We need Nato now more than ever. Undermining it threatens to destroy decades of peace

Boris Johnson should be standing up to populist leaders like Donald Trump who threaten global unity on issues of security and defence

Ed Davey
Monday 02 December 2019 14:32
General election: Boris Johnson is 'world's leading sycophant' towards Trump, Corbyn says as US president heads to London

As world leaders prepare to descend on London for the Nato summit, we should remember how such international co-operation started and why it still makes sense for countries to work closely together on security, defence, and so many other international issues. We should also question why the Conservatives seem hell bent on undermining Britain’s role on the global stage.

From Nato to the UN and the EU, the generation that lived through the first half of the 20th century knew they needed to create a new world order. An order with rules and institutions which, however imperfect, could act both as constraints on individual countries going rogue and as catalysts for co-operation for mutual benefit.

But even as we contemplate major new risks to our security and wellbeing, too few politicians are making the case for strengthening and renewing the collaboration that has worked so well. Some are actively undermining it.

As Nato marks its 70th anniversary milestone, I am proud to be deputy leader of a party that remains as clear as ever on our commitment to the system of rules-based multilateral organisations. Yet I am concerned that the wave of nationalist leaders cropping up across the world could change the character and the integrity of our alliances – from defence to economics.

In Moscow, Washington, Ankara, and even London we’re seeing right-wing nationalist politicians take the reins of power. Often, they’ve shown complete contempt for the rules based liberal order and the multilateral organisations, like Nato, that make it possible.

Donald Trump has made his contempt for the transatlantic alliance known since before he assumed office. This manifested itself bloodily earlier this year when US forces were abruptly withdrawn from Kurdish held lands north of the Euphrates. Knowingly or unknowingly, Donald Trump’s actions were a gift for the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his allies in Tehran and Moscow.

The withdrawal effectively gave tacit permission for Erdogan to send Turkish troops on the offensive in northern Syria. Trump’s actions were a shocking betrayal of the Kurds, and opened the door for the resurgence of Isis across Northern Syria.

Boris Johnson’s reaction to this has been completely inadequate. It isn’t enough to limply encourage restraint. Our prime minister should be standing up to Erdogan and Trump.

It isn’t only in his inaction on the betrayal of the Kurds that Boris Johnson has played into the hands of nationalist authoritarians. It is now known that Putin’s Russia interfered in the election that gave us Donald Trump’s presidency. Yet the Tory government has done all it can do to suppress the publication of the Security and Intelligence Committee’s report on interference in our democracy.

This report contains vital information regarding possible Russian Federation interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Driving wedges between liberal democracies and pulling at the edges of multilateral organisations like the EU or Nato has long be one of Vladimir Putin’s key aims.

Boris Johnson knows this. His continued refusal to publish the report suggests he is happy to hand Putin this victory if it means five years more of Conservative government.

Indeed, I have become increasingly worried about the links between the Conservative Party and Russia. As secretary of state for energy and climate change, I was shocked at the Conservatives’ willingness to embrace Putin - especially when David Cameron wanted Rosatom, a Russian state-owned company, to get support to enter the UK nuclear market. I stopped that.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

When I used powers never used before to stop a Russian oligarch with connections to the Kremlin getting hold of strategic oil and gas resources in the North Sea, I was disappointed in the lukewarm support I received.

So days before Britain’s historic election, which if Johnson gets a majority could lead to our country severing key European relationships, it is even more important to sound the alarm. It’s crucial we make the case for institutions like Nato and the EU as foundations for the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed for decades - and which too many people appear to take for granted.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments