Speaking yesterday in the Lords debate on Syria, Paddy Ashdown made the following speech:
I hope that today marks a watershed not just for the people of Syria but in our battle to remove the scourge and terror of ISIL and in the foreign policy of Her Majesty’s Government. In the last 10 years, since shock and awe, we have been obsessed by high explosives as our singular instrument of foreign policy. We have forgotten again and again and again the old dictum of Clausewitz that war is an extension of diplomacy by other means. So in Afghanistan we relied on high explosives: we did not build the relationships with the neighbours that we should have built, we did not build that diplomatic context, and we lost. In Iraq, we did the same. And we lost. In Libya, when it came to constructing the peace, we did the same. And we lost. And for the last three years we have been doing exactly the same. And we were losing. Maybe we will now give ourselves a chance to turn that around and make success.
The Chinese philosopher Sun Tze said “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” In the Ukraine crisis, Putin is playing strategy. The West is playing tactics.
The West lost the greatest strategic opportunity of recent times when we reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, not with a long term plan to bring Russia in from the cold, but by treating Russia to a blast of Washington triumphalism and superiority. Instead of opening the doors to a strategic partnership to Moscow, we sent young men still wet behind the ears from Harvard business school to privatize their industries, and teach them the Western way of doing things. The result was a bonanza of corruption, the humiliation of the Yeltsin years and a clumsy attempt to enlarge our “Cold war victory” by seeking to expand NATO and Europe right up to the Russian border. There was always going to be a consequence of this folly and its name is Vladimir Putin.
They say that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. The “Charlie hebdo” atrocities of last week are many things; frightening, terrifying, atrocious, a horror, an attack on what we stand for. But, as a phenomenon they are not new, or exceptional or uniquely Muslim.
You do not have to be a young Muslim living in the 21 century to be subject to radicalisation. It has always, down the ages been possible to persuade young men (and a few – a very few young women) of all faiths and none to the believe that is noble to kill innocent people in pursuit of what they have been persuaded is a great cause. As far back as the first century, the Jewish Zealots did it against Roman rule. In the 11 century the Shia Muslim Hashashin added another word – assassin – to our vocabulary of terror by their attacks on the Persian Government of the day. In our own time we have had to deal with our own “home grown” so called “Catholic” terrorists of the IRA (who by the way killed and destroyed far more than the current wave of jihadist outrages) – as well as the outrages perpetrated by the anti-imperialist urban terrorism of young middle class white Germans in the Bader-Meinhof Gang and its successor the Rot Armee Fraktion.
Perhaps the closest parallel to what we are seeing now is the Anarchist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. All entirely “home grown” and without any kind of formal command structures, they too were a collection of “lone wolves” inspired by texts and prepared to kill and maim to abolish states and replace them with borderless self-governed entities which, leaving aside that they were based on a political idea rather than a religious one, bear a striking similarity to the caliphate model of today.
The UK politician and former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown tells EurActiv that a UK referendum on EU membership can be won, so long as the question is framed in ‘yes/no’ terms.
You have been speaking at this TEDx in Brussels on the threat to democracy. Do you see that threat as global, or limited to certain places?
No I think it affects all the advanced democracies, it is not global. All the advanced democracies are suffering from a sort of breakdown of the democratic dialogue. You can look at America, Canada certainly the European countries: you see the rise of the right, or the rise of the left, the rise of demagogues, the failure of democratic governments. I just think what it tells us is that the framework for our democracy – the nation states – needs to change, and what we need is a reform. Democracy has been reformed many, many times over the last 1500 years. We need to go through another reform of democracy. To my mind, that means redistributing the powers of the nation state. To a British audience I would say we need a Great Reform Act of 1832.
The full interview with EurActive can be found here
Government talk of returning jihadis and ‘western values’ won’t keep us safe. We need a coordinated international strategy to defeat those who threaten us
It is always easy to persuade frightened people to part with their liberties. But it is always right for politicians who value liberty to resist attempts to increase arbitrary executive powers unless this is justified, not by magnifying fear, but by actual facts.
On Friday, the government announced that the imminent danger of jihadi attack meant Britain’s threat level should be raised to “severe”. Then, from the prime minister downwards, Tory ministers took to every available airwave to tell us how frightened we should be and why this required a range of new powers for them to exercise. For the record, the threat level in Northern Ireland has been “severe” for the past four years – as it was in all Britain for many years in the 1980s and 1990s, when the IRA threat was at its greatest.
I say this not to deny the threat from returning jihadis – though as the former head of counter-terrorism for MI6, Richard Barrett said on Saturday, this should not be overestimated. But rather to make the point that this is not a new threat. It is one we have faced before and one we know how to deal with – effectively, without panic and without a whole new range of executive powers that could endanger our liberties. Indeed, when it comes to facing threats, it was surely far more difficult to cope with IRA terrorists slipping across the Irish Sea than it is to stop jihadis returning from Iraq?