Reformation – without a security and defence policy the Lib Dems are toast

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Uncomfortable as it is for people of a liberal and democratic disposition to face the harsh realities of a rough and tumble world, the government must deal with the bully who disregards the norms of international rule-based peaceful co-existence. The same applies within the nation-state; it is the government which polices the law of the land and in both cases is there to provide the secure infrastructure which supports the well-being of the citizen and society.

In a globalised world, how on earth (literally) as liberals can we perpetuate the emotive implication of them and us? Citizens everywhere belong to the global village, and we need to contribute to the policing of the village rules for co-existence. As a nation-state, we should focus on our contribution outside, or external to, our part of our village.

From an international standpoint, and we are internationalist, aren’t we? The first sacred cow which has to be scrapped is the concept of foreign policy with its implicit narrative of “foreigners”. The second sacred cow for slaughter is to replace the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with a Ministry of External Affairs. Oh dear, I see the massacre turning into a blood bath!

What do we do external to our part of our village? We have inter-national relationships, we trade, we give development aid, and we contribute to international peacekeeping, upholding the world’s rules-based infrastructure. These all contribute to our national well-being or, if you like, “our security”. Thus, inward-looking and self-satisfying government structures need to transform neatly into a functional, fit for purpose forward-looking outfit. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Department for International Trade, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence should combine into a coherent, compact and concerted Department of State fit for the 21st century.

Of course, this is sheer fantasy in a conservative, entrenched society intent on subverting genuine policy to promote self-interest, division and the rich and powerful donors while scurrilously and covertly lending substance to undemocratic, neoconservative and populist regimes across the world. This is precisely why as progressive, radical, liberal and democratic advocates we, as Lib Dems, need to espouse an enlightened agenda for reform of our institutions to offer a viable alternative to de facto fascism.

Madeleine Albright, in her book “Fascism”, defines the phenomenon as “bullying”, pure and simple. The Lib Dems are “all over” the rights of minorities, and rightly so. However, ultimately the bully needs to be taken down!

International law needs a police force capable of the ultimate sanction, which is an armed force. Our contribution needs to be under the firm control of External Affairs. In sum, abolish the stand-alone MOD and put it inside a modern, tight and untainted Ministry of External Affairs. Hence, we move to a coherent defence and security policy.

The recent merger of Department for International Development into the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is window dressing; it is another Tory miss-step which exposes their neo-liberal agenda. The Lib Dems must embed our internationalist vision and strategy in the reformation of government.

* Paul Fisher is the Chair of Liberal Democrats in France.

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  • Paul,Why is the recent merger of two of the departments you propose merging just window dressing? Why is the renaming you propose not just window dressing?

    I can see the case for combining departments but what criteria should be used to say when this should happen? I don’t think you need to merge the MOD for it to be under control. All Departments of State are under the control of State.

    Your de facto fascist argument has me scratching my head a bit – can you clarify it please? How would having a merged and renamed Depart for External Affairs combat de facto fascism in a way that it’s constituent parts do not currently? Or, if your point is the constituent parts are de facto fascist, how would the new whole avoid de facto fascism of it’s old parts?

  • David Evershed 3rd Sep '20 - 2:20pm

    Neoliberalism – a modified form of liberalism tending to favour free-market capitalism.

    What’s not to like?

  • @ David Evershed “What’s not to like?”

    The impact on the less fortunate of the welfare changes & austerity cuts (for starters) between 2010-15, and the consequent judgement of the electorate in May 2015 which resulted in the loss of 49 seats and countless deposits.

    Apart from that it’s all Hunky Dory, Mr Evershed.

  • The headline from all sides of the media would be “Lib Dems want to scrap the MOD”. Is it just me or does that not sound like a vote winner?

  • “From an international standpoint, and we are internationalist, aren’t we?”

    No, we are, sadly not. We cannot even get on with our neighbours in Europe, it’s called the European Union.

    We have sunk so low in our isolationism that the future is very bleak.

  • Paul Reynolds 4th Sep '20 - 12:22pm

    Excellent, thought-provoking article. There is some history of relevance, summarised very briefly.. . In the days of Empire, there were effectively two Cabinets in the British government; one dealing with overseas matters (ie ‘colonial possessions’) and one dealing with domestic matters. The overseas cabinet was the superior of the two and closely linked to officials ‘advising the monarch’, but the government ran the fiction that the domestic cabinet was superior, for obvious reasons. Over time and as the Empire shrank, functions were divided among a small number of Cabinet Sub-Committees, (the very existence of which was ‘secret’ until relatively recently), and the rubber stamp Privy Council. The key external Cabinet Sub-Committee dealt with defence, foreign policy and international development, and where international aims (often covert) were pursued; and also where defence, military exports, aid, intel, and trade were woven together if necessary. David Cameron when PM ‘reformed’ this system by creating out of the ‘external’ Cabinet Sub-Committee, a National Security Council, which eroded the external-only focus of this Cabinet Sub-Committee by including aspects of domestic ‘prevention of terrorism’. There’s a long story here to be told one day, but determing the aims of reform and where we want to be, must start with where we are now and how we got here. How does the UK focus its external affairs better without (eg) foreign policy being used to promote arms sales, or aid being used to promote trade agreements or large contracts for UK interests (such as the Pergau Dam scandal which led to the creation of DfID in 1997) ?

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