This address was given to the Lymington United Nations Association on 25th March 2017 and was followed by one and a half hours of questions.
This Dangerous World
What a doom laden title. It reminds me of one of my favourite books The Coffee Table Book of Doom. Here is a flavour from the advertising blurb:
“…with the apocalypse at hand, don’t fret about dying uninformed. The Coffee Table Book of Doom is a revelatory…superbly illustrated and erudite compendium of all the 27 doom-laden horsemen we need to worry about – personal doom, gender erosion, asteroid impact, pandemics, super storms, sexual ruin – and much more besides.”
Actually, the definitive ending of the world was supposed to have been in 2012 when the 5000 year old Mayan civilisation’s calendar ran out.
We can comfort ourselves with the thought that every generation thought that it would be the last. Even Our Lord predicted that ”these things will come to pass” within the lifetime of some of his listeners –Matthew 16.28 (he was right: the second temple was destroyed in 70 AD and the world as they had known it really did come to a dramatic and very violent end).
Let us start with a brief tour of some of the current threats to world stability and prosperity.
One of the falsehoods of the EU referendum campaign was the IMF analysis that stated that BREXIT would be the greatest current threat to the world Economy. It was nonsense, but there are major threats to the world economy:
The very sticky, if not completely fixed currency exchange rates, are preventing many countries from emerging from recession and to deal with their sovereign debt, or rebalancing trade surpluses and deficits;
The very low interest rates which have reduced incentives to save and invest, with consequent weak productivity growth;
The danger to the free trade and prosperity potentially posed by the new US administration’s protectionist rhetoric.
One symptom of all the world’s troubles is the tide of humanity on the move, in pursuit of safety and a livelihood. Although many are fleeing violence and persecution, the overwhelming motive is the need to find a secure future: in the end it is all about jobs. The world needs 600 million new jobs over the next decade if we are to avoid a growing army of young people who are under-employed, increasingly frustrated and angry. That itself is a threat to our future, and can only be addressed by investment in the growth of the world economy.
Climate change is a threat to our entire planet. The agreement in Paris in December 2015 signalled that, at last, 195 UN member states were taking it seriously enough to do something about it, but now this consensus has been undermined by the declared policy stance, and early actions of the US administration.
In the 21st century we have the obscenity of famine looming in South Sudan, Yemen and northern Nigeria. South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is stricken by drought –an entirely predictable phenomenon for which relief can be planned in advance. What is really starving the people is a vicious civil war. Warfare is the cause of Starvation in northern Nigeria with Boko Haram, and in Yemen where the Houthi rebels – armed by Iran- have overthrown the legitimate government which is backed by a coalition of Gulf States.
Which brings me to the civil wars within Islam between the orthodox Sunni, Shi’ism, and Sunni Islamists. At the very least this religious conflict is a feature –if not the entire cause- of the conflicts in Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria. It threatens to destabilise Jordan, Lebanon, and the Sahel. It contributes to so much violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and indeed on the streets of the western nations. I think it is proper to refer to it as a civil war within Islam because, notwithstanding the attacks launched at minorities, Christians and secular governments, overwhelmingly the greater number of victims are themselves Muslims.
Looking elsewhere, there is no difficulty in identifying other dangers to peace and stability:
A resurgent Russia, a gangster state laundering its corrupt cash in the world’s financial system, has fostered war and violence in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. It has intervened in Syria, is shaping up to do so in Libya, and is suspected of having launched cyber attacks on the Baltic States;
China’s militarisation of the South China Sea threatens Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, The Philippines, international navigable waters, and the supremacy of the USA in a worrying potential new area of conflict;
The hermit state of North Korea’s development of increasingly longer range missiles to deliver its nuclear capability adds perhaps the most unpredictable element to our brief tour.
We’ve hardly scratched the surface, but let’s return briefly to Palestine where we began.
Our Department for International Development employees in Jerusalem, who travel into the city daily on a tortuous commute from the areas around Bethlehem, are young people in their mid-20s to mid-30s. The only interaction that they ever have with an Israeli subject is when, during that journey, they are challenged to show their papers under the operation of what I would call the ‘pass laws’ that exist to ensure that people’s ability to live, stay and work in their own city is restricted.
I entirely understand how we got to that dreadful situation: because of the obscenity of suicide bombing. Israel could not possibly tolerate the wholesale slaughter of its innocent citizens. The key question for us is, having got to this dreadful situation, how we get back from it. It is one thing to demand, quite properly, face-to-face negotiations, but pursuing a policy in respect of illegal settlements makes those negotiations much more difficult, particularly when that policy is driven by an increasingly strident ideology.
In February when a Bill was passed in the Knesset retrospectively legalising 4,000 homes in illegal settlements, the Israeli Minister of Culture welcomed the result, saying that it was
“the first step towards complete…Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.”
The words “Judea and Samaria” were chosen carefully.
When President Trump was elected, the Israeli Interior Minister, no less, welcomed it by saying that we are witnessing
“the birth pangs of the Messiah when everything has been flipped to the good of the Jewish people”.
it is absolutely clear that a significant proportion of the Israeli political establishment is in thrall to an increasingly strident settler movement that regards Palestine as a biblical theme park— Judea and Samaria.
The more strident and aggressive outriders of the settler movement are not people we would necessarily welcome as our neighbours. I particularly refer to what is now happening in Hebron. Setting aside some of the ruses that are used to acquire property, when the settlers move in, it is actually their Palestinian neighbours who have to erect grilles and meshes over their windows, and fences around their yards, to exclude projectiles and refuse. The reaction of the security forces to protect their newly resident citizens is to impose an exclusion zone, and to cordon off and sanitise the access and areas around those properties. So proceeding, Palestinians find that they are excluded from the heart of their city and, indeed, from the environs of their own homes. It has all the appearance of what we used to describe as petty apartheid.
Secretary Kerry explained at the turn of the year why the United States would no longer pursue its policy of exercising its veto in respect of UN Security Council resolution 2334. He said that if the two-state solution were abandoned, Israel could no longer be both a democracy and a Jewish state because, as a consequence of abandoning the policy, it would have to accommodate Palestinian citizens and all their civil and political rights within the state of Israel. My fear is that, on the contrary, there is an element within the Israeli establishment that believes that it can do exactly that. It can, while the world is distracted by more pressing conflicts elsewhere, proceed to annex the West Bank of the Jordan and to tell the Palestinians to seek their civil rights in Jordan, or in reserved ‘bantustans’.
So, what is to be our response to all the dangers and problems that confront us in the world?
I think it must be threefold:
First, we must keep faith with the rules based post WWII order. That means reforming and strengthening the United Nations system.
Second, we must hold fast to the principles of free trade, whatever may be the short term temptations of protectionism. Trade dwarfs aid, and the agenda for free trade, so important to our own prosperity, is of even greater significance to the developing world, and the least developed nations.
Third, we need to stick to the commitment we made over 40 years ago to spend 0.7% of our national income on development aid internationally. We are the only G7 nation, thus far, to have done so. It is important that we continue to give leadership to the world in this vital area. If we had met the commitment when we made it, and if all the other wealthy nations had done so too, we might now be dealing with a much more secure and stable world than we are now facing.