FOREWORD - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 44
Des Browne MP
Des Browne MP, Secretary of State for Defence 2006-2008
What does the presidency of Barack Obama mean for Britain's foreign and defence policy? This question will continue to occupy the minds of many of us for some time to come.
Those who predict the dilution or deterioration of the UK-US relationship are mistaken. Although President Obama and Prime Minister Brown get on well, the strength of this relationship does not depend solely, or even mainly, on the chemistry between our respective leaders. It depends much more on a century of shared interests, objectives, analysis and philosophy and, as importantly, the complementarities of our respective military and diplomatic capabilities. Frankly, our people across the world value working with each other, enjoy a unique mutual respect and, consequently, where we have common interests, seek each other out as allies.
Add to that history the fact that now, the UK and the US share a more mutually consistent view of the world, and we have every reason for confidence that the foundations of this historic transatlantic tie will not only remain intact, but indeed will grow stronger under the new administration.
Obama's strategic approach to proliferation and disarmament, the Middle East and Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as climate change, is broadly aligned to ours. In the early days of his presidency, as he promised he would, the President has acted by Executive Order to end rendition and torture, and to begin the closure of Guantánamo Bay – steps our government has called for repeatedly.
Welcome, too, is Obama's talk of the need for greater diplomacy in conflict situations. The presidential appointments to key positions in both State and Pentagon are calculated to ensure the successful deployment of both hard and soft power simultaneously. The increased capabilities and capacity that the State Department will need are to be funded by a transfer of resources from the defence budget, a prioritisation of resources that has been welcomed by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
For the last three years, Britain's strategic approach to Iraq has been one of careful transition to Iraqi control. Contrary to the ill-informed views of some, it never was discordant with US strategy. Now, there can be no doubt about that, and now our experience will help inform US tactics for their own transition.
In Afghanistan, an additional 30,000 US troops deployed to the South and East will be very welcome and will help generate increased security. Equally welcome will be the promised additional diplomatic, reconstruction and development resources desperately needed to ensure that improved security leads to improved governance, health and education, and economic opportunities.
More generally in NATO, we share a common agenda on the modernisation of the strategic concept and on the importance of transformation, the key to increased deployable forces. The NATO alliance has to refocus its military and political strategy, and have confidence in its legitimacy and ability to work effectively.
Frankly, the challenge we face lies not with the US but, in the context of a multilateralist world where decisions are made on the basis of consensus, how the United Kingdom and the US together bring the same kind of coherence we now share across the international effort as a whole. That is where the US is likely to want our help most, and where we have the most to offer.