Julian Braithwaite

Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva

Part of UK in Switzerland

30th November 2015 Geneva, Switzerland

Combating Fragility

The terror that stalked the music halls of Paris and the virus from Africa that reached the streets of Houston have something important in common.  They both originated in fragile or failing states.  Just as the refugees risking everything and the children facing famine are victims of this same fragility.

The British Government published three documents last week which together represent a response to this challenge.  The first two, the UK Aid Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), came out last Monday.  The third, the Autumn Statement, was presented by the Chancellor on Wednesday.

The result is not a declaration of war on terror, although the SDSR does commit the UK to increasing spending on the tools that have proved themselves effective against international terrorists operating beyond the reach of the rule of law – special forces, carrier-based aircraft, drones, and the intelligence agencies.  Nor is it a return to Cold War rearmament, though this SDSR does respond to the risk of interstate conflict, unlike its 2010 predecessor.

One of the most telling lines in all three documents is the one in the Aid Strategy that says the UK will spend half of its aid budget on fragile states.  This is a major shift in policy.  It should mean much more spending on the countries that provide stability in zones of fragility, from Jordan and Lebanon to Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon, and Nigeria. These Middle Income countries have been largely excluded from British aid spending by the focus on Least Developed Countries that had dominated the UK’s approach to development for nearly two decades.

The new approach recognises three things.  First, that because of state fragility and collapse, many of those facing the most extreme poverty are now found in Middle Income states, not least as refugees.  Second, that development is not possible in the absence of stability and good governance.  And third, that it is in Britain’s national interest to combat the fragility that lies at the heart of the conflicts, extremism, refugee flows, and collapse of health systems – in Africa, the Middle East, and even in Europe from the former Soviet Union to the Balkans.

Combating fragility will mean renewed action to end the conflicts that have uprooted millions and spawned extremist and violent ideologies.  That will mean not only a re-commitment to diplomacy, but also the willingness to use force in pursuit of a political settlement.

Combating fragility will also mean a greater focus on promoting the economic growth without which fragile states cannot get stronger, both bilaterally and through the multilateral institutions.

And most pertinently from my point of view in Geneva, combating fragility will mean supporting the Rules Based International Order, an objective that runs throughout all three documents.

That includes reforming the humanitarian system so that it can deal with the realities of protracted conflicts.  Implementing the Global Action Plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance.  Reforming the  World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency response.  Putting the golden thread of the rule of law, accountability, good governance and women and girls at the heart of human rights.  And creating a digital global market that benefits developing and developed countries.

How much will this approach change things?  Clearly the UK alone cannot make the difference.  But the strategies published this week all stress the importance of working through the international system and the UK’s alliances, from the UN, NATO, the EU and the Commonwealth, to the security relationship with the US which, decades after the great conflicts of the twentieth century which forged it, remains in a qualitative category all of its own.

And the UK is going to put considerable money where its mouth is.  The country is legally committed since last Spring to spending 0.7% of its Gross National Income every year on aid. As the world’s fifth largest economy and the fastest growing one in the G7, the amount the UK spends on aid is now around £12 billion annually and growing by hundreds of millions of pounds every year, putting us second only to the US in aid spend.  We are in the midst of reviewing the money we will provide the international agencies over the rest of this Parliament.  This new focus on combating fragility will inevitably affect the decisions we take.

These strategies are not the solutions to the crises we face.  But they may represent the sort of thinking that allows us to work with our international partners to begin to craft such solutions.

About Julian Braithwaite

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015. Julian was born in Rome, and has…

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015.

Julian was born in Rome, and has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard universities, where he studied biochemistry, history and international relations.

He is married to Biljana Braithwaite and they have
two daughters, Anya (born 2000) and Katya (born 2004). He spent much of his career dealing with the crises in the former Yugoslavia and goes to Montenegro every summer.

Julian posts on the United Nations and the issues around globalisation, including human rights, the internet, global health, humanitarian crises and arms control.