The Foreign Affairs Society, University of St Andrews
12th November 2020
Through the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay
It is a pleasure to be speaking again at St Andrews. I’m happy to discuss any aspect of defence and foreign policy later.
This evening is well-timed. We leave the European Union, one way or another, at the end of next month; we must shortly conclude our five-yearly Defence Review; and we must prepare to deal with a new President in the White House and a Democrat Administration. A good hard look in the mirror, therefore, is opportune: I will touch briefly on Europe, then the Review, and our wider place in the world, before opening up for comments and questions.
But the overall exam question is clear: must we, as the former Prime Minister Sir John Major argued this week, resign ourselves now to being a good second-rate power? Or can we still use our over-lapping memberships of NATO, the UN Security Council, the G7 and the Commonwealth (but no longer the EU), our history, our powerful military, our cultural soft power to continue, as the Foreign Office loves to claim, to “punch above our weight”? Is British exceptionalism still useful camouflage or a deceptive chimera?
Let me start with Europe. When I came up, exactly fifty years ago this autumn, the world was relatively benign. Though the Vietnam conflict dragged on, Europe was peaceful. But it wasn’t of course free. Half of Europe’s citizens didn’t have the vote, and not just those behind the Iron Curtain: Greece, Spain and Portugal were dictatorships. Nor was communism on the wane: there were growing Euro-communist parties in Italy and France, and soon a nationalising quasi-socialist government here too.
As students we were pro-Europe; we supported Britain’s joining the European Community in 1973. Many Conservatives (but not all) then saw the European Community as a limiting constitution in the Hayekian sense, protecting citizens from communist, fascist or dictatorial governments by insisting on democratic norms. Indeed it’s forgotten now that it was a Conservative Government that took Britain in, a later Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher that championed both the single market and enlargement, from six members when we arrived to 29 countries as we leave.
Neither Thatcher nor Major, however, were able to do more than park the essential incompatibility of successive European treaties and the legal positivism of its institutions with our parliamentary and legal systems. The unspoken but implicit consent involved in the transfer of substantial sovereignty from Westminster to Brussels was always likely to wither unless refreshed. Instead it was steadily abused. For the federalists “Europe” was always a centralising, harmonising, essentially coercive project: lost or very close referendums in France, Denmark and Ireland should have warned them against excessive speed. Pressure to regain “control” was the inevitable reaction.
But we should also be careful about what we’re giving up. Co-operation on security and against terrorism requires the closest co-ordination and intelligence-sharing between our police forces and our agencies. The legal weight of EU sanctions – against Russia or Iran for example – can only be matched by that of the United States. Some mechanism to co-ordinate foreign policy will matter: we won’t always take different positions from our former partners. It hasn’t had the attention devoted to fisheries and car parts but a comprehensive Security Agreement must be part of the final Brexit negotiation.
Next, he Integrated Review offers a timely opportunity to review current threats and to match our capabilities against them. (It’s not in fact the first to be “integrated”: the 2015 Review was Strategic, fusing homeland and external security, elevating economic prosperity as a security objective, and strengthening the role of defence diplomacy).
Let’s look at those current threats. First, there are those countries that actively wish us harm, politically or economically. Countries such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea – each in different ways posing a very real threat to our way of life. Russia has attacked and killed in one of our cathedral cities; China steals our technology and undermines the rule of law that we jointly bequeathed to Hong Kong; revolutionary Iran sponsors terrorism directly in the Middle East and indirectly in Europe and Britain; North Korean missiles are being developed within intercontinental range of London as well as of Los Angeles.
And the weapons of these countries aren’t just missiles or poisons. Russia interferes with transatlantic cables; Chinese companies collect data and intelligence for the state. They also use misinformation and subversion to undermine democratic processes; they deploy cyber to disrupt our institutions and businesses; they can operate in the grey zone, out of uniform, through shadowy para-militaries and private armies.
Second, there is the retreat from multi-lateralism and the startling decline of the rules-based international order. Treaties and conventions that were signed by all of us – by Russia, by the United States, by China – are breached, abused, or simply disregarded. Russia pledged not to develop or store biological weapons, then uses them to murder its own citizens; the United States helped found the rules of world trade but under President Trump has deliberately undermined the functioning of the WTO; China signed the Law of the Sea Convention but refuses to abide by the Hague court’s rulings.
Or look at the response to Covid. Just ten or so years ago there was extensive international co-operation in tackling the financial crisis. Finance ministers and bank chiefs across the globe co-ordinated their policies to avoid a total meltdown: from the UK Gordon Brown led a huge international effort. With this year’s pandemic we’ve seen the exact opposite: China failing to notify its dangers sufficiently early; the United States threatening to defund the World Health Organisation; EU member states re-introducing border controls and blocking the movement of vital equipment; richer countries grabbing personal protection equipment around the world from the poorer.
Third, there’s terrorism. From London Bridge to Nice, Paris to Vienna we’ve suffered murderous attacks on our way of life. Islamist terrorism – organised, directed or just inspired by transnational groups such as Al Quaeda and the Daesh – doesn’t discriminate between its victims, Christian, Jew or Moslem.
And terror now takes new forms. Through the cyber domain our enemies can target us from anywhere on the planet: not only stealing our information but disrupting our energy systems, our infrastructure, even our Parliament. Anybody can become a cyber warrior: a laptop and smart software can inflict enormous physical and financial damage on individuals or even on entire countries. The Daesh continues to use social media to spread terror; state-based hackers target our NHS; loners in their bedrooms can shut down government networks.
Fourth, there is regional instability. Long-running conflicts in the Middle East threaten our energy supplies and trigger huge immigration flows towards western Europe. Russian continues to fuel the six-year long war in the Donbass, and openly intervenes in democracies across the western Balkans. Disputes in the Indo-Pacific threaten our trade routes.
I hope that the Integrated Review will help us deal with all these threats. First, by prioritising our geo-economic security. That means strengthening our resilience as a country, ensuring that our supply lines are more plural and more robust, that we retain sovereign capacity in key industrial, biopharma and cyber security sectors, and that we can better handle both natural hazards and malicious threats. It should also involve further fusion across government, using both development aid and export finance to underpin our economic security. Within the military, it means fusing effort across all five domains – land, sea, air, space and cyber – with British industry to maximise its effectiveness. More sophisticated information systems and technologies will be the new hardware.
Second, the rules-based international order. Here we really must build back better. We should commit to re-invigorating and modernising the key global institutions: WTO, UN, NATO, WHO and the rest. That means enforcing the rules of membership, calling out breaches loudly and clearly instead of passively accepting them, sanctioning or expelling offenders, refusing to tolerate moral corruption in the allocation of key posts and chairmanships. It should also mean modernising: NATO’s membership has doubled from 15 to 30 but it has no policy on China, no coherent approach to the Gulf and Africa, and too fragmented an approach to cyber deterrence. The United Kingdom, a founder member of so many of these bodies, has much underspent capital here: it’s time to deploy it.
Third, there’s our ambition. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review reversed some of the more damaging cuts that were financially necessary in 2010; and we began to increase the budget again ahead of inflation for the first time. We remain the fifth or sixth biggest military power on the planet. So our reach certainly should exceed our grasp. Instability in Africa, the spawning of transnational terrorism in fragile democracies, Russian aggression in the Euro-Atlantic area, Chinese behaviour in the Indo-Pacific – all of these directly affect our own security. If Afghanistan collapses, that’s potentially several million migrating westwards. If Iraq implodes again, our gas and oil supplies from the wider region are in jeopardy.
Committing forces abroad, more persistent presence in the Gulf and the Pacific, more regular exercising and training with allies across the globe – all these things require a bigger budget. But consider that twenty years ago, in the last year of the last century, long before 9/11 and Al Qaeda, long before the Islamist attacks in London and Manchester, before Russia invaded the Crimea, before Chinese imperialism, before Kim was able to fire missiles over the Sea of Japan, we were spending 2.7 per cent of our GDP on defence. Today it’s 2.1 per cent. Despite all the other pressures we have to do better: let’s set a new benchmark of 2.5 per cent for the end of this Parliament.
Finally, that Review should be values-driven. It falls to us, with our belief in free elections and the peaceful transfer of power, including the important principle of loser’s consent (apparently forgotten for the moment in the United States) to be democracy’s champion. Democracy is running short of defenders. Who could have foreseen the erosion of hard-won freedoms in some EU member states or that Russia would attempt a coup in Montenegro or intervene in American elections ?
Democracy can never, therefore, be taken for granted. In a lifetime from study at St Andrews fifty years ago to retirement, via senior public office, I’ve seen democracy ebb and flow. Countries that we thought had finally become democratic are no longer so; others are under external pressure to revert. Freedom House in its annual surveys in each of the last six years charts more countries becoming less democratic than the reverse, amongst them venerable democracies such as the USA and India.
So, at the dawn of a new US Presidency, I suggest that we need to do two things: we must recommit to our democratic values and we must redouble our determination to defend them. At home that means strengthening our own democracy before we preach too fervently to others. Better voter ID (you need a photo to drive a car but not to vote), regular and compulsory boundary reviews, an independent statistical watchdog with real teeth, better protection of free speech and debate: these are reforms essential to the restoration of trust.
Abroad, there’s much we can do to help with institution-building: reinforcing independent judiciaries and training in systems of accountability. And when those democracies are in danger we should act. With the advantage of one of the world’s biggest and best trained militaries, we should continue to support fragile democracies when they call for help: not always with boots on the ground but with the technology, air power, training, and counter-terrorism and intelligence systems that they may lack. That’s in our long-term interest as well as theirs: facing up to transnational terrorism will, sadly, continue to be the challenge of your generation.
But we will not be alone. Setting aside the Falklands heroics, a campaign that was a one-off, Britain works best in concert: in NATO, with key allies like the USA and France, in international coalitions. More than 70 nations, some of them Islamic, joined our fight against the horror of the Daesh. We can work with President Biden now, to build broader coalitions of the willing: to uphold the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific, to protect key international waterways such as Hormuz, the Bab-el-Mandab and the Strait of Malacca, and to help stabilise war-torn countries such as Libya and the Yemen.
So I don’t wholly agree with my friend Sir John Major. Of course, we shouldn’t be complacent or nostalgic. But equally we don’t have to drift downwards into being a bit-part world player, a part-time champion of democracy and freedom. That would mean walking away from our international obligations, letting down our natural allies, and in the end leaving us less safe.
So this Review really matters. It can fill out the Prime Minister’s vision of a more open, confident, forward-looking and global Britain. With the right ambition and more generous funding, it can reset our role as a rebuilder of the international order, a muscular champion of democratic values, and a very, very useful ally of the free.
Conservative Defence Policy
Rt Hon Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary
Royal United Services Institute – 10 April 2015
It’s a pleasure to be here to set out the Conservative Party’s Defence Policy.
Defence of the realm is the first duty of government. In 26 days’ time people will be casting their votes at a time when we are seeing multiple, concurrent challenges to the international order that many believe is unprecedented.
In Eastern Europe, Russia is subverting democracy – seeking to change international borders by force and destabilising a sovereign state.
In the Middle East, ISIL is spreading a new form of fascism in its warped drive to create a caliphate and bringing its terror to the shores of the Mediterranean in Libya. We are seeing conflict in Yemen which threatens our interests in the Gulf.
And in Africa, Boko Haram, is causing chaos in northern Nigeria and along its border
Britain is better placed to respond to the threats we face because over the past five years Conservative Defence Secretaries have acted to ensure that our Armed Forces have the support they need to keep Britain safe.
That meant taking difficult decisions to deal with the £38 billion black hole in the defence budget that we inherited from Labour:
We had to scrap much-loved capabilities such as the Harriers and HMS Ark Royal.
We cancelled out of control procurement programmes like Nimrod.
We’ve sorted out the rebasing of our troops bringing back our troops from western Germany.
And, we’ve made some tough choices about the size of the Armed Forces.
Although we did so in a way that has protected our front line clout.
And it meant undertaking a major programme to reform the Ministry of Defence to ensure that unlike the chaos we inherited that equipment is delivered on time and on budget.
Our reforms are cutting the costs and delay of defence projects – the cost of the 11 largest projects fell by £400m in 2014.
And we are becoming more efficient so we can better support the frontline and our more agile Future Force. Our reforms are on track to deliver the £4.3Bn of efficiencies agreed in the 2010 Spending Review as well as a further £1.1 billion agreed in the 2013 Spending Review.
Over £5 billion of efficiencies that were not identified, let alone achieved by Labour.
As a result of these reforms, we have successfully balanced the budget and the MOD is now trusted again with the Treasury having granted us the largest delegated budget of any Whitehall department.
It is only with a strong economy that you can have a strong defence: we now have a properly funded £34 billion a year defence budget. The biggest in the EU and the second biggest in NATO.
We need that budget to keep Britain safe and to play our part in enforcing the rules based system.
So this is Conservative defence policy.
First, we will keep Britain safe.
Our brave Armed Forces are working 24/7 across the world to protect us. Last year 90,000 troops deployed to over 50 countries.
In Iraq, we making the second largest contribution to airstrikes against ISIL after the US and providing critical surveillance, command-and-control and refuelling. Britain is also training and equipping Iraqi forces and we have 145 troops inside Iraq training on heavy machine guns, infantry and counter-IED.
In the Ukraine, British personnel are delivering training in medical, logistics, infantry and intelligence capacity building. We are also increasing our provision of non-lethal equipment.
At the same time, we are reassuring our NATO allies through Baltic Air Policing, and significantly increasing our exercise programme in eastern Europe, to remind President Putin of our commitment to Article 5.
As well as all this, we were still able to dispatch a ship, helicopters and 700 personnel, with just 10 days notice, to Sierra Leone to combat Ebola. Helping cut new cases of the disease from 700 a week to fewer than 40.
But our Armed Forces also keep us safe at home whether the Quick Reaction Alert crews ready to defend our skies, the Royal Navy protecting our home waters, or the military guarding the Olympics and backing up the police on counter terrorism.
Second, Conservatives will ensure Britain remains at the forefront of efforts to overcome threats to the international rules-based order on which our security and prosperity depend.
Some thought that Labour’s vote against limited action against Assad’s regime in Syria in 2013 marked the end of Britain playing that role. I’m relieved that has not proved to be the case.
But continuing to play our part means we must be readier than ever to respond to multiple crises simultaneously. So we will deliver our reforms to create a more agile and deployable Future Force drawing on regulars and reserves to deter and, if necessary, to engage aggressors.
We are investing nearly £2 billion in our Reserve Forces and recruitment is on track. The Army Reserve trained strength has gone up over the past 12 months to 20,480 – above our target for year end. Overall we are on track to deliver a trained strength for all three Armed Forces of 35,000 by 2020.
Our plans mean we will be one of very few countries able to deploy a Division-sized force when required. And the Prime Minister has made clear that there will be no further cuts to our regular Armed Forces.
In contrast, the Labour Party have said they would not take Army 2020 forward in its current form. Scrapping the plan that was designed by the current Chief of the General Staff would throw our forces into chaos at a dangerous time.
And our commitment to defending the world order is unstinting. That is why we’re pressing hard to strengthen NATO – the bedrock of our defence.
At last September’s NATO summit in Newport, we and the US persuaded all Alliance members to increase their spending on defence and to respond more rapidly to unfolding crises.
Since then we’ve become one of the first Nations to support NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force – committing to lead the force in 2017. And we are the only country so far to commit to all eight new headquarters and Force Integration Units in eastern Europe.
Third, a Conservative government will make sure our Armed Forces have the capabilities that they need.
Over the next ten years we are committed to spending £163 billion on equipment and equipment support.
That includes new Joint Strike Fighters; more surveillance aircraft; seven hunter killer submarines; two aircraft carriers; and nearly 600 of the most advanced armoured vehicles.
The future of our nuclear deterrent has become one of the big questions at this election.
For 45 years, Britain has kept a ballistic missile submarine at sea providing the ultimate guarantee of security against nuclear attack or nuclear blackmail, 24/7, 365 days per year.
And today, in a world where there are approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons, we cannot gamble with the security that our deterrent provides.
We know that there are substantial nuclear arsenals and the number of nuclear states have increased. Russia is modernising its nuclear forces and actively commissioning a new class of 8 ballistic missile submarines. North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests in defiance of the international community.
Other often unstable states want nuclear weapon and seek the technology to develop them.
We cannot know what nuclear threats may emerge in the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s, the only responsible choice is to recommit to our continuous at sea deterrent now so that we can cope with any direct nuclear threat to the UK, or our NATO allies.
That is why I have announced that the Conservative manifesto will guarantee that we will build a new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines, replacing the four Vanguard boats. We will retain the Trident continuous at sea nuclear deterrent to provide the ultimate guarantee of our security.
There is simply no alternative to continuous patrols that provides the same level of protection and deterrence. Two years ago the official government review concluded that there is no alternative as capable or cost-effective as a submarine-based deterrent.
While some parties have proposed three boats, all earlier studies have shown that four submarines are required to maintain this continuous posture.
The cost of the Successor submarines is estimated to be £25 billion at outturn prices. These costs will be spread over 25 years and if the cost was spread evenly, they would represent an annual insurance premium of 0.13% of government spending.
Yesterday, as you may have seen…I raised the dangers that a Labour Party propped up by the Scottish National Party would pose to renewal of our deterrent. The only way Ed Miliband can get into Downing Street is with the support of Nicola Sturgeon – and earlier this week she said we ‘better believe that Trident is a red line’.
Among the bluster in response, the central issue facing voters in four weeks’ time remains can you trust Ed Miliband not to put the nuclear deterrent on the bargaining table in some shabby back room deal with the SNP?
The next Government must plan ahead, renew that deterrent, so that we can always keep one of our boats continuously at sea.
The Conservatives are the only party to make that pledge unequivocally.
Some of the other parties’ positions are frankly absurd. The Liberal Democrats, for example, want to spend billions to “replace some of the submarines” and make our deterrent part time. They have now committed to going to sea with unarmed missiles. Pointless patrols proposed, a pointless policy proposed by an increasingly a pointless party.
Put simply, it is only the Conservatives that will not gamble with the security of the British people.
Finally a Conservative government will always back the Armed Forces community – our troops, our veterans and their families.
We enshrined the principles of the Military Covenant in law so that never again can our servicemen and women find the Covenant is not honoured.
Over the past five year we have supported our personnel and their families with £1 billion invested in better accommodation and our £200m Forces Help to Buy scheme has helped thousands of personnel move in to their own home.
We have used over £100m of LIBOR fines to improve accommodation, childcare, and support military charities.
Injured soldiers now have access better treatment and to the latest prosthetics and £300 million will be invested in a new world-class rehabilitation facility at Stanford Hall.
Supporting our troops also means protecting them from legal claims that seek to override established international humanitarian law with human rights laws.
The cumulative effect of Strasbourg’s decisions on the freedom to conduct military operations raises serious challenges which were highlighted again by former Chiefs’ only last week.
And over the last few years we have seen the lodging of legal claims on an industrial scale. Many are for events that happened long ago. I have instructed the MOD to robustly contest such claims but they are costing taxpayers millions of pounds and are undermining our Armed Forces.
The next Conservative government will ensure that our Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job.
This isn’t about putting our Armed Forces above the law. The Law of Armed Conflict based on the Geneva Conventions will still apply. Our troops who are injured will still get the compensation they deserve.
But it will stop spurious claims and the worst form of ambulance chasing.
Top of the in-tray after the election will be the SDSR and spending review.
I have been overseeing some preliminary work to assess what has changed in the international security environment, and how the risks to our have evolved.
We have also been examining lessons from past operations and assessing what operations we may have to conduct during the next decade, where, when, with and against whom.
That work will inform the National Security Strategy and the next SDSR and decisions around capability gaps.
As Defence Secretary I have been instilling the need for the MOD as an organisation that spends £34 billion a year to be permanently fit, not just getting fit for spending reviews.
In this Parliament we have shown the major savings that can be made through new approaches:
By selling the Defence Support Group which maintains the Army’s vehicles, we got £140 million for taxpayers and will generate £500 million of savings over a ten year contract.
We brought in a strategic partner to get to grips with the sprawling defence property estate which will save £3 billion over ten years.
We need to continue this in the next five.
Where my party differs from Labour is that, while we will find more efficiencies we are committed to spending £34 billion this year on defence – their zero-based review means that they cannot commit to any of our spending programmes.
To conclude I want to set out our commitment to a strong defence.
We have met and will this year again meet the 2 per cent target. Decisions on spending beyond 15/16 are for the autumn spending review.
But we make three stronger, more specific commitments, a new triple lock that guarantees the shape and power of our armed forces beyond the spending review right through to the end of the next Parliament.
First, we commit to increasing the defence equipment budget by at least 1 per cent more than inflation throughout the Parliament: this will enable us to invest in our two new aircraft carriers, the biggest ships the Royal Navy has ever seen; seven hunter killer nuclear submarines; 600 new armoured vehicles for the Army; and the new Joint Strike Fighters.
Second, we commit to making no further reductions in the size of our Regular armed forces.
Third, we commit to modernising our independent nuclear deterrent, replacing the four existing Vanguard submarines with new submarines that will serve through to 2060.
Three long term commitments unmatched by any other party.
I am confident that the public will look at the last five years and judge that it is only the Conservative Party and our long term economic plan that will make sure our Armed Forces have the resources they need to defend our interests and values across the world for the next five and beyond.