Freedom on Three Fronts
The visit by Hamas leaders to Moscow this week to meet President Putin and Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister underlines an alliance potentially deadly to the world’s free democracies. Here Ross Kempsell explains that Western leaders will need moral and strategic clarity to face the huge task ahead in Ukraine, Israel-Gaza and Taiwan.
Freedom is today under attack on three fronts: in Ukraine, in the Israel-Gaza conflict, and in the Pacific. Each of these areas of tension have their own histories, their own cultures, and their own political and diplomatic dynamics. We do not want to draw crass equivalences. But a thought exercise taking these multiple flashpoints together – understanding them as a joint challenge to freedom and democracy – is useful if only to grasp the scale of the challenge Western policymakers now face.
As President Biden put it in his address of October 20: ‘Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighbouring democracy — completely annihilate it.’ There are tactical and strategic synergies in these particular conflicts: the common factor being Iran. The military assistance Iran has provided to both Russia in Ukraine and Hamas in Gaza via proxies or otherwise has made its impact. More blatantly, Hamas representatives arrived this week in Moscow for a meeting that was also attended by the Iranian deputy foreign minister. We must grasp the realpolitik at play and realise the significant alliance that exists between Iran and Russia on military technology, raw materials and economic cooperation.
Meanwhile, President Xi waited until after the completion of his regular Belt and Road forum last week to comment on Israel-Gaza, ignoring the conflict as the summit played out. China refrained from calling Hamas’s attack a terrorist action and has signalled opposition to a ground invasion in Gaza. Iranian, Russian and Chinese officials and diplomats are engaged in a global effort to obfuscate and mix the cards, whether online or in smoke-filled rooms. Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel are – whatever their imperfections – bulwarks of democracy. How can we support them? How can we serve as their palisade?
The first task is to do everything possible to ensure continued strong leadership from the United States, and in particular, taking all steps to safeguard the health of the US economy. The US has once again reprised its role as ‘the arsenal of democracy’, and it will be under pressure to provide military and non-military support for the struggle ahead on each of these three fronts, possibly over many decades. Congress has just been asked to consider a significant security funding package, with sources telling the Financial Times the figures involved are ‘$60bn for Ukraine and $14bn for Israel as well as funding for border security and Indo Pacific security.’ The total package will exceed $100bn.
The second is ensuring the United Kingdom consciously plays a maximal role in the struggle to defend freedom around the world, using its unique tools to the full. We must reinvigorate and redevelop our excellent diplomatic capabilities to an even greater extent. We must deploy our world class policy, technical, economic and intelligence expertise, and do so across every domain: physical, economic, diplomatic, digital, humanitarian. The UK will continue to be a key anchor for all those who believe in freedom, and we must unashamedly serve as a beacon for democracy – notwithstanding the understandable pressure at home to focus on more domestic concerns at this point in the election cycle. Now is the moment for the UK to demonstrate a globally assertive and independent foreign policy in support of freedom and our democratic values on these three fronts – and in doing so fulfil the potential of our post-Brexit latitude in foreign policy.
The third is the need for an unashamed renaissance in democratic values. We must consciously educate ourselves about the history of freedom and democracy, and our role today in furthering those objectives. Free societies require maintenance through education, strong institutions, a vibrant but credible public square, and a functioning civil society. The challenge for the next generation of Western leaders and policymakers is to face the struggle for freedom on three fronts with moral and strategic clarity. This is not a time for timidity or distractions – that will only aid those who oppose freedom – and distracting and dividing the democracies is a key tactic we must rebut. The decades up to 2050 will, to a significant extent, be defined by how we respond to these challenges. The fight for freedom on three fronts is on.