This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Speech delivered by Minister for International Security Strategy at the Jakarta Convention Centre, Jakarta, Indonesia on Wednesday 23 March 2011.
Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s a genuine pleasure to be with you at this inaugural Jakarta International Defence Dialogue.
As we discuss international consensus building, it’s entirely fitting that Indonesia - one of the most stable and open democracies in Asia; a G20 member; and the current chair of ASEAN - should be our hosts, and I congratulate the Indonesian Defence Minister on seizing this important initiative and thank them on behalf of all of us for their warm hospitality.
Britain and Indonesia have a long history, stretching back to a time when nutmeg was the oil of its day as Britain wrestled with the Dutch over control of the Spice Islands.
And a time when Sir Stamford Raffles - more usually associated with Singapore - was Lieutenant Governor of Java - 200 years ago this year. Raffles was an unusually perceptive man, appreciating the Javanese as a “highly polished people, considerably advanced in science, highly inquisitive, and full of penetration.” Which will no doubt be reflected in the questions later.
Of course, this conference is about the entire Asia-Pacific region, and the options we have to tackle Defence and Security issues which blur national and regional boundaries. It’s an incredibly diverse region in terms of population size, wealth, resources, customs, economies, and politics. That’s reflected in the impressive list of nations who have come to attend, and I’m delighted to be sharing this opening panel with colleagues from Indonesia and Australia; and from China and Singapore.
Indeed, when we talk of international consensus building I think that Indonesia’s national motto - “Bhinneka tunggal ika” - translated as “Unity in Diversity” - is as good a starting point as any. Because the first step in building Defence and Security consensus is deciding whether regional security will be defined by co-operation or competition.
All nations have their own agendas based on opportunities, challenges, strengths, weaknesses and priorities. But consensus is most likely when nations agree that many of the threats they face are similar, or indeed shared - threats such as trans-national terrorism, border protection, and climate change all fall into that category.
The next step is building a robust and pragmatic mixture of formal and informal Defence and Security arrangements which have the flexibility to deal with unexpected threats and events at short notice. Organisations like ASEAN, the Commonwealth, and the Five Power Defence Arrangements, have a good track record in promoting dialogue and fostering consensus.
However, the maze of bilateral, multilateral, regional, and international fora can make it difficult to co-ordinate a region-wide position or approach. We know this from our own region, and it’s why we’ve been at the forefront of NATO reform. I challenge anyone to convince me that having 350 or 400 committees, each acting in the spirit of consensus before any decision has moved forward, is an efficient way for NATO to deal with the world as we find it today.
We must also recognise the limits of consensus. For example, not all nations have the same view of democracy. Not all believe in a free press. Not all believe in the logic of nuclear non-proliferation. This shouldn’t necessarily mean we stop engaging with these countries - far from it. And when a group comes to consensus on a matter, they don’t all have to think it’s the best decision. They just have to agree they can live with it.
But important as building consensus is, it only takes you so far. It must be backed by effective strategies, and in our view the most effective strategies are underpinned by genuine partnerships. That’s why I want to talk about consensus and partnership in the Asia-Pacific region, and how Britain might help with both.
As the President said, today we live in a world which is more volatile, more uncertain, and more interconnected than ever before. Just look at the consequences of 9/11, the international financial crisis; and rapidly-moving events in North Africa and the Middle East.
In particular, the situation in Libya shows how quickly the international community can be drawn in, and highlights the intense diplomatic effort required to achieve a consensus. Under the backing of UN Resolution 1973, the United Nations acted with extraordinary speed and remarkable consensus to come together with the express and focused purpose of protecting civilians, and allowing the people of Libya to determine their own future, free from the appalling brutality unleashed by the Gaddafi regime.
What we are doing there is necessary, legal, and right - not only because we are under a moral duty to intervene, but also because it is in the interests of national and international security to do so. We in Britain remember the consequences of a Libyan regime working against international stability. We cannot forget, for example, Libya’s responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, the biggest terrorist attack ever on British soil.
In Britain, these events validate our decision to reject the notion of ‘strategic shrinkage’ and to remain a global player. Our recent Strategic Defence and Security Review committed us to having Armed Forces which remain among the very top rank of military powers - supported by the fourth largest Defence budget in the world - and which can adapt and respond to new world realities. We will continue to protect our national security, wherever it is threatened.
But we all recognise the importance and value of partners and alliances if we are to deal with issues which go beyond our borders in this volatile world. Threats originating in one part of the globe can quickly become threats in all parts of the globe. Addressing them increasingly requires an equally rapid and co-ordinated global response - as UN Resolution 1973 illustrates. Strong, reliable, and enduring alliances and partnerships, underpinned by a series of bilateral and multilateral arrangements, bring influence.
We also believe that by helping other nations to build up their own Defence and Security capabilities, Britain can contribute to regional security and help to tackle threats to our own security closer to their source.
And in this region, the case for strategic partnerships is unarguable. Britain’s national interests are directly affected by the Defence and Security challenges here, and intimately linked to those of our friends and our partners. Our economies, people, and interests are linked as never before.
So let me set out five areas where Defence and Security consensus should be underpinned by partnership, and where Britain might help.
The first area is political. Defence and Security dialogue can exert huge leverage on bilateral and regional relationships. But there has to be the political will and commitment to build stronger bilateral and multilateral relationships across the Asia-Pacific region.
As my colleague Dr Liam Fox, the British Defence Secretary has said, “this new era is one of necessity, one of beneficial partnership between nations, not optional isolation. It is not a choice between multilateral or bilateral - the requirement is for both.” This is beneficial to all, not a threat to sovereignty - strong, enduring alliances and partnerships do not constrain power and influence, but multiply their effect.
It begins with dialogue - which is why I’m here today. Britain has long maintained an unrivalled network of relationships. But for too long there has been a tendency amongst previous British Governments to allow our relations with this part of the world to lapse into what some have referred to as ‘benign neglect’. To put it bluntly, we were in danger of being seen as single-issue lobbyists, with limited influence on the broader things which matter most. That’s why we put building new partnerships with significant emerging powers like Indonesia, and reinvigorating long-standing partnerships elsewhere in the region, right at the top of our agenda.
The second area is building consensus on rules-based norms - often referred to as the ‘global commons’. Relationships take time to build, but the effect of enhanced dialogue is a better understanding of the values which bind us such as justice, the rule of law, and freedom. And values like these have influenced the evolution of organisations such as ASEAN, ISAF and FPDA - now in its fortieth year and the cornerstone of Britain’s engagement with the Asia Pacific region - adding to their legitimacy and making them more effective.
The third area is accepting that no-one has a monopoly on good ideas. For example, counter-terrorism is something which both Britain and Indonesia have extensive experience, and can share best practice. And nothing sharpens the skills like joint exercises, joint planning, and learning the lessons.
That’s why we look forward to the forthcoming visit of HMS RICHMOND to the region, including Jakarta in May. That’s why we are delighted to sponsor a Master’s degree course in Defence and Security Management at the new Defence University here in Jakarta. And that’s why we offer places on our prestigious courses such as the Royal College of Defence Studies to countries from this region and around the world.
Fourthly, crisis management. If the 2004 Asian Tsunami and recent events in Libya, New Zealand, and Japan have taught us anything, it’s that crises can sometimes emerge with little or no notice which are beyond the capacity of any one nation to deal with.
It’s at times like these that we rely on international co-ordination and co-operation. But there has to be better co-operation between Defence and Security, and our diplomats and international development organisations - what we call a ‘Comprehensive Approach’.
The fifth area where consensus and partnership go hand in hand is, of course, trade. In today’s global economy, our prosperity and security are inextricably bound with each other.
Here, we see real opportunities. There are opportunities for more effective burden sharing arrangements - and I pay tribute to the contribution which many countries here are making to Peace Support Operations and in Afghanistan not to mention counter piracy in the Arabian Sea supporting world trade and security in the region. There are opportunities for pooling and sharing expertise with those allies and partners whose security interests and military capabilities are closest to our own.
And one of the key conclusions of our Defence and Security Review was that diversity of supply becomes even more important when resources are scarce. Together, we should examine all the barriers to closer industrial partnerships in this region such as collaborating on research, development, and production of high technology equipment, and, increasingly, technology sharing and transfer, and related Industrial Participation.
For instance, as we plan our new frigate programme and as part of our thinking on our future warship programmes, we are committed to establishing an early dialogue in order to share thinking on operational requirements. And to assessing the scope for working together closely in order to deliver much-needed international interoperability and genuinely affordable solutions.
In recent decades, this region has enjoyed extraordinary economic growth rates. A confident and prosperous Asia-Pacific matters.
But for all the benefits which globalisation has brought, we know it has a darker side too. The changes which have brought the promise of common prosperity have also brought threats to common security.
So this region needs Defence and Security arrangements which matter, and which are truly effective.
Building a consensus will have a major role to play. That’s why we will do whatever we can to help the healthy development of a cohesive and responsible ASEAN. And that’s why our commitment to FPDA remains as strong as ever.
We also need to start thinking of each other as Defence and Security partners. Because how we tackle, collectively, the challenges we face is one of the defining questions of our generation.
As the Elizabethan courtier and scientist, Francis Bacon, noted, “He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.”