Societies built on liberal foundations are an aberration in human history rather than the norm and they must be defended. History is the story of humanity lurching from one crisis to the next, but even with this in consideration the current political climate is deeply concerning.
The foremost objective of any nation state is its own defence. Often this can be achieved through the preferred means of diplomacy, but, regrettably, tragically, this must at times be done with the sword as well as the pen. It is unnerving to hear voices on the left often calling for decreased military expenditure. The most common arguments against investment in defence are typically as follows:
These questions shall be addressed separately. To answer the first question, yes, it may be true that nation states are warring less than in other periods of history, but there are still gravedangers present on the world stage. The vessel of our foreign policy is navigating through uncharted geo-political waters. In the Oval Office sits a B-List reality TV star who threatens the post-war consensus and at best can be described as a loose cannon. The election that thrust him to power was polluted by anti-democratic forces, namely the mafia state of Putin’s Russia, a state which has become bolder in its behaviour as most recently evidenced by the Salisbury nerve agent attackand territorial annexations in Eastern Europe. As Russia’s proxy in Syria creeps towards victory, Putin has gained a foothold and warm water port in the Middle East, adding further complications to an already labyrinthine political landscape. The international current of political and financial capital is increasingly flowing towards eastern power blocs that lack many basic forms of democratic accountability. Across vast swathes of the Middle East, central and sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of South East Asia, vying extremist religious factions fight for power across ethno-religious fault lines de-stabling entire regions. Finally, the threat of climate change could spark natural disasters and mass migrationsunparalleled in human history. Such challenges would require a proactive, physical military presence to maintain security and provide humanitarian assistance. Given this international background, it is impossible to predict the nature or location of any future conflict. Disarming Britain now would be naïve at best.
There is also truth to the second argument. Warfare is increasingly conducted from behind computer screens rather than behind the sights of a rifle. The current military restructuring programme known as Army 2020 Refine takes this into account, outlining a vision of a future British Army that acts as a dynamic reactive force utilising new technologies rather than a cold war force designed for long-term campaigns. This does not mean that this should serve as a smokescreen for damaging budget cuts, nor that we should abandon all physical fighting capability. Sod’s Law dictates that the day we send our tanks to the scrapheap would be the day before we most need them. This point is not uninformed by history – the Falklands War began shortly after the withdrawal of the navy vessel HMS Endurance from the area following military cutbacks.
The answer to the final question is more complicated. Many Westerners today - especially on the left - balk at the prospect of foreign intervention as they argue such action reeks of neo-imperialism. This argument is ill-considered.
The values contained within certain cultures are categorically better than others. Societies have existed that practised ritual child sacrifice, chattel slavery, and constructed death camps.In contrast, Britain in 2018, at least in principle, is cemented to the ideas spawned from the enlightenment: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, equality before the law, secularism, tolerance of everything but intolerance, the freedoms of speech, thought, and expression. Such axiomatic British values are not only highly desirable but are also pragmatic and universal. For example, the emancipation of women through education, political empowerment, and agency over reproduction rights is both morally defensible and economically sensible. Amartya Sen, recipient of the Nobel in economics, comments that this applies to “areas of economic, political and social action, varying from rural credit and economic activities, on the one hand, to political agitation and social debates, on the other. […] Nothing, arguably, is as important today in the political economy of development as an adequate recognition of political, economic and social participation and leadership of women”. This is as true for Yorkshire as it is for Yemen. The same can be said for ideas such as freedom of speech. As John Stewart Mill summarised, “He who knows only his own side knows little of that”.
There are going to be times when we must defend our society as there is no shortage of those who loathe such values. Nobody can deny that such people exist - look no further than Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Of course, much of their manifesto is the sort of lunacy you would expect - what sort of loser would want to ban music? But an interesting charge against the Western World is the decision to reverse course on the Indonesian genocide in East Timor. In November 2001, Bin Laden scorned UN forces for ensuring the independence of majority Catholic East Timor following a state sponsored terror campaign conducted by occupying Indonesian forces.
To avoid conflict with certain fundamentalists, you therefore need to ignore genocide in East Timor. You need to leave the Kurdish minorities of Northern Iraq to their ghastly fate by the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime. You need to turn a blind eye to Yazidis being slaughtered by ISIS terrorists on the slopes of Mount Sinjar, women being sold at Libyan markets into sexual slavery, and little girls being blown up at Ariana Grande concerts. The UN has rightly mandated a legal and moral obligation for genocide to be prevented and the perpetrators punished. Some people are simply beyond the pale. Such people must be fought.
The question therefore is not whether we have a right to intervene, but rather if such intervention is likely to cause lasting, stable change in an area. From our most recent military engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya we should learn that military action needs to be fortified by policy informed by detailed geo-political / social understanding of the arena of conflict. This however does not negate the fact that if a decision is made to intervene, the United Kingdom still requires expeditionary military capability to make our presence felt. There is therefore no moral duty for Britain to disarm.
Societies built on liberal foundations are an aberration in human history rather than the norm and they must be defended. History is the story of humanity lurching from one crisis to the next, but even with this in consideration the current political climate is deeply concerning. We must not be afraid to stand up for our most fundamental principles. Without the projection of military strength, we cannot ensure that discussions like this can continue. This does not compromise left wing thinking. To quote Hillary Benn:
“As a party, we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have, and we never should, walk by on the other side of the road. And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight and all of the people we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy – the means by which we will make our decision tonight – in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.”