The British state must be transformed to meet the threats we face
4 minute read
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping observed years of failure by the West to respond to Russian encroachment and Chinese anti-democratic influence.
We encouraged them to join us in the belief that, despite our bluster, Putin’s actions in Ukraine and China’s growing influence are in their mutual interest and will go largely unchallenged. Western governments, and the UK government in particular, must transform to match and deter their ambitions.
But President Xi is very different from the usurper Putin. Putin’s rogue regime is fundamentally weak. He is trying to prove his power despite Russia’s internal dysfunctions and economic failure. China relies on a position of strength. Some estimates suggest that by 2050 China’s economy will be twice the size of that of the United States.
Putin’s performance on Russian television addressing his security council highlighted how Putin expresses his emotions of frustration, hurt pride and desire for revenge. According to him, only great powers matter, and if you can’t force your smaller neighbors to submit, you’re not a great power.
President Xi has toned down his earlier strong support for Putin. He realized that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine would mobilize the West and strengthen its competitive position, not only against Russia but also against China. Xi is happy to bide his time – no need to point out the obvious parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan. It is convenient for President Xi to distract from his own threats to Taiwan, democracy in Hong Kong and his annexation of the South China Sea.
We have a good understanding of the Russian problem in our analytical community and China, but until recently successive prime ministers and the machinery of government that should advise them have chosen to turn a blind eye to both issues. This must now change. The UK finds itself without the tools to promote international security in an increasingly multipolar world.
Our army has lost its ability to fight an even enemy – we can’t even field a division against a Russian division. We have 5,000 troops per NATO member. Our judicial system allows Russian and Chinese agents to exploit vulnerabilities inherent in our democratic system.
The UK finds itself without the tools to promote international security in an increasingly multipolar world.
Russia is only the world’s 11th largest economy, but it has $630 billion in foreign exchange reserves, supplied by gullible Western countries that wanted cheap energy. They continued to invest lavish sums in hypersonic missile technology, new generations of warships and submarines, nuclear-tipped torpedoes and rockets capable of shooting down satellites.
Russia is investing in strategic autonomy. The question is whether the UK and the rest of Western Europe are ready to do the same. Germany has finally abandoned its detente position vis-à-vis Russia; we do not know what will replace it. The French attempt at independent negotiations ended in failure. The United States is divided and very weak.
The Post-Brexit Integrated Review was a big step forward, but the stable context in which it was written has been shattered. The whole of the British state must now be put on a war footing. Much like the first Covid response, Whitehall has little structure, capacity, skill or experience to deal with what is happening now.
Russia has a permanent national HQ, working 24/7, 365 days a year, which organizes its range of hybrid warfare campaigns. It encompasses all aspects of government. Where is the equivalent UK headquarters located? Our National Security Council has existed for 12 years, but what does it do? Ministers were caught off guard by institutionalized complacency. There must now be a transformation of institutions and attitudes so that the UK can help the free world to meet the despotic threats we face.
Sir Bernard Jenkin is a former Shadow Defense Secretary and former member of the Defense Select Committee.
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