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The UK must strengthen its resilience to stand up to threats from autocratic states


3 min read

His Majesty has ascended the throne in an increasingly volatile period. Threats from autocratic states will dominate the coming decades; with Russia’s savage and illegal war in Ukraine, volatility in the Western Balkans and within allied nations, and China threatening our freedoms, security and prosperity.

The United Kingdom must prepare for the era of deterrence, where we must stand firm in defence of those values and legal frameworks which protect our way of life. Where we stand unashamed behind the truism that defence is never an escalation. Hostile states must not be allowed to undermine our ability to keep ourselves safe. Resilience is not a by-product but our foremost requirement. 

Threats from autocratic states require parliamentarians to stand unafraid in the face of tyranny and efforts to silence us. Transnational repression is a trademark of autocrats and dictators across the world who seek to silence dissent and those exposing atrocities even far beyond their borders. As a beacon for refugees and political dissidents, the UK must take action to protect those who come to us for safety. Vladimir Putin does not hesitate to hunt down his political enemies on our shores, as seen with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and the attacks on the Skripals in Salisbury. 

Reliance on autocratic states for energy and resources can and will be weaponised

Unbelievably, we continue to allow Iranian recruitment centres and illegal Chinese police stations to operate on our soil. They must be closed. 

If we are unwilling to defend human rights at home, how can we promise to uphold human rights or operate a meaningful policy of deterrence diplomacy abroad?

In an age of digital competition, technologies are being developed and widely adopted at a staggering pace. While this opens up exciting opportunities, it also comes with a new type of threat: techno-authoritarianism. 

We are already dangerously at risk of becoming dependent on China for critical components in our supply chains. The longer we delay phasing out dual-use and sensitive Chinese-state technologies, the more entrenched malign suppliers become and the more expensive the extraction. We urgently need to upskill ourselves.

Over the last year we’ve seen Germany and other nations learn that reliance on autocratic states for energy and resources can and will be weaponised. We must urgently find and transition to energy that we can create at home. The era of cheap energy is over and we need to recognise that investment from hostile states leaves us vulnerable to having the lights switched off.  

We must urgently address the subversion of multilateral organisations to undermine the international rules based system. These organisations were never envisaged as a battle ground for competing political ideologies. Yet this is what they have become. Take the UN, where autocracies infiltrate the bureaucracy in order to shape communiques and water down criticism of human rights abuses. In multilateral organisations, we have ceded ground instead of standing firm for the principles on which they were founded. We criticise these organisations but they are the sum of their parts. It is we who should challenge ourselves to be better.

The statements and actions of international organisations may at times seemed quite removed from our everyday lives, but it’s about the fundamental safety of our citizens and the consequences of allowing autocrats to neuter the arbiters of human rights.

To protect ourselves, and defend our way of life, it is vital that we challenge autocrats from a place of strength – not vulnerability. This is why our foremost priority over the next two decades must be building whole-of-society resilience. 

We must not apologise for making our nation more resilient to those who seek to undermine us and we cannot allow defence to be misrepresented as escalation. Now, more than ever, we need the UK to stand up for our rules based international order – and action begins at home. 


Alicia Kearns, Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee

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