By Ian Drury
Britain faces ‘decades of conflict in distant places’ where failing states support terror, the Defence Secretary warned yesterday.
In a major speech, Bob Ainsworth backed the interventionist approach of Tony Blair and George Bush – a policy critics have often described as ‘war-mongering’.
He said UK citizens could only be protected by ‘projecting military power beyond our borders’.
It raised the spectre of the Armed Forces being sent on further operations similar to Iraq and Afghanistan, in other nations seen as crucibles of violent extremism or sponsors of terror, such as Yemen, Iran or Somalia.
Mr Ainsworth described a ‘new age’ of conflict and instability where Britain would not have to deal directly with ‘hostile countries that threaten our borders’ as in the Cold War.
Instead, he argued that ‘ preemptive strikes’ would be needed to protect national interests from regimes harbouring Al Qaeda or trying to develop nuclear, chemical and biological warheads.
Mr Ainsworth told a security conference at the Chatham House think-tank in central London that it was vital to work closely with Nato and European Union allies because the threats could not be tackled ‘in isolation’.
He said: ‘In my judgment, defending our citizens in the coming decades will require projecting military power beyond our borders.’
In a message that alarmed anti-war campaigners, Mr Ainsworth predicted that British forces would be involved in a string of new conflicts.
He said: ‘Let’s be clear, Afghanistan is not the only place we need to confront the threat posed by violent extremism.
‘Nor is it the only place in the world where conflict, instability or a lack of governance undermines international security.’
But he said: ‘We must see the job through in Afghanistan. If we don’t, the consequences are profound.’
On top of the threat of failed states providing a stronghold for anti-Western terror groups, he said climate change and diminishing natural resources such as oil and gas would spark volatility across the globe.
Mr Ainsworth added: ‘We face today a series of threats that will require the projection of power beyond the region to defend our security. My judgment is that conflict and instability in this new age will be ever present.
‘In the coming decades, I’ve no doubt that our Armed Forces and our security institutions will be called upon to protect our mutual interests, often in distant places.’
Chris Nineham, spokesman for the Stop The War Coalition, said Mr Ainsworth’s comments were ‘frankly alarming’.
He said: ‘The experience of the past eight years has shown conclusively that “projecting military power beyond our borders” is making the world a more dangerous and unstable place.
‘Not content with causing mayhem in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Ainsworth is now suggesting extending the war to other countries. Unlike most people, the Government seems to have learnt nothing from the disasters of the Blair years.’