The disastrous after-effects of the disgusting way that the UK, USA and other NATO members left Afghanistan begs a question that we should have been asking for the last 5 years. “What happens when the USA gives up its role of global power broker?”
Under Trump and to a lesser extent Biden USA foreign policy has been a shambles. I have some sympathy for Biden. Most of the damage which led to the capitulation in Kabul had already been done by the time he arrived. Trump released thousands of Taliban fighters, started negotiating directly with the Taliban, and started the pull out of vital strategic equipment well before President Biden took over.
But Biden has bought into the same rhetoric of America first just as Johnson has bought into the rhetoric of Britain first, but in reality, what does that mean? Terrorism is as difficult to prevent travelling across boundaries as the coronavirus. If we want to stop bad things happening “over here”, we have to stop them happening, “over there”.
This was well recognised in the aftermath of World War II when NATO was established. We realised then that no western democracy could go it alone when it came to defend our borders against common threats. It was established as a mutual aid partnership that would go to the defence of each other in times of need.
It built up a capacity to research together, to procure together especially in the development of weapons, to train together and then, if all else failed, to fight together. I don’t say this often, but Trump was right when he criticised the reluctance of other Countries to pay a decent amount into NATO funds. Peace and security for our peoples is not cheap and we must all contribute.
Since it was established the power blocs have shifted. The clear and understandable fight between East and West has been weakened. China is the emerging superpower and it’s flexing its muscles around Japan and Taiwan.
In some ways China is the least of our worries. More worrying is the complex collection of terrorists who can hold entire countries in thrall with hit and run terrorist tactics. As you look at the map of sub equatorial Africa you can see the problems caused in Countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria by Boko Haram and its numerous affiliates.
They terrorise provinces in each of these Countries and do so equally in Francophone Countries. They kill, take hundreds of girls hostage or to become the ‘brides’ of the fighters. They take young children and convert them into ruthless teenage fighters who know no other lifestyle. The West’s response to circumstances like these is mediocre to say the least.
So, if the partnerships change, the objectives change, and the needs change we must come to the conclusion that our thinking and structures must change as well. Too much of our UK thinking on defence and diplomacy is based on cold war thinking.
NATO needs to be rethought post Trump. Does it all its efforts add up to the defence not against Russia but against terrorism, and China. How do we deal with rogue states of which the worst example is North Korea, where we know now with certainty that Trump could not negotiate with a Leader whose first acts of terrorism are against his own people.
Increasingly we ned to consider how we work together on acts of warfare not previously imaginable such as Cyber warfare where not only our defence, but our banking, trading and communications systems can be brought to an end by sophisticated hackers.
That thinking needs to be replicated in the UK and all the other Western Countries. Will the purchase of 2 aircraft carriers at £1 billion apiece achieve anything? How will our sophisticated systems deal with ‘bush’ terrorism where people use hit and run tactics with relatively unsophisticated weapons? How will we protect our shores against incoming terrorists who don’t arrive in dinghies from Calais? How will we deal with the effects of social media who can radicalise a range of sexual, economic, and religious terrorists amongst our own population?
What is clear is that the jingoism and pettiness of the past must go. Of course, I have a feeling of pride when our carriers go on visits with the white ensign flying proud. Of course, sometimes it is important to have events which allow that flag to be shown as a deterrent. That’s a lot of money and effort though which could probably have been better employed.
However, in the longer-term it is probably not a wise way to spend our money. It seems to be more a way to promote the fluttering emotions in the breasts of our armchair admirals and generals or the gammons who think that the British Empire was a good thing, and we need to recreate it!
When is the best time to debate these issues and learn from our mistakes? Now! Afghanistan and our severe political limitations and the military limitations which flow from them are in people’s minds. In 6 months’ time they will have faded from the consciousness of the public’s interest.
Resist the calls for a Royal Commission or a Public Enquiry which will push decision making into the long grass. Bring together our experts in diplomacy, military actions, humanitarian aid, development aid to forge a new way forward for our Country and ensure that similar discussions are taking place with NATO.
We must have a clear idea of what weapons and systems we need and crucially decide who we will work with to procure weapons of offense and defence and who we will sell them to.
We weakened our borders when we left Afghanistan in such disarray. Soon the tentacles of terrorism will leave that God-forsaken Country and find its ways to cause havoc throughout the World. We must act now to ensure that the hideous scenes that we have seen unfold in Kabul are not to be repeated elsewhere.