Global security concerns – a British perspective

Speech by Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Defence Secretary, to the Herzliya Conference, delivered on 11th September 2012


It is a privilege to be able to be here, not just so we can share our experiences, but because this event is, I think, representative of how our policy-making process must be conducted in a world where we are increasingly interdependent and interconnected.

We are of course meeting on a significant day – the 11th anniversary of September 11th.

No-one will forget where they were when they first heard the news or saw the images of that day. The feelings of disbelief, of compassion and of resolve which stirred in us all then will never leave.

 I hope today we will all join people around the world in taking a moment to remember the 2,977 victims and their families.  

 That day we each learnt many things – but two things stick with me.

 First is that there is a fundamental misconception at the heart of the perpetrators of that violent extremism. The power of democracies comes not from our buildings but from our people, and such atrocities only strengthen our people’s belief in the freedoms being attacked, and our determination to defend them above all else.

 Second is that many of us had not awoken to the lethal reality of an ideology which will weaponise any means to achieve its destructive ends. The contortion of a noble faith to inspire violence was in no way new in 2001, but that act of war was unprecedented in scale and design. September 11th did not create a new threat, but it did alter the balance of risk as to the force with which, and way in which, we must deal with it.

 For any discussion on Counter-Terrorism, it could perhaps not be more apt to have a reminder of the scale of the threat we face and the values we cherish which are at stake.


 The UK as a nation has faced decades of domestic terrorism and international terrorism rightly remains in the UK’s top tier of threats.

 While terrorism is not a modern phenomenon, the modern security landscape in many ways exacerbates the potential for terrorist activity.

 Today individuals and organisations pose threats alongside those emanating from nation states, and it is often spurious religious rather than crude national interests which drive malignant intentions.  Our security strategies need to be more complex, intricate and multifaceted than ever before.

This challenge will shape the work of the Her Majesty’s Opposition in our Defence Review in the UK.

Arab Spring greatest change

Our Review began at the time of the Arab Spring – one of the most seismic events we have all lived through.

We know why the Arab Spring started but we don’t know yet where they will end.  What we do know is that the early euphoria of the Arab Spring has rightly matched by security concerns. The hope remains that the wave of change could provide opportunities to forge new partnerships with new democracies, but it also creates a danger of security vacuums or weak regimes in a region with shallow democratic roots. 

Sustainable security, democratic civilian rule and eradicating the conditions which give rise to extremism remain long-term goals in those countries where there have been uprisings and across much of the region.

On the Arab Spring there are others here today better qualified than me to talk through these issues and describe how the changes we have seen look from Haifa or Hadera, Ashod or Beersheba.

I want to offer an insight on counter-terrorism and global security concerns from a UK defence and diplomacy perspective.


As a priority in the UK we know we must do all we can alongside Israel to ensure the anti-autocratic  instincts which gave birth to the Arab Spring are not abused by those who seek control for malign purposes.   

It is a matter of regret that recent events have not as yet led to progress on the Middle East Peace Process.

The hurdles still to be overcome are great, but they will only be surmountable if there is a genuine willingness to negotiate on both sides, and so we need renewed efforts and energies invested into the process as a matter of priority.  

Landscape changing

And such joint political commitment to action is essential across the security landscape.

Globalisation is fuelling a major re-distribution of power and threats. Demographic change is increasing pressure on, and possible conflict over, the world’s increasingly stretched natural resources.  Weak and failing states outnumber strong states by two to one. Increasing availability of technology to all State and many non-state actors poses an increasingly enhanced threat.

These trends come at a time when we know that there are States – some of them highly unstable and repressive – who attempt to develop materials capable of mass destruction.  Changes in the global security landscape intensify such existing threats, making it imperative that the UK, and indeed the international community, develops a counter-terror approach based on prevention, agility and multilateralism.

State of ambivalence

There is a vital starting point around which we must, I think, all unite.

I worry that a consequence of recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq will be that these one and a half unpopular wars create a permanently unpopular concept.

There is often talk about an Arc of Instability ranging from States in West Africa to Central and Southeast Asia. But there is a State missing from that analysis which is also a danger: the State of Ambivalence.

Even though they are entirely different conflicts, UK public opinion has been rightly tested by Iraq and Afghanistan. Domestic publics are wary and weary of international action, a mindset exacerbated by budgetary constraint.

But as events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown there is no opt-out from global events.

The principal danger of the State of Ambivalence is that in those states where the risk of conflict is highest its drivers would be able to proceed unabated. We would believe in universal these values, but we just may not so readily stand up for them. 

We must therefore continue to make the case for a proactive defence policy, learning lessons from our recent past, facing the threats of the future.


For the UK, our immediate priority is preventing Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven for Al-Qaeda or other contortions of violent Islamic inspired violence.  We are clear that this depends on our post-2014 plan more than the pace of our exit. We must find a political settlement both inside and outside the country while simultaneously supporting indigenous security forces. This is the UK’s fourth war in Afghanistan, we have no intention of fighting a fifth.

We share with our US allies the belief that defeating Al-Qaeda is a principal mission in the core national interest. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose significant threats and are active in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. The drivers of extremism – urbanisation, political exclusion, lacking economic opportunity, ungoverned spaces – are likely over the coming decade to come together in countries in the most fragile regions of the world, including the wider Middle East. This will mean a greater emphasis on counter proliferation efforts and counter insurgency operations.

But we must also adapt our weaponry and strategies to advances in science and technology.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the emergence of cyberspace is amongst the biggest changes in human history. Until now we have operated in four contested areas – land, sea, air and space.  We now have a fifth: information.

We need the best software, but our ability to deter and tackle cyber attack lies in our creating both the infrastructure and culture that allows preventative strategies and capabilities to be continually enhanced, as is technology itself.

Scientific advances have been matched by increased ease of knowledge-sharing, which will mean it is more difficult in future to keep important chemical , biological and other information out of the hands of those who may have intent to put it to malign use.

The CBRN threat is rightly a ‘Tier One’ threat in the UK, and our policy should have at its core good intelligence, co-ordinated export controls, strong international agreements deeply implemented in national policies and well-organised response capabilities.

The threat of chemical weapons is particularly poignant in light of events in Syria, where a desired transition has been replaced by deadly disintegration. With the fourth largest global stocks of chemical weapons, the threat posed by a post-Assad Syria in which these stocks are seized could be as dangerous as the Assad-controlled Syria in which the stocks are retained.

But there are also longer-term trends towards which our security posture must be geared.

In some regions, such as South Asia, East Africa, the Middle East and the Arctic, climate change may reinforce tendencies to state failure or collapse, mass migration and more open competition and conflict over resources.  The conditions which have given rise to radicalisation can, we have seen from our recent history, in turn necessitate interventions from the international community.  As a key driver of such conditions, climate change must be considered a vital issue of international security.


In designing our policy to meet these challenges I think there are two key lessons we can learn to drive our approach.

First, we have seen that internal oppression is one of the biggest security threats we face.  In the past a strong government was confused with a stable state, whereas in fact strong unelected government often means a weak state.

We know that citizens who are free, well educated and prosperous tend to be responsible, to feel solidarity with a society in which they have a stake.  Nations that are free, democratic and benefiting from economic progress, tend to be stable and solid partners in the advance of humankind. The reverse is also true, and so the best defence of our security lies in the spread of our values.

The second lesson is that as the Shadow Secretary State for Defence I know that he most effective defence policy isn’t always the latest piece of military kit but can be a world-class international development policy. Investment in education, democratic reform and viable economies can hinder the spread of conflict. The careful prevention of development policy can be so much better than the painful cure of military action.

In future, sustainable stability will be achieved by supporting systems which empower people and enable them to be part of an organic civil society at home and abroad – which demands better co-ordination of defence and development.

The third lesson is that we need a new drive for multilateralism in defence.

There has been much talk of the international community’s response to events in Libya. Successfully securing a UN resolution, gaining the support of the Arab League and working with Arab nations on military missions all signal that this was a collective international operation.

It is vital that defence and counter-terrorism policy is internationally co-ordinated wherever possible.

Strengthening multilateral institutions is crucial, as is a new emphasis on conflict resolution through regional reconciliation.

We also need increased co-operation on expenditure within NATO members. Defence spending should always be decided by national governments, but NATO members are making significant cuts to defence capability in isolation of one another, the aggregate consequence of which may be capability shortfalls across the Alliance. We now need a conversation on how reductions in trans-national defence spending and resultant changes to force structures can be better co-ordinated. The practice of fighting conflicts together but preparing for them individually must come to an end.

The threats we face are shared and so so too must be the solutions.


Throughout history the notions of sovereignty have changed.  The rise of opaque sovereignty – where events and actions within borders were only the business of domestic authorities – has given way to globalisation and the rise of technology, media, multilateralism and a shift towards transparent sovereignty – where events have significance and implications across borders and national interest is often entwined with events overseas.

In the Middle East we are seeing this shift from opaque to transparent sovereignty taking place rapidly before our eyes.

I believe it is all our role to secure our own security in these circumstance, and that the best way of doing so is promoting the conditions that will allow freedom to flourish, to give citizens a stake in their societies and to ensure responsibilities and resolutions are shared.

That goal should unite us all.



One thought on “Global security concerns – a British perspective

  1. I totally agree with the Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP on his written statement about terrorism. 9/11 should never be forgotten nor should the every day threat of this kind of terrorism happening again. However, I truly believe that terrorism will not be abolished until these countries that threaten our civilization are educated in humanity and decorum. This I believe is an impossible venture because of the under laying attitude of their religious beliefs.

    In my personal opinion there is only one way to deal with terrorism and that is to have a total non acceptance attitude towards our attackers and by saying this I state that we should deal with any kind of terrorism with the full weight of human law which should be ‘Severe.’

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