Skip to main content

As the Taliban’s flag was raised over the Panjshir valley, signalling total victory over the final Afghan resistance, thousands of miles away a buoyant Boris Johnson began extolling the successes of the British evacuation of Kabul. As he spoke of the curtain being drawn on 20 years of western intervention in Afghanistan, curtains were being drawn up in Kabul’s universities, creating partitions between young men and women merely looking to learn

Johnson had little to say, however, about what we should expect of any future foreign policy, instead opting to recycle Theresa May’s slogan from his days as Foreign Secretary: ‘Global Britain’

Many have been quick to criticise this post-Brexit mantra for being devoid of any morsel of meaning, with the former foreign minister, Sir Alan Duncan, describing it as “utterly meaningless” in a recent Bright Blue interview

Atop the noise of daily warning shots fired in response to anti-Taliban protests in Kabul, the rest of the world remains silent. The optimistic chorus of Pax Americana has all but vanished and if Britain is to reinstate itself as a global leader, we must see actions that demonstrate the short- and long-term ideals of Global Britain. 

There are three key objectives which need addressing. Firstly, a clear and proactive policy must be implemented to deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. Secondly, we must begin to forge a longer-term strategy for the region, less reliant on US directives and military intervention. Finally, we must begin to look for more global partners, creating a framework to heal increasingly prevalent political fissures in the Middle East and Africa. 

Kabul-centric reporting means an escalating humanitarian crisis is now sweeping across Afghanistan largely unnoticed. 5,000 people have died in the conflict since January, with more than a hundred times that many having fled the country as refugees. Millions more have been rendered unemployed by the incessant fighting, and the twin spectres of a devasting drought coupled with an imminent famine mean much of Afghanistan will soon find itself on its knees. 

As Sir David Lidington quite rightly identifies, “now is not the time to be cut[ting] our soft power capabilities” and we must begin to wield various arms of our foreign aid budget including the British Council. Furthermore, we must continue to play an active role in Qatar-led negotiations to reopen Kabul airport, as this remains the most likely avenue of access for vital humanitarian relief. 

Looking to the longer term, success will inevitably arise out of adept blending of both soft and hard power. We must not forget that a constant military presence in the region over the last 20 years has led unquestionably to greater freedoms for women and minorities. The allied forces oversaw an entire generation of 3.6 million women able to access education. Many of these women now cower in their homes, distrustful of the Taliban’s empty rhetoric, vowing to ‘to honour women’s rights’. Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken a more optimistic view of their promises, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab quite rightly reminds us, we must judge the Taliban “on their actions and not their words”. 

Regionally, increasingly strained Israel-Iran relations threaten to destabilise much of the recent economic prosperity that has developed between Britain and the Gulf. We would do well to maintain the Qatari alliance, cultivated by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, in light of Qatar’s recent ambitious military scale-up, multiplying their fighter jet fleet eight fold

On tackling many of these issues, our friends and partners in Europe appear instinctive allies, especially with the impending refugee crisis providing common ground. The diplomatic E3 triumvirate of the UK, France and Germany will be key to providing leadership in NATO whilst the US remains on hiatus. Furthermore, as James Skinner excellently outlines, the inter-continental alliance of CANZUK must form a central tenet of any Global Britain going forward, providing invaluable trading opportunities as well as a convenient door in into the Indo-Pacific region. 

Moreover, China’s increasingly provocative posturing over Taiwan means having allies in these territories is vital to ensure Britain can muster any necessary rebuttal. 

There remain plenty more questions for Global Britain to answer in the coming years, but our foreign policy cannot freeze up, uncomfortable with the role we must play on the global stage. Swift, compassionate action in Afghanistan, accompanied by the forging of vital alliances built on shared values, are the keys to realising a Global Britain, fit for a new world order. 

Will is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Number 10]