Cameron’s half-hearted response to global security risks isolating Britain

Faced with the twin-pronged threat of ISIL and Putin, there is a palpable sense of drift in this government's actions

During Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday I accused David Cameron of weakness in the face of President Putin’s inexcusable aggression in Ukraine.

It was depressingly typical that his response failed even to mention the conflict which has seen the first unilateral redrawing of state boundaries in Europe since the second world war.

There is far more at stake here than point scoring in the weeks before the general election. David Cameron has led Britain during five years of global turmoil at least equal to that experienced immediately after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001.

In many ways the instability now is greater, as threats have become more diverse, less predictable and faster evolving. Yet whether dealing with renewed aggression from Russia or the extremist terror that has found a foothold in Iraq and Syria, the prime minister’s lack of clarity and failure to project a credible willingness to act has actually made it more likely that the country will be dragged into conflict for longer, with less predictable outcomes.

Largely isolated on the world stage, thanks in part to his own party’s innate suspicion of overseas co-operation, he is leaving Britain badly unprepared to face up to the threats we face.

Britain and its allies face a twin-pronged threat to our security and the values we are proud to promote across the world. The rise of ISIL in the middle east (or Daesh as many are now calling them) threatens us both through the regional instability it causes as well as the threat of returning, radicalised fighters.

Meanwhile, the sabre-rattling of Vladimir Putin has left Europe facing the most severe military and political threat since the fall of the Berlin wall. That has been seen in its most deadly form in Ukraine, but also in the form of intimidation of the Baltic states and even of Russian bombers off the coast of Cornwall.

Yet faced with these twin threats, there is a palpable sense of drift and an utter lack of urgency in this government’s actions. In the crucial fight to remove Daesh from the huge foothold it has secured in Iraq, the UK is a bit player at best. We play a small role in coalition air strikes against terrorists, but have abdicated from any sense of leadership.

Earlier this year the Defence Select Committee, of which I am a member, issued a damning report on the lack of strategy or commitment from Britain to this crucial battle. Outside Kurdistan, there are just three British military personnel in Iraq.

Sustained defeat of Daesh in Iraq will not be achieved through military means alone, but also by helping to build and strengthen a functioning, democratic and anti-sectarian government in Baghdad, which can command the confidence of the Iraqi people.

But here too Britain has been negligent: there is no meaningful FCO political section in Baghdad and the department for International Development has ended all its work on supporting government structures and economic development in Iraq, just when it is most needed. Whatever anyone’s views on the 2003 intervention in Iraq, it is surely beyond question that we should be playing a full role now in helping secure a peaceful future for Iraq.

Today’s announcement of some very limited British non-lethal military support for the Ukrainian government is welcome, but we must be realistic about what 70 people in a non-military role will be able to do. And it does little to excuse the many months where the only apparent British government response to Russia’s clear aggression was an occasional toughly-worded ministerial statement. Thanks to the sabotaging of key relationships in Europe in an attempt to placate his backbenchers, David Cameron has relegated himself and Britain from even a place on the reserves bench when it comes to the Ukraine crisis.

Where was the prime minister when Hollande and Merkel were bashing out a ceasefire deal, however shaky, in Minsk? There is nothing splendid about Britain’s current isolation. As shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander makes clear in The Times today, our interests are being damaged by this diminished status.

When Ukraine abandoned the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union, the western allies, including Britain, promised in return to guarantee its security. We are failing on that count, which is why president Putin feels so confident about veiled and not-so-veiled threats to EU members in the Baltic or the Russian presence near Britain’s airspace. Defence cuts are having an impact on the ability of Britain and our NATO allies to project required military deterrence to prevent conflict escalating, but it is lack of political and moral courage that is doing the most damage.

David Cameron failed to make an effective case for intervention in Syria. He has presided over a response to Daesh which is at best half-hearted, and he is missing in action over Russian aggression.

Some of the backwoodsmen in his party may revel in isolation and the UKIP threat may have pushed him into absurd anti-Europeanism, but Britain needs better leadership in these turbulent times.

John Woodcock is the Labour Coop MP for Barrow and Furness. Follow him on Twitter

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11 Responses to “Cameron’s half-hearted response to global security risks isolating Britain”

  1. David Lindsay

    Ukraine last did anything much, if at all, for us 70 years ago. When, for fairly obvious reasons so did Russia. But, unlike the Russians, there were an awful lot of Ukrainians on the other side. In recent weeks, those who revere that memory have marched to our Cenotaph and laid a wreath at it in honour of their heroes. Give that a moment to sink in.

    If anything, Russia’s support for the war in Afghanistan (whatever one might think of that in itself), and for the general struggle against the Islamist terrorism of which she is a major target but which in its Crimean Tatar form actively supports the coup in Ukraine, makes Russia a far more recent, and arguably an ongoing, ally.

    In 1945, it mattered to us whether the swastika or the hammer and sickle, both of which flags have been dug out by people who had clearly never stopped having them to hand, flew over the Donbass. But that is not at all our concern in 2015. The coup-installed President of Ukraine has been to Abu Dhabi to see about buying weapons from the Emiratis who have given up bombing the IS that, with the other Sunni monarchies, they were so instrumental in creating.

    A dozen years ago, certain newspapers, at least one of which is now fighting for its life, poured scorn on schoolboy demonstrators against the Iraq War very soon after having gleefully published pictures of tiny children waving placards in support of foxhunting.

    But that, grave though it was and right though the youths were, was as nothing next to the prospect of everlasting involvement in The War Among The Wahhabi, or, without exaggeration, to World War Three against Russia. We now see the emerging connections between those for whom we should be fighting in those two ostensibly distinct conflagrations.

    We are already providing air support to one lot of the Wahhabi (while continuing to define as our enemies the Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese fighters on the ground in defence of Christians and others), and we are now, in time-honoured fashion, sending our troops to “train” the blackshirts who have taken power in Ukraine.

    No one is more entitled than teenage boys to object most vigorously to these actual and putative developments. I am starting to wonder what is taking them so long to do so. I am even starting to wonder whether these follies would be considered at all if the voting age were to be lowered to 16.

  2. Mike Stallard

    Teddy Roosevelt: Talk quietly and carry a big stick.
    We talk the talk, but we no longer have the stick. The Americans have a President who thinks the poor of the world will rise up and destroy their tyrannical governments and bring in democracy. Instead, like Hobbes, they are bringing in a new and worse Leviathan.
    If you are trillions of pounds in debt and your Defence procurement and military recruitment are minimally efficient, then you have no longer got the sanctions and all the nasty people, of which there are many, call them Daesh, IS, ISIS or ISIL or freedom fighters or terrorists or savages, will thrive.
    With our main ally long gone (Thank you Mr Blair), we are pretty well defenceless and Mr Putin, Isis and China and Africa and India and South America all know that perfectly well.
    Meanwhile Baroness Ashton and the EU are invading the Ukraine.

  3. Guest

    Yada yada “democracy is evil”. And of course you see the Ukranians on the “other side” to you, since they want democracy! You keep talking about those evil fighters of Russia, supporting a Coup in the Ukraine and firing on it daily.

  4. Guest

    Oh yes, helping democracy is an “invasion”, but sending tanks across the border is all well and good to you – want Putin to shell London as well, for you?

    You WANT us defenceless. You WANT attacks. You are as bad as anyone you condemn.

  5. Mike Stallard

    My, we have been busy!
    I take it you work for the FO?

  6. Guest

    You take plenty of things which don’t belong to you, I’m sure.
    In this case though you’re just making up nonsense. Again.

    Putin’s talking about cutting off the gas…shows he, and his supporters like you, cannot be trusted. You’re a fifth columnist.

  7. sarntcrip


  8. Leon Wolfeson

    So you’d have us roll over for Russia? I know how your story ends – with Britain losing out to hostile interests at home and abroad. Russia cares not for your fine sentiments, they’ll keep sending troops as long as their bullying is not stood up to – and they’ll keep pushing into the Baltics if we don’t.

  9. Art Judge

    Leadership will not be coming from the Labour Party. Even they will not honour our 2 % GDP NATO commitment
    No way would I trust Labour with our economy let alone our Defences.

    I would combine Military Defence / Cyber Warfare / Anti Terrorism into a National Security Budget ring Fenced at 3% GDP into Law.
    And honour our NATO Insurance policy. In a Organisation that we helped created.
    Headlines can be put to bed before the General election if all Mayor Political Party’s agree to Ring Fence Defence Spending.
    But they won’t will they?
    Makes you think were there loyalty lie.

  10. Art Judge

    Little talk of the threat from Argentina against the Falkland Islands after both China & Russia decision to arm them.

    No mention of the threat to our interest in the South China Sea with our group of 7 defence alliance.

    No mention of a new threat to our interests in Cyprus now Russia have been given rights to use the Is for there Navy.

    Politicians need to catch up. We could find ourselves fighting wars in 5 different locations at the same time. As well as defend our Homeland.

  11. Art Judge

    Don’t forget that the British helped Russia with arms 70 years ago.
    And Russia lost a 10 year war against Afghanistan
    Anyone can pick a time in history to suit them.
    Facts of today is more important as they shape our future.

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