Two hundred years ago last month, with Napoleon about to suffer ignominy at Waterloo, and after decades of war, UK ambassadors were sitting down alongside their counterparts from the great nations of Europe at the Congress of Vienna to negotiate a peace that lasted almost a century.
Today, diplomacy - our ability to understand and shape world affairs - is more important than ever.
I want to thank all of you for what you’ve done for Defence, and to help me personally.
While examples from 30 countries I visited over last year are invidious, nonetheless I would pick, from across the continents: Iain Lindsay’s tireless work on the new Naval Base Agreement in Bahrain; James Bevan cementing our relations with the new Modi government by opening up a fresh Indian perspective on the First World War; and Christian Turner working day and night to conclude a difficult Defence Co-operation Agreement with Kenya.
That’s defence engagement at its best.
But I have to tell you, the Prime Minister and I now need you to do more.
We live in an interconnected world with a multitude of dangers emerging from every direction. We’ve recently seen fresh horrors perpetrated by Islamist extremists in Tunisia and Boko Haram in Nigeria. We’ve witnessed ISIL terrorists pushing for a caliphate right across the Middle East. We’ve seen a resurgent Russia threatening the borders of Eastern Europe. And we’ve watched, an increasingly competitive China causing ripples in the South China Sea.
These are challenges that not just undermine our global rules based system, but left unchecked threaten our national security and prosperity. They demand we remain bold, active, and outward looking.
And in the year of the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the Spending Review, they push us to be even more positive and assertive about Britain’s role in the future.
So we’re looking to you to tell the Defence story.
In the past your work might have been conducted in the hidden chambers of a Royal court. Today it takes place in the full glare of the media spotlight. We live in an age of 24 hour news, spread instantly through digital channels across the world.
At the same time our adversaries, whether ISIL or Russia, are much cleverer than our enemies of old. They are ceaselessly pumping out counter narratives of division and misinformation, to radicalise new followers, to distort their actions, and to hide their motives.
To combat their malign messages we must harness all of your skills, as well as the power of new media and the internet to deliver what I call “the faster truth”.
Your role is absolutely critical. It is your embassies that are at the frontline in our Order of Battle. I’ve already seen how successfully you tell our business story at the Olympics and with the Great campaign, resulting in major trade and investment opportunities.
But Defence too can make the case for Britain.
STANDING UP FOR OUR VALUES
First, it’s our defence, the hard power of protection and deterrence, that underlines our ability to stand up for our values of the rule of law and freedom and tolerance. And we’re standing up more, not less.
Five years ago, we were in Afghanistan but also running nine other operations around the world. Today, it’s 21 operations in 19 countries involving nearly 4,000 servicemen and women. That’s in addition to the 9,000 stationed around the world, from Brunei to the Falklands, from Cyprus to Kenya. And those operations are confronting aggression wherever we find it.
Against ISIL, over the past 10 months, our planes have carried out 1,000 missions and conducted 300 strikes, flying twice a day, six days a week. As well as combat craft we’re also flying surveillance and unmanned aircraft, including Sentinel, Sentry, Reaper, and Rivet Joint. 30 per cent of the coalition’s intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance fleet is ours.
And as the Prime Minister has announced, we will be sending 125 more troops into Iraq, bringing our commitment up to 900 across the Gulf and Cyprus. We’re already training moderate Syrian forces outside Syria.
In Eastern Europe we’ve upped the numbers on NATO training exercises from 3,000 to 4000. We’ve committed 1,000 personnel to each year of the Very High-Readiness Joint Task Force. And we have staff in each of the new Eastern HQs. Meanwhile, I’m sending the RAF Typhoons back to the Baltic next year
for the 3rd year in a row.
We’re training around 1000 members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in infantry, intelligence and logistics, adding medevac, winter resilience and reconnaissance skills, to help save lives and reduce casualties.
In Africa we’re committing more forces to Nigeria, sending in 130 infantry to help sustain the new government there.
No other country, outside the US, is doing as much as this right around the world. There are very few countries who at 10 days notice could send a ship, helicopters and 700 men and women to Sierra Leone.
We deployed HMS Bulwark and 3 Merlin helicopters to the Mediterranean, and the very next day ordered C-17s, Hercules and Chinooks to Nepal.
We do all this with our allies. We’re strengthening our special relationship with the United States, working together across the world from the Baltic to the Indian Ocean.
And in the past year I’ve met my French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, eight times. Next year our Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, with some 1,000 British and French personnel, will also take part in an exercise to bring it up to full operating capacity.
We lead on NATO readiness and reform
We lead EU efforts in the Mediterranean
We are working with the Five Powers in South Asia
That’s global reach.
Second, Defence continues to demonstrate British technology, British brainpower and British innovation.
Our two new aircraft carriers are taller than Niagra Falls and three times as large as Invincible but will operate with the same size crew. Our new Astute class submarines are as sophisticated as the Space Shuttle, with the most powerful torpedoes in the world. And nearly a fifth of every F35 assembled in the US – the largest defence programme in the world – is British.
From Afghanistan, blood-stemming dressings are now standard in the NHS and your smart phone is splash proof because of British innovation. Computers, thermal imaging, and liquid crystal displays all came from UK defence.
I want the SDSR to better harness the power of our technology sector.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
My third point is that Defence is planning for the future.
Because we’ve sorted out the £38 billion black hole and balanced the defence budget, like the economy, we’ve moved from recovery to renewal.
We’ve the fifth biggest defence budget in the world, the biggest in Europe, and the second biggest in NATO.
We’re on track to create a Future Force that is flexible and agile, combining Regulars and Reserves and supported by contractors and civilians.
We’re investing £160 billion over 10 years – fully protected within the Defence Budget – so that our people have the best equipment money can buy - new frigates, armoured vehicles, attack helicopters, and joint strike fighters.
And we will start replacing the four ballistic missile submarines to protect us from the nuclear threat in future.
We have always been a vital part of what President Truman called “the shield against aggression.” As a new Government, with a new mandate, we’re determined to keep it that way.
So I ask today for even more of your help.
We need you to convert our military prowess into global capital. We need to get more credit for what we’re doing.
Help me tell the Defence story. Not just through the publication of this book, which offers a useful reminder of some of the key Defence facts and figures. Not just by upgrading and expanding our Defence Attaché service.
Five years ago we inherited an appalling deficit, the same proportion as Greece. Today, we’re top of the NATO class. Today, we’re one of only four nations in the world building air craft carriers. Building aircraft carriers and eliminating our budget deficit.
But let’s be bolder and more assertive. Britain is back, as the Prime Minister says.
Back here at home, the economy going strongly.
Back abroad too, standing tall to defend our values and play a leading roll with allies in fronting up to aggression, keeping our people safer as a result.