Newly published book calls for a new British approach to the security problems Britain will face in the 2020s. At the turn of the decade, it says, we are already at a ‘Tipping Point’.
Tipping Point: Britain, Brexit and Security in the 2020s, Michael Clarke and Helen Ramscar, London, I.B. Tauris / Bloomsbury, 2019. Published 28 November 2019.
About the Book
Britain is facing unprecedented security challenges in the 2020s. The decade to come will not be as favourable as the two past decades. For a country as ‘globalised’ as Britain, security challenges cover a wide spectrum – from terrorism, international crime and cyber-attack – through to the prospects of war in its own continent or even, again, for its own survival. Brexit has entered these equations and turned them into a political tipping point, from which there is no hiding and no turning back. Britain has many strengths as a power in the world but to address the challenges of the 2020s it must recognise them in a hard-nosed way and deploy them effectively. And soon.
The book deals with both long-term and immediate security pressures, and places Brexit in the context of these calculations. It offers a headline audit of Britain’s security strengths and weaknesses as we embark on a difficult new decade, but, it says, ‘we talk a better game than we play’. We need to think more strategically – and urgently – about how we organise and marshal our resources even in the midst of our Brexit uncertainties.
The outline conclusions of Tipping Point are:
- That the 2020s will be a difficult decade for all the European states, and particularly for Britain. Brexit did not create the essential security problems of the 2020s and nor is it the solution to them.
- But Brexit increases all the security stakes and the risks, and leaves little room for mistakes or missteps. Outside the EU, Britain must prove to its allies and the rest of the world that it is not isolated; that it is not more vulnerable to economic or political pressure; that it is still – or even more – a valuable ally and international partner.
- And to make this a reality, it must reverse a decade of tentative and confused security policy and devote real resources – money, people and political energy – to embrace the challenges awaiting us in the 2020s more clearly. Britain crossed a Rubicon in 2016 with the Brexit referendum and whatever the eventual outcome, Britain will not be the same sort of European power as it was when the Cold War ended. Brexit set off a process from which there is no hiding, and no turning back.
- So we are at the Tipping Point now. The pain of Brexit has created a security policy hiatus that has cast a massive shadow over defence, policing, counter-terrorism, foreign policy and our vision of what Britain wants to achieve in world politics. If we do not pursue a clearer strategy in the next two or three years, the speed of events will simply overtake us.
- That task is made all the harder because of the ingrained social and economic tensions of the decade just ending, and the distinct possibility of the break-up of the United Kingdom in the decade just beginning. Effective security cannot be based on a fractured society. Britain now constitutes what the authors call the ‘five kingdoms’ – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Greater London, and ‘England outside London’ – the ‘Fifth Kingdom’. And the Fifth Kingdom – the biggest but not the richest – is angry and increasingly nationalistic.
- The authors recommend some radical changes to meet these challenges:
- To create a ‘strategic surge’ in resources and political commitment for at least five years – in diplomacy, defence, aid, intelligence, research and development – in order to give some reality to what ‘Global Britain’ will really mean; devoting to those outward-facing policy instruments at least an extra £20 billion a year through to 2025/6.
- To concentrate defence and Britain’s physical security efforts on the European theatre, where our own neighbourhood is becoming increasingly dangerous.
- But to be more proactive as a good and trusted partner in the wider world, with big increases in the depth of our thinly-spread diplomatic and economic promotional resources.
- To make big increases (from the current very low-levels) in government sponsored R&D and to help prevent so many innovative British start-ups becoming foreign-owned as they search for development capital.
- To take on a serious exercise in encouraging the British people to characterise themselves as they would like to be seen by others, and develop a proactive national branding exercise around it during the ‘Brexit years’.
- To be prepared to engage in major constitutional reform to address some of the tensions inherent across the ‘Five Kingdoms’; and initiate a Constitutional Convention with a view, eventually, to a completely federated United Kingdom – as the best way to save it from belligerent dissolution.
- This book tries to synthesise a wide range of issues that all build into Britain’s security future for the coming decade, and it is written to be accessible to non-specialists, so that as many interested people as possible might participate in the questions it poses.
About the Authors
Professor Michael Clarke was Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute from 2007 to 2015 when he retired from that role. Until 2001 he was Deputy Vice-Principal and Director for Research Development at King’s College London, where he remains a Visiting Professor of Defence Studies. From 1990 to 2001 he was the founding Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s. He is now a Fellow of King’s College London and of the Universities of Aberystwyth and of Exeter, where he is also Associate Director of the Strategy and Security Institute. He has been a specialist adviser to the House of Commons Defence Committee since 1997, and is also a specialist advisor to Parliament’s Joint Committee on National Security Strategy. He has previously served on the Prime Minister’s National Security Forum and the Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel.
Helen Ramscar is an Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, were previously she was Director of Development. Before RUSI, she worked at the US Ambassador’s residence in London; at Clarence House for HRH The Prince of Wales; in the House of Commons; in Kenya; and in China. She has a BA in History from Durham University; an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from SOAS; and a Diploma in Voluntary Sector Management from Cass Business School.