After Brexit, the UK can lead the world by example
The climate emergency, global poverty, terrorism and people trafficking cannot be tackled unless we invest in defence, diplomacy and development. All three must work together in the 21st Century, writes Lord McConnell
The announcement in the Queen’s speech before Christmas that there would be an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review covering all aspects of defence, diplomacy and development, prompted me to punch the air with delight. An extreme reaction perhaps, but it was a relief that ministers recognised the need to update the policy framework set out nearly a decade ago by William Hague and Andrew Mitchell.
As the UK leaves the European Union on 31 January, such a review is vital to ensure that the UK has the greatest possible positive impact working with others to build a safer, fairer and cleaner world.
Between 2005 and 2015 different UK governments were at the forefront of this approach. Labour created the Stabilisation Unit and introduced the Conflict Fund, pooling money from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and DfID. After 2010, the Tory/Lib Dem government developed this with the Building Stability Overseas Strategy, more dedicated resources and stronger leader-ship through the new National Security Council.
Internationally we were at the heart of discussions on Responsibility to Protect, better peacekeeping and more peacebuilding. Today, the Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund is a major investment in joint working, conflict prevention and peacebuilding. However, policy has not moved on. But there is now a real opportunity to breathe new life into the concept of closer working between the three departments.
Whether we see this through the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals – particularly Goal 16 on Peace and Justice – or from the viewpoint of British interests, there can be no doubt that the challenges of conflict prevention and peacebuilding in the modern world require a combination of defence, diplomacy, development skills and resources. There can be no sustainable peace without development, and there can be no sustainable development without peace.
The UK is ideally placed to lead by example. We are not the number one player at the United Nations but we have a seat at the top table and a diplomatic in-fluence far beyond our shores. We are not the dominant partner in Nato, but the scale of our defence forces gives us influence and reach way beyond most others. We are not the only top-level development funder in the world, but the quantity and quality of our aid that saves and changes lives means others listen to us. Put all three together and the UK can lead the way as an example of integrated foreign, defence and development policy, an example others can follow.
To maximise the impact of such an approach, our commitment to the Rule of Law and Human Rights must be firm; we need to step up our game on the Sustainable Development Goals; the Women, Peace and Security agenda must run through the veins of our strategy; and we need clarity on our priorities and the partners we seek.
Our relationship with the United States is special – and our partnerships in Europe are very important – but Japan, New Zealand, Canada, individual European countries like Sweden, and some of the stable democracies of Africa, South East Asia and Latin America could provide a basis for new global alliances committed to multilateralism, the Rule of International Law, better corporate behaviour, development to eradicate poverty and disease, and peacebuilding to relieve hundreds of millions from misery.
The climate emergency, global poverty, terrorism and people trafficking cannot be tackled unless we invest in defence, diplomacy and development and we persuade the rest of the world that all three must work together in the 21st Century.
Every major problem facing the UK and our world requires new thinking, new co-operation across professional disciplines and between nations, and new energy to turn words into action. The Queens Speech also said the UK would “promote peace and security globally” – this review is fundamental to making that commitment meaningful.
Lord McConnell’s debate on the role played by defence, diplomacy, and development policy in building a safer, fairer, and cleaner world is scheduled for Thursday 30 January