Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008.
So David Cameron pulled it off. The pundits (including me) were wrong. My pessimism proved expensive: I even lost a sizeable bet with my old PhD supervisor. Britain now has the chance of five more years of stable government and can look forward to an economic environment free of populist attempts at counterproductive economic regulation. Michael Gove’s school reforms have reintroduced rigour to the education system and will pay off by increasing productivity in the years to come. We now have a real chance of emerging from the financial crisis a wealthier, more confident society in which opportunity is more widely dispersed than it ever has been, and the “soft bigotry of low expectations” consigned to the past. That chance comes, however, when the world is at its most dangerous since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russian aggression has not been contained. The Middle East is mired in a sectarian civil war that will last decades. Britain’s relationship with the United States is under strain and China is entering a period of economic difficulty. The Western Alliance needs a strong, united Britain to play its part in keeping the world safe for democratic countries.
The last government was notable for its lack of attention to foreign affairs. As Arab regimes were toppled, and Libya fell into civil war after another military intervention that foundered because far too little was done to reconstruct the country, the UK found itself on the back foot. The Coalition failed to secure parliamentary backing for intervention in Syria. If the moral responsibility for that abject failure lies with Ed Miliband and Barack Obama, its effects include the rise of ISIS and the region’s descent into a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Britain’s absence from the effort to deal with Russia’s aggression in Ukraine was unacceptable.
This record has raised alarm about Britain’s willingness to do its share of the work required to uphold the Western alliance. Now would be a good time to blame that on the need to keep the Lib Dems, whose pacifist instincts ill suit geopolitical reality, on side. Continuing to shirk the United Kingdom’s duty would be unbecoming of a majority Conservative government. Five steps are needed to put things right:
- Preserve the Union. With Scotland, the United Kingdom is a permament member of the Security Council, one of NATO’s two leading European powers, and the possessor of an independent nuclear deterrent. Scottish independence would make this impossible to sustain. A suitable new site for nuclear submarines would be extremely difficult if not impossible to find. EWNI (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) would sink to being an upper-second division European power, a level similar to Italy’s. Its security council seat would be at risk, and the pressure to transfer it to Germany or India intense. The United States would take note, and divert its attention accordingly.
- Base the Security and Defence Review on strategic reality, not wishful thinking. The West faces security threats unimagined in 2010: the last SDSR only mentions Russia once, as a possible partner for military cooperation. It envisaged a Middle East policy restricted to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Iranian nuclear programme and what may be termed commercial opportunities for British high technology exporters. The vastly more complex conflict now going on caught the UK flatfooted. Now that there are no Lib Dems to obstruct budget increases, the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence both need the resources to protect British and Western interests.
- Repair the relationship with the United States. Washington had good reasons to be worried about the UK’s commitment to western security. Defence cuts, the fiasco over intervention in Syria and British absence from the negotiations over Ukraine all contributed. This needs to be put right. American nervousness over the EU referendum should be mitigated by overtures elsewhere.
- Throw its full weight behind European efforts to contain Russia and roll back its creeping invasion of Ukraine. This is not only justified on its merits. By making itself indispensable to Angela Merkel and Ewa Kopac, Poland’s Prime Minister, it should win important support for the government’s EU reform plans.
- Appoint a foreign policy specialist with standing in the party to the No. 10 policy unit. Someone like Daniel Korski, whose talents are wasted in his current economic role, would be ideal.