Halting UK arms exports linked to the conflict in Yemen would give real purpose to Global Britain
Britain has become too risk averse, distracted by years of Brexit and reacting to international events rather than shaping them. But calling for global ceasefires to allow for Covid vaccinations is just the sort of leadership we traditionally excel at.
With an incredible 15 million vaccinations completed and the R rate finally falling, we are now daring to think the pandemic might soon be over. It may only be a matter of weeks until this final lockdown ends, social restrictions are eased, we can meet family and friends and our schools re-open their doors.
The Prime Minister is wise not to raise expectations pre-maturely over when lockdown will end. No battlefield general will commit – beyond the aspirational – when the next phase of battle will commence. Advancing instead, when set objectives and conditions are met. But thanks to the incredible efforts of our valiant NHS and Britain’s strengths in the field of life sciences, we are likely to emerge from the anguish of this pandemic faster than most other countries.
The world we re-join will be very different to the pre-Covid one we left in 2019. Global insecurity – already on the rise – has been compounded by this pandemic. Nations have retreated from internationalist exposure, becoming more siloed and protectionist. With states across the world securing national emergency powers without the necessary safeguards to ensure these measures are eventually rolled back.
As General Sir Nick Cater, Head of the UK’s Armed Forces recently commented, the combination of a global recession, weak international institutions and the rise in nationalism is all reminiscent of the 1930’s and the lead up to WW2.
Consequently, the international to-do list is growing: reviving global organisations, such as the UN and WTO, updating the Geneva conventions (to include cyber-attacks and space weapons), securing a viable climate change agreement and of course – designing an enforceable unified strategy on how to handle an ever authoritarian China.
2021 must not just be the year we repair and re-build our post-Covid world. But the start in confronting the frailty of our global order. The relative dis-unity of the West and the growing instability and volatility which left unchecked will lead to significant global security challenges.
We must move beyond extoling our international credentials of connectively, global reach, soft and hard power prowess and reputation to give real purpose to the term Global Britain
It’s time for Britain to step forward once again. The last global re-set took place after the War, where a new international architecture was created based on the ideas proposed in Churchill and Roosevelt’s Atlantic Charter. The opportunity for Britain to rekindle that role cannot be overstated.
In contrast to Trump’s isolationist approach, President Biden has set out his commitment to rebuilding alliances, standing up to geo-political threats, and returning a sense of purpose to what the West stands for and is willing to defend.
Britain must be absolutely aligned with our closest security ally and take advantage of hosting the G7 and COP26 to once again present our thought leadership credentials in identifying improved programmes of international support.
No.10 must prioritise Whitehall bandwidth to re-assess and confirm our own ambitions in the world and how they dovetail with our closest allies, especially the United States. Yemen, for example is now a US priority. We should not only join the US in halting arms exports linked to the conflict but as UN pen holder for Yemen, offer to host a summit to secure a political solution and offer to lead a stabilization force – which would no doubt be subsequently required.
Put simply, we must move beyond extoling our international credentials of connectively, global reach, soft and hard power prowess and reputation to give real purpose to the term Global Britain.
We must be honest that Britain – along with the West – has become too risk averse, distracted by years of Brexit and reacting to international events rather than shaping them.
Cutting our aid budget and troop numbers sends the wrong signal. But calling for a ceasefire in areas of conflict to allow those caught in war zones to receive Covid vaccines is just the sort of leadership we traditionally excel at.
We will emerge from this pandemic in a very complex and challenging world. The Special Relationship could play a pivotal role in helping shape it for the better.
Tobias Ellwood is the Conservative MP for Bournemouth East and chair of he defence committee.
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