Seriousness comes naturally to Gordon Brown and yesterday he gave a speech detailing how Britain is defending itself by striking at the heart of the ‘crucible of terror’. What Brown has in seriousness of delivery, he lacks in realism. Britain has not fought for such a sustained period since the high-water mark of empire; but the ambitions of two prime ministers, and to be fair the severity of the threat that Britain faces, have outstripped resources; Britain is now completely over-extended.
Hours after Brown’s speech, Baroness Kinnock divulged that anti-terror measures run by the Foreign Office have been cut – anti-narcotics campaigns in Afghanistan and de-radicalisation programmes in Pakistan. These are frontline operations in the ‘crucible of terror’, starving the Taliban and al-Qaeda of manpower and resources.
Brown’s sustained fiscal incompetence has endangered security. Back in 2008, the Treasury was convinced that the death of boom and bust had secured an eternal and prosperous life for Sterling – a linear narrative lifted straight from the book of Revelation; the Treasury decided to stop linking the Foreign Office’s budget to exchange rates. Lib Dem peer Lord Wallace estimates that the Foreign Office’s budget has shrunk by 20% as the currency collapsed under the stupendous weight of recession and Brown’s debt mountain. Anti-terror programmes and job losses in consulates around the world have ensued.
The squeeze will tighten as the deficit is reduced by departmental cuts. Britain’s security will be compromised further. The armed forces’ problems are well documented, but the contraction of diplomatic reach frustrates Britain’s contribution to the war against terror. Military, aid and reconstruction efforts cannot function without diplomacy and administration. Of the three arms of British foreign policy, International Development is the luxury; it is there that cuts should fall predominantly; also, reinvesting the additional £1.5bn from the banking tax would also be welcome. Ultimately, however, in an age of austerity, this is a war Britain will have to fight in a different manner.