Pauline Neville-Jones: Give substance to the phrase ‘Global Britain’

Police in protective suits at the shopping centre in Salisbury where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found critically ill,
Police in protective suits at the shopping centre in Salisbury where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found critically ill,
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I DO not envy the task faced by the modern policy-maker on national security. We face a fast-shifting scene in which there are few obvious anchorages for a country such as ours.

International terrorism is with us for the foreseeable future. The Middle East is in turmoil and heading in directions which are both dangerous for it and capable of sparking much wider conflagration. We should not forget how tense and fragile that area is. Europe in particular faces immediate and increasing aggressive activity on the part of Russia which has spent its national capital on developing hybrid military capability and nuclear capabilities which, in the absence of much else, it shows an alarming tendency to want to use and exploit.

It intends to do us harm inside our societies as well as externally. We should not forget that national security these days has to do with the integrity of our political systems as well as our safety. Declining powers – and Russia is a declining power – can do a lot of damage on their way down.

China is the other major autocracy, but the challenge it poses is much more complex, long-term and, frankly, important, even than Russia. If we do not meet it, we will not only fundamentally change, or allow the change of, the international power balance but undo the western-originated framework of international laws and institutions that have been built up, essentially by the West, since the Second World War and under whose umbrella we shelter today.

In deciding how the UK should respond to the challenges that it faces, we cannot escape a fundamental question about our own behaviour as a nation: do we want to be an active player, or do we basically want to opt out?

The UK suffered an unprovoked, lawless and highly dangerous attack from Russia on our domestic soil in Salisbury. We received from our allies very considerable backing and a display of solidarity, which has greatly strengthened our hand in dealing with the aftermath.

In this context, I wish that the National Cyber Security Centre had not waited until now to make known to a wider audience its concerns about Russian penetration of our networks.

Cocooning people from the risks that they face until they become imminent does no service. ​People who live in ignorance will harbour a false sense of security.

This is my point: the polling on the UK’s military participation in upholding the international ban on the use of chemical weapons in Syria shows uncomfortably lukewarm popular support for UK participation. I know that some people will say that that had to with the question of consulting Parliament; that is true, but only up to a point. There are elements to it and it betokens a lack of trust in government – I am not talking about this Government, but government generally – for some time on the part of the public. It needs to be fixed by much more frank discussion than we get about the issues we face. My worry about the polling is that it tells us that the public do not seem to see that, if the UK opts out of joining its allies in defending principles it has authored and indeed upheld in the past, it will get less in return.

Solidarity is reciprocal. Donald Trump may not be the nation’s favourite president but the United States’ commitment to European security upholds our freedoms and the Prime Minister is quite right to seek to get on with him. There are some fundamentals here that we should not forget, because nobody ever influenced anybody by holding their nose.

Far from opting out, this country needs to give real substance to the slogan “global Britain”. Perceptions of weakness increase the dangers we face. Being global is not primarily about new trade ties or reviving Commonwealth links, welcome as these are; it is about facing up to the real security challenges. We have done well in combating the terrorist threat and successive Governments deserve credit, though there is still much to be done on the integration front.

But on the other hand, the UK has not been in the forefront on Ukraine, which, among other things, is about the rule of law on our own continent, and rather important. We have yet to have our cyber-defences truly tested, although I acknowledge and support the fact that serious work has been done in this area. However, we do not yet know how successful we have been.

Our growing defence relationship with France has helped us with the defence of our own shorelines and skies, but we should listen to the increasingly urgent calls of our senior officers for more money for defence.

That is because some of the greater challenges we face lie in the Far East. The main burden undoubtedly falls on the Americans, but there is reciprocity in all of that, and if we do not make a contribution as European allies — and we are rich enough to do so — we ​cannot expect the same degree of support we have had hitherto in Europe.

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones is a Tory peer and former Security Minister. Educated at Leeds Girls’ High School she spoke in a Lords debate on national security – this is an edited version.

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones is a Tory peer and former Security Minister. Educated at Leeds Girls’ High School she spoke in a Lords debate on national security – this is an edited version.