UK Foreign Policy in a Shifting World Order (International Relations Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:16 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 8:16 pm, 21st May 2019

My Lords, how lucky the House of Lords is to have had this committee, and how lucky the committee is to have had my noble friend Lord Howell as its first, very distinguished, chair. I intend to focus on just two points on the challenge to the rules-based international order: economic migration and political Islam. First, I want to suggest how this rules-based order needed to come about.

Economic progress and prosperity in much of the world comes, as it always has, from investment in technology advances by entrepreneurs, who have the freedom, opportunity and inclination to take financial risks, with the consequent personal profit from success or loss from failure. It is not a coincidence that the transistor was devised in Bell Labs. The Americans first of all thought that its main use would be in hearing aids. It took Mr Ibuka, who founded Sony, to open the door for the widest use of the transistor. I suppose what I have said is a simple-minded definition of capitalism; of course, in Beijing, it is known as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

This progress and prosperity, however, can be threatened by political instability. Political stability requires security, predictability and acceptance by populations of the form of government that they endure—or perhaps, preferably, enjoy. For a century, from the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, economic progress was largely generated in Europe, then, after the American civil war, for a magical half-century in the newly formed USA. Europe’s colonial era and the British Empire promoted and sustained world growth, although that was on the back of some shameful exploitation. It was from these challenges that the need arose for a rules-based international order.

The great advances from electronic technology—the digital age—have provided amazing opportunities in the half-century from 1960. As the report suggests, the great benefits also brought high social and political costs. The instant worldwide availability of virtually all information has enriched lives and reduced inequality to an amazing extent. Interpersonal communications, once an expensive luxury for the affluent, are now available at virtually zero marginal cost for most of the world.

However, the arrival of electronically facilitated terrorism has resulted in one of the biggest non-productive, disrupting and destabilising use of resources, for which the opportunity cost has probably been comparable with conventional warfare. The emergence of social media has played a major and almost wholly irresponsible role in fanning the flames of discontent, with the consequent alienation of people from their political leaders and widespread disillusion with the political process.

One disrupting factor has been uncontrolled migration. It was triggered by refugees from the political instability in the Middle East which followed the Arab spring. It has morphed into economic migration, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, driven by market forces. The attraction for people in poor countries of the much higher standard of living and better opportunities in the developed world, particularly the United States and Europe, has proved irresistible.

It is becoming ever clearer that the EU, with neither the political support nor the capacity to process, let alone absorb, the scale of migration, needs an alternative strategy. I shall mention a proposal for immigration into the EU which I have put forward before: the designation, with a UN mandate authorised by the Security Council, of a large holding area—probably in north Africa—to which refugees could go. There, they could be assessed and helped; some would go home, some would go where they wanted to and some would remain. In the long run, we might even form a new state, which one might call Refugia. I recognise it is a difficult project, but I believe it is well worth trying.

I want to say a word finally about political Islam, which is perhaps the biggest threat today to a rules-based international order. Authoritarian secular government can be far from democracy, but it can morph into democracy. Political Islam aims, through jihad, to replace secular government with theocracy, which is the antithesis of democracy and by definition precludes it. A key thread has been the Muslim Brotherhood. Based on Sunni 18th-century Wahhabi teaching, it was established in Egypt in 1928, and still operates there today; only last week, it blew up a bus full of tourists near the Pyramids.

The Islamist threat met crisis level with the emergence of Islamic State in July 2014, which swept through much of Iraq and Syria. Its declared aim was the eventual replacing of nation states with a world caliphate. ISIS was defeated in March this year after military action, and its leader, al-Baghdadi, remains at large, threatening worldwide vengeance. Building on decades of Wahhabi finance through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, ISIS, with its affiliates, has established a large number of widespread, rapidly growing, highly malignant jihadist tumours which, by penetrating national Governments, are still threatening world peace and prosperity.