There is something keeping Ben Wallace “awake at night”, in his own words. As the Defence Secretary, one can imagine any number of things but, here, he is referring to something quite specific — that, under President Trump, the US is stepping back from its international leadership role. This would mean, contrary to half a century of British defence planning assumptions, that the UK will have to fight wars without US support. It hasn’t done this — apart from a tiny intervention in Sierra Leone in 2001 — since the Biafra War in Nigeria over 50 years ago. Whatever one thinks of the so-called special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, the reality is that it has enabled Britain to maintain a larger global role than it otherwise would have. Falklands campaign? Forget it without American fuel, weapons delivery and satellite intelligence. What about Libya in 2011? Not a chance without American logistical support to the air campaign. (That this support was required even when Libya is approximately 1000 km from our airbase in Cyprus demonstrates how necessary it is). That is not to say that Great Britain has been a wholly dependent partner. Particularly in the world of signals intelligence, the UK is genuinely world class, and useful to its ally. And in other areas too — the military, for instance — the UK has been able to provide genuinely useful contributions to American foreign policy actions where it counts: at the sharp end. In the world of diplomacy, the UK had deep and overlapping networks of influence that helped America create political solutions to problems. This, of course, was nowhere more true than between the US and the EU. Yes, the UK was a junior partner, but it was not completely without merit.
The next question to ask is what geopolitical threats the UK will face in this core area over the next twenty years or so. Prediction of this sort is a mug’s game, but I think the key threats are four. In no particular order: 1. Climate change, desertification and overpopulation in Africa and the Middle East: the population of Africa is projected to hit 2 billion by 2040 (it is 1.2 billion now). The current wave of African and Middle Eastern migration into Europe, from whatever cause, could be just the beginning. The resulting instability in Europe will be a British problem just as the balance of power, and who is in charge on the continent, has been a British foreign policy concern for a thousand years. 2. Peak demand for hydrocarbons within the next twenty years, due to tumbling prices of renewables (they are currently roughly at parity), and the mainstreaming of new technologies like electric vehicles. This will turn current oil and gas producers — like Russia and the Middle East — into quasi-failed states. Russia, for instance, gets 50% of its government budget from the sale of hydrocarbons. This trend will cause another wave of instability on the periphery of Europe, leading to more pressure on European stability.
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