In defence of a rules based order: transatlantic security co-operation in a dangerous world
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Speech by Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence.
I’d like to thank CSIS for hosting this event, and John Hamre for that kind introduction.
It’s a privilege to be back in the United States.
A country with which we have so much in common.
Language, culture, but also all those fundamental values of justice, of freedom, of the right to choose our governments, and above all the rule of law.
In a year full of poignant anniversaries, it’s worth recalling that these were values that were fought for at great cost 150 years ago
…under the leadership of that great defender of liberty, the 16th President, tragically assassinated just a mile or so away from where we meet this morning.
But Abraham Lincoln, whose memory is rightly honoured in London with a statue facing our Parliament, knew that for our values to flourish we must rely on the rule of law.
And in modern times we defend that rule of law internationally as well as at home.
Our Presidents and Prime Ministers, from Roosevelt and Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher, to President Obama and David Cameron, have been unequivocal in saying that where those values are threatened, we must act.
As a young Member of Parliament in 1984 I had the enormous privilege of meeting Ronald Reagan on his way to the 40th commemoration of the Normandy landings. He spoke the following day at Omaha of allied forces coming
not to take but to return what had been wrongly seized… not to prey on a brave and defeated people but to nurture the seeds of democracy among those who yearned to be free again”.
Just as together we broke the bonds of totalitarian tyranny in the second World War, so we faced down the threat of communism in the cold war to win freedom for the peoples of eastern Europe.
More recently we have fought side by side in Afghanistan against al-Qa’ida and the Taliban who nurtured them. We helped ensure that 6.7 million Afghan children now go to school, that 8 million Afghans were able to vote last year for a new president. And crucially we prevented Al Qaeda from repeating their attacks on our streets and cities.
When I recall the bravery and sacrifice of our troops, 453 British lives and 2,356 US lives, I think of Lance Corporal Josh Leakey, last month awarded our very highest honour, the Victoria Cross. In an operation against the Taliban, he sprinted not once but 3 times under heavy machine gun fire to evacuate casualties, re-site guns, return fire, and turn the tide of the battle.
It was an unusual and remarkable act of bravery. But one aspect was not unusual but increasingly typical. For this gallant action took place within a combined UK-US Marine Corps assault, and 1 of the lives he saved was that of an American, US Marine Corps Captain Bocian. A perfect example of how closely our 2 militaries have worked together, and fought together, in Afghanistan.
On Friday our Queen and country will remember not just his bravery but the service and sacrifice of all our personnel in that conflict at a special service of commemoration at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Of course our role in Afghanistan is not over. The UK has some 500 troops in the country, alongside US troops. Supporting the Afghans to take advantage of the opportunity our sacrifices have given them. We are committed to seeing that mission through.
Rules under threat
More broadly, it is easy to forget that the last quarter of a century, although punctuated by periodic crises, has been one of relative peace: political scientists tell us that the proportion of people killed in violent conflict fell to its lowest recorded point, and economies grew, with millions raised out of poverty.
That success was built upon the consolidation of an international rules-based order that codified the rights and obligations of states and of peoples. And that order did not exist by accident: it was underpinned by states working together, not least under the leadership of the US, for their collective defence and to deter those tempted to misbehave. Of course, there were challenges, there always are, but, by and large, the system has held.
We cannot take, we must not take, the international rules-based order for granted.
And today we are seeing a set of multiple, concurrent challenges to the international order that many seasoned practitioners and thinkers believe is unprecedented, a point that Senator McCain made cogently in his speech at the Munich Security Conference last month.
In Europe, we have seen Russia seek to change an international border by force and destabilise a neighbouring sovereign state, something we thought we had consigned to history…
In the Middle East, we see ISIL trying to establish a caliphate spanning the borders of Syria and Iraq…
And in Africa, we see Boko Haram causing mayhem in northern Nigeria and along its borders with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
New forms of fascism for our times, a perversion of Islam in the Middle East and north Africa and a subversion of democracy in eastern Europe.
What is to be done?
First, we must properly understand the nature of the threats we face, whether hybrid warfare seen in eastern Ukraine or ISIL’s twisting of Islam.
Secondly, we should deal appropriately but resolutely, together with our international partners, with the challenges we face today.
Thirdly, we should ensure that we have the continuing credibility and capability to deter anyone else tempted to do us harm or further challenge the international rules based order on which our security and prosperity depends.
The UK, like the US, has no intention of lowering its guard.
We should play to our strengths. Our values which have stood the test of time. Our partnership with longstanding allies and friends. And our capacity for innovation.
Let me say a few words on each of these: on capability, on partnerships and on innovation.
First, we must be credible and we must be capable. And we must be readier than ever to respond to multiple crises simultaneously.
Our Strategic defence and security review recognised this back in 2010.
Consequently, our armed forces have being reformed to provide the agility and deployability at scale that we need to deter and, if necessary, to engage.
We have that capability now, and we are investing in the future, with an equipment plan of £163 billion or $250 billion over the next 10 years.
We have almost 200,000 people in uniform. And we use them. Last year our army deployed on over 300 missions in over 50 countries.
We can deploy a division in the field, with sufficient notice. Few countries can say that.
The Royal Navy provides our continuous at sea nuclear deterrence, operate nuclear powered hunter killer submarines, amphibious ships and state of the art destroyers. The first of our 2 new aircraft carriers, the biggest ships the Royal Navy has ever had, was launched last year. Just last month we made an almost 1 billion pound commitment to our future frigate programme.
We are investing heavily in developing our cyber capability.
We have expanded and modernised our air transport, air to air refuelling and helicopter fleets.
We are the only other country operating the Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft, and have contributed it, AWACS aircraft and Sentinel to bolster the ISTAR picture against ISIL.
We have Tornado and the hugely impressive Typhoon fast jets in service, and are tier one partners in the JSF programme, with British pilots and planes already flying.
This is a set of capabilities few countries outside the US can match. And we set them to work.
In Iraq our Royal Air Force has struck some 176 targets, supporting ground forces, degrading ISIL and gathering vital intelligence. Our troops have trained over 1,000 Peshmerga and will be stepping up support in counter-IED this month. We stand ready to contribute to the training of the Syrian moderate opposition.
Meeting me in Kuwait last week General Terry recognised our role as second only to yours; the ‘indispensible partner’ to use the President’s words, not mine.
That brings me to the second pillar on which our future defence must rest: partnerships.
Complex global problems require global solutions. They can’t depend on the US alone, or even on just the US and the UK.
Together we’ve helped form an international coalition of some 60 nations against ISIL, to cut their funding streams, stop extremists crossing borders, degrade their capability, and discredit their poisonous ideology.
And we’re working with you to reform NATO, the bedrock of our defence, in Europe.
Make no mistake we’re after the same thing.
You want Europe to do more to pay its way on defence.
So do we.
You want to see an end to the decline in Europe’s defence spending that has a quarter of the alliance spending less than 1% of GDP on defence, and 20 countries spending less than 1.5%.
So do we.
It was our Prime Minister standing shoulder to shoulder with President Obama in Wales calling on NATO nations to up their commitment, who helped quicken the pace of change.
Getting all NATO nations to agree to reverse the decline in spending and to invest 20% of their defence budgets in equipment capabilities including emerging areas such as cyber, and to set up a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force that can respond in days not weeks to a breaking crisis.
Once more we in the UK are leading by example.
We are one of only four countries already meeting the 2% target.
We exceed the requirement to spend 20% on new equipment.
And we will be among the first framework nations to lead NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.
We have led the way on imposing tough sanctions on Russia.
We have contributed Typhoon fast jets to the Baltic air policing mission, and significantly increased our exercise programme in eastern Europe, to both reassure our allies and remind President Putin of our commitment to Article 5.
I announced last week further support for the Ukrainian armed forces, including infantry training and non-lethal equipment. We are considering further requests for help.
While NATO is at the heart of our defence, bilateral relationships are also important. They often allow us to get the job done more quickly and effectively.
So we’re working with France on our future missile requirements, on Unmanned Combat Air Systems, and this year we will test the new UK-France Combined Joint Expeditionary Force
And having patented the concept we’re now also developing a new Joint expeditionary force with the UK leading six like-minded nations from northern Europe to deliver a new highly flexible force able to respond to NATO and other contingencies.
Of course British influence extends far beyond Europe.
In the Gulf, where I was last week, we now consider the British defence presence in Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as a strategic whole, having recently signed an agreement for a new naval base in Bahrain, giving us for the first time a permanent presence east of Suez since 1971.
These partnerships are inherent in the international rules-based system. They are, of course, also crucial to defending it.
Finally, let me say a few words on innovation.
In his second annual message to Congress, Lincoln said:
the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.
That means, as your defense department is doing already, thinking anew about how we design and generate our forces, and how we deploy them.
As the DoD’s innovation initiative underlines, if we are to succeed in overcoming the challenges we face we need to maintain our technological edge.
As emerging economies compete for fifth generation technology we must continue to innovate.
The UK is proud that we publish 16% of the world’s top quality research.
But we are keen to do more to harness the intellectual power of our academics, scientists, engineers and the private sector.
So we have protected our research and development budget. And we are working with UK industry to set up a new Defence Solutions Centre which will create the capability and the technology to respond to future international opportunities.
Yet, as your ‘Offset strategy’ reminds us, at times of constrained defence budgets, we benefit enormously from working together.
We are already collaborating on around 100 distinct R&D programmes. And we are deepening that collaboration.
The US/UK Science and Technology Communiqué, signed last year, has already spawned several new ventures.
In the summer, Genesis, a new UK/US early-career scientists’ exchange programme will begin, covering priority technology areas such as space, data analytics, operational energy, cyber, and autonomy.
And leading experts from the US and the UK have agreed to join forces to investigate the potential of quantum imaging, working with the new network of quantum technology hubs which is being set up across the UK.
This is the first time the US has engaged in such a strategic, wide-ranging agreement to carry out underpinning research with another country.
Conclusion: strengthening our ties
As we look towards our next defence review, due to start after our election in May, when the key challenges I’ve talked about today will be reviewed and discussed in depth, we will continue to work closely with the DOD and the US military.
Because it is in both our interests to keep broadening and deepening our partnership.
No 2 countries have invested more, materially and intellectually, in building the international rules-based system than we have.
No one is better equipped to defend those values than we are. And no one has a stronger working relationship.
Our ability to operate together is unparalleled.
We have an unrivalled level of understanding, grounded in history, forged through operations and perfected through advanced joint exercises, training and defence education.
As Lincoln said
in a letter that he wrote to the people of Manchester
now inscribed on a statue in that same city
in a place fittingly called Lincoln Square
Whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.
We share Lincoln’s desire
And that is why the UK will continue to stand by your side; ready, willing and able to act as it always has done.
To safeguard the international rules-based system on which we both depend…
…and to defend the frontiers of freedom.