Tony Blair has insisted in order to remove an entrenched threat of terrorism, “we need boots on the ground”, as he gave a speech ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, the former UK prime minister said “counter-terrorism on its own will not remove an entrenched threat”, as he reflected on the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, after a US-led invasion that was supported by Blair’s government and other NATO powers.
But nearly two decades later, as western troops pulled out of Afghanistan, the Taliban took back power, forming a new government.
“We need to work out what we mean by ‘not remaking’ countries from which terrorist threats can arise,” he said.
He said “once things should be understood”, the attempted remaking of Afghanistan failed not because the people didn’t want it remade, but because of “poor institutional capacity and governance including corruption over many years”.
“Afghans did not choose the Taliban takeover,” he added, which instead came about by Taliban force rather than persuasion. He said the last opinion poll in 2019 showed only four per cent support for the Taliban amongst the public.
‘Islamism is a global challenge and one that’s getting worse’
Blair began his speech posing a number of questions about the ideology of Islamism, and the violence that has come from it.
He said that since September 11 2001, “radical Islam has not declined in force”, and the question is “why?”
He asked: "Is Islamist a 'first-order threat' that needs an agreed strategy to root it out, or a 'second-order threat' which just needs counter-terror measures to try to stop terror attacks?"
“In my view, Islamism, both the ideology and the violence, is a first-order security threat, and unchecked it will come to us, even if centred far from us, as 9/11 demonstrated,” he said.
“Islamism is a global challenge and one that’s getting worse.”
Answering a question on this after his speech, Blair said “probably the majority of Muslims around the world are not islamists.”
“There’s a difference between being a Muslim and being an Islamist, Islamism is the turning of the religion into a political ideology.
“If you took any religion, Christianity, and turned it into a political ideology, let’s say a particular church and a particular part of the church, and said the whole of society, politics and culture is going to be run by the precepts of this church, that would be equally bad.”
‘Now is the moment to reach out to Europe’
With the US signalling it has no appetite for military engagement in the coming years, Blair accentuated the importance of Britain’s relationship with Europe to take on the coming security challenges.
“In the end, neither with the US relationship nor the European one, if you think it’s going to be easy to have that alliance, forget it,” he said.
“Now with Europe, if I was back in office, I would realise you’ve got to repair this relationship with Europe. You can change your political relationship, but you can’t change your geography, or your history, or your values or your interests, and those are all aligned with Europe.
“I think with European defence, within the context of NATO, a serious discussion is needed between Britain and its European neighbours about what we do...Britain has got to decide what it does.
“Otherwise that relationship with America is not the same, and then we’re out of Europe and we don’t have a relationship there, and that’s not a good position to be in as a country.”