone to be judged for their intent.
Khamenei has been consistent in his views for decades – his belief in the values of the revolution, his detestation of the United States and the United Kingdom and his contempt for the existence of the State of Israel.
The rest of the world needs to match this fanaticism with more consistency and resolve.
Thirdly, China - as well as possessing a nuclear arsenal, China has invested heavily in its conventional force capability.
Its acquisitive policy towards territories in the South China Sea and the construction of military bases in defiance of international agreements is creating a potential security flashpoint in the region.
Frequent cyber-attacks often designed to acquire intellectual property are widespread despite official denials.
The increasingly nationalist rhetoric and tightening grip of the Chinese Communist party is concerning and is expressed very clearly in the National Intelligence law that came into effect in July 2017 that requires individuals, organisations and institutions to assist the state security apparatus to carry out a range of intelligence work.
In many ways Chinese nationalism may prove to be a greater adversary than Soviet communism did.
Of course, China remains a source of economic opportunity to Western nations but the hope of some that greater economic interaction would produce domestic political changes now seems hugely over-optimistic at best.
We should not be blinded by the size of China’s potential markets. China is not now, nor likely at any foreseeable future point to become a more liberal or democratic state.
Indeed, through programmes such as Belt and Road it seeks greater strategic advantage though so far with very mixed results.
We would be better to accept that the Chinese strategy is to make the world more tolerant of, and more permissive towards, totalitarian regimes.
We must respond by making the world a better and safer place for democratic and free nations whose underpinning stability is based on the rule of law.
That is why our military and foreign policies must have a clear political direction, based upon our own values and principles.
It is essential for global progress and stability that it is our values that triumph in the 21st century.
IMPORTANCE OF NATO
NATO has been the cornerstone of European security since its inception, the means by which the US with the world’s largest military budget is tethered to the continent.
Recent focus on capability and tensions over the budgetary contributions of some European members has tended to overshadow the political role of NATO, a role that will be of even greater importance to the UK following Brexit.
In the cold war we understood that the military role of NATO was to stop Soviet tanks sweeping across European plains, but we also knew that the political role was to stop the spread of Soviet communism into Western democracies.
So, what is the political role of NATO today?
It is about understanding the regional political instabilities in NATO’s backyard that could result in security contagion. It should be about understanding and potentially diffusing political tensions before a military response becomes necessary.
Modern warfare does not have the same geographical limitations that it did in the past. Both Space and Cyberspace can produce security threats that traditional views of territorial integrity do not match. It is essential that NATO is able to anticipate and if necessary, respond to threats in these environments. It is also necessary to have a clear understanding about where seemingly distant threats might produce security risks at home.
The events of 9/11 and many since have shown that the concept of “over there” is increasingly out of date in a world where globalisation produces interdependencies and vulnerabilities to an extent and immediacy we have not known before.
In an era where military intervention has increasingly been about stabilisation, we also need to understand the interaction between political, civilian and NGO groups to be able to maximise NATOs influence and prevent the organisation from becoming simply a troop provider.
Finally, we do need to understand the competing geostrategic visions that will, depending on their relative successes, shape our world for better or for worse.
I know that there are those who take a purely pragmatic view of global power politics but I believe we can learn lessons again from the Cold War. We did not simply want to contain Soviet military aggression but to promote an entirely different prospectus based upon our deeply held values of freedom, democracy and respect for individual rights.
It is time for us to put that political cause again at the centre of our policy making.
There are those, for example, who say that ideology doesn’t matter and that in the case of China it is simply about constraining their military reach.
I believe we are who and what we are, because of our values. We enjoy our freedom based on the rule of law with authority exercised by the people through a democratic system and underpinned by our concept of the rights of each individual.
Why should we not want all of our fellow human beings to benefit from the same?
As Britain leaves the EU with a sense of confidence and empowerment these are just some of the global challenges we will face. Doing so in cooperation with like minded friends and allies is ultimately our best way forward.