As the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine this week, we had a debate in Parliament about the shape of things to come. Here’s my speech for those who fancy a bit of a long read
It is clear from today’s events that we live no longer in an era of change but in a change of era. That has three significant implications for our strategy on Russia and China.
The three shifts entail a change in worldview, they require a shift in our defensive strategy and third, a renaissance in creative diplomatic strategy whereby, quite simply, we seek to build a new rules-based order for the new silk road.
Let me start with the new worldview that is going to be needed. I generally try to avoid a Manichean view of the world as divided into black and white, because the world is more complicated than that. But the truth is that, from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka, we are now witness to the creation of an enormous kleptosphere. Inside the borders of that kleptosphere, the merciless logic is that might is right: in the old phrase, the ‘strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. We have to be the guardians of what we might call the “kanonosphere”—the space around the world where there are rules, where there is the rule of law, where there is justice.
Just as we once rid the world of piracy and slave trading, we now have to be the indispensable nation that leads the charge against economic crime, no matter where that crime is perpetrated. We have to be the guardians of the new rules-based order for this simple reason: if we think the scale of global corruption today is bad, we must think for a moment about the world that is to come.
The World Bank estimates that the value of natural resources in countries with bad corruption scores is $65 trillion. Imagine the world of the future, in which those natural resources are extracted and the profits go to some of the worst people on earth. That is why there is now an urgency for a very different kind of philosophy to guide our foreign policy. We have to be the place, the country, the leader that seeks a world of not simply free trade but clean trade. That must be the defining features of our foreign policy for the years to come.
The second dimension is that we obviously need new defences.
We in this House have to confront the reality that our strategy of deterrence has failed. Most of us who spoke in the debate on the economic sanctions were profoundly disappointed with the weakness of the package proposed. Frankly, many of us feel that the Prime Minister was a little late to the party. “Too little, too late” will be written on his political gravestone, I fear. None the less, we must now accept that the threat of sanctions has failed and we must now offer President Putin the iron fist. That has to take aim at Russia’s key strategic weakness, which is its 20 km border.
We must now envisage a different security environment along this cold border. That means proactive talks with Finland and Sweden about how they partner with NATO; it means further reinforcing our presence in the Baltics; it means new conversations at the other end of the border, in Georgia; it means re-thinking how we equip those fighting the insurgencies in places such as South Ossetia and Transnistria; and it means a completely different approach to the Balkans, where we must accelerate the path to NATO membership for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
We now have to start to roll NATO forward in strength across the border, so that President Putin’s tactical advance results in what is ultimately a strategic defeat. I am afraid part and parcel of that is that we will have to consider the deployment of intermediate ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe. The truth is that the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty broke down because President Putin was breaking the rules and deploying SSC-8 missiles, which were prohibited by that treaty. Russia has built very effective anti-access and area-denial systems that safeguard it against air and naval attack. A defence against ground-launched cruise missiles is much more difficult. The Secretary-General of NATO has been right to rule out arming those missiles with nuclear warheads, but we must now think more aggressively about our defence posture, given the security threat President Putin now poses to this great homeland of Europe.
My final point is that it is time for a renaissance in British grand strategy. This is not an original point of mine but something that people such as Lord Ricketts have been writing about for some time. If we look back over history, we see so many examples of how, whenever Russian and Chinese leaders feel strong at home, they advance into the periphery—into the borderland. That was true under Tsar Nicholas and under the Qing empire, and it is true today. That means that a corridor of chaos is potentially going to emerge from the Baltic to Ukraine, down through Syria and Iran, through Kashmir, into Myanmar, into North Korea and into the South China sea.
We have not only to think creatively and imaginatively about how we provide a security environment for that space but to think anew about creating a Marshall plan for that space, just as we did in Europe after world war two. Then, we created the OECD to foster Europe’s economic development; we now need to do the same for the silk road. The passage to India, to the Pacific and beyond now needs a British-led institution that acts imaginatively at how we create new infrastructure. China will be spending something like $1.5 trillion on infrastructure across this great border zone. What are we spending? We do not know, but we could be using our skills to identify the infrastructure priorities in places such as Pakistan. We could be thinking imaginatively about how we mobilise infrastructure finance. London has been the home of infrastructure finance since we defeated Napoleon and Nathan Rothschild created the international bond market in London.
We have the wherewithal to mobilise sovereign wealth funds, which are growing radically and quickly in places such as the Gulf, and deploying that money in good strong contracts, with good strong standards, that avoid the kind of mistakes that we saw in the early days of the Qatari world cup stadium-building programme. We could be a force for good in building infrastructure, in financing infrastructure, and in making sure that there are good rules around that.
We could be thinking imaginatively about how we create free trade across this zone. We could be thinking imaginatively about how we settle disputes. We could be thinking imaginatively about the legal services and the consulting services that we offer out of London into this space. The reality is that, by 2050, the economies of the new silk road will be worth two and a half times the value of the economies on the Atlantic seaboard. The economic centre of gravity is moving east. This is possibly where I differ from the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. In my view, we need to think imaginatively about offering the welcoming hand of trade as well as offering a strong shield and a strong sword.
I will finish with a quote from Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State after world war two, who famously boasted that he was present at the creation. He warned us that
“the future comes one day at a time.”
We now do not have a single day to waste. That is why this debate is so very important.