Frankly Speaking: Fiona Hill on the Future Resilience Forum

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Updated 08 October 2023

Frankly Speaking: Fiona Hill on the Future Resilience Forum

Frankly Speaking: Fiona Hill on the Future Resilience Forum
  • Ex-Downing Street chief of staff says conference founded by her aims to transform diplomacy debate in a changing, multipolar world
  • Says there is a lot happening in the world at the same time, rather quickly, so if “we don’t build resilience, then mistakes will be made”
  • Lauds Saudi transformation and decision to diversify into new sectors, which she believes will boost its resilience in a turbulent world

DUBAI: Fiona Hill, who advised former UK prime minister Theresa May and served as the 10 Downing Street chief of staff, has launched the Future Resilience Forum, a security conference that aims to help transform the debate on diplomacy in a changing, increasingly multipolar world.

On the eve of the forum in London, she spoke about the “deep and meaningful partnership” between the UK and Saudi Arabia, particularly in the field of security; her fondness for the Kingdom as a tourism destination; and the ways in which Future Resilience Forum differs from the World Economic Forum and Munich Security Conference.

“The Future Resilience Forum is a platform for moving the dial on how we currently think and speak about foreign and security policy,” Hill told Katie Jensen, host of the Arab News current affairs show “Frankly Speaking.”

“This is really about saying to the world that we in Europe, we in the wider West, need to have a rethink about, or a reset about, how we collaborate, how we do diplomacy, how we set our foreign and security policies over the next 10 to 20 years.”

The inaugural event, on Oct. 10, will focus on how Western governments can forge a new relationship with the global south in the face of strategic competition, climate change, migration flows and emerging technologies.

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the global south broadly comprises the developing economies of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia (without Israel, Japan and South Korea), and Oceania (without Australia and New Zealand).

Hill advises Western governments to “start from scratch” in order ”to build security and foreign policy that can stand the test of time.”

She said: “We are looking predominantly at what’s happening in the global south, and we’re examining our approach to the global south in the West and asking the question, is it working? I think, probably, we can say no. And then being quite honest and asking ourselves why it doesn’t work, and listening to those people from those countries tell us what we are getting wrong.

“And that’s a good starting point for me to start working on the policy — that is how we get it right in the future, and how we reset those relationships, how we deepen them, how we make them meaningful, and how we take on competition from China and from Russia.”

On the eve of the forum in London, Fiona Hill spoke about the “deep and meaningful partnership” between the UK and Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo)

Explaining the added value of the Future Resilience Forum, Hill, a former journalist, said: “Very few of (the other major global) conferences have been set up by former chiefs of staff of a leading liberal Western democracy. I am coming at it with a very keen eye on outputs. I want it to almost be a red team event for policymaking in governments, a place where people can come and speak frankly, and privately.”

She added: “It’s essentially a private event for people to be able to discuss the short-term issues that they might be facing that are preventing them for thinking in the longer term. Because given the challenges that we face, it requires not just that collaborative working, but longer-term vision and longer-term thinking.”

Asked why the inaugural edition of the forum focuses on the theme of “resilience,” Hill said the changes and challenges the world faces today are unfamiliar, complex and multifaceted, requiring nations and institutions to be well prepared.

“We’re starting from a blank slate,” she said, “Everything has changed post 1945, post war, and we are now going through rapid changes, whether that’s in technology or whether that’s in our climate or whether it’s in geopolitical shifts.

“There’s a lot happening at the same time, and it’s all happening rather quickly. So, we need to really start preparing. And part of that preparedness is building resilience. If we don’t build resilience, then mistakes will be made.”

While addressing the UK’s strategic cooperation with the world, Hill’s former boss, Theresa May, who served as prime minister from 2016 to 2019, once said: “Our security is your security.”

This was well received by Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf Cooperation Council area.

“I was with her when she delivered that speech,” said Hill. “For a very long time, the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have worked completely together in a deep and meaningful partnership in counterterrorism and organized crime. 

“Pretty much the whole security gambit. The UK has always looked to Saudi Arabia as one of its most serious partners in shaping what our security strategy is. And that’s really what she was saying.

“She was saying to the GCC, we cannot have a credible national security strategy if we don’t work in concert with you, because you are absolutely vital to what our security and our security response is.”

Grant Shapps, the UK’s newly appointed defense minister, recently lauded the rapid transformation of Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030, the social reform and economic diversification agenda launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016.

“Forget everything you think you know about Saudi Arabia,” said Shapps, indicating a further warming of ties between the two kingdoms.

“I’m a huge fan of Saudi Arabia,” said Hill. “I’ve visited many, many times in my life, and I have friends there. And I think it’s amazing the progress that has happened. And it’s a really vibrant and exciting place right now, and a great place to be and to visit as a tourist.”

Commenting on some of the changes Saudi Arabia has implemented in recent years, Hill said the pace of transformation was “amazing.” (AN Photo)

Commenting on some of the changes Saudi Arabia has implemented in recent years, Hill highlighted the decision to diversify into new sectors beyond hydrocarbons — a step that she believes will boost the Kingdom’s resilience in a turbulent world.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still a relatively young country and so its government is rightly looking to diversify that reliance,” she said. “That seems to me to be very, very sensible. And keeping up with the modern world through technology and so forth, again, just very sensible.

“It’s amazing the pace at which the crown prince and his government have managed to do it. And I wish every amount of luck for further progress because, as Theresa said, ‘your security’s our security.’

“What’s interesting to me, in organizing the Future Resilience Forum, is how that’s actually becoming even more the case than before. As we see China’s dominance in the global south, we will look to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar almost as shock absorbers between East and West.

“That security relationship is far from becoming less relevant in the future. I see it as being almost absolutely critical in the future ... for security in the West.”

The UK government, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, recently came in for criticism for appearing to water down its green pledges by extending the deadline on sale of new petrol vehicles beyond 2030 and clearing the way for oil extraction off the coast of Scotland.

Similar criticisms have been leveled at the UAE, a major oil producer, which will host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, in Dubai this November.

Although she recognizes the need to reduce emissions, Hill said the transition to clean and green renewables needs to be gradual, and that criticizing nations that produce and use oil and gas is not a pragmatic approach.

“Sadly, Scotland isn’t as big a producer as I think it ought to be. Being Scottish, I’m very, very proud of our oil and gas industry,” Hill said.

“I understand that the need to meet those climate challenges are very, very real. But I don’t think we should be throwing the baby out with the bath water too quickly because this transition will take time.

“And it won’t just take time in terms of how we get the right technology and how we get replacement energy. It’s also about how people will react to it and how people will absorb it into their new everyday ways of using energy and consuming energy. And that just won’t happen overnight.

“So, when people are critical of any country and its use of fossil fuels, I get it. People care about the planet. But I do think we have to be pragmatic about this. And pragmatism for me always wins the day. And that’s what I think the approach ought to be to the energy transition.”

Political life in the UK has been turbulent for several years. Leaving the EU has been wrenching for many, while years of austerity, followed by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have contributed to a cost-of-living crisis and the pressure on the health service.

Hill said she regards these ups and downs as part of a democratic system.

Fiona Hill advised former UK prime minister Theresa May (pictured) and served as the 10 Downing Street chief of staff. (Reuters/File Photo)

“We live in a democracy, and that means that we have election cycles,” she said. “And, of course, with election cycles, that does throw up various issues. That’s just the way democracy works. That’s the point of a democracy.

“I think that the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak — who is coming to the (Future Resilience Forum) conference for three hours of his time — understands that. He’s an extremely clever and able man, and the right person to have at the helm right now.”

She added: “At the end of the day, Rishi Sunak is a man who wakes up in the morning, looks at the challenges that his government faces and asks the right questions, and has a right mindset and a very good brain to be able to do his very best for his country. (And) he’s surrounded by an excellent team of advisers.”

As a former adviser to a UK prime minister, she says leaders should “try to resist short-term political rhetoric that can damage sometimes longer-term policy making.

“We will have an election in the not-too-distant future and the opposition (Labour) party under Sir Keir Starmer, these guys are serious also. They also understand the threats and the challenges and the complexity of all those challenges.”

Hill said that “running a country is difficult,” so any government will find the task “tough” given the “competing priorities.”

Currently, the Labour party is well ahead in the national polls, so could well unseat the ruling Conservatives in a general election next year. If Starmer does ride to victory, Hill says, the new prime minister must keep the UK’s future resilience in mind.

“What advice would I give Keir? Come to the Future Resilience Forum and find out what’s happening in terms of security and foreign policy, and where the debate is. And get ready for what will be a very difficult time to be a prime minister,” she said.

“These are not easy times. It really does test the mettle of a person who can take on a job like prime minister in the United Kingdom right now with the challenges that that prime minister will face.”


France calls at UN for ‘a truce leading to a ceasefire’ in Gaza

France calls at UN for ‘a truce leading to a ceasefire’ in Gaza
Updated 15 sec ago

France calls at UN for ‘a truce leading to a ceasefire’ in Gaza

France calls at UN for ‘a truce leading to a ceasefire’ in Gaza
  • The French ambassador to the UN urges council members to take more action to address the conflict because it requires more than only humanitarian pauses
  • More than 700 Palestinians have been killed since Israel resumed its military operations in Gaza on Dec. 1 after a week-long temporary truce

NEW YORK CITY: France on Monday urged the UN Security Council to do more to address the conflict in Gaza, stressing that pauses in the fighting are not enough and what is needed is a truce that can pave the way for a ceasefire.

Nicolas de Riviere, France’s permanent representative to the UN, said that in the short term “we need more than a humanitarian pause. We need a truce leading to a ceasefire, full humanitarian access, full respect of international humanitarian law. Of course, we need the release of hostages.”

He also reiterated that his country respects “Israel’s right to defend itself and go after the terrorists who committed crimes on Oct. 7.”

De Riviere was speaking to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York ahead of a closed meeting of the Security Council. It was called by the UAE, which cited the “deeply concerning resumption of hostilities” at the weekend and the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

More than 700 Palestinians have been killed since Israel resumed its military operations in Gaza on Dec. 1 after a week-long humanitarian pause in the fighting. Another 15,500 were killed before the temporary truce.

Israel this week expanded its operations into southern Gaza, forcing tens of thousands of already displaced Gazans into “increasingly compressed spaces, desperate to find food, water, shelter and safety,” according to Lynn Hastings, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Warning that “an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold,” she added: “Nowhere is safe in Gaza and there is nowhere left to go. The conditions required to deliver aid to the people of Gaza do not exist.”

De Riviere meanwhile, also called for the resumption of a political process to address the wider Palestinian issue, saying: “I don’t think we can continue to refuse to address the aspirations of the Palestinians to statehood. It is a necessity. It should not be under the carpet like has been the case for the past seven years.”

Council members have been discussing a draft resolution, proposed by the UAE, for the scaling up and monitoring of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

However, speaking before the closed-doors meeting on Monday, US Ambassador Robert Wood told reporters there is no need at the moment for additional resolutions or statements from the council.

He said it already adopted an “important” resolution on Nov. 15, which calls for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and aid corridors to be established throughout the Gaza Strip. Resolution 2712, the first one that council members have agreed on since the beginning of the conflict, also calls for the release of all hostages and for all sides to refrain from depriving Gazan civilians of access to the basic goods and services that are critical to their survival.

Wood said what is needed now is a “focus on how we can actually bring relief to the people on the ground, improve the situation, and try to get the negotiations back on again, with regard to the hostages. We’re seeing more aid getting in, although clearly not enough. So that’s where we need to focus our efforts.”

Asked to comment on the latest death toll, and whether or not Israel is doing enough to avoid civilian casualties, Wood said: “Israel is doing more and we have been saying to Israel for quite some time now, ‘You need to do more to protect civilians.’

“It’s a difficult operation when you’re trying to root out Hamas and protect civilians, because Hamas is hiding among the civilians. But they’re listening to us and I think that’s important, and they’re taking steps and we’ll continue to encourage them. Because, obviously, no one is happy with the situation on the ground and it needs to improve and they need to do it.

“The Israelis want to do a better job protecting civilians and we’re going to continue to work with them on that.”

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea
Updated 04 December 2023

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus president pushes Gaza corridor idea

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides will visit Egypt and Jordan on Tuesday as part of an initiative to establish a humanitarian aid corridor to Israeli-besieged Gaza.

Cyprus, the closest European Union member state to the Middle East, has offered to host and operate facilities for sustained aid directly into the Gaza Strip once hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant Hamas group cease.

Christodoulides planned to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan. There were “technical discussions” on the matter between Cypriot and Israeli officials on Sunday.

The Cypriot plan is aimed at expanding capacity for humanitarian relief directly to the coastal Gaza Strip beyond limited deliveries being made through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Palestinian enclave.

Such an aid corridor faces logistical, political and security challenges — Gaza has no port and its waters are shallow.

Britain, which sent 80 tons of Gaza-destined aid in the form of mostly blankets and tents to Cyprus last week, has offered watercraft able to access the coastline without the need for special infrastructure if the corridor ever materializes, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

As many as 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes in an Israeli bombing campaign that has reduced much of the crowded coastal strip to a desolate wasteland.

Separately, human rights groups sought to block the Dutch government from exporting F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, arguing in court on Monday that the exports could make the Netherlands complicit in possible war crimes.

The Netherlands houses one of several regional warehouses of US-owned F-35 parts, which are then distributed to countries that request them, including Israel.

The rights groups, which included Oxfam Novib, the Dutch affiliate of the international charity, argued Israel was using the planes in attacks in Gaza that were killing civilians. 

Preventing that was more important than the Netherlands fulfilling its commercial or political obligations to allied countries, they argued.

“The (Dutch) state must immediately stop its deliveries of F-35 parts to Israel,” lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said in summary proceeding at the Hague District Court.

“That is its obligation under ... Article 1 of the Geneva conventions, it is its obligation under the Genocide Treaty to prevent genocide, and it is its obligation under export law.”

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza
Updated 04 December 2023

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza

Biden’s allies demand that Israel limit civilian deaths in Gaza
  • If asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t have been in this position today: Sen. Sanders

WASHINGTON: As a ceasefire ticked down last week and Israel prepared to resume its round-the-clock airstrikes, Sen. Bernie Sanders and a robust group of Democratic senators had a message for their president: They were done “asking nicely” for Israel to do more to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza.

Lawmakers warned President Joe Biden’s national security team that planned US aid to Israel must be met with assurances of concrete steps from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government.

“The truth is that if asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today,” Sanders said in a floor speech. It was time for the US to use its “substantial leverage” with its ally, the Vermont senator said.

“And we all know what that leverage is,” he said, adding, “the blank-check approach must end.”

With Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs hanging in the balance, the senators’ tougher line on Israel has gotten the White House’s attention, and that of Israel.

Lawmakers of both major political parties for decades have embraced the US role as Israel’s top protector, and it’s all but inconceivable that they would vote down the wartime aid. The Democratic lawmakers are adamant that’s not their intent, as strong supporters of Israel’s right of self-defense against Hamas. But just the fact that Democratic lawmakers are making that link signals the fractures in Congress amid the daily scenes of suffering among besieged Palestinian civilians.

Sanders and the Democratic senators involved say they are firm in their stand that Israel’s military must adopt substantive measures to lessen civilian deaths in Gaza as part of receiving the supplemental’s $14.3 billion in US aid for Israel’s war.

The warning from friendly Democrats is a complication for the White House as it faces what had already been a challenging task of getting the supplemental aid bill through Congress. Some Republicans are balking at the part of the bill that provides funding for Ukraine’s war against Russia, and the funding for Israel was supposed to be the easy part.

The demand is a warning of more trouble ahead for an Israeli government that’s often at odds with the US in its treatment of Palestinians.

“There’s a big difference between asking and getting a commitment” from Netanyahu’s government on a plan to reduce civilian casualties and improve living conditions in Gaza, Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said. Van Hollen has been one of the key senators huddling with administration officials on the demands.

“So our goal is to achieve results,” Van Hollen said. “And not just set expectations.”

Following the senators’ warning, the Biden administration has upped its own demands to Israel since late last week, insisting publicly for the first time that Israeli leaders not just hear out US demands to ease civilian suffering in Gaza, but agree to them.

Over the weekend, as an end to the ceasefire brought the return of Israeli bombardment and Hamas rocket strikes, the Israeli military said it had begun using one measure directed by the Biden administration: an online map of Gaza neighborhoods to tell civilians which crowded streets, neighborhoods and communities to evacuate before an Israeli attack.

Heavy bombardment followed the evacuation orders, and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said they were running out of places to go in the sealed-off territory. Many of its 2.3 million people are crammed into the south after Israel ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the war, which was sparked by the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in Israel that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 
Updated 04 December 2023

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 

At least 13 killed in gunfight in India’s Manipur — official 
  • Their bodies, with multiple bullet wounds, were found in a village in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district 
  • The development comes seven months after ethnic clashes in the border state that killed 180 people 

GUWAHATI: At least 13 people were killed in a gunfight between two unknown militant groups in India’s restive Manipur state on Monday, a police official said, seven months after ethnic clashes in the border state killed at least 180 people. 

Their bodies, with multiple bullet wounds, were found in a village in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district where the official said a “massive” gunfight was reported. 

The state has witnessed sporadic violence since the peak of ethnic clashes that erupted on May 3 between members of the majority Meitei ethnic group and minority Kuki community over sharing government benefits and quotas. 

The clashes have marked a rare security failure for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in a state ruled by his Bharatiya Janata Party. 

No weapons were found near the bodies, the senior police official told Reuters by phone from state capital Imphal, requesting anonymity. 

“It could be possible the weapons were looted after they were killed,” the official said, adding that they could not immediately identify the dead or the militant groups. 

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 
Updated 04 December 2023

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 

Philippine police identify possible suspects after deadly blast at Catholic mass 
  • Powerful explosion in Marawi killed at least 4, injured 50 others  
  • Daesh reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack late on Sunday

MANILA: Philippine police are looking into possible suspects behind the bombing at a Catholic mass in the country’s south, a regional police chief said on Monday after the blast that killed four people was claimed by Daesh militants. 

On Sunday, a powerful explosion ripped through a gymnasium at Mindanao State University in Marawi, a southern Philippine city that was besieged by pro-Daesh militants for five months in 2017. The death toll stood at four as of Monday, while around 50 others were injured from the blast. 

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack late on Sunday, saying that its members had detonated an explosive device at the gathering, according to reports.  

“Following the explosion, the PNP (Philippine National Police) created a special investigation task group to focus and expedite the investigation relative to this incident … We (now) have persons of interest,” regional police chief Allan Nobleza told reporters, adding that one of the suspects was linked to a local militant group.  

“The investigation is still ongoing. In order not to preempt the investigation, we will not divulge the names.”  

Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of staff of the Philippines’ Armed Forces, said that Sunday’s attack may have been in response to a series of recent military operations that had targeted local militant groups.  

Philippine forces launched an operation targeting the local Dawlah Islamiyah cell in the southern province of Maguindanao on Friday, killing 11 suspected militants including the group’s alleged leader Abdullah Sapal. The militant group, which has been linked to bombings and other deadly attacks in the southern Philippines, pledged allegiance to Daesh in 2015. 

In another operation in Sulu province on Saturday, government forces killed Mudzrimar Sawadjaan, also known as Mundi, a senior leader of another Daesh affiliate, the Abu Sayyaf Group. Brawner said Mundi was the mastermind of two major attacks in the Sulu capital of Jolo, including the 2019 cathedral bombings that killed at least 20 people. 

Both Dawlah Islamiyah —also known as the Maute group — and the ASG were behind the 2017 Marawi siege, a five-month battle that killed more than 1,100 people and forced more than 300,000 others from their homes. 

“Because of the accomplishments … we believe that that could be one of the strong possibilities why this (attack) occurred,” Brawner told reporters in Marawi on Monday.  

“We will go after the perpetrators as soon as possible and use all resources at our disposal in order to make this happen.”