Global Britain must find its place in the world

With the last curtain about to fall on the tragedy of Afghanistan On August 31, critics will want to know why this production ended before making a logical conclusion to run. President Biden’s assertions are unconvincing.

Until last month, the Afghan National Army, backed by a modest but highly effective international force, had succeeded in containing the Taliban while Afghan civil society continued to develop. In this context, Biden’s hasty decision to end the so-called eternal war by the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks makes no strategic sense. In fact, making a strategic decision just to please an electoral slogan is an abolition of the spirit of the state.

The decision to withdraw is the latest in a series of mistakes that have characterized the Afghan campaign. There was near-universal agreement that getting the Taliban and al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan was the right approach in 2001, but then muddled thinking began.

Why did Britain meekly accept the American idea that it had not done “nation-building”? Why didn’t Britain try to persuade the US not to divert attention from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003? Why did the British start a poorly resourced operation in southern Afghanistan in 2006? And so the questions continue.

Recent calls to investigate higher-level decision-making in the Afghan campaign should not fall on deaf ears or be politically embarrassing. Errors and lessons learned must be exposed and processes changed to ensure the UK is better positioned for the future. We owe it to ourselves, our allies, and most importantly to the families of the 457 British soldiers and women who lost their lives in this campaign.

Meanwhile, the world does not stand still. Issues relating to our future foreign and defense policy – global Brexit – and our relationship with the United States, NATO and our other partners in the post-Brexit era all need urgent attention, given the geopolitical fallout from the Afghanistan disaster. As it stands now, the UK’s reputation – and its place in the global system – hangs in the balance.

Having shown that a group as close to the Middle Ages as the Taliban can humiliate the world’s sole superpower, by relating to ourselves, one wonders how much Beijing will like or enjoy it. UK vector group arrives in the South China Sea? What strength are we trying to demonstrate or demonstrate on a large scale and at a great cost? The one thing the Taliban and China have in common is their belief in their cause and their commitment to achieving their strategic goals within an unspecified time frame.

The same can be said of the broader Islamic agenda where there is no shortage of faith and time. This is the challenge faced by Western democratic countries where decisions are greatly influenced by the daily news cycle and the frequency of elections. The British state ship is not immune to this tendency to sail ahead of the prevailing winds, and it lacks a deep understanding of our strategic goals and a long-term vision of how to best achieve our foreign policy priorities.

Biden’s mistakes have not changed the fact that episodic large-scale military operations will always be on an alliance or coalition basis, and always led by the United States. This gives great importance, therefore, to restoring our relations with Washington at the political level, while recognizing that at the professional military and intelligence level, relations remain close.

But below the threshold of major military action, Britain has decisions to make. Freshly resigned from the European Union and having learned an instructive lesson in the limits of American friendship, it is crucial that the idea of ​​a global Britain be proven. This can best be done through the integrated application of our national diplomatic skills, our defense capability and the focused targeting of our international aid budget. Unfortunately, the latter has been drastically curtailed in the short term, but the three elements of our international engagement remain important, particularly if they are indeed incorporated as the recent review assumed.

If the end of our intervention in Afghanistan was a substantive lesson in how not to get things right, our intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, just a year before 9/11, showed the opposite. Skillful diplomatic maneuvering, a well-led British military intervention, and a commitment to assisting that country’s economic and political recovery all showed what Britain could achieve. Indeed, when the 2014 Ebola crisis threatened to undo all progress there, the continued presence and commitment of British civilian and military efforts averted a major catastrophe.

We may not have learned the lessons of the past regarding Afghanistan, but our experiences in places like Sierra Leone provide hope for the future. The presidency of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council, and a leading role in the Commonwealth are all opportunities for Britain to exercise its influence and respond to our international obligations. If we gain the humility to learn from our mistakes and build on our successes, global Britain can remain a powerful force for good on the world stage.

General Lord Dannatt served as Chief of the General Staff from 2006 to 2009


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