Britain retains its importance as a strategic partner for African and Indo-Pacific countries, which are now facing greater threats from extremist violence from terrorist groups encouraged by the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan, the UK Defense Secretary warned.
Ben Wallace said the ability of the British military to conduct counter-terrorism operations well beyond its borders after making significant investments in drones would be called upon in the future.
During a high-level think tank debate on Policy Exchange, Mr. Wallace was joined by former Australian Foreign Secretary Alexander Downer, who claimed Britain was “back as a great power” on the world stage.
The immediate result of the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan was an increased terrorist threat, said Wallace, a former soldier. “The waves from Afghanistan will feel Al Shabab in Somalia and of course Al Shabab will pose a threat to British interests in Kenya and our friends in Kenya. The waves of another superpower portrayed as defeated by Islamic terrorism will be felt all over the world. “
After relying heavily on Uzbekistan and Pakistan during the evacuation of Afghanistan in August, he admitted that Britain had neglected to forge closer ties with “others whom we have not always paid much attention to in the past.”
Afghanistan also demonstrated that “some of our international relations are not so good and we need to invest in them,” he told the sidelines of the Conservative Party conference. “I think for many decades people have taken the comfort in which they live for granted.”
In view of the growing “great power” rivalry, especially in view of the rise of China, it is more important than ever for the West to unite “because alliances are important,” he said.
“What do our opponents not have? What do China and Russia not have? Friends. “Then, referring to the Kremlin’s alliances with the Belarusian regime, Wallace said,” If you define your friend as Belarus, you are in a pretty lonely place. “
Wallace also suggested that the West would face encouraged enemies after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.
“We have values that matter, and it is definitely time to stand up for those values because the only thing we are tested against is our determination.”
The problem in Afghanistan will “live with us for a long time” but the UK will be robust in dealing with terrorism, he said with reference to drone strikes.
“We now have skills that enable us to go from the outside to the inside, to take whatever action we must, in accordance with international law, to protect ourselves. It is never as good as being on site with partners, but we have these skills and will use them when necessary. “
He was joined by Mr Downer, a longtime Australian Foreign Secretary who argued that the new Aukus Agreement between his country, the UK and the US would reconnect Britain to the world.
“Britain is a leader with fundamental liberal democratic values and this world would be a more stable place if those values prevail,” he said. “The signs are there that the UK is back to being a major player and Britain is contributing … and it has been very exciting to see this transformation of UK foreign and security policy.”
Alicia Kearns, a MEP on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament, argued that an important lesson from the Afghanistan debacle was the need for the West to be resilient.
“We cannot run away from ongoing conflict, from eternal wars that we don’t want,” she said. “It is a sign of confidence and courage to stand strong and steadfast behind our allies. It is not a weakness, it is not a failure, it is a realization that stability takes time and has to be built from the ground up. “
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said America’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was a “return to isolationism”.
“It is the United States that is moving away from its global leadership role, and I think it is just as true under Joe Biden as it was under Donald Trump,” Harper told the event, titled The UK’s Integrated Review in the Post Afghanistan.
Updated: October 5, 2021 at 5:43 pm