Foredrag i Oslo Militære Samfund
mandag 12. mars 2007
Ambassadør David Powell
British Ambassador to Norway
British Embassy, Oslo. Foto: Google/Wikipedia/Kjetil Ree
UNITED KINGDOM SECURITY POLICY: JOINING THE DOTS
(Check against delivery)
It is a great privilege to be here tonight to address such a distinguished audience and in such a distinguished and historic setting.
I want to cover tonight three sets of issues. First, a UK view of the current global security context; second, our security response at the national level – how the institutions and interactions can make policy responses work; and third, some of the wider issues about international co-operation.
I have subtitled this talk ‘Joining the Dots’. This is not a particularly new or surprising concept. The challenges of the modern world are inter-related. An integrated response is essential: military, diplomatic and development interventions all matter. And few of these challenges can be addressed without international co-operation. Of course, all countries want to make their policies as effective as possible by ensuring that the policy instruments chosen are mutually reinforcing. I’d like this evening to reflect on what the concept means for the UK, given our particular history and our position as a medium-sized country, but one with a global perspective.
Current Security Challenges
First, the challenges. It may be foolhardy to predict – especially about the future. But the security environment over the next 20-30 years looks set to see continuing threats from international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and failed – and failing – States. Emerging trends, including climate change, resource competition and demographics, will potentially pose additional drivers for conflict. The way these threats interact and combine will further complicate the picture.
The UK’s approach to foreign policy and particularly its security challenges has a number of characteristics:
- Values-based: We believe that it is by furthering our values that we best further our interests in the era of globalisation and interdependence;
- Activist: We seek to be engaged in every issue, both in helping to set the agenda and delivering it;
- Comprehensive: Using the full range of instruments to deliver the agenda, including both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power – I’ll come back later to this point; and
- International: Having as its foundation both a central role in Europe and a strategic alliance with the US. And at the same time, engaging with broader international coalitions and working with key niche players to effect change.
This approach has delivered considerable success in the global agenda. We have contributed, for example, to:
- G8 initiatives leading to $70billion of debt relief and agreement to double development assistance;
- Successful military interventions in Kosovo, Bosnia and Sierra Leone;
- Removing Saddam Hussein from power and the election of a national unity government in Iraq;
- Establishing democracy in Afghanistan, and eradicating terrorist camps;
- Pre-emptive intervention to help prevent conflict in Macedonia;
- The renunciation by Libya of its weapons of mass destruction programme.
Needless to say, at the same time, many other security issues remain. The most significant would, however, probably include:
- Stabilising Iraq and Afghanistan;
- Accelerating the Middle East peace process;
- Countering the threat from Islamic extremism;
- Tackling nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea; and
- Ending the violence in Darfur.
Obviously, not all these or other future security challenges will require the use of armed force. But some might, in both conflict and non-conflict situations: to intervene when our strategic interests are threatened; to maintain the security and stability of the international system; and to act when there is a moral imperative to do so. Distinctions between conflict and non-conflict situations are themselves becoming less clear and operating environments are becoming more demanding. Military action alone is not enough: integrated civilian and military solutions are needed.
By an integrated solution I mean the combination of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power. That is the willingness to take direct military action as well as to make diplomatic and financial commitments of a different kind. In the military context this has required the UK to retain balanced forces, able to act against a range of threats and to maintain the strategic nuclear deterrent.
But it is fair to say that the ‘hard’ power has been considerably more controversial than the ‘soft’. For the UK, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power are driven by the same principles. The world is interdependent. That means we work in alliance with others. But it also means problems interconnect. Poverty in Africa cannot be solved simply by the presence of aid. It needs the absence of conflict. Failed States threaten us as well as their own people. Terrorism destroys progress. Terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone. But it cannot be defeated without it.
The UK Approach
This brings me to my second set of issues: how the UK seeks to respond in practice to new security challenges. I shall illustrate what I mean by three examples: the struggle against terrorism; Iraq; and Afghanistan. And I’d like then to draw a few more general lessons.
Terrorism is not simply a security issue. The UK’s response, termed ‘Contest’, is divided into four strands, which we term the ‘four Ps’:
- Prevent: We seek to tackle the radicalisation of individuals, both in the UK and elsewhere, which sustains the international terrorist threat. The UK’s response includes tackling disadvantage, deterring those who facilitate terrorism; and engaging in the battle of ideas by challenging the ideologies that extremists believe can justify the use of violence;
- Pursue: Activities within this strand include the disruption of terrorists and their operations, and have a number of aspects: Gathering intelligence; disrupting activity, including bringing terrorists to justice through prosecution; and international co-operation with partners and allies. In this connection, I welcome last week’s announcement that Norway’s counter-terrorism intelligence effort is to be strengthened;
- Protect: This is concerned with reducing the vulnerability of the UK and UK interests overseas to a terrorist attack and includes strengthening border security; protecting key utilities; reducing the risk of attacks on transport;
- Prepare: Finally we have to ensure that the UK is as ready as it can be for the consequences of a terrorist attack. The key elements include identifying potential risks; building capabilities; and continually evaluating and testing our preparedness.
None of these strands can, of course, be considered in isolation from the others. Changing mindsets can be slow. Politics on its own is not sufficient.
Turning next to Iraq, where the UK’s use of ‘hard’ power has perhaps been most controversial. There is no doubt that Western governments did make mistakes – in regard both to some of the intelligence before the war and to some of the decisions taken after the fighting stopped. And there is no doubt that the levels of violence by terrorists in Iraq are blighting the lives of many Iraqis. This is not the occasion to go through the reasons for the conflict, though it is worth noting both that the conclusions we reached on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction were shared by intelligence agencies right across the world; and that there was a track record of concealment: Saddam’s sophisticated biological weapons programme was only uncovered when his son-in-law defected in 1996 – after the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) had been already operating for many years.
I understand, of course, why some countries, including Norway, have chosen to withdraw armed forces. But it is worth underlining the tremendous needs of the people of Iraq. Iraq’s neighbours only on Saturday, at the Iraqi neighbours meeting in Baghdad, emphasised their support for the Iraqi Government’s efforts to confront terrorism and sectarian violence. And the multi-national force there now is not an occupying force but is acting in a supporting role with the mandate of the United Nations and at the request of the Iraqi Government. And this was not a government imposed by anyone. It was the people of Iraq who turned out in their millions to vote for that government and for a positive future for their country. By helping them to take on the violent minority who want to drag the country into chaos, we are fulfilling a responsibility which we took on when we removed the previous, murderous regime.
Over the coming months we will be reducing our troop levels in Iraq from the present 7,100 to roughly 5,500. Over time and depending naturally on progress and the capability of the Iraq Security Forces, we will be able to draw down further. The UK military presence will continue into 2008, for as long as we are wanted and have a job to do. Increasingly our role will be support and training, and our numbers will be able to be reduced accordingly.
Our over-riding objective – shared by our coalition partners – remains the same: to help the Iraqi Government create a secure environment: the space in which they can continue the task of reconstructing their country. We are under no illusions how difficult that task is or how acutely the fate of that country still hangs in the balance.
For the UK’s part, military forces work closely with diplomats and aid workers. The physical side of reconstruction is important – getting the oil flowing again, putting children back into schools, repairing roads, providing fresh water and a reliable electrical supply. But it is also about reconstructing the structure of a functioning nation: State-building if you will. In other words, after decades of autocratic, sectarian rule, creating a government of national unity along with the legal and non-governmental structures at every level of society that are the mark of a mature, stable democracy. The consequences of a failure in Iraq now are every bit as stark as the failure in Afghanistan in the last decade. A country that risks becoming an ungoverned and lawless State in the heart of the most volatile region in the world – the Middle East.
In Afghanistan, too, a joined-up approach is essential. The UK is, of course, operating predominantly in the south. The Afghan Government, international organisations, donor nations and Non-Government Organisations need secure environments in which to conduct much-needed reconstruction work. The UK’s Helmand Task Force, part of the long-planned expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) across Afghanistan, is playing a crucial role in setting the conditions for reconstruction in the south of the country. They are working closely with the combined military and civilian UK Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) based in Lashkar Gah. As we recently announced, the size of our military contingent will increase over the coming months.
In the initial stages of the deployment UK troops have seen operations designed to root out insurgents, an essential prelude to implementing their ISAF mission of facilitating development. Deploying to provinces in the south of Afghanistan has, as expected, proved a major challenge. The region was a Taliban heartland and the expansion of ISAF was bound to lead to clashes with those who oppose the Afghan Government. It remains, too, the major drug-producing area of the country, and is where the trade is organised. Nonetheless the presence of UK troops is now having a positive effect. The people of Helmand province are starting to see the initial benefits of Afghan Government and international community reconstruction efforts. They are starting to see that the opportunity of the future is significantly better than the alternative, the repression of the Taliban regime.
I’d like at this point to note three broader lessons we have taken from these examples and UK experience more generally. All basically come down to one theme: «it’s good to talk».
First, the vital importance of interdepartmental co-ordination. Departmental government does not always lend itself easily to co-operation on cross-cutting issues. Different cultures, working practices and terminology conspire to make co-operation difficult. A collective desire for better co-operation is not enough to make it happen spontaneously. In the UK the central role has long been played by the Cabinet Office (responsible to Government collectively and separate from the Prime Minister’s office). Ministerial committees (in the case of Afghanistan, chaired by the Defence Secretary) draw together Ministers and senior officials from across government to co-ordinate the UK’s military, political, developmental and economic engagement.
Second, the need for the intelligence on which policy is based to be independent, but also policy-sensitive. In the UK, Ministers and senior officials are served by a central co-ordinating mechanism, known as the Joint Intelligence Committee, that prepares
policy-neutral strategic intelligence and analysis on some of the key issues. Because these assessments include intelligence, diplomatic reporting and open-source information, they aim to give as comprehensive a picture as possible. But because the mechanism involves all the key experts getting around the table to argue about the significance of different items of information, intelligence practitioners can be much more sensitive to the needs of policy practitioners and policy can be informed by a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of intelligence sources.
Third, the need for policies to be explained openly and consistently. We are seeking to take a new approach to public diplomacy, to be more strategic, better co-ordinated with others, such as the British Council and BBC World Service, and evaluated more systematically. Public diplomacy activity is becoming much more an integral part of the UK’s plans for achieving the Government’s priorities in other countries. In the security context, co-ordinated public diplomacy is perhaps particularly important in explaining the UK to the public in countries most suspicious of our objectives. But there is a possibly tangential role even with our closest friends. In Norway, for example, one of the themes being pursued by the British Council relates to the issues of identity, multiculturalism and diversity. Efforts to increase understanding between different cultures can cross geographical borders.
So, we try to ensure that inside the UK, our strategies are joined up and are mutually reinforcing. But in almost all areas, what the UK does must of course chime with the objectives of host governments (such as Afghanistan) and those of other international actors. This is essential if we are to be relevant and useful – but it does also present us with some real sequencing problems if these wider reference points are not clearly defined.
The International Dimension
The last set of issues, then, that I want to cover tonight is the issue of wider international co-ordination. Again, for this audience, I’ll focus on co-ordination where the use of armed force may be an element.
Much co-ordination is carried out within and between multilateral institutions. The number has steadily proliferated since 1945. Some have evolved to meet new challenges; others have not. The result is a complex international architecture with many overlapping roles and too little focus on the value added that each institution can deliver. Only by working with others through these institutions can we secure our international objectives, whether on human rights, security or climate change. So there is a need to work both with individual partners and with the institutions themselves to reform institutions so that they enable results, not block them. I would in this context pay a tribute to Prime Minister Stoltenberg’s work in reforming the UN system.
I’d also pay a tribute to Norway’s role in achieving the consensus at the Rīga NATO Summit for the Alliance as a whole to concentrate on a comprehensive approach in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is indeed a good example. The country is not one anyone would naturally have wanted to choose as an example of how to put together a failed State. Clearly, applying a comprehensive approach – co-ordinating various interlocking strands of activity to achieve the desired end state – in a complex, multi-national environment, presents a major challenge.
That challenge is essentially about integrating the two aspects of the international role in Afghanistan: to underpin our collective security by denying ungoverned space to terrorists; and second, within this framework for stability, help the new Afghan Government to build a rule of law, governance and economic activity. As President Karzai said at his press conference in London last month: «Reconstruction will have to be accompanied with security. In the absence of security, reconstruction will become a difficult thing to achieve».
The UK actively seeks to ensure that actions in those institutions of which we are a member are again mutually reinforcing.
I referred earlier to sequencing issues. This can mean, for example, that action in the UN Security Council has to take place against very tight deadlines; EU and G8 positions have to be mutually reinforcing; and macro-level economic intervention does not undercut the essential micro work carried out on the ground by aid agencies and NGOs.
Sequencing and joining the dots on the ground can be every bit as, or more, challenging. There is a tension, for example, between the short-term planning horizons of the military, and also humanitarian players, and the longer perspective of the development agencies. Both sets of processes need to be able to feed experience and lessons learned to each other. And both need to take account of local actors and authorities.
As an aside here, it is worth noting that strict demarcation may not always be possible.
Sometimes, where plans and co-ordination mechanisms are under-developed, NATO will need to do some interim filling of gaps. The practicalities on the ground, particularly in the south and east, where the civilian and NGO presence is very restricted or non-existent, mean it is inevitable that NATO will need to take on more of a lead co-ordination role within the framework of agreed objectives. But this can only be a holding operation, until the conditions are right for the proper authorities to take over. What is fundamental is that the real needs of the ordinary people in Afghanistan should not be held hostage to institutional rivalries.
I welcome that Norway is making a particularly substantial contribution. There are practical and financial initiatives on education, governance, rural development, the rule of law and, most recently, oil for development. And you have over 500 troops deployed in the north of the country, soon to be augmented by Special Forces in Kabul.
It is the military aspect of this contribution that has, I recognise, been not without some domestic controversy. The debate in this country is probably similar to that in many others. But because Norway is a nation that punches well above its weight internationally some of the dilemmas that many now face may be particularly acute here. For example:
- How much resource can or should be spent on armed forces in a time of peace in Europe?
- What capabilities should a country need to maintain for national defence? Should a country try to cover a full range of international operations or would concentration on fewer, and more sustainable niche roles be more appropriate?
- Should a nation explicitly plan to be able to deploy a particular proportion of its armed forces overseas – for the larger players the figure is about 20%; and
- To what extent will there be the political will to exercise both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power? Some countries have effectively, except in the most exceptional circumstances, retreated to peacekeeping alone. That is perhaps understandable – it reduces domestic controversy. But there may be also less political influence with those who still do exercise that hard power.
The UK, like everyone else, can’t do everything or be everywhere. But we continue to believe that our national interest is served by taking as wide a focus as possible. This means in a military context that we are resourcing our armed forces at well above the 2% of GDP that is increasingly discussed as a NATO target; we maintain a range of forces, with a capacity to deploy overseas; and above all we retain the political will to use these forces for military action.
I have tried, then, in this talk to set out the context within which the UK sets the contribution its armed forces can make to international peace and security. I am very conscious that the issues and dilemmas we face, though different in scale and resonance, may not be wholly unfamiliar to those responsible for Norway’s security policy. I look forward with great interest to following the debate in this country on these issues as your Defence Study 07 and Defence Policy Commission unfold.