Earl of Minto Malaysia National Security International Seminar speech

Defence Minister the Earl of Minto gave a speech at the Malaysia National Security International Seminar

The Earl of Minto

Good morning. I’m grateful to everyone involved in organising the Expo for this opportunity to address you.

To help you understand the perspectives I bring to this conversation, let me give you the briefest overview of my background.

In my 20s I served as an infantry officer in the British Army. When I left the army, I worked in property and then the private sector, taking the stationary firm Paperchase from having a handful of stores in the UK, to having a multinational presence. And more recently I became a government Minister for Business and Trade, and now a Minister for Defence.

So you are probably wondering why am I telling you this.

Well it is because I see many parallels between those experiences, and the route that partner countries need to take out of our increasingly disordered and more dangerous world.

Whether it is military success, success in business, our whether it is successful international and military relations: the core tenets of success are mutually beneficial cooperation and clear rules.

In the military, that was about coming together with a group of people, with defined objectives and rules of operation, to deliver a result much greater than the sum of the parts.

In business, it was about having a firm grip on the bottom line, and on assets and opportunities. And reaching out to new partners - as I did particularly with suppliers in China - to forge mutually beneficial trusting partnerships, that deliver growth and prosperity for both parties.

And this type of mutually beneficial cooperation, based on mutually defined rules, is also the approach the United Kingdom takes to its international partnerships.

And I believe re-establishing adherence to those international rules, is the only route out of our currently disordered and more dangerous age.

Because if you take a step back, all of our current international problems and tension stem from countries flouting the international rulebook.

We have Russia, turning its back on the UN Charter to invade its sovereign neighbour. Targeting civilian infrastructure without a care for the Geneva Conventions.

We have an unsavoury alliance of Russian mercenaries and military strongmen in parts of Africa, working together to tear-up democratic accountability and international human rights conventions, in order to seize control of valuable critical mineral and other resources.  

We have countries like North Korea and Iran, violating their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

We have a regime in Tehran, that channels weapons and support to militia groups and proxies, used to commit terrorism in Israel and to disrupt Freedom of Navigation in the Red Sea. Which is directly impacting your exporters and European customers.

And we have China, pushing territorial disputes, facilitating illegal fishing, and seizing influence and critical resources through debt diplomacy.

These concerns are not merely anecdotal. The UN report that the number of violent conflicts is at a post-World War peak, with 2 billion people living in conflict affected areas.

And the respected NGO Freedom House has reported that flawed elections and armed conflict have contributed to the 18th year of democratic decline around the globe.

In all these cases, authoritarian regimes are tearing up the international rules and norms that protect our security and prosperity.

And the only way for countries who value those rules to rebuild international security, is to work together to strengthen and uphold the various strands of the international rulebook.

Which is why ASEAN is such an important and natural partner for the UK. With its commitment to shared regulations, lawful dispute resolution, and good governance.

ASEAN has established a flexible yet robust defence and security framework across the region, with its Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, its Zone of Peace, and the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

The UK government welcomes this and the importance of ASEAN centrality. Which is why we are building on our Dialogue Partner status to deepen our engagement with ASEAN institutions and initiatives. From the Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security; to the Defence Cyber and Information Centre of Excellence in Singapore - ASEAN allows us to work together and to achieve shared objectives.

One objective many of us share is upholding Freedom of navigation.

Which is why the UK is one of only two countries – alongside the US – to have taken forceful and proportionate action against Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea.

The trade that has been affected by those attacks is valued at around a trillion dollars a day. The majority coming from the Indo Pacific. So this region in particular has an interest in enabling international shipping to pass safely through the Red Sea, as well as upholding the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea more broadly, and the sanctity of countries’ right to an Exclusive Economic Zone.

In support of those principles, we have developed our Maritime Security Programme, based on the Trilateral Cooperation Arrangement between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. This enables us to strengthen our common understanding with countries in the region, and improve cooperation to enhance collective maritime security.

We also support Freedom of Navigation through our military partnerships in the region.

Our two patrol ships HMS TAMAR and HMS SPEY are permanently deployed in the Indo-Pacific, where they work with regional partners to conduct activities that benefit the whole region, such as mine countermeasure operations, and monitoring critical infrastructure such as pipelines and communication cables.

In addition to our membership of the Five Powers Defence Arrangements; our Dialogue Partner status with ASEAN; our partnership on Maritime Security; and our membership of the CPTPP trading block - we also enjoy strong and wide-ranging bilateral relationships, and trade and cooperation agreements, with countries across the region.

Over the past year alone we have agreed a new strategic partnership with Singapore and the Downing Street Accord with the Republic of Korea.

Our Malaysian hosts are another valued partner of the United Kingdom. We have a long, shared history and many shared values and objectives, that we advance through our formal Strategic Dialogue.

Another important alliance for the region is our AUKUS partnership, that will enable Australia to do more to support security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

Layered on top of the geopolitical struggles and tensions that I’ve described, are a number of global challenges that we can’t overcome unless we find a way to work with authoritarian countries.

In particular climate change, the transition to sustainable, green-growth economies, the positive use of new technologies, and the fight against disinformation.

And that is why the UK’s favoured approach is to engage wherever we can. And to encourage our partners to only engage with autocratic regimes in a way that advances international rules and norms.

Because when borders are invaded, when relationships are coercive or corrupt, and when rules breakdown, most people suffer. 

But when societies and countries have secure borders, clear rules that are enforced, and mutually beneficial cooperation, everyone, everywhere, has the chance to succeed.

Thank you.

From: Ministry of Defence and The Earl of Minto