The international order is being rewritten. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has upturned the West’s international strategy. EU leaders will meet today at the Palace of Versailles to discuss the post-invasion world and the possibility of Ukraine joining the EU. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU commission, has said the EU needs to “rethink European defence” and “rethink energy”. Meanwhile Germany, Sweden and Denmark have agreed increases in defence spending. China, who’s equivocated on Russia’s invasion thus far, has finally labelled the conflict a “war” in a move that could prove pivotal for Putin.
The UK’s own foreign policy is being upended. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said last night that the invasion of Ukraine is a “paradigm shift on the scale of 9/11”. In a speech to the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, Truss argued “the world has woken up and the era of complacency is over” – a clear sign she thinks that the West has been complacent in the past. It’s also an implicit criticism of her own party’s record in government. David Cameron, the former prime minister, said on Wednesday he thought there was “no naivety” in his dealings with Putin. As I wrote yesterday, Cameron credulously thought he could separate Putin’s acts of aggression from what he saw as their “shared interests”. Truss, however, said the West “didn’t respond strongly enough” to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and argued the West must “pledge that never again will we allow such aggression to go unchecked”.
She didn’t only criticise the West’s approach to security, she condemned the UK’s assumption we were entering a “a new era of peace and prosperity” where globalisation meant “we’ve treated all the counterparties as equal”. The contrast with Cameron and George Osborne’s proclamation of a “Golden Era” of British-Sino relations founded on trade is stark.
What does Truss propose? In a comment suggesting the UK would stick to its tilt to the Indo-pacific announced in the Integrated Review last year, Truss said that “Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific security are indivisible”. She also called for greater military spending and an end to the “era of values-free trade”. Expect greater cooperation between Western allies. On Monday, at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Truss supported the creation of a secretariat for the G7 bloc of rich, democratic nations.
When he announced the increase in German defence spending, the chancellor Olaf Scholz proclaimed a zeitenwende, or “turning point” in German foreign policy. Last night, Truss announced the UK’s own zeitenwende. The question now is whether her rhetoric manifests in action.