EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Core Assumptions and British Strategic Policy
DATE: 6pm – 7pm, 24 February 2020
VENUE: Wilson Room, Portcullis House, 1 Parliament Street, SW1A 2JR
SPEAKERS: James Rogers, Sir Malcolm Rifkind
EVENT CHAIR: Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP
Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP: Ladies and Gentlemen, six o’clock is upon us, so I shall set a good example by introducing myself, because I would like those of you who wish to ask questions and make comments later on to do the same thing. I am Julian Lewis MP and recently retired as Chairman of the Defence Select Committee. And it’s my pleasure to welcome you here today to listen to James Rogers’ author of “Core Assumptions and British Strategic Policy” and former Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee Sir Malcolm Rifkind to give a start to the discussion with his observations on the themes and conclusions of that report. I shall do some brief comments on the report myself. One of the few advantages of having been in the House of Commons since 1997, be it in opposition for the vast majority of the time, even when my party was in power, is that I remember pretty much all the Strategic Defence reviews and then Strategic Defence and Security reviews, and then National Security Strategies, and Strategic Defence and Security reviews, and it seems to me, the longer the tipple gets and the larger the report gets, the more vacuous its conclusions account. I think that is something with which James, you generally agree, having read your very concise and clear report by contrast. And the most strategic of the various reviews, was in fact the first one, in 1998, when Labour spent the income and spent the best part of the year on a very serious examination of strategy in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War and the taking of the Peace dividend. And they came to a conclusion which was based on the fact that they believed that primary threat of conflict on the continent of Europe had gone away, and therefore if the British Armed Forces would be going to be engaged anywhere it was probably going to be (Inaudible) and therefore the concept of the Sea-base was born, the two-task forces the amphibious task Force to exert land, out of the sea where might be necessary, and the carrier strike task force to exert air power from the sea. Then, of course, no longer after that we had 9/11 and an additional chapter had to be produced, in order to cater for the rise of Islamist extremism, something which it must be said the original report had said was a possibility. The trouble of course with that particular report is that although it was highly strategic, it was almost completely unfounded. Later attempts to have a strategy were more closely allied with the money that Governors prepared to put into them, but for that reason would form unstrategic, because they were dictated by the financial parameters. Now, whatever we get by way of this new in-depth combined Security Defence and Foreign Affairs review that the Government is going to embark on. This year, whatever we do, I hope that the report’s conclusions will come before the comprehensive spending review. Because if we have a spending review first with a financial straight-jacket imposed on the totality of Foreign Affairs Security including things like cyber and defence, then we will a repeat of what happened in 2017-2018 where every extra pound that was going to be allocated to the new forms of threaten warfare such as space and cyber, meant to pound less for the conventional armed forces even though the advent of new threats does not mean that old threats have gone away. So with those initial thoughts, I would now like to hand over James, the report’s author, to talk about the fifteen-core (not necessarily all of them) the fifteen core assumptions that he has identified as applying over the last decade or so. And, the ways in which some may still apply, some may to be modified considerably and some may have to be completely disposed of. So James, over to you.
James Rogers: Thank you very much, Julian for these very kind opening remarks, and for the scene-setting, so I can construct some kind of additional overview in relation to these fifteen core assumptions that we have identified and look a little bit towards how we might to evolve in the coming years in order to meet the challenges that are begging to arise around the world. Some of them, I would have to add, are a product to some extent of our own assumptions and policies that have derived from them. So we began to put this report together, back in the summer last year, although it was a little held up by the fact that we had a general election. We were looking at the type of environment that Britain would be moving into, as it left the European Union. Now, of course, the Prime Minister has subsequently said that we are about to embark on the deepest Foreign Security and Defence Policy review since the Cold War. And this review will include not only national security and defence, as had primarily previous reviews, but it will also include foreign policy and development policy. We try to look at Britain’s role in a holistic way and adapt the county’s international posture accordingly. So in a way the report comes out at a very, at time, I think. And in some way it constructs a narrative that helps us to understand the way in which we’ve seen the world in the past 20-30 years, that is to say since the end of the Cold War. So what we did is, we began to undertake a very close reading of the various defence and security reviews, that Julian has already identified, and also some of the Prime Ministerial speeches and other Ministerial speeches given at the Lord Mayor’s, and another moment, where such speeches are given. And we’ve began to identify that there were a number of different trends that most these speeches and most of these reviews held in common to varying degrees. We’ve realised that these assumptions that were held within them, could be grouped in three primary baskets. One that relates to the global or conceptual level. One that relates to the geographic areas of interest of the British state. And the other, relating to the UK as a power in the international system, more broadly. So, we told ourselves for example, and I don’t want to go into any great detail, otherwise it will take up my time, but I urge you to take a look at the report, for more information to them. Basically, globalisation was an immutable and desirable force, that the West would remain technologically dominant, that liberalism and democracy the favoured system of government will continue to consolidate in countries around the world, ‘zones of chaos’ and failed states would become the primary threat, that global governance would replace geopolitical competition. We also told ourselves that in relation to the areas of concern, that the European continent would continue to be Britain’s overriding geostrategic concern, that Britain is central to the Euro-Atlantic System, that the region ‘East of Suez’ –particularly in the Gulf and Middle East – would be of growing importance to British interests, that the Indo-Pacific zone further field would present primarily economic opportunities and the strategic implications of (inaudible) in that region could largely be contained within the region and that they would have little impact on the UK itself. And that Nations would respect globally ‘shared spaces’, whether that be out of space, the sea, of the atmosphere in large. In relation to the UK, the five major assumptions have been that Britain is a pivotal – but declining – power, that the pursuit of national security and economic growth are Britain’s primary national interests, that Britain is best served by working with allies and partners, including both Europe and the US, that national cohesion is becoming less relevant, and that military and diplomatic power have declined in importance as other forms of power, or arguably soft power are rising in significance. However, we went through all these different assumptions that many of them seem to be, coming “undone”, or the least changing international environment was meaning that some of them are becoming increasingly outmoded, or completely obsolete. And there are two reasons I think, why that essentially is. Firstly, the world is becoming “normal” again. From the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the world was not normal. The West was in a position of dominance and the UK held a preeminent position within the Western community. But two trends have manifested themselves through in past few years. The first of course, is geopolitics of the return thereof. Not least in Ukraine, with Russia’s revisionist activities and annexation of Crimea, but also in the South-China Sea in relation to China’s building of artificial islands, and then claims on the surrounding international waters, which are not subject to any understanding of the established norms related to the international maritime law. The second, to some extent connected, is the return of major power competition. That is to say, that in the past, or the least in the aftermath of the Cold War, we told ourselves that failed states and zones of chaos would be the primary threat, when to date it seems increasingly and this already been already identified of some of the most recent security and defence reviews, particularly those in 2018, that inter-state of wider-state competition is returning to be a major challenge to the UK, and this established interest follows the interest of its allies. The problem here is that geopolitics and inter-state competition, I think, are coming together and are resulting in forms of revisionism, which we have not seen in many, many years. But in relation to that, we’ve seen the emergence of a third major challenge, that is climate change. The problem here is we seem to be in a terrible bind, because by deindustrialising, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, we’ve simply offset 20% of our climate change, greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, not least to China. We have made successes in terms of reducing our own emissions, many of those have simply been offset those the manufacturer, because we buy and import elsewhere. Now, in such county’s environment legislation is much weaker and we then need to transport the finished goods, all the way around the world to reach our home. Meanwhile, through our support of globalisation, we’ve not only facilitated the rise of authoritarian powers like Russia and China (that are becoming richer), but we’re also becoming increasingly open to their influence, and their foreign interference. And in relation to Russia that is understood, but I think it is also becoming increasingly clear in relation also to China. In short, through the policies that have resulted from our assumptions, we’ve created a kind of “self-sustaining system” that seems to be not only in its empowerment, but also to increasing strategic challenges, the lack of which we’ve not seen in many, many years. So, globalisation, the rise of authoritarianism and climate change are, at least within my view, all intrinsically interconnected. And we should remember also that these authoritarian powers, are not our friends. Their leaders fear us and they fear the political system we all represent, and in not in a small way, they wish to see revised. So how then should we respond? I think there are two ideas that have been put forward in recent years, and I think we should resist them. The first is old school isolationism. And this has a degree in the UK. And the second is, what I might describe as a compensationism. The idea of we owe to other countries for some kinds of past transgressions and so on so forth. And therefore, we should provide reparations or some form of compensation for the things that we have done wrong. Now, these of course, are often emotional responses to the changing strategic dynamics in the international system, and I think we need to resist them. I think instead we need to construct a new approach, as the world begins to change and change further and possibly to the worse, which takes into account six to eight key-things. Firstly, we need to be prepared to adapt and adapt substantially to many of our assumptions that are murdered, we simply need to change them, that’s sometimes easier said than done. We need to also acknowledge the nature of authoritarian competitors. As I said, these competitors are not our friends, and they seek to change and fundamentally undermine the rule-based international system. We need to focus on the power of the British union-state, because it is only through that power that we will be able to resist those who seek to change and challenge the status quo. We need to reassert our intellectual and technological leadership, because that is one area where we have become increasingly undermined, and to some extend I would say also confused. In order to do that, we need to reorder the institutions responsible for our strategic policy, so I think we need to think about how we can draw together the foreign office and the department of international development in a more effective way, so they can execute more effectively our national response to these changing strategic situations. We need to also recalibrate our strategic resources. We have disempowered, I would say, the Armed Forces and the diplomatic service in the past ten to twenty years. We have consequently increased the amount of money that is given to international development. Now, there might an argument to be an argument to be said, that all needs to be increased, and we should not be afraid to make this argument, particularly as the strategic environment continues to change. I would also argue that we need to expand our geographic horizons. The world is no longer Euro-centric, or even Euro Atlantic-Centric, the centre of the global economy is increasingly in the Indo-Pacific. We need to be prepared to embrace both the opportunities and the strategic challenges that arise from that shift. And finally, I think, in relation to the current period we need to continuously test our core assumptions and now when it becomes so (inaudible) and crystallised as they have been in recent years. So, in short, I think in responding to the new environment that we find ourselves, we need to understand that power politics is back and that we need to be able to manifest ourselves in order to secure our interest in a rapidly changing world.
Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP: Thank you very much, indeed, James. Sir Malcolm.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Well, thank you very much indeed, can I just begin by paying tribute to Julian Lewis for the (inaudible) two Parliaments, in which he chaired the Defence Select Committee. Before that he was an extremely varied member of the Intelligence and Security Committee when I chaired it, so all tribute to you, Julian. I was very pleased to write the foreword’s report and I seriously congratulate James Rogers. It’s a very, very impressive report and I agree with the main thrust of what he has to say. If I concentrate in my next few minutes in certain reservations or comments, or not entirely endorsing, that does not detract from my overall enthusiasm for the report, and I will conclude on a positive note. But I think it is important because it is a very substantive report, but the whole serious of the arguments. Some of them, I think are just stronger than the others, and that’s what I would like to draw attention to. First of all, I think there is a perfectly legitimate argument made in the report, that many of the assumptions of our foreign policy, follow from the extraordinary achievements, following the fall of the Berlin wall, the end of the Cold War and the extraordinary growth of democracy, the notorious remark of the end of history. I have always preferred an alternative view, that when one door closes, the other slams in your face. It wasn’t the end of the history and the rematch should never be made. However, there is an assumption now both in report in some degree and at the external comments that were made, that whole extraordinary developments in the 1990’s somehow (inaudible) to reverse, but we’re actually going back to where we were before, and I think that is simple indemonstrable on the facts. I think what we saw was an extraordinary period from 1989 until the begging of the current century, when there was the most exceptional growth by any standards of parliamentary democracy, of liberalism, of the rule of law, of open societies and of market capitalism. Not just in Europe, Eastern Europe and not just in the early stages in Russia. It’s often forgotten that the whole of Latin America was run by generalissimos with regular coup d’états. Now, with the exception of Cuba and Venezuela, they’re all democratic societies. Not perfect, but they’re moving in that direction. Likewise, in the Far East, where Xi Jinping talks about western values. They’re not western values. You have Japan, you have South Korea, you have Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia – some of which were dictatorships right up until the 1990s, and are now functioning democracies. The same is true in parts of Africa and other parts of the world. Now what we have seen and what we are seeing at the moment is a setback, because of the growth in authoritarianism in quite a number of societies. I won’t go through them all, as I’m sure you’re all as aware of them as I am. But it’s not that we’re going back to square one, it’s a correction. If you look at the history of Europe over the last 600 years, that’s what happens. What happened after the reformation? You got the counter-reformation. The counter-reformation didn’t go back and destroy the formation. It created a new equilibrium. Think of 1815 after the French Revolution, you had all the revolutionary wars, including Napoleon. When it came to an end, the Bourbons were restored. There was an age of autocracy in the Holy Alliance. But it didn’t destroy the (inaudible), it actually created the new (inaudible), and the march of human progress and human freedom continued. So you get a sort of two-steps forward, one-step back. And if I may say so I don’t think that comes out sufficiently from the report, but it’s what we are experiencing, and that’s the first point I want to make. The second is on globalisation. Yes, of course there’s been a lot of overriding generalisations in previous years, and we’re now seeing a lot of the problems of globalisation. But again, don’t assume that somehow globalisation is either optional or unprecedented. Think what happened to this country. After the Industrial Revolution, we dominated the global economy until the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Then, as other countries adopted the technology that we’d got, what happened? We saw the collapse of our textile industry, we saw the collapse of shipbuilding, and coal, and iron, and steel, over the last 60-70 years. And new industries have come in to place, which have created new employment. And that’s what happened to the United States, after the Second World War. 60% of economic growth was American, because of the destruction of the European economies. So of course there was going to be a period when that changed, and it did indeed change. So what we have seen is not western decline over the last 10-15 years, it is relative decline you could argue, because other countries (in Asia in particular), have expanded their economic growth, and that was always inevitable, and indeed in global terms it’s highly desirable that that kind of social and economic progress should have been achieved. I make a slight caveat: there has been a decline in American leadership during the Trump Presidency, perhaps Obama as well to some degree. But in the Trump cause, because of the UN, which America (inaudible) sought to (inaudible) his allies as well as his opponents, that has at least created more problems in my view than it has solved. Now let me move on from that, and say that a particular point in the report that I didn’t like, and I’m going to just draw brief attention to them. First of all, there is this question, whether the United Kingdom, both the reality and the aspiration, should resign itself to being a medium power? Or whether we should achieve, which is our true destiny, to be a Great Power. And it’s very interesting. If you look at report, just a couple of very short quotations from it. It says on page 27, ‘If the United Kingdom is indeed destined to become a middle-ranking or medium-sized country in terms of power, it will largely be a result of our own failure to craft an appropriate strategic approach.’ In other words, we don’t have to be a medium power, we could be a great power, if we weren’t so foolish in what we have done and could be doing at the moment. And it quotes Robert Tombs, a historian at the University of Cambridge, who said very recently in the course of 2019, ‘Britain has not declined, but has actually advanced being now more powerful than its ancient rivals France, Germany and Russia.’ There wasn’t actually any evidence produced as to why we are more powerful than Germany. We’re certainly not more powerful economically, and political power normally follows economic power, so that’s a strange one. France, of course, we can always claim that, as the British and the French have done! That’s part of our national tradition! Russia, nevertheless, can’t just be dismissed. We can’t just say we’re more powerful than Russia. We’re certainly not more powerful militarily, if current events are anything to go by. And there’s a third remark that puzzled me on page 27 as well. It talks about the emerging powers. ‘British strategists and policymakers would do well to remember the emerging powers’ (and it starts off with China) ‘will not necessarily overtake Britain in terms of power and influence.’ Well in my judgement, China’s already overtaken by a pretty long way the United Kingdom, and most other countries, in terms of power and influence. It may not be highly desirable, but it’s difficult to argue that we are more powerful than China at this particular moment in time. Now, the final group of comments I want to make, and they go to the heart of what our foreign policy ought to be. There’s this question about ‘punching above our weight,’ a term always appreciated too (and rightly so) my predecessor Douglas Herd. And I entirely endorse that our ambition should be to punch above our weight. But we perhaps should slightly more remind ourselves exactly what our weight is, even if we are indeed punching above our weight, for all the reasons that the report correctly endorses. There’s a limit to how much you can punch above your weight if you don’t have the economic, military and political power to support your aspirations. Now, for example, if you apply this in terms of population, we live in a world of 7.7 billion people. There are 65 million Brits. We are 0.8% of the world’s population. We are the 21st largest country in terms of population, but we still don’t exactly have the population weight to ensure that we are noticed all of the time. Our economic strength is very significant, we usually claim that we are the 6th or 7th largest economy, gradually going down now, not because we are failing, just because others are growing (particularly in Asia) faster than we are. But it’s worth remembering that our share of the world economy, our GDP is 2.24%. You cannot be a great power unless you have the military, economic and political strength to back that up. Our economic strength, even if we are successful as we hope to be, will make us a significant middle-ranking power, or a medium power, which is the term I would go for. You can’t begin to imply that we’re not going to be that far behind China or America. If we are going to be successful, and we already are, we are going to get to the top of this particular grouping. In the same sort of grouping as Japan, as Germany, as France, as Russia. Russia is a declining power. So there we can aspire to have a major influence on the affairs of the world. But that is certainly punching above our weight. But that is also recognising that our weight is not actually that dramatic to start with, and that must be taken into account. Final points, and what should that mean for our foreign policy? I’ll just make two points, very, very briefly. First of all, you correctly say in the report that continental Europe (relatively speaking) is declining in the wider world, and I think there’s a lot of truth in that remark. But you also correctly acknowledge that that doesn’t just mean we can ignore that there might be an increasing risk because of that decline, with Russian opportunism and potential Russian aggression. So, if we’re looking at our foreign policy, the one thing we cannot change (and I think everybody would agree with us) is actually geography. Whether we are in the EU or outside of the EU. The single most important objective of our foreign and defence policy has to be the security of these islands, and that means it is intrinsically dependent on western Europe and Europe as a whole. And the only potential threat to that in physical terms in Russia. I’m not predicting a Third World War, but we know Russia is opportunistic, its annexation policy in Crimea and Georgia, its destabilisation policy and all the other things it’s doing. So if we have to choose priorities, one of my two priorities is we must work as closely as possible with France and Germany in particular (both in NATO), and on bilateral matters, because there is no threat to the security to France, Germany or the United Kingdom, that will not be a threat to the other two as well. And that is also true for the rest of Europe as well, but I mention these as the large countries. And there is an additional factor that we cannot ignore, and I hope it won’t happen. But Trump’s policy at least made an issue of whether the American guarantee to European security can be secured for the foreseeable future. He’s now likely to have a second term (it’s not certain), but he has changed the terms of the debate and whether it’s in a conventional conflict or with nuclear weapons, we cannot make the assumptions. I’m still not believing he will implement such a policy or be allowed too by American public opinion, but we cannot take that as 100% guaranteed. And remember, if the American umbrella for Europe was redrawn or modified in a significant way, then Russia remains a nuclear superpower. There are not one but two European nuclear weapons states, in France and the United Kingdom. And therefore, there is an overriding need for France and the United Kingdom to think of their nuclear weapons (in what we hope would never arise, but American withdrawal from Europe), France and the United Kingdom would have a particular responsibility, because if they did not contemplate, their nuclear weapons (not just in terms of national defence but the defence of the continent of which they are part), the risk would be nuclear proliferation, because Germany and others might feel the need to acquire nuclear weapons, which would be disastrous. So a Franco-British interest is something that the French recognise, and Macron has already spoken on this very subject. But it needs to have Britain and France working close together. And the very final point is insofar as we have other interests, the Global Britain interests of our aspirations, then we have to recognise that however the Defence Review goes, there will never be the kind of resources that will make it easy to do anything. I think Britain’s destiny, apart from being part of the defence of its continent (Europe), our priority should be our maritime capability. Our status as an island nation, overwhelmingly dependent on trade, with a strong historic tradition. We are already the most significant European naval power, although not as strong as we used to be. It so happens we have our nuclear deterrent base, and our two (controversial) carriers give some added authority to our naval capacity, and they can be supported by an increasing number of frigates and destroyers and other conventional ship. Then, particularly, in the Asia-Pacific, where a huge amount of our trade is dependent. We can make a modest but significant contribution, whether in the Gulf or in the Far East, not just too show what great guys we are, but because our economic and trade interests point in that direction. So European security and maritime security would be my two priorities, which I hope will be reflected in the foreign and defence policy review. Can I also make a final comment? I ought to say this, as I fear it might be misunderstood, a particular tribute to your own conclusion in the report, when you talk about all the core assumptions and you say that ‘rather than offering a wholesale paradigm shift, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it is perhaps better to simply change the bathwater. Many of Britain’s core assumptions require re-working rather than abolition.’ And that’s why I continue to be enthusiastic about your report. Thank you.
Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP: Thank you very much indeed. Now we have just under half an hour for questions. I know that there a few Parliamentarians here, who might be under some time pressure. So, are there any Parliamentarians here who need to urgently contribute, or otherwise I will take them in due course? Good, you’re all very democratic! I spotted you first, so will you please say who you are? I will take the questions three at a time, and then I’m going to invite everyone to reply. And then at the end, I’m going to ask the speakers in reverse order to make a statement, so it gives them a chance to come back on some of the challenging points.
Audience Member: Martin Barrow, a former MP, not here but in Hong Kong. I spent most of my life in East Asia – Hong Kong, China, Japan and Southeast Asia. So Global Britain messaging is very key to our relationship with that part of the world. My focus is on the economic side more than defence and security, but I’m interested in your views. Global Britain as a branding message (we have the FCO in charge) doesn’t have united messaging. James, you said quite rightly that we need to bring government together but get out the key messaging that the UK is open to investors, to students and tourists, and that those are so critical.
Audience Member: Thank you. Dr Simon Anglim, King’s War Studies, Julian long time no see. This might seem like a bit of a pile on after the comments that Sir Malcolm made, however, my comments are meant to be constructive. Thank you for correcting me, I always thought it’d be you who came up with the ‘punching above our weight’ concept. In my world, strategy is what you do to pursue policy aims. Therefore, that title is certainly going to raise a few eyebrows amongst my colleagues. It’s been the mistaking of strategy for policy and vice versa that’s led this country to quite a bit of trouble over the past two decades in my view. My second point is, and correct me if I’m wrong, I see there is next to nothing in here about the structure of the armed forces. Strategy is about matching your ends to means and vice versa, it strikes me that without developing the capacity to do so, all you’ve got is happy thoughts. Was that a conscious decision, not to mention the Armed Forces in the structure of this paper?
Audience Member: Thank you. I’m Euan Grant, I’m the former UK customs intelligence analyst for the ex-Soviet states. Having worked for the European Commission in the Baltic States, I’ve seen some outstanding individuals, but I’ve also seen staggering ignorance of the nature of the legacy the authoritarian Soviet Union (inaudible). My question follows on from the structure of the Armed Forces, to the role which James Rogers mentioned several times of DFID, and Britain’s cultural and soft power. What kind of response have you had from DFID, NGOS and academia, and how happy are you with the number of such persons in the room here today?
Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP: Okay. James, would you like to go first, and then Malcolm?
James Rogers: Okay. I think that we actually do quite well here. I wouldn’t say that it’s all bad. That is one area where the UK does manage to project itself well. Now I’m not sure that this necessary state-led, and I’m not sure entirely that it should be, because the cultural projection that comes from the UK seems to come primarily from our quite dynamic civil society. From the media, from universities, from the think tanks, from the media, so on and so forth. And I was very struck that when I lived in Estonia for five years and travelled quite extensively in Northern and Eastern Europe, I was quite struck by the fact that on nearly all televisions you will see British dramas, British soap operas, British films, and documentaries on those TV channels. In a way, that’s an amazing ability of the UK to project itself outwards. Now, if we’re moving into a more competitive edge, that will not be like the Cold War, I think it will be very difficult to that, even if some of the central ideas to inter-state do not exist. I think we might need to think about how we use the state to maximise these various elements of civil society to project that message into the world. And I think that will be something that we need to give some consideration too. If I move on to the next issue, regarding the Armed Forces and the title, I accept your point to some extent. The paper can’t cover everything, and it is a paper that primarily focuses at the political and strategic levels. Therefore, it’s an interesting point and something we need to think about, but this paper isn’t the place, as I think it would expand into multiple more pages. So I hope that sort of answers your question in relation to that. Now on the final point on DFID and ‘DFIDism,’ I think that there is something to be said here. It’s all very well that we appropriate a certain amount of our income to help people in developing countries for primarily altruistic purposes, and that’s a desirable effort. But if we are now moving in to this more competitive age, where some of our efforts might be deliberately undermined by some revisionist states, then I think we need to give some consideration to how we achieve this. I think we need to remember that we’re not actually without capability. One thing I found out when I was doing some of my research in relation to China, it currently has something called the Belt and Road Initiative, which is seen by some as a developmental programme, and is seen by some as an attempt by China to capture elites in other countries and extend its economic remits across the length and breadth of Eurasia. But what’s so interesting is that China’s Belt and Road Initiative is funded by a £770Bn/$Tn budget over a 36-year-period. If you look at how much the UK has spent over the last ten years on its overseas development assistance, then that’s around £100Bn. Whereas China is spending £22Bn per year, China is spending between £14Bn and £15Bn. So it’s not that much smaller, but I’m not sure we’re getting the same amount of impact for what we put in to the effort. So there is a way that we can strategically direct our resources more effectively to help those countries that we think might be undermined by the revisionist powers, to maximise not only our influence but our international security more broadly, and I think we need to put more thought into in the months and years ahead.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I agree with you very much. Martin, I agree with you very much. Global Britain, if it means anything, means an open society in the broader sense. Simon, you took exception to the reference of strategic policy, and I think I know what you were getting at. The number of times I have heard people say, ‘The problem with the United Kingdom is that it doesn’t have a grand strategy for its foreign policy.’ Well of course we don’t have a grand strategy for our foreign policy. Foreign policy is not like domestic policy. If you’re in charge of domestic policy, health, education or transport, you can develop a strategy. You are in charge of it, so you can say this is our strategy. We’re going to build so many hospitals, we’re going to do it over so many years, you can stick to that, or you can change it. Foreign policy is events. You can’t have a strategy. You can’t have a grand strategy, because you can’t determine things. Even a year before the Berlin Wall came down, nobody predicted the Soviet Union wouldn’t exist two years later. Even the Russians didn’t expect that to happen. So you can have strategic objectives however, and that’s what this document is about. Strategic objectives, but you always have to have the flexibility to withdraw from them or adapt them, when the externals of the world you are dealing with are changing as they always change in ways that you will not always be able to predict. A short comment on DFID. I was the last Foreign Secretary to have responsibility for DFID. Then, it was called ODA, and (inaudible) was my Minister, and she had a huge degree of autonomy, but at least we had the opportunity under the supervision of the Foreign Office, to ensure the coordination of Overseas Development with Foreign Policy. Most countries insist on it happening, and I think it’s very foolish that we don’t. A final point on that, I’m strongly in favour of overseas development aid. I have no problem with the 0.7 that we’re spending at the moment. However, what I think is absolutely absurd, is that we have written into statute that we have to spend 0.7% each year of a GDP that we don’t even know what it will be. Until that law is changed, we are committed to a percentage, as though it’s in the Old Testament, as though it’s one of the Ten Commandments that came down from outside. It’s ludicrous. You can commit yourself to a figure, you can’t commit yourself to a percentage, unless you’re playing theatre rather than substance. I think it was a very stupid clause in the act of Parliament and I think it should be reversed, not so we can reduce spending (that’s a separate judgement), but to tie it in a way like this is done nowhere else, not even in the NHS, so I think it was political posturing, sadly a Conservative government.
Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP: Before I take the next set of questions, can I just see how many hands that I haven’t already acknowledged. So I’ve got two rounds of three. First of all, the young man here.
Audience Member: Jack (inaudible), I come from the Conservative Environment Network. Malcolm, you mentioned that one of our strategic priorities should be the security of Europe, but climate change threatens much of the Middle East and the zone of chaos mentioned in the report. And also, Russia is weirdly up for climate change, as it might unfreeze some of their ports. Do you think that when we review our national security policy, we should have people in there who don’t just see the world through a Cold War apparatus? Those who are more keen to look at threats like climate change.
Audience Member: Colin (inaudible), member of the Society. I’m very interested in the suggestion that we can’t act on our any longer as far as foreign policy is concerned. You suggested France should be number one on our list. We can’t agree on everything with France! How do you think we are going to come to an agreement on important matters with people like Macron?
Audience Member: I want to ask, similar to the environmental question, and I’ll ask this very generically. How do we stop the Arctic becoming a zone of chaos?
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Jack, your question on the environment. In the time available, I’m only going to make one point. One of the most serious challenges Britain faces (especially Europe) is the challenge from North Africa, and I don’t mean the states. I mean the Sahel countries, with a huge population explosion, which we already know is happening, as they have a far higher proportion of young people than almost anywhere else in the world. So the birth rate is going to be very high. We can do things that physically will stop people crossing the Mediterranean, but it does mean that the western world and the United States is going to have to give much more of a priority to what has traditionally been seen as just Francophone Saharan Africa, that’s not very important to the rest of the world. We need to try and develop the economies of these countries so that there are employment opportunities within these countries, that will provide the alternative to attempts at mass migration. I’ll come in a moment to France. Your question about the Arctic. Well the Antarctic is recognised as an international area. Most of the Arctic actually is part of the territory of Russia or Canada or Norway or individual states, not of the United Kingdom. So I’m not going to pursue that point, because I haven’t got time for it, but there’s no single policy that’s going to be possible with the international community as a whole, except the North Pole itself, that might attract some interest. Finally, on France, and I appreciate your scepticism with the French. Lord Palmerston would’ve agreed with you. There’s a famous story, where he was visited by the French Ambassador on one occasion. He said, ‘Prime Minister I would like you to know that if I had not been born a Frenchman, I would like to have been born an Englishman.’ And Palmerston was very unimpressed, and replied, ‘How very interesting. I would like you to know, that if I had not been born an Englishman, I would like to have been born an Englishman.’ Which as a Scot, I’ve got to say you’ve got no ambition, but that’s another matter! On the substance of your question, I didn’t say we could do nothing alone (and the same applies actually to every other country in the world), but everyone needs allies in the world, if you’re going to advance your national interests and those which coincide with national interests of your allies and friends. And in the case of France, you’re actually very misinformed on a key aspect. When it comes to defence cooperation, there has been more success in Franco-British bilateral defence cooperation in the last ten years, than there’s been in a very long time. I mentioned nuclear policy. When I was Foreign Secretary in the 1990s, I and my French colleague Francois Leotarde, tried to start discussions on nuclear doctrines and other things that we could share. It was too early. It has now actually been happening for the last few years in a substantive way, but It’s still got a long way to go.
Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP: If I can put in a plug for the last defence committee, one of our innovations was that I think we were the first parliamentary committee to do a joint enquiry and produce a joint report with a parliamentary committee from another country. And that was our counterparts in the Joint Committee of the French Republic. James.
James Rogers: I would maybe start with the question on the Arctic, which I think is a very interesting one. A few years ago I developed a term which I described as the ‘wider north.’ And I think one thing that we do need to understand, is that being vacant from the Arctic and not taking the Arctic seriously and the wider area that is being drawn into the Arctic (the Baltic region, the North Atlantic, the Northwest Pacific), is that it is becoming an integrated space. And secondly, we need to understand that we need to work more with the countries that we have similarities with, particularly the Norwegians and the Icelandic’s, in the context of NATO also. But I think we should work with the Japanese, as to how developments will affect them in the north Pacific. So I think what the UK needs to think about is about an integrated strategy that incorporates the Arctic within its Indo-Pacific interests (which are growing) and its European reorientation. And I think we need to understand that it’s a broadening region, and to maintain a focus and be active there. What happens there is not going to leave us alone, nor our allies. The other two points. I think in my report I argued quite explicitly that there is an intrinsic and growing connection between climate change, geopolitical competition, globalisation and geopolitics. We need to understand how those things are linking together. I agree with Sir Malcolm that globalisation is an immutable force. We’ve been responding to it (we all have) for the past 4,000 years. It’s a product of the shrinking of space and time, and the increasingly sophisticated forms of transport and technology. But at the same time I think we need to try and mitigate against undesirable changes that those developments can bring about. I think in the last ten to fifteen to thirty years we haven’t necessarily been doing that in the way that we otherwise might. Finally, acting on our own, I agree with Sir Malcolm that France (alongside the United States) is one of our closest allies, particularly in the defence of Europe. But I would also say that another country is going to become increasingly important in that context, Poland. It is one of the only relatively large powers within NATO that spends 2% of its GDP on defence, and it has played a key role in the new forward presence that we’ve seen with US and British forces. It has also been helpful to stick together a response in the Baltic region, so I think that’s going to be another important ally in the period ahead.
Audience Member: (inaudible) journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald. Sir Malcolm, as the author or Chair of the 2013 Intelligence Report, I wanted to hear what you thought about the recent involvement of Huawei to improve 5G. And in particular, what you make of the disagreement between GCHQ and ASDN/NSA, which say that the 5G core cannot be protected, whilst GCHQ say that it can. And actually, chair this question is for you, given your previous comments on this issue, can I take it that you might be joining a rebellion? What is the end game? And do you think it’s likely that we’ll see a change in the view of the Prime Minister?
Audience Member: My name is Luke (inaudible) I own an advanced technology company here in the UK and the US. I’d like the panels thoughts on the comments around reasserting intellectual and technological leadership. I’d like to know if you had any thoughts on how we are supposed to do that? One thing that I have noticed is that countries that tend to be financially innovative become geopolitically dominant, which is why for me, the emergence of China as a global power has been utterly unpredictable for the last twenty years. I’d also like to comment on one of the greatest strength the UK has is English law, and that’s been a key factor in my ability to win contracts abroad.
Audience Member: John (inaudible), alumni of Kings College. Do you see a vision for what a future might look like from strategic terms from the UK perspective? If so, how might this future be co-constructed with (inaudible)?
Audience Member: You mentioned that there are new threats that face the UK and that our primary objective is the security of these islands. We have a very over-burning budget already. What are your views on reallocating from traditional structures to things like cybersecurity?
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Okay, I’ll be very brief. On Huawei, if I’d been Prime Minister, I’d have gone to the technical guys in and GCHQ, and gone, is there any risk? Not risk, there’s risk in so many things the government does, but can we manage the risk? Remember, we are different from the Americans or the Australians. We’ve had Huawei here in the United Kingdom for the past ten to the fifteen years, and there’s actually a cell of people who are British intelligence people (paid for by the Chinese) who are answerable to the UK government, who monitor constantly what is happening. Now, I know 5G is different, and that’s exactly the advice one needs, because it’s not just a political thing, it’s a technical thing as you manage risk. Now if GCHQ recommended (as I think it did) that it can be managed, then I think the government’s decision was the right one, particularly as the intention is to reduce Huawei’s involvement as alternative companies come forward with comprisable technology. So they start with a maximum of 35%, and it will gradually be reduced, so on that basis I think it is right. On technological leadership, what can be done? It’s not my expertise here, but I’ve often been told that we have more Nobel Prize winners here than anywhere else. We have more inventions than anywhere else, but we’re rotten at applying our own academic success to benefits in our own industry. And other countries seem to be able to do that better than we can, using what our scientists first discovered. So that should be the priority. Secondly, cyber matters. I don’t think there has been any problems getting the resources for cybersecurity. It has not happened at the expense of conventional defence forces or anything of that kind, it’s not an either or. The sums involved are not that dramatic, although they’re significant. I don’t know frankly what is being utilised, but it’s a judgement to be made. You can’t do everything, either in defence or in future opportunities. You decide what are your national priorities and what is affordable.
James Rogers: Okay, so maybe I’ll start with the issue of Huawei. I think that ultimately it is the best of two bad decisions. We should not be in a situation where we need to depend on an authoritarian state to provide critical national infrastructure, and we need to find a way out of this problem as quickly as possible. My concern is that through investing in to Chinese technology companies in this way, we simply accelerate China’s leadership in this area and prevent ourselves from reasserting that leadership in these specific areas. And I think we need to think about this across the length and plain of many different dimensions. So in terms of increasing our intellectual and technological leadership, I think we need to think about the types of degrees and forms of higher education that we fund. Are we funding too many soft subjects and not enough engineering, hard-science subjects, like mathematics. I’m sorry but I think we are. When I was at University in the early 2000s, there we around 200 students in my year group studying International Relations. I think about two or three of them ended up in the area. The others went away to study other things or moved into other areas. It seems to me like a waste of people’s time and effort. I guess the last thing is the reallocation of money, from the sort of soft security to the hard security. I’m not sure that is really the way of looking at. I think we need to increase the amount of money we allocate more broadly. If you look at the situation at the end of the Cold War, or even the early 1990s, we were spending 4-5% of our Gross Domestic Product on defence and additional outlays on diplomatic and other forms of state engagement. We need to lift the whole lot up, which is something I think Julian has been a great advocate of.
Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP: Well thank you very much both. I won’t duck that question. My views on Huawei, to some extent, have been shaped by what I learnt when I served under Malcolm on the Defence and Security Committee. They have also been exasperated by very strange comments from the previous Prime Minister and the previous First Deputy Minister David Lidington, about Huawei being a private company owned by its shareholders in totalitarian communist China. And I have to ask myself whether any judgement that is founded on such delusional assumptions can be possibly sound. I have heard the arguments against and found them convincing. I’m waiting before I finally decide what I will do in any vote, to see whether there are arguments in favour (which I’m not yet aware) which could override them. I can think of one or two which might, and they would be in what used to be called the ‘ring of secrecy.’ Whether I would be admitted to know whether they apply remains to be seen, and what certainly would even then be surprising is if there were any classified reasons why it might be a good idea after all, such as turning the tables on our Chinese adversaries. Well one would have thought those reasons would have been shared with our American allies, and gone some way to dissuade their doubts. So I remain firmly on the sceptical side, but I remain open to persuasion. With that, can I thank you all for attending and making this (I believe) a very interesting and lively event, but above all can I thank our author and our guest speaker, James and Malcolm.