The UK today faces just two formal threats from other states to the integrity of places we protect. Argentina refuses to lift her claim to the Falkland islands, despite losing a war following an illegal invasion, and despite the overwhelming wish of the islanders to stay with us. Spain lodges a claim to Gibraltar for no good reason, other than geographical proximity, and regularly seeks to disrupt life on the Rock.
Our diplomatic and defence forces have to be in a state of vigilance to ensure the safety and self determination of both the Rock and the islands. Both places have shown in referenda their overwhelming desire to stay with the UK. The Falklands showed the unfortunate need for the UK to possess an expeditionary capability to defend the islands. It also showed we cannot always rely on NATO and the US to assist us. Then our force was seaborne and successful, but with considerable hazard. Today a new airport would make it much easier to send forces rapidly should there be a new military threat. It is most important the UK shows permanent resolve in all it says and does, to avoid giving the impression that illegal acts by others would no longer be resisted.
The UK also buys into the US view of the threat from Al Qaeda/Taliban/Isil and other similar insurgent violent groups in the Middle East. Whilst it is true that the UK has to be vigilant to see off terrorist activity here in the UK by intelligence and police action, it is not necessarily true that going to war from time to time against some of these people in some of the Middle Eastern countries where they operate makes us safer at home or will lead to the end of such terrorist threats.
The UK public was very critical of Mr Blair’s Iraq war. There is considerable scepticism about the results of the intervention in Libya. The long war in Afghanistan was bravely fought by our troops, and may result in a better Afghanistan depending on how the local politics now work out. However, it transpired that the US went to the wrong country to track down Bin Laden. The US has discovered that the terrorist groups operate over the borders into Pakistan so they cannot be defeated just in one or two Middle Eastern countries.
Libya is now a broken country with warring bands competing for power and territory. Egypt’s democratic revolution led to a military coup. Iraq is split into three broad fighting groups, with its government shelling its own people, and the rebels killing both the government troops and civilian bystanders. Syria is also gripped by a long and brutal civil war. So far western intervention has not been able to stabilise the region, nor to help create several functioning democracies as hoped.
The main ways we can protect ourselves against terrorist threat are through proper controls of our borders, and through good intelligence and police action here at home. We need to develop our cyber capability, use access under warrant to the phone and internet connections of those we suspect to monitor and warn us of forthcoming trouble, and work through schools and colleges to tackle home grown extremism.