WASHINGTON — In an era where talking about great power competition is all the rage, the U.K.’s top defense official has a stark warning: Western nations need to start thinking about the big picture.
Speaking in Washington on Aug. 7, Gavin Williamson, the U.K. defense minister, warned that not enough is being done to plan for long-term efforts by Western nations to counter the potential threats from Russia and China.
“The debates about grand strategy among NATO partners, among the West, among our friends and allies, there’s not enough talk about it,” Williamson said during a visit to the Atlantic Council. “You want to be having that conversation because if we do not have that conversation, if we do not start planning for it, we will be ill-prepared for it.
“I think that is a weakness of the West, and we have to deal with this, and we have to deal with it soon and quickly.”
The theme of great power competition is impossible to shake in the D.C. region, particularly since the Trump administration rolled out its National Defense Strategy, which declared China and Russia as the two standards by which the United States must judge its success.
The conventional wisdom in national security circles is that China is the best of the three nations at executing a true “grand strategy,” one laying out goals decades down the line and pursuing them with a whole-of-government approach.
Williamson specifically compared the situation among Western powers to that of China, noting “they do have that grand strategy, they have that plan for the future. And we have to deliver that as well.” But, he noted, the U.S. and its European allies should be looking at ways available now to work with China, as opposed to against them.
“We have to be thinking about how we make sure China plays an important, valuable and positive role on the world stage. That is something I believe they want to do, they want to see themselves playing that role. And part of our grand strategy would be to encourage them and deliver them into that positive role," he said.
The U.K. minister also used his appearance to downplay tension between the Trump administration and NATO, saying the United States remains “incredibly committed” to its allies.
“Judge a nation on its actions,” he said, citing budget increases the last two years for efforts such as the U.S.-led European Deterrence Initiative. “The U.S. has been the most reliable partner for us and many other nations, and I have no doubt that will continue and that will continue to grow.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.