The Centre for Policy Studies held the 2017 Margaret Thatcher Conference on Security in the City of London’s historic C15th Guildhall on 27 June. A noble collection of intelligentsia gathered from political, diplomatic, defense, security, technological, ecclesiastical and academic circles were contributing to an audience of several hundred.
Dr Henry Kissinger, friend and admirer of the Iron Lady for 40 years, opened with a tribute to Lady Thatcher’s courage and her prescience in her speech delivered in Missouri-US in 1996 where Thatcher prophetically said “…we in the West have lapsed into an alarming complacency about the risk that remain. We have run down our defences and relaxed our guard”. Kissinger outlined the threats of Russia’s resurgent aspiration of greatness, which he said were dependent on the insecurity of neighbouring states; Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” of Chinese exceptionalism that challenges America’s Westphalian exceptionalism, the dissolution of and the battle for control in the Middle East. Kissinger said India would step up as they could not afford chaos on their borders. Kissinger warned that NATO needed a “permanent re-examination” of its evolution, capabilities and strategic objectives and the dangers of the cyber world and online information changing the nature of the young; Kissinger emphatically praised the philosophical and historical value of books as opposed to social media’s instant information.
The themes of the day were morality, identity, Daesh- the enemy of modern civilisation, the “Internet of Things” and the anarchic rise of social media, cyber security and defence, Brexit and a new centre of gravity emerging between Asia and the Atlantic. Kissinger said the OBOR initiative would change the geopolitical centre of the world and Brexit presented an opportunity to redraw the trans-Atlantic partnership.
Rabbi Lord Sacks and Bishop Richard Chartres held a conversation about what values the West should stand for. Sacks referenced the moral and spiritual vacuum in the West’s liberal democracy and apparent transition to the French declaration of freedom being secular and requiring maximum government as opposed to the Anglo-American concept of religious tolerance requiring limited government based on civil society. Sacks said history demonstrates it takes trauma to separate Church and State, Judaism did this in 1stCentury, Christianity in C16th and Islam is doing it now. Bishop Chartres said the enemy was indifference and the challenge was to be co-evolutionary; he lamented the crowd of “atomised individuals” who hold a referendum a day online, he warned of the collapse of the demos and the resulting administrative tyranny. Chartres said religious literacy was lacking and lessons on “how to live well are missing from the education system”.
General Lord Richards- former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Robertson-former Secretary General of NATO and Boris Titov- Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs Rights/Russia discussed geopolitical changes and challenges across Europe. Richards said there was no appetite in the West for Statecraft and Strategy, he quoted US General Mattis from 2009 “We have a real need for Grand Strategy”. Richards said we are in a period akin to before the deadly 30 Years War (1618-1648 a religious/ political conflict between Protestant and Catholic States that resulted in eight million deaths). Richards condemned the EU’s blinkered obsession on Brexit not global issues, he said the only leaders displaying strategic thinking were President Putin and Xi Jinping, he wondered how India, Indonesia and Iran were shaping up geo-strategically and advocated that NATO should stay out of Syria. Titov introduced the challenges of the technological revolution, the challenge of crypto-currency, how Big Data would give rise to a prognostic economy, how Block-Chain already calls for a new financial policy. Titov appealed for Russian partnerships and co-operation against ISIS and for Russian opinions to be respected. Richards said UK had neglected the Russian psyche and the inability to empathise with Russia had been a failing. Robertson claimed he had established a relationship between Russia and NATO in 1999 and Putin had wanted to join NATO and Western Europe but the West “dropped the ball”, now UK is vulnerable to Russian expansionism. Titov said that Russia does not feel current sanctions as economic pressure but political and emotional pressure. Russia wants to follow China’s example in Africa to improve standards of living and infrastructure in the third world. Robertson said the pandemic issues of cyber terrorism and refugees were issues for both Russia and China.
After lunch Prince Turki Al Faisal- Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies/ Saudi Arabia, Ambassador Omar Saif Ghobash- UAE Ambassador to Russia (moving to Paris this year) and Senator Joseph Lieberman- Chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran/USA discussed Ideology and Fragmentation in the Middle East. Prince Turki praised Thatcher for being a beacon of freedom citing her defence of Kuwait in 1990. He said the world is so inter-connected, through social media, that world problems are not confined to the West. The victims of present day terrorism are mostly from Muslim countries, the world is in “a clash for civilisation” and the resolution must come from “all of us”; that no one had been willing to take the necessary steps to stop the fighting in Syria, politics are driving the issue so a political solution is needed. Saudi Arabia is a transition period and he is looking to the efforts of President Trump to find a solution. He suggested the UN needed democratic reform querying why Indians, Latin Americans, Africans and the Middle East are not represented on the UN Security Council. Lieberman said the focus was no longer Israel- Palestine but cited Iran’s growing aggressiveness and ISIS as central threat to global instability, he applauded Thatcher’s leadership qualities and said Trump’s efforts in uniting against a common foe had been largely successful. Prince Turki is disappointed that when Saudi Arabia make weekly statements condemning and denouncing acts of terror it is never reported by Western media.
HE Ghobash said the UAE was looking forward to the day when their economy was not dependent on oil, Emirates are building a new economic model not based on oil. He said the UAE recognised the importance of “extremism of thought” and how quickly that can turn to action; they have taken responsibility for the public debate about Islam and have imposed direction on mosques. UAE have observed Qatar’s behaviour/extremist agenda and the result is a matter of principle not money, it is part of a wider confrontation with extremism.
There followed a conversation about the questionable democracies in Iran and Turkey; Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia and Iran are linked by geography, common Islamic heritage and blood and the Kingdom was willing to engage. Lieberman said the US and Europe needed to acknowledge the de-secularisation in Turkey, that it was no longer a reliable ally.
Malcolm Rifkind- former UK Foreign Secretary put some questions to Lt. Gen Moshe Ya’alon-Former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister/Israel. The General claimed that Turkey was facilitating the deliberate Islamisation of Europe and that President Erdogan was almost the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East, he predicted instability in the area for a long time and regarding an Israeli-Palestinian solution he said a Two-State solution needed a partner and a One-State solution was not in Israel’s interest.
Next, some opinions were given about re-writing the rules for innovation and technology, from Commissioner Ian Dyson-City of London Police, Rt Hon Matt Hancock- Minister of State for Digital, Robert Hannigan- former Director of GCHQ and Lara Poloni- incoming director of EMIA- AECOM. Hannigan began by saying power had shifted from West to East and from government sectors to private sectors who now drive internet innovation, security is an afterthought, Hannigan said “the internet is a free gift to people who want to do bad things, individuals and nation states”. He said the data, technology and expertise to deal with cyber-security threats were no longer in government’s hand but in the private sector. The internet cannot be a lawless zone and political leaders who understand technology and investment are needed. Hancock said the internet “had allowed ideas to spread, collaboration to happen, people to learn. It has entertained us, saved us time and brought people together…. but we are only at the cusp of this free flow of data”. He said it offered promises and threats. Job-wise Hancock said the new blue-collar job was coding, he wants to ensure re-deployment not unemployment, appropriately he quoted Thatcher “Technology is the true friend of full employment, the indispensable ally of progress, and the surest guarantee of prosperity”. Hancock also proposed the Government would mitigate the potential harms to citizens and businesses by balancing liberty and security in the new rules based framework called the Digital Charter; the Charter accepts free speech but with limits on inciting terrorism or violence and presumably criminality. Poloni advised that the tech-security conversation must move from the philosophical to the practical; tech companies must build things that are adaptable and able to change; since more people come online every day the security risk is much more mobile, San Diego and Chicago are perfect examples of cyber-defended smart cities. Poloni quoted 1 million data threats are made every day and UK will spend £34 billion protecting against data breaches. Commissioner Dyson confirmed that 70% of fraud cases are now committed online, people are criminally trying to acquire money and property both from within UK and abroad. Citizens need to understand the impact of sharing information online, prevention especially for young people is key. Technology is present in all crime not just cyber, alarmingly the Commissioner said technology has changed terrorism, today a person can do everything alone.
Johan Eliasch-Chairman HEAD and former Special Representative of the UK Prime Minister and General Sir Richard Barrons took the stage to discuss Brexit and Security. Barrons was disparaging about UK’s defence and security position, he suggested the focus on Brexit will weaken our security but not Brexit per se. On defence Barrons said Russia and China have the competitive edge, the UK needed military innovation; this echoed earlier comments that the Army was at 78,000- the smallest since 1790, the Navy was under-resourced and the Airforce lacked aircraft, the appetite to invest and defend was lacking. Barrons went as far as to say UK security relied on the generosity of the American taxpayer.
Sir Roger Scruton- a philosopher and Conservative was chosen to wrap up the event. He rose from the depths of his geopolitical despair to deliver an upbeat message in the spirit of Margaret Thatcher. First, he observed that young people operated in like-minded networks, not wishing to be judged by superiors and worried the UK has no coherent policy against radical Islam. Taking up the theme of identity Scruton said there are many false answers; if we invoke an enemy will that give us unity, the enemy could be infidel or capitalism but he said that would be a negative unity. Scruton wanted an affirmative identity for Britons. He rested on the values inscribed below the Duke of Wellington’s statue: wisdom, duty and honour. Scruton said we must consider the other and resolve conflicts by negotiation in the democratic spirit, we must treat people with whom we disagree with equal respect.
As George Freeman MP said morals are as important as aircraft carriers for C21st security.