Yesterday, a bomb exploded in Liverpool, near the cathedral where a Remembrance Day service was later held. Three men were subsequently arrested under the Terrorism Act.
Over the weekend, Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s Prime Minister, called on Nato to intervene as migrants are directed towards his country’s borders by the Government of Belarus. Behind Alexander Lukashenko, its President, stands Vladimir Putin. The American Government reportedly briefed allies last week that Russia is preparing for a possible invasion of Ukraine.
A month ago today, David Amess was killed. Ali Harbi Ali, who was referred to the Prevent programme when a teenager, has been charged with the Southend MP’s murder, and with the prior preparation of terrorist acts.
The interpolation of events in Eastern Europe between two deaths in Britain may seem strange. But it is a way of repeating a point about the Government’s foreign and defence policy that is developing on this site.
“The Conservatives risk obsession with China to the exclusion of other threats, including Russia and Islamist extremism,” I wrote in July last year.
To be clear: this site is not a fan of the Chinese Communist Party. I agree with the broad thrust of what Neil O’Brien, our former columnist and now a Minister, and with Tom Tugendhat, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, have written for us about China.
O’Brien wants it washed out of our businesses, infrastructure and universities. Tugendhat agrees, and wants a new trade initiative to counter China’s belt-and-road one, “reinforcing the rule of law as the basis of international trade”.
The two MPs co-founded the China Research Group, which “looks to consider the longer term challenges and opportunities associated with the rise of China and its industrial and diplomatic policies”.
More power to its elbow. But as the Government ends the “golden decade” of Anglo-Chinese relations before its time, and MPs seek to haul China before the courts for genocide, it’s important to look at the threats to our national security in the round.
Perhaps we find it more difficult than ever to do so because, in the manner of Twitter (and other social media), the way we live now is to follow a few subjects that are “trending” – or in other words, which are of the moment.
China has been trending recently and Islamism has not, in the wake of the collapse of ISIS and hence of the latter’s appeal to Muslims: so much so that Boris Johnson failed even to mention Islamism during his speech to the Munich security conference earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Putin’s present exploitation of migrants is of a piece with his recent exploitation of gas. Whether Russia invades the Ukraine or acts through proxies, Eastern Europe is fragile, we have troops in the Baltic States, and NATO is a troubled institution.
In the absence of an Iraq or Afghanistan-type conflict, the potential of the Islamists to radicalise Britain’s Muslim population towards violent extremism appears to be limited.
Deeper conflict with Russia is another matter, and the signs of the times aren’t good. The main parties in Germany are lined up behind the Nord2 project. Emmanuel Macron has been pivoting towards Putin.
As France stokes the small boat crossings, the media obsesses over MPs’ outside interests and Boris Johnson broods over Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, be ready for these disruptions to themselves be disrupted.
The Prime Minister seems more willing to accomodate China than some of his colleagues – including perhaps Liz Truss – and not only because he wanted its help at COP26 (which was withheld).
The Government’s integrated strategy on security, defence, development and foreign policy produced a balancing act: “we will continue to pursue a positive trade and investment relationship with China, while ensuring our national security and values are protected”.
Some want a more emphatic anti-China tilt of which a military capability in the Pacific would be a part. They must explain how this is consistent with maintaining our strength at home and nearer abroad – given limited budgets.