As we come to the close of a fractious decade, and as the UK plans its future outside the European Union it is vital that we pick our allies carefully, especially when it comes to the world’s most unstable regions.
This article was written by General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff from 2003 to 2006.
In Africa, the next frontier continent, Morocco’s enduring political stability and economic development stands as an impressive feat, as neighbouring regimes have been gripped by violent protests and jihadist terrorism. Meanwhile, in a troubled Middle East, countries like the UAE and Jordan have stable security structures that are leading the way in the struggle against religious extremism. Through investment in counterterrorism, a moderate brand of Islam and ambitious economic policies, these countries are on an upward trajectory – and importantly they present a good opportunity for strategic collaboration for Britain post Brexit, especially Morocco where historically the UK has less influence.
We are going to need dependable partners. In terms of security, the Sahel region is fast becoming the new front in the war against Islamic extremism, while the Horn of Africa and Yemen have also been the source of numerous jihadist plots in recent years. The British government needs allies in expanding its intelligence network in these areas. By regional standards, Morocco has a sophisticated army, and reliable intelligence services. Rabat’s security forces have broken up more than 45 terrorist networks linked to ISIS since 2013. Similarly, the UAE has an extensive counter-terrorism programme, including special measures for the choking of terrorist funds for extremist groups, which has been praised by the UN. These are certainly encouraging signs for any foreign government looking to develop its intelligence network.
Fundamentally, the UK needs allies which share our sense of the bigger picture on security. That’s why I am reassured to see Abu Dhabi develop a long-term strategy in the Horn of Africa. By its recent investment in Eritrea’s Assab port, as well as by the building of a string of regional bases, the UAE has demonstrated its commitment. It will not allow Somalia to fall back into chaos, and Emirati officials were alarmed by revelations that Qatar appears to have engineered terror attacks against Emirati interests in the country. Abu Dhabi understands that stability in the Horn is vital to the safety of its own borders – and indeed, this level of strategic rationale is what the British government should want to see in an ally. With our former Defence Secretary recently suggesting that the UK could build new bases in the Caribbean and the Far East, similar initiatives in North Africa or in the Horn could go a long way in cutting off terrorist plots at their source.
In North Africa, we should support the Moroccan efforts in providing logistical support and training for the militaries of the G5 Sahel countries (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso), areas long troubled by jihadist insurgency. At the time, Rabat had called upon foreign governments to throw their weight behind the initiative, but sustained support never came from the UK, whereas our Gulf allies, and France are extremely involved. With a growing number of terrorist threats to our country now originating in Africa, it is in the new Prime Minister’s interest to respond positively to Saharan security initiatives. It is unwise to let other countries lead on these issues, especially as we are leaving the EU.
And finally, the UK defence industry should seize the many commercial incentives to a security partnership. Last month, Morocco purchased a $250 million support package from the US government in order to help sustain its F-16 aircraft fleet, while the UAE has long been a client of British defence firms. These contracts are a big opportunity for the British government. In recent years, bilateral deals over the sale of BAE Systems’ Typhoon jets, for example, have brought billions of pounds in revenue to our economy. Closer cooperation would consistently make the UK the first port of call, rather than Paris or Washington, for future military upgrades. The forging of new trading partnerships will also be key to securing the success of the UK’s post-Brexit future. With strong records on terrorism and high levels of economic development, Rabat and Abu Dhabi are obvious candidates for enhanced cooperation.
Over the past twenty years, through investment in security infrastructure, as well as by championing outward-looking anti-radicalisation agendas, certain countries such as Morocco and the UAE have enjoyed continued stability and development, while also successfully negotiated the perils of religious extremism in troubled regions. As Boris Johnson seeks to build the strategic path for Global Britain in the next ten years, these are the kinds of allies that our country needs.