Foreign Secretary: On strength, resilience and unity

Foreign Secretary comment piece, originally published in The Sun on Sunday, Sunday 3 December 2023

In the last fortnight, I’ve stood in a bombed out cathedral in one of Ukraine’s most beautiful cities and watched as brave Ukranian soldiers kiss families goodbye as they left for the front to fight Putin’s illegal invasion. 

I’ve walked through an Israeli Kibbutz where parents were slaughtered in front of their children. I’ve listened to stories of families whose loved ones have cruelly been taken hostage by Hamas, and heard testimony from British citizens fleeing the bombardment of Gaza.

There have been warnings that Iran could escalate the conflict in the Middle East through their proxies like Hizbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen. 

And I’ve seen briefings that make clear the risks of cyber attacks and industrial espionage, whether they are coming out of China, Russia or North Korea.

Always, the conclusion I reach is the same.

It is hard to recall in recent memory a time of such danger and uncertainty.

When I started my first political job in the late 1980s working for Margaret Thatcher, things looked so different.  The Cold War was ending and the Berlin Wall coming down.  Democracy was spreading, trade barriers were tumbling and more countries and people were embracing freedom and prosperity. 

How should we respond to this new reality?

First, by understanding how profoundly our world has changed.

The forces shaping it – a warmonger in the Kremlin, a more aggressive China, Islamist extremism poisoning young minds – these things aren’t going to disappear overnight.

There’s no point hoping for some magical return to the world as it once was. Hope isn’t a policy.

And there’s no point pretending that we can somehow insulate ourselves from these crises, or pull up some imaginary drawbridge. 

It’s not just that Putin’s war has hit energy and food prices here at home.  Or that conflict in the Middle East, if it flares out of control, can do the same.

It’s that if Putin isn’t stopped in Ukraine he will be back for more. And we know from our history that appeasing dictators ultimately wrecks British interests and costs British lives.

Conflict in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the region.  It can destabilise our allies and trigger mass migrations.  And it deeply affects Jewish and Muslim populations in our own countries.

Our response needs to be one of strength, resilience and unity.

We need to build up our defences, stay close to our strongest friends and partners, and reach out to new allies.

That’s why next week I will be heading to Washington DC to work with our closest and strongest ally, the USA.

The debate there – about how much to help Ukraine and for how long – is underway. 

I know the arguments – that European security is American security and that dictators shouldn’t be appeased – will win the day. 

But I want to reassure them that we will stay the course and galvanise other allies too. 

Yes, I stood in the bombed cathedral in Ukraine, but I also heard how Ukraine’s forces destroyed a fifth of Russia’s attack helicopters in Ukraine in just one night.  How Putin’s Black Sea fleet has been pushed largely out of Crimea.  How Ukraine is shipping grain again, with its economy growing again.

Likewise, while the scenes unfolding in Gaza are appalling, we doubled our humanitarian aid to those needing support in Gaza, and have been able to use the recent humanitarian pauses to get hostages out and aid in.

In these uncertain times, we need to make sure that the assets we have really deliver the results we need. 

In recent years, the Government has crafted a new security strategy which wins praise from allies. We have increased defence spending. We have shown leadership on Ukraine and in NATO. We have forged stronger ties in the Gulf and Indo-Pacific. We must keep driving this work forward.

It is a privilege to return to Government with responsibility for the Foreign Office.

I want to use my experience to make sure that every part of it – from world class diplomats to experts in development, from our crises response teams to our world renowned intelligence capabilities – are focused on our security and our prosperity.

With strength and resilience must come unity. 

Last week I sat in NATO’s first Council meeting with Ukraine and saw the strength of the most successful alliance in history.  Add together the economies of the countries backing Ukraine against Russia and we outmatch Putin by almost 30 to 1.  With the support we give to Ukraine – whether its artillery shells or economic support - we must make that economic strength count.

And if we can bring together all those who want a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, we may even be able to turn this horrific situation into an opportunity for real progress.

We must be clear-eyed about both the threats we face and those who want to see us fail.

But if we turn this moment of danger and insecurity into something that brings a new sense of unity between allies, there is no reason why we cannot prevail.

Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
The Rt Hon Lord Cameron