Britain’s National Security Depends on Both Hard & Soft Power | Lt Gen Philip Jones
This article is a transcript of a speech delivered by Lt Gen Phil Jones at the Big Tent Ideas Festival 2018 on 8th September 2018.
Author: Lieutenant General Phil Jones (Retd.)
There is no single path to peace and prosperity. After thirty-six years in the British Army, including three years spent in Afghanistan, I have seen how stabilisation, peace-building and counter-terrorism work hand-in-hand. Our national security depends both hard and soft power, and there are three points I believe are important to understanding the UK’s current strategy:
The first is that we as a nation are good at this. At one end of the national power spectrum is UK Export Finance and the UK Foreign Aid budget - at the other is the new carrier strike group which includes the F-35 jet. Implementing effectively our overseas aid budget and operating a carrier strike group are some of the most complex and difficult things any nation can do internationally. In this sense, they stand as a metaphor. They mean that Britain still has the will to maintain our ability to do some of the hardest, most demanding and challenging things on the planet for the benefit of others. Not because we are arrogant or full of hubris, but because – as a wealthy and secure nation – we can and we should. This is about being willing to step up, with others, and put ourselves in harm’s way when needed by those less able and less fortunate.
Second point – national power is never either or hard or soft. It is always most effective when operating as a coordinated blend across the spectrum of possible interventions and effects. Of course, this has to be modulated and weighted depending on the context. It is incredibly damaging and limiting to the impact of our work around the world when ideologues want to drive firewalls between aspects of national power. This is all about coordination and synchronisation – both nationally and internationally.
Lastly, it’s important to recognise the growing role of the private sector as a key element to all of this. The private sector is now present in all aspects of national power as never before - right across the spectrum of activities and interventions. This is true of development, as it is of humanitarian and disaster relief, as it is in the 'trade not aid' argument, as it is in the security and defence fields. In the old days, blending the private sector into government activity was seen as culturally, philosophically and ethically inappropriate.
As government resources and national capabilities are stretched, we firstly need to face that we do not have the capacity to do the things we want and need to do within government, whether it be diplomacy or hard security. Second, real capacity, expertise, innovation and agility now resides in the private sector. Let me take my colleagues in Risk Advisory Group as a fine example of this in the security domain. On a contract funded primarily by the UK, the US and Canada, they have worked to help the Lebanese grow indigenous border security. Now in their seventh year, they have transformed Lebanese national security beyond all expectations. How? They have an incredibly strong professional and ethical value set – led from the top. They have taken a deep interest in Lebanon, got right under the skin of the local culture and people and into the heart of government. They select only the best men and women, and they look after them very well.
Therefore instead of the well-trained but nonetheless young and callow 22 year-olds of the British Army rotating every six months, the Lebanese border is now secured by men and women in their 40s, permanently deployed for years – a highly experienced and mature Lebanese security force who love what they do and operate as a very close band of brothers and sisters, arm in arm with their Lebanese colleagues. They manage their own risk and continually innovate - in the way in which highly experienced operators can. The Risk Advisory Group have taken a simple, tactical contract and expanded the effect such that it has strategic impact in a way that simply could not be achieved by the deployment of troops, even if we had any to spare.
The end result of all this is a growing transformation in the security of of the Lebanese border, and all the beneficial second order effects that accompany that: the Lebanese pushing ISIS off the border, negotiating with Hezbollah to hand back sections of the border to the Lebanese Government and the repopulation of communities all along the border. And, through the UK’s partnership in this peacebuilding process, the British Ambassador gets to observe and input into this process alongside national political leaders - more so than any other outside nation. My point? We must see the private sector more and more as key to solutions, not a necessary evil. In my view, conflict prevention is always better than conflict resolution. As a retired Lieutenant General in the British Army, I’m delighted to see that our money is being spent on UK aid. Britain should continue to invest overseas, and we should continue to ensure that the aid budget is spent effectively.