Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008.
Ramadi and Palmyra, Debaltseve and Adviika: remember these names. They expose how the world order has eroded. Power exists in the moment of its use, not the resources behind it. Isis and Putin make their relatively meagre resources count. We are consumed by internal distractions.
William Bratton made New York secure by catching the fare-dodgers and vandals who made the subway and streets safe for more serious crime. The international vandals now suspect quite rightly that the world’s policemen have left most of the Middle East to fend for itself. Assad’s opponents are not without support, but it comes from Jabhat-al-Nusra, affiliates of Al Qaeda, paid by Saudi Arabia. We know how this one ends.
In Eastern Europe, things are a little better. But as I write the Russian backed forces have begun a new assault. Adviika is the target this time. Ukraine has held out better than anyone could reasonably have hoped, but it is still being extorted by Russia, and has been given little money to rebuild its looted economy.
Force is not the only kind of power. Our economic strength and cultural attraction are equally important. But the most crucial for western leadership is what the writer Tom Wolfe called the
“…common bond among all cultures, among all peoples in this world…They are all over the world, in every continent, every nation, every society, every culture, everywhere you find the wheel, the shoe, and the toothbrush; and wherever they are, all of them believe in the same things. And what are those things? Peace, order, education, hard work, initiative, enterprise, creativity, cooperation, looking out for one another, looking out for the future of children, patriotism, fair play, and honesty.”
World order allows people to get ahead without worrying about violence, corruption, and patrimonial politics. It has made Europe, the United States and a reasonable part of Asia safe for the bourgeoisie. It is cheap, but now that our bluff is being called in the Middle East and Ukraine, it becomes expensive and not a little dangerous to re-establish.
The revolutions of 2011 gave us the chance of beginning to extend bourgeois order into the Arab world. Instead, the West affected to stick by its old feudal deals with the “moderate” states of the region. Affected, because we have not behaved like the wise feudal overlord, protecting the security and interests of his clients. The nuclear deal with Iran, and failure to confront Iranian proxies in Syria may, if it turns out to work, make sense but it leaves the Arab regimes feeling they have been sold out.
The West doesn’t share the regimes’ values and I would have preferred if we had supported a serious democratic transition in Egypt, done more state building in Libya and had set up a no fly zone over Syria in 2012. But if it is heartless to choose the regimes over their own people, it is mindless to leave them alone with the Ayatollahs.
Don’t just think of the people killed, injured and bereaved, or the men and women who will die while the wars go on; or the refugees in escape to cold-hearted Europe, but also of the lost cultural and economic progress. What if 350 million Arabs did not have to suffer being governed by stationary bandits? What films have gone unmade, books unwritten and companies unfounded?
Our life in the West, and for most of us it is a good one (few risk death to seek their fortune in Novosibirsk or Yaoundé), depends on the world security. These days profits are made across borders and our partners in trade need stable order and the rule of law as much as we do. Scrimping on global security is the most false of economies.