The global outlook may darken in the months ahead, but it is how we act that will determine the outcome in 2022. The growing insecurity we see in so many parts of the world is neither isolated nor simply symptomatic of pressures such as climate change and migration flows. It is a result of the deliberate targeting of the rules-based international order by those who seek to dismantle the very structures which have kept the peace for more than half a century.
There will, of course, always be conflicts of national and cross-border interests, but we depend on a strong and international system to respond to and resolve these crises. Wherever that system is weak, the consequences are invariably destructive and needlessly cost the lives of those people most vulnerable and least responsible for their outbreak.
Even the most cursory survey of the global security landscape bears this out. Aggressive and regressive regimes in Eastern Europe are fomenting unrest and exploiting — not protecting — the vulnerable. An increasingly assertive and global power in Asia is becoming evermore expansionist in its economic coercion and aggressive in its military posture. Lesser powers in Asia and the Middle East continue their own destabilization of those regions. Extremism and terrorism are reaching ever further across the globe to strike innocent citizens with increasing complexity and lethality. All the while, proxy forces and serious organized crime are deployed to exploit the gaps in our legal defenses.
What all those actors have in common is that they not only disregard our values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law, but they actively work against them and the international system on which our way of life depends. Make no mistake: The liberal consensus we once took for granted is not only “under threat” but long gone. Since our shared values were never universal, we must be more proactive and self-confident in their reassertion if we are to avoid seeing them and today’s relative peace further eroded.
And we must be clear that peace and those institutions of multilateralism — to which we all became so accustomed — have always been an extension and not an alternative for our leadership and our hard power. So in this more competitive age, a “Global Britain” has no choice but to step up as the proactive, problem-solving, burden-sharing nation articulated by our prime minister in this year’s Integrated Review.
The review has, for the first time in a generation, aligned our national objectives — sovereignty, security, prosperity — with the ways in which we will achieve them through commerce, technology, diplomacy and defense. And it has also provided the resources to do so, not least with a 14% increase for defense investment.
However, our success will be dictated by actions, not words, and we are already practicing what we preach. This year, our carrier strike group’s maiden deployment to the Asia-Pacific and the signing of the new AUKUS trilateral security partnership have demonstrated our enduring commitment to those sharing our values, wherever they are in the world. There is considerably more to come next year.
Whatever the future holds, our armed forces will remain at the very heart of “Global Britain.” Not just because of their hard power capabilities and extensive soft power networks, but because their professionalism, commitment, courage and teamwork make them the very best of British — they are the embodiment of those values we seek to promote around the world.
So let’s avoid our outlooks for the year ahead being limited to geostrategic surveys or the hostile actions of others. Instead, let us focus on our own values, our resolve, our unity and our determination. Whatever 2022 holds, the United Kingdom is ready to take on its challenges and shape its opportunities — alongside our allies and partners — to secure peace and uphold our values.
Ben Wallace is the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for defense.