We should spend Foreign Aid on Commonwealth security after Brexit

We should spend Foreign Aid on Commonwealth security after Brexit

The Government has accepted the decision of the British electorate in the 2016 EU Referendum and has moved to leave the EU in the best way possible and embrace a global trading policy. Accepting such an outlook, it is important to examine what UK interests may be and how best to approach international relations in a post-Brexit world.

For many years, anything unpopular could be blamed on the EU with a caveat that there was nothing ministers could do. Now, politicians need to consider that ultimately they are both responsible and accountable and that they need to develop a global long term strategy to increase trade, prosperity and security in a world which is increasingly unstable.

The UK has many advantages and a colourful and largely successful British history, particularly during the first half of the 20th Century. While the UK military is currently not numerically strong, it still has the fifth largest military budget in the world, excellent training and dedicated individuals with an unparallelled military tradition of success – largely unbroken for some 250 years.

In addition, the UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a nuclear power deploying a significant nuclear deterrent and numbered among the G7 of leading economic powers. The UK has considerable financial strength and has well-known expertise in many areas from financial services to technical innovation. For ideological reasons, many will not acknowledge these advantages, but the UK does indeed have a continuing leading role to play in world politics, in “soft power” perhaps more than in “hard power”. Widely respected around the world, it can and does wield considerable influence and, with careful nurturing, could wield significantly more.

One of the big advantages which the UK has over other countries is membership of the Commonwealth of Nations composed of mostly former colonies. In 2013, the combined economies of the Commonwealth overtook the Eurozone, and the IMF forecasts that in 2019 the Commonwealth will be larger than the EU itself, creating 17.7% of global output compared with the EU’s 15.3%. The UK already has bilateral relations with many of the Commonwealth countries and gives foreign aid to many of them. Expanding and extending this by increasing funding to the Commonwealth Secretariat from the foreign aid budget should be considered. The Commonwealth could form the basis of a loose organisation with common interests. Focused bilaterals will help considerably when it comes to developing trust, confidence and mutually beneficial trade deals as well as setting a foundation for other areas of cooperation and mutual interest. This must be a partnership of equals.

National interest is the key, now more than ever, but the term “national interest” must avoid being self-defeatingly narrow and short-term. Global stability and prosperity is in the national interest. A national interest policy building on predominantly bilateral arrangements may lead, in time, to possible security arrangements. The Five Powers Defence Agreement – involving New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Malaysia and Singapore – could be a useful template. It promotes military cooperation but does not commit states to any specific action, yet has had a regional influence for good and stability. This security architecture would mainly be composed of nations with common interests, which encompass the globe and are derived from trade relations, protection of trade and a desire for political stability. The intent would be to protect and support trade and contribute towards global security by ensuring the safety of the states, the cultures and the prosperity of its people but which is inherently flexible and democratic and without specific defence commitments. Hard alliances governed by treaties can sometimes destabilise more than they protect.

Developing security architecture outside of NATO and the EU, using common interest among nations, is something which should be considered in order to promote global stability. The NATO Charter specifies geographical limitations and therefore it is often difficult, and indeed perhaps undesirable, for NATO to operate outside of its designed area, not least as political agreement from small states with little at stake can block any action. Global security has therefore been delivered by coalitions of the willing. The UK as part of a loose security alliance based around key Commonwealth countries as described above could help to bring more strength and options to such coalitions both in terms of soft and hard power.

Within the UK, security architecture in this complex environment is one that will need considerable thought and planning. Short-term opportunistic policies will not be sufficient if the national interest and security of the country is to be preserved and long term planning and commitment of resources by Governments will be a necessity to maintain UK global interests. Short term policies designed mainly to get politicians re-elected or to further their ideological prejudices rather than to ensure the security of the country have endangered the people both in the UK and in Europe. Now that the UK is breaking away from the EU, but not Europe, proper consideration will need to be given to defence and security by politicians. A Defence Engagement Strategy, such as recently published by the Government, does not substitute for a lack of personnel and equipment; defence must be properly resourced.

Security policy is much more than just defence policy and the armed forces. It is indeed across the whole of government and most assuredly concerns foreign policy. It needs to be properly coordinated and it is now important that the Department for International Development (DfID) and the foreign aid budget are included in this coordination effort. The generous amounts of money which the UK is prepared to spend on foreign aid should be seen to attract some return. As the foreign aid budget is set by law, it is unlikely to be changed any time soon as the Government cannot spare the necessary political capital and resources. Instead, the Government must define its use more broadly and not be afraid to use DfID funds in support of democracy; if need be in military assistance spending. The Government must be robust in repudiating the inevitable criticism from those with a different agenda and a suspicion bordering on paranoia of things military.

The desirability for overlapping multi-layered security arrangements within a complex and unstable world is clear. Much of the rationale for leaving the EU centres on global trade and the ability to make trade agreements without having the EU veto them. Trade is important and post-Brexit trade agreements with many states are looking encouraging even at this early date. The Commonwealth is a ready-made, loose organisation which includes many poor countries worthy of UK support, but others which are the UK’s equal in infrastructure and financial strength. With the development of a comprehensive and well thought out set of bilateral relationships with individual states, supported where practicable by DfID money, it should be possible to enhance security, promote trade and increase prosperity throughout the Commonwealth while also aiding global political stability as a consequence.