A government’s most sacred duty is to protect its people: now, more than ever, we understand that old saying. Today, and throughout this COVID-19 crisis, that duty is expressed in increasing ICU capacity, providing PPE, mobilizing mass-testing, and other efforts to stem the spread of the virus. Health policy, in other words. In more normal times – and, while it may not feel like it to many, those times will return in the near future – the duty is expressed more often in protecting citizens from external threats through security and defence policy.
The world that will emerge after this crisis will be, in many ways the same, but it will also be different in very significant respects. Most jarringly, we will all be poorer. The economic rescue packages now being implemented will mean stretched budgets for a decade or more, across the Western world.
But the UK, Poland and our allies must resist the temptation to cut our defence and security spending. Now, emphatically, is the wrong time to do that.
The UK’s role in this post-COVID global security architecture is fundamental. Do not underestimate that. As a core member of the NATO alliance, one of the world’s most-advanced military powers, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK’s role in defending the free world remains essential regardless of Brexit.
One of the last significant international news stories – before the virus overwhelmed all other news – demonstrates this fact.
In February, the security services of the UK, US and Georgia announced that they had analysed a massive cyberattack on Georgia’s technological infrastructure. Georgia, like Poland and the Baltic States, is on Europe’s geographical and technological frontline. If “Global Britain” is to mean anything, it must mean an enhanced role, such as demonstrated in February, in supporting our pro-Western allies in difficult areas of the world.
Georgia is perhaps the clearest example: sandwiched between Russia and Iran, its current government is nevertheless determined to pursue a pro-Western, pro-NATO path. Prime Minister Georgi Gakharia, from the ruling Georgian Dream party, has made clear public statements that the government desires to join both NATO and the EU. Over 80% of the Georgian public supports this goal according to the latest polling.
This may sound like a pipe-dream, until you consider the data. Georgia is already the largest per capita contributor to NATO missions in Afghanistan, and it has recently become only the second non-NATO country (after Finland) to join the NATO cybersecurity platform, known as MISP. The Georgian Dream government has also implemented a pro-market economic revolution: taxes and regulations have been cut, corruption has been ruthlessly targeted, and investment has been unleashed. As a result, the poverty rate has been cut in half in just over a decade; the World Bank now ranks Georgia the second-best country in the world to start a business; and the country lies in 12th position in the Heritage Economic Freedom Index, above the USA and most of the EU member states.
Why should we care? Because it is encouraging news for all of us. The decline of Western capitalism and democracy has been widely predicted in recent years, but those doomsters and gloomsters will be proved wrong. For Georgians, and many other pro-Western populations around the European neighbourhood, democracy and freedom remain the “shining city on the hill”.
They do, however, need our help: and we must give it. Strengthening the NATO alliance, renewing our commitment to pro-Western governments, and defending the rights of free peoples everywhere: this is crucial if we are once again to prevail in the battle of ideas and prevent authoritarian models around the world from gaining further traction.
The world will not magically become safer and happier, when COVID-19 recedes. It is for the Western powers to make it so, and the newly-independent UK must commit to a central role in that effort.
Where there are pro-Western governments, as in Georgia, we must support them. Where cyberattacks and other aggression takes place, we must resist it. Most immediately, where economic challenges exist as a result of this crisis, we must ignore the temptation to indulge in false economies that would endanger our security and perhaps usher in a different crisis in the years to come.
Karol Karski MEP is Quaestor of the European Parliament