Europe in 2011 was dominated by domestic politics. Faced with multiple macro-level challenges, from unstable economies to democratic deficits of the polity, leaders have repeatedly prioritised local concerns ahead of the multilateral. Underscoring all of this is a wider malaise. Research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, indicating that Brazil overtook the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy by GDP in 2011, appears to confirm that the West in general, and Europe in particular, is rapidly losing influence. The death in December of Václav Havel, a symbol of the remarkable transitions to peace and prosperity of Central and Eastern Europe of the last 20 years, appears to reiterate the wider depression.
For those not familiar with the title’s reference, Watchmen is a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons about an alternate version of US history of the 1950s and 1960s. One particularly interesting aspect of the story concerns the efforts of one of the main characters to persuade humanity that war and division are not the answer to world problems. In order to do so, he elaborately orchestrates a major catastrophe which succeeds in helping people to realise that they can be better off if united. Arguably, Europe is witnessing its "Watchmen moment", mutatis mutandis of course; no-one is advocating a catastrophe of such dimensions in order to come to our senses.
Cyber technologies have become deeply embedded into modern life within the last two decades. For the vast majority of uses these are benevolent but for states eager to censor content and restrict access, they face the challenge of staying one step ahead of their citizens. The British government recently hosted an international conference in London in which the future of the Internet was debated. British and American delegations used the conference to take a strong line supporting online freedom of speech and to criticise governments, such as China and Russia, who censor online content. David Cameron insisted that “governments must not use cyber security as an excuse for censorship”.
The UK government is due to release the latest version of its Cyber Strategy – what opportunities exist for defence contractors? The UK has a privileged view of the cyber threat thanks to its signals intelligence relationship with the US and other allies. Both the US and UK have recently formed dedicated cyber units in their defence ministries to address this threat. During the formulation of the National Security Strategy (NSS), the government became increasingly aware that underlying every major threat was a discrete cyber threat. Consequently cyber was mentioned as one of four Tier one risks to the UK in the NSS. In the subsequent SDSR the government announced an additional GBP£650 million over 4 years to resource work on this threat. The new money is to fund a "transformative national cyber security programme".
As European warplanes took to the skies of Libya in March and French commandos swept confidently through the streets of Abidjan in April, one could easily have been forgiven for imagining that Europe may be starting to adopt a more assertive global military role. However, the former UK Defence Secretary’s recent admission that NATO operations in Libya would have been “impossible” without the assistance of the US tells the real story of Europe’s ongoing hard power deficit.
A Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank report published on 27 September 2011 stated that cuts in the UK’s defence spending mean that Britain’s military will “never again be among the global superpowers”. However, the report, “Looking into the Black Hole: Is Britain’s Defence Crisis Really Over?”, went on to state that current levels of spending “should be enough for it to maintain its position as one of the world’s five second-rank military powers (with only the US in the first rank)”.
Against the assertion that we live in financial times and that all policy, national and international, must yield to the commonsensical gods of finance, we must not forget that a lot is still dictated and informed by religious and political belief. To say that we are all animated by the same absolute truths and resulting interests is to forgo humanity, freedom and choice in favour of a single subjectivity. Navigating the new world order is about finance and trade, Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne asserted at a recent Chatham House conference on foreign policy. Because we live in financial times, he reiterated for close to 90 minutes, Britain's international relations must focus on economic diplomacy. He went as far as arguing that a foreign policy based on the promotion of free trade is not a “zero sum game”. One is to understand that for the British government free trade will bring about greater freedom and promote “universal values” as a consequence of its resulting social dynamics.