The world is changing but Britain still has an important role to playby Robert Fry / November 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt recently laid out his stall to the Policy Exchange think tank in London. When pressed with questions about national priorities he responded that the aim was “to be strategic.” So far, so good but after the wars of 9/11and the challenge of Brexit, do we still have the national vocation for strategy that once seemed our birthright? In particular, can we pull off the difficult trick of combining the hard and soft instruments of national power in the most effective way?
Joseph Nye is the American apostle of the relationship between hard and soft power and he sees power today spread across three levels. On the top, traditional military power is largely unipolar, and, despite the travails of the last decades, remains associated with the United States; in the middle, economic power is multipolar and will become more so as China and India grow; the bottom level is the realm of transnational relations where social networkers post, bankers move fabulous sums, criminals launder proceeds, terrorists plot and geeks and governments test cyberspace. It is the intestinal tract of the 21stcentury world, where much of future conflict will be fought out.
So, for us “to be strategic” will require an ability to operate within and between all these realms, with equal facility. This will demand not simply the co-ordination of diplomacy, investment, cyber operations, military force and overseas aid but also their integration with the soft power impact of the Royal Family, the Manchester United franchise and the Oxbridge universities in the analogue and digital worlds, simultaneously.
The historical record is good. We did not out fight Germany twice between 1914 and 1945. We did, though, make a far better fist of industrial production, maintain global lines of communication, perfect techniques of intelligence, and, above all, forge better alliances. Our facility with strategic management defeated German genius on the battlefield, but then strategy—where wars are won—always trumps tactics—where battles are won. Real strategic talent can also transition in and out of war and the way in which we played a prominent supporting role to the US in creating a post-war, rules-based global architecture and an alliance that defeated the Soviet Union without firing a shot, showed that we still had the knack up until the late 20th…