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Timothy Kirkhope: The Transatlantic Alliance is more relevant than ever

For our European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament, this relationship is one of our most important principles.

Our group has been successfully formed as a new centre-right bloc in the Parliament to give a voice to all those in Europe who support a free market, outward-looking European Union which respects the powers of its member states.

And we are totally committed to the defence of the Atlantic Alliance. This is why the Presidency of the Group is here in Washington this week - to demonstrate that commitment and forge new links.

Today I want to consider the challenges faced by the Alliance in two key fields - one is political and one is economic.

One of the moments of greatest danger for the security of any state is that period following the defeat or collapse of a long-standing opponent.

When so much energy, mental effort and physical endurance have been devoted to the defeat of one adversary, it is all too easy to succumb to the temptation to savour the victory and sit back.   In the aftermath of triumph, the temptations of a so-called 'peace dividend' often prove too great. 

After the defeat of Napoleon, Britain basked in the glow of Trafalgar and Waterloo for decades, slow to appreciate the consequences of the rise of Prussia and its successor, Imperial Germany, preferring a policy of 'splendid isolation' until it was almost too late.

After the First World War, far-sighted leaders in the West could not persuade their compatriots of the need to challenge the creation of a communist state in Russia. Attempts to support the efforts of "White Russians" to counter the new "Red" state were half-hearted and not sustained. Public opinion wanted money spent on 'homes fit for heroes' rather than military support for one side in a Russian civil war. And In the United States, despite the obvious failure of the policy before 1917, the attractions of a return to its own kind of isolationism proved irresistible. 

But after the end of the Second World War, we heard the warning in time. US troops were being pulled out of Europe and Britain was demobilising to divert resources to its new welfare state when a combination of Stalin's greed over Prague and Berlin, and later China's over Korea, galvanised western opinion just in time to make resistance possible. 

The United States helped to revive the economy of western Europe with the Marshall Plan and guaranteed its security with the creation of NATO. Effective leadership in the United States and in Europe was able to persuade public opinion to make the sustained effort required over four decades to win the Cold War. In resisting the Soviet Union, the west effectively broke its state controlled and artificial economy and then its confidence. With the Soviet Union in a growing state of collapse, the peoples of central and eastern Europe were then, with our support, able to assert their rights and chose freedom. A peaceful revolution which began in Poland and climaxed in Berlin, when the Wall fell, transformed Europe.

But, since 1989, have we just enjoyed that victory or have we seriously heeded the warnings about the future?


Following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the west, predictably, succumbed to temptation to enjoy the victory. It was the 'end of history'. We had apparently won the final battle.

All of that changed during the morning of 11th September 2001.

The attacks on the twin towers and here in Washington and in the American countryside were terrible tragedies. None of us will ever forget those images, or the sacrifice of the victims. 

But, like Stalin and Mao before them, had our enemies also made a strategic mistake?

They alerted the whole western world to the danger now posed to our way of life by the jihadist extremists.

This conflict began as a civil battle within the islamic world: between on the one hand the once-confident mainstream, looking forward to a new century of economic development and political modernisation consistent with traditional religious beliefs, and yet opposed on the other by a reactionary, intolerant, violent minority. They seek the overthrow of existing regimes in order to establish a religious tyranny to impose their fundamentalist views on their own peoples and ultimately on the world. And they are a minority. The vast majority of adherents to the Islamic faith believe in peace, democracy, responsibility, and freedom.

But this was a battle we had ignored for too long. It had been too easy to push concerns aside on the grounds that this conflict was just about the politics of the Middle East. If only peace were made between Israel and the Palestinians, the problem would magically go away. Whilst a peace settlement must be pursued in the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians - and we must never waver in our support for Israel as our trusted ally and the only stable, mature democracy in the region - we must never confuse the two issues.

The jihadists do not want a peace settlement. A peace settlement would make their cause harder to sustain amongst those who have fallen for the obscene lie that the jihadists are simply defending the Palestinian cause. The nature of their struggle is different. They don't want peace, they want power. The power achieved through fear.

Public opinion was slow to understand the full gravity of the challenge. But after 9/11 it could be ignored no more.


If we face a grave immediate political threat, the free world faces a more difficult economic challenge.

For more than two centuries, the most liberal and, more recently, the most democratic states on the planet have also been those with the most advanced economies. From the creation of the Bank of England in 1694 which gave Britain the financial means to defeat France's ambitions in the 18th century, through the industrial revolution which gave it the capability to dominate the 19th century, and up to our own era when the economic muscle of the United States made it the arsenal of democracy, economic and political power have been aligned.

Indeed we have grown up with the idea that political and economic freedom are two sides of the same coin - that they have progressed together because they are mutually reinforcing.

So how should we react when the link seems to have been broken?

Global economic power is moving dramatically in favour of China. Only this year it has become the world's biggest exporter and its economy is on course to be the world's second largest in the near future.  Today China is a rival, rather than an opponent, and there is of course a danger that any prophesy becomes self-fulfilling. So we must seek to build a positive relationship with China, but we must also not ignore reality.

We had believed that economic progress in China would stimulate political liberalisation. 

And yet during the course of 1989, whilst we were celebrating the birth of a new Europe, thousands of protestors were killed in Tianamen Square for daring to call for freedom and reform. We remember those scenes of course but we have tried to move on. Is there a risk that we are still too complacent?

We must not be as naive as some of our nineteenth century forebears who simply thought that economic growth, free trade, and economic interdependence would promote peace and encourage the spread of democracy.

China is becoming economically more powerful every day but what does its future hold? Will it liberalise? When? How? What risk is there of a backlash even more violent than the Tianamen Square massacre? Could the Communist Party grow more nationalist and extreme - perhaps when under pressure during a domestic economic crisis? Could the military one day replace the Party as the dominant force in Chinese political life?

We might trust the current regime even if we oppose the way they put economic advantage ahead of political concerns - from Venezuela, through Sudan and Iran to North Korea. But we must never lose sight of the fact that considerable economic power is being concentrated in Beijing and it may not always be in hands we can trust.

Democracy and human rights therefore face two critical strategic challenges in the twenty-first century: the political challenge of jihadism and the economic challenge of authoritarian capitalism.

How should we approach these questions?

Firstly, the west must be united.  Loose talk by some in Europe and beyond about a multi-polar world with Europe and the United States as two separate poles is at best unhelpful and at worse highly dangerous. The west - in its broadest sense - is a single pole and we must stand together to defend the values of democratic government and the freedom of the individual. The transatlantic relationship is not some historic legacy of the Cold War that is now irrelevant.  Its sense of common purpose and mutual support must be maintained but it must also be  refreshed. 

In practical terms, this means we must stand together in dealing with immediate threats such as Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and in sustaining the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. European states in particular need to match their resources to their rhetoric.

The European Union has a part to play as a supporting pillar of the Alliance but it must be clear about its role. It can provide a useful means for concerted European action by its member states, particularly in areas related to civilian reconstruction and development. But there is absolutely no need for it to aspire to a military role to the detriment of NATO. Nothing must undermine the Alliance's purpose or function.

Secondly, we must reaffirm our commitment to multilateralism. Informal groups of states can of course cooperate usefully to achieve specific, limited objectives. But campaigns that must be sustained over the course of decades need to be underpinned by a commitment to common institutions. That is the secret of NATO: it was not a coalition for the short-term, but an alliance for the long-term.  Communism was not defeated because of shifting, unstable, unpredictable combinations of western democracies; it was defeated because the west as a whole stood united in its defiance of the Soviet Union and it is important to remember that the first alliance that the newly free States including our friends from Poland and the Czech republic applied to join was NATO - ahead of the EU.

NATO is already a kind of 'league of democracies'. Perhaps we now need to be more imaginative in devising ways of connecting other long-term partners of the United States and Europe to its work. Without diluting or weakening in any way its military integration, perhaps allies from across the world - in the far east, south-east Asia, South America and Africa - could be more closely associated with its work as a political alliance dedicated to upholding freedom?

Thirdly, public opinion needs to understand this will be a long haul.   During the four decades of the Cold War, sustained leadership ensured that public opinion across the west remained resolute. We need a similar commitment today. But already there are signs that our resolve is weakening. Public opinion swung against the campaign in Iraq and its determination is faltering in Afghanistan despite the latest advances there. Yet these are crucial battlegrounds in the fight against jihadism. In the Conservative Party we do not believe that models of democracy can simply be transported across the globe wholesale - they need to develop from within traditional communities. We do believe though that they can be nurtured and supported as they grow. Institutions such as the European Union and Commonwealth can make vitally important contributions to this process.

Finally, we must collaborate to return to sustainable economic growth. The long-term future of the west depends ultimately on our economic success.  Individually our nations must prioritise education and training, and create a stable climate in which business and entrepreneurs can thrive, generating growth and jobs. 

Our economic recovery will need to be on a new basis contrasting with the recent 90s boom. We now know that It was both economically reckless and morally wrong to fund our current lifestyles by borrowing money which our children and probably grandchildren will have to repay.

Economic recovery must be based on a renewed commitment to saving and investment. 

These are of course decisions for individuals and states. But the west can cooperate on several issues of vital importance: promoting global free trade, ensuring any reforms of our international economic institutions are workable and serve our interests. And we need to work together to undertake balanced action on climate change - a subject where we urgently need to listen to each others' concerns and forge a new consensus.

Mr Chairman, since the Atlantic Charter was agreed by President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in August 1941 and subsequently endorsed by the free governments of Europe represented in London a month later, the transatlantic relationship has been a powerful and decisive force for good in global affairs. I believe this remains true today. Ahead of us, we face political and economic challenges of such a magnitude that the time has come to devote considerable energy to reinvigorating this alliance for a new century.

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