Conflict and tension around the globe

It’s often said that all politics is local. Certainly the vast majority of letters and emails I receive from constituents are normally about the things that concern their own lives or their communities. Recently, though, there’s been a shift in my inbox. More and more of you are worrying about the problems of the wider world.

That, of course, reflects the increase in conflicts and tensions around the globe – not just in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and the Ukraine but also in Africa and the Far East, where the sabre rattling of both North Korea and of China (in its ongoing territorial disputes with Japan) remain serious threats to world peace.

Local people have very different approaches. Some seek deeper British engagement, if necessary militarily, while others oppose it profoundly. Some use the conflicts as a reason to oppose international development expenditure – “overseas aid” – while others argue passionately for us to hold tight to our current commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP. Indeed, I’m now being lobbied about the bill before Parliament in two weeks to enshrine that level of spending in law.

I am clear that our response to an increasingly dangerous world must be to maintain strong armed forces while being generous in helping the poorest nations on the planet to become more prosperous, healthier and better educated.

So often conflict has its roots in poverty, so helping lift the world out of poverty is not just morally correct, but also in the UK’s own interests.

But sometimes, as in the case of Russia and the Ukraine, conflict has its roots in simple aggression. Russia must see a strong West, able and willing to defend itself and its interests, if it is to be deterred from pursuing its warped agenda any further. So I am sorry that so many NATO countries spend nowhere near the 2% of GDP on defence that is the guideline for the club they belong to and which protects them. Indeed the UK’s own commitment 2% figure is not looking as robust as I would like.

My own view is summed up in the phrase that we must “speak softly and carry along stick”; O.7% of GDP on aid and 2% on defence are both important targets.


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