Event Summary: ‘A New Model for Intervention. How the UK Responds to Extremism in North and West Africa and Beyond’ with Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP




To see the full transcript of the event, including questions, click here


. . .there is no contradiction in being socially liberal or economically liberal and being robust in foreign security and defence issues’.

The Problems

Islamist extremism in North and West Africa is not a new threat, but is one which urgently needs renewed attention. The failure to provide this poses real threats to British citizens and interests in the region, making a new model of preventative intervention necessary. Whilst some work has been done on this topic, more is needed.

The global landscape is in transition and threats now come from less obvious sources, including organisations and systemic or environmental factors, and occur in a variety of new ways. Security strategy is no longer a matter simply of defending territory, but has evolved to include reacting to threats of every kind wherever they emerge.

At-risk regions, where social and governmental fragility permit and promote extremism, instability, and militancy, pose the greatest problem for the UK. The best solution will be to promote indigenous solutions to indigenous problems, whilst building international understanding and support as well.

There is no doubt that some success has been wrung from the post 9/11 pattern of intervention, but the proper evolution of our strategy must grow out of our adaption to these new realities. It is true that the global capacities of many extremist groups have been shattered, but vigilance is required to ensure they do not recover. Inaction both abroad and at home may well lead to further radicalisation in either location, and could continue to threaten the UK’s national interests.

The Solutions

Our response must therefore be rooted in two truths. There is both a responsibility to be engaged beyond the borders of the UK, and yet defence policy must be rooted in the lessons of past experiences. Understanding the complexity of our enemies, and the regions in which they operate, is the key to this process, as is the development of understanding and relationships with local and regional allies.

Overall, a better sense of foresight and preparation must be developed. Military adaptability is important, but it is equally vital to promote socio-economic development and defence support to our allies. There must also exist a system by which governments, organisations, and individuals that support extremists are discouraged, with a comprehensive preventative strategy being developed.

For defence, there are five central issues to reflect upon. These include:

  • Building greater adaptability into the structure of our forces;
  • Greater cultural embedding in at-risk nations;
  • Advanced intelligence gathering through in-field activity;
  • Increased proactive capacity-building at home and overseas;
  • Enabling multinational groups to lead indigenous responses to crises, and prioritising partnering and coalition-building, making this an agenda for European nations.

This strategy can only succeed within the NATO framework, and Europe must demonstrate its commitment to NATO if it is to ensure continued U.S and European multi-lateral engagement. There must be greater coordination on all levels and in every aspect of this institution.

The Complexities

Making full use of every available resource is vital, including promoting language development, utilising expatriate communities to develop deeper cultural awareness, tapping into the resources developed by British industry overseas, and reaching out to potential civilian partners.

These must all must play a larger role in our future defence policy, suggesting that intelligently merging our military and diplomatic capability will be vital to our success. Bilateral agreements and partnering with overseas forces will strengthen our ability to act appropriately in diverse situations, and defence education will also be an effective tool that could be better utilised than it presently is.

Ultimately, multi-national regional institutions are the ideal tool by which threats will be prevented or curtailed. There are challenges that exist in building the social and military cohesion necessary to make such organisations effective, but it is possible.

Assisting countries in building strong societies is paramount as well. When citizens have justice, and a reason to be hopeful for the future they are far more likely to reject extremism. This strategy must be shaped to local circumstances.

With increasingly complex threats and fewer resources available with which to address them, smart strategy is the only way forward. War is not a thing of the past, and there are no hard power solutions to completely overcome the conditions in which extremism thrives. However, there is also no exclusive soft power method to defeat it, so it is important that we move forward towards a preventative posture based on high skills, new technology, adaptable forces and alliances.


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