Robin Niblett

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G20 posters and electric motorbike are seen ahead of G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia on 14 November 2022. Photo by Anton Raharjo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Last week’s G20 summit in Bali was bookended by two major geopolitical dramas. Just before the summit started, US President Biden and President Xi of China held a three-hour meeting that re-opened the prospect of great power coexistence despite intensifying US-China tensions, especially over Taiwan. And, following difficult negotiations, it produced a summit declaration that opened with language from the UN General Assembly’s 2 March resolution on Ukraine, saying it ‘deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and demands its complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine’, a much more robust criticism of Russia’s actions than many in Washington and Europe had initially expected.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian president Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery in Saint Petersburg to mark the 78th anniversary since the Leningrad siege was lifted. Photo by ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images.

There are several reasons to believe conflict over the Ukraine is imminent. The military build-up is complete. Russia has added tactical support elements, including medical units, to its already large and comprehensive array of troops and equipment deployed to the east, north, and south of Ukraine.

Additional naval units have entered the Black Sea, military exercises with Belarusian forces have begun and, along with those on Russian territory, these can all provide cover for an intervention of some sort.

Far from being comforting, comments by Vladimir Putin and his entourage that it will not be Russia provoking a conflict are ominous.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Joe Biden announces the US will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia, joined virtually by Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo by Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The growing diplomatic drama surrounding the announcement of the new Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) risks concealing rather than highlighting what the deal reveals about profound changes in the global strategic context. Several elements stand out.

First, Australia’s decision to break off the $66 billion contract it signed with France in 2016 to purchase a new fleet of diesel electric submarines underscores the heightened level of concern in Canberra about China’s growing naval capabilities.

Despite all the industrial, legal, and diplomatic disruption, the Australian government has decided only the stealthy nuclear-powered submarines developed by Britain with US support can provide the genuine naval capability it needs long-term.…  Seguir leyendo »

Drinking tea while UK prime minister Boris Johnson gives a televised message to the nation from 10 Downing Street in London. Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images.

Whether sceptical or expectant, those watching Britain from beyond its shores can draw many insights from the UK government’s dense and detailed 105-page Integrated Review of Defence, Diplomacy and Development. Most importantly, the Review reflects some of the realism that has started to infuse the government after the failures of its pandemic response during 2020. Putting Britain forward as a ‘problem-solving and burden-sharing nation’ sets a humbler tone than many had come to expect from this government.

The Review also recognizes the serious challenges the country faces at home, linking its foreign policy ambitions explicitly to Johnson’s commitment to level up poorer regions and to prevent disintegration of the Union.…  Seguir leyendo »

View of the London Eye from Downing Street at dawn, 1 December 2020. Photo credit: David Cliff/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

Tough trade negotiations with the European Union (EU) may be over, but when it comes to Britain’s post-Brexit future, there is still a lot needs doing – especially when it comes to making sure British diplomacy is up to the monumental task of navigating the UK’s new geopolitical landscape.

'Global Britain' has become a catchy label for the government’s ambition to look beyond Europe for new commercial opportunities and pathways to global influence. But it will only be meaningful if the UK government recognizes extra investments are needed to make its vision a reality.

At a minimum, the UK needs to be an indispensable member of whatever team it joins – whether that is a coalition to tackle climate change, deter Russian political subversion, or balance China’s efforts to suffuse its state-first norms into international relations.…  Seguir leyendo »

View of the London Eye from Downing Street at dawn, 1 December 2020. Photo credit: David Cliff/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

In this paper, Chatham House Director Robin Niblett sets out a proposed blueprint for Britain’s future foreign policy. Rather than reincarnate itself as a miniature great power, he argues that the country has the chance to remain internationally influential if it serves as the broker of solutions to global challenges.

The paper lays out six international goals for the UK that offer the best points of connection between its interests, resources and credibility. These are: protecting liberal democracy; promoting international peace and security; tackling climate change; enabling greater global health resilience; championing global tax transparency and equitable economic growth; and defending cyberspace.…  Seguir leyendo »

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives back at Downing Street in London on November 10, 2020 after chairing the weekly cabinet meeting held at the nearby Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK government will have to work hard to insert itself into the Biden team’s plans for a renewed transatlantic partnership as many of the new US administration’s priorities, such as sanctions towards Russia, trade relations with China, taxation, and regulation of US technology companies will be US–EU negotiations with the UK excluded.

A US–UK trade deal also now appears less likely in the near term, and any failure to reach a compromise with the EU on the status of Northern Ireland could have severe repercussions for relations with the US, given the warnings from the president-elect.

But opportunities certainly exist, as both governments want to see a successful climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021, both want to bring Iran back into a negotiation over its nuclear programme, and both want to strengthen NATO especially in cybersecurity where the UK is a world leader.…  Seguir leyendo »

Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders speaking to the media. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Although there are plenty of signs that strongmen leaders have used the crisis to try to tighten their grip on power, the coronavirus has revealed the underlying vulnerabilities of autocracies rather than their strength. In contrast, democracies are showing their capacity for innovation and adaptation, as one would expect, and signs of renewal, as one would hope.

At first look, the situation is not positive for democracies. The countries worst-hit by COVID-19 as measured in deaths per capita are mostly democracies, including Britain, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the United States. In most cases, erroneous or slow decision-making proved fatal when combined with stressed health systems and pockets of high social inequality.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chinese president Xi Jinping and US president Donald Trump in Beijing, China. Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images.

So far, there has been a noticeable worsening of relations that had already soured in recent years – the latest step being President Donald Trump’s suspension of US funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) in response to accusations of Chinese interference in its operations.

Should the world now simply prepare for a period of intense and extended hostility? As director of a policy institute founded 100 years ago in the shadow of the First World War, I believe we must do all in our power to avoid a return of the global strategic rivalries that blighted the 20th century.

Deepening suspicions

Of course, the outcome does not lie only in the hands of the US and Europe.…  Seguir leyendo »

A currency dealer wearing a face mask monitors exchange rates in front of a screen showing South Korea's benchmark stock index in Seoul on March 13, 2020. Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images.

An infectious disease outbreak has long been a top national security risk in several countries, but the speed and extent of Covid-19’s spread and the scale of its social and economic impact has come as an enormous and deeply worrying shock.

This pandemic is not just a global medical and economic emergency. It could also prove a decisive make-or-break point for today’s system of global political and economic cooperation.

This system was built up painstakingly after 1945 as a response to the beggar-thy-neighbour economic policies of the 1930s which led to the Second World War. But it has been seriously weakened recently as the US and China have entered a more overt phase of strategic competition, and as they and a number of the other most important global and regional players have pursued their narrowly defined self-interest.…  Seguir leyendo »

Boris Johnson chairs the first cabinet meeting after winning a majority of 80 seats in the 2019 UK general election. Photo by Matt Dunham – WPA Pool/Getty Images.

The convincing general election win for the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson opens a new chapter in British history. On 31 January 2020, Britain will withdraw from the EU and return to its historical position as a separate European power.

Recognising the strategic significance of this change, the Queen’s speech opening the new parliament stated that 'the government will undertake the deepest review of Britain's security, defence, and foreign policy since the end of the Cold War'. But in what context?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other Brexit supporters have yearned for Britain to return to its exceptional trajectory. In their view, Britain can once again become a trading nation - more global in outlook and ambition than its European neighbours, freed from the shackles of an ageing and fractured European continent and its deadening regulatory hand.…  Seguir leyendo »

Part of the Berlin Wall still standing today. 9 November marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that soon led to the collapse of the communist East German government. Photo: Getty Images.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wall, which stood between 1961 to 1989, came to symbolize the ‘Iron Curtain’ – the ideological split between East and West – that existed across Europe and between the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, and their allies, during the Cold War. How significant was the Berlin Wall during the Cold War – was it more important physically or psychologically?

The Berlin Wall was important physically, as well as psychologically, because Berlin was the only city that was divided physically by the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its allies in the Eastern Bloc and the West.…  Seguir leyendo »

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives in 10 Downing Street on 24 July, 2019 in London. Photo: Getty Images

Boris Johnson has got off to a good start. His cabinet reshuffle was swift and decisive and will restore, for now, collective cabinet responsibility that became so degraded in Theresa May’s tenure as prime minister.

Chairing his first cabinet meeting, he demanded and received in front of the assembled cameras, in Trump style, a loyalty oath to Brexit by 31 October, ‘do or die’, from the members of his ruthlessly selected government. He then gave a bravado performance at the despatch box in the House of Commons – answering 129 questions with only one minor slip-up and tub-thumping through his explanation of how he will make Britain ‘the greatest place on earth’ (with further echoes of President Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan).…  Seguir leyendo »

Sudanese protesters open their smartphones lights as they gather for a million-strong march outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on April 25, 2019. Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images.

The idea behind the post-war international order established since 1945 has been to preserve peace between the major states. The UN and its Security Council set rules under which conflict is permitted or forbidden. An infrastructure of supporting institutions and accompanying rules seeks to buttress this central objective.

In the security realm, these include the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Geneva Conventions. Rules for trade and financial crisis management are embodied principally in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which seek to ensure that economic interaction does not return to the reductive competition of the interwar years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Donald and Melania Trump disembark Air Force One at Stansted Airport during their visit to the UK in 2018. Photo: Getty Images.

President Trump’s visit to the UK, Ireland and France on 3–6 June provides another opportunity to reflect on the health of the transatlantic relationship.

The situation is considerably different to July last year, when his UK trip was lampooned by commentators and hounded by protesters. Trump has now moulded a presidential administration that is far closer to his own worldview. The gloves are off when it comes to his two foreign policy priorities – Iran and China. He may have a less pliant US Congress, following the Democratic takeover of the House last November, but the failure of the Mueller report to land the killer blow that many of his opponents hoped, combined with a strong domestic economy, mean that he is now a favourite to win the 2020 election.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kofi Annan in 2017. Photo: Getty Images.

On 3 and 4 June, Chatham House will host a major conference in partnership with the UN Association (UK), supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Open Society Foundations, to reflect on the lessons learned from the remarkable life of Kofi Annan, who served as UN secretary-general from 1997 to 2006 and passed away almost a year ago, on 18 August 2018.

The conference will fall on the same days as Donald Trump’s state visit to the United Kingdom, which, though unplanned, brings into stark relief the ways in which current changes in international relations are affecting Kofi Annan’s legacy of UN-led multilateralism that Ban Ki-moon and now Antonio Guterres have carried forward.…  Seguir leyendo »

A giant lantern depicting a dragon at a Chinese lantern festival in Gaillac, France on 12 December. Photo: Getty Images.

The year 2018 will go down as the moment when the United States explicitly shifted from viewing China an awkward counterpart to a strategic competitor.

From the release of the National Security Strategy at the end of 2017 through Vice President Mike Pence’s speech on 4 October, to the administration’s imposition of 10 per cent tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese exports and its global campaign against Chinese tech giant Huawei, the Trump administration has made clear that it sees China as the number one threat to US interests and its longstanding global pre-eminence.

Importantly, their view is widely shared among both Republican and Democratic members of Congress, senior former officials in the Barack Obama and George W Bush administrations, labour unions and much of the US military.…  Seguir leyendo »

Donald Trump stands in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument on Krasinski Square on 6 July 2017 in Warsaw, before delivering a speech where he argued that the future of Western civilization is at stake. Photo: Getty Images.

Robin Niblett talks to Jason Naselli about the key fault lines between the US president and his allies, as President Trump heads to the NATO summit, a visit to the United Kingdom and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Is NATO fit for purpose? This question has been around since the end of the Cold War, but with continuing disagreement over defence spending and burden-sharing, the alliance is appearing increasingly dysfunctional. What is the path forward?

The irony is that NATO is increasingly fit for purpose as a military alliance. But the political alliance it is meant to represent is being called ever more into question.…  Seguir leyendo »

Preparations are made for European leaders to meet with Iranian representatives in Brussels on 15 May. Photo: Getty Images.

US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will severely degrade regional and global security. His decision has increased the risk of war and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and beyond. He has undermined attempts to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons through multilateral diplomacy, as unilateral withdrawal equals non-compliance with a legally-binding UN Security Council resolution. This is a rejection of the UN as arbiter of international peace and security, as well as of international law as a lynchpin of international relations.

The steps that Europeans now take will have serious consequences for their alliance with the US, for security in the Middle East, as well as for their relations vis-à-vis China, Russia and the wider world.…  Seguir leyendo »

The union flag is arranged before Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker speak to reporters on 8 December. Photo: Getty Images

For many who campaigned for Remain, the UK government’s offer last week to ‘maintain full alignment’ with those EU single market and customs rules that will avoid a hard border in Ireland re-opens the prospect of a ‘soft’ Brexit. The logic is that if Britain cannot remain in the EU, then the next best economic deal is to negotiate a way to remain inside the EU’s single market and customs union.

This may be true from an economic perspective. But a soft Brexit would be a bad political outcome.

Letting go of soft Brexit

A soft Brexit would undercut British sovereignty in ways that membership of the EU currently does not.…  Seguir leyendo »