at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London on Monday to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
He spoke about the roots of Islamist extremism, focusing on the present situation in Afghanistan. Blair said that radical Islam is a first-order threat to international security with consequences akin to those of 9/11.
“Is Islamism a problem, or only its manifestation in violent extremism? Is it akin to Revolutionary Communism and must be countered by a combination of security and ideological measures over the long term; or is that to overstate it, overestimate it and thus perversely, as some would argue by the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, to elevate its appeal rather than diminish it?” Blair asked.
The leading powers should unite, including Russia and China, to counter the extremist ideology, Blair concluded.
“Our best allies are to be found in the many Muslim countries, including in the Middle East desperate to retake their religion from extremism,” Blair said.
The end of the 20-year US intervention in Afghanistan reflected the present “overwhelming political constraint on military interventions” and an aversion to casualties among their armed forces.
Blair, who sent troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago, argued, however, that “if the enemy we’re fighting knows that the more casualties they inflict, the more our political will to fight erodes, then the incentive structure is plain.”
The former UK PM appeared confident that the “remaking” of Afghanistan – like other countries “from which terrorist threats can arise” – by the West didn’t fail “because the people didn’t want the country remade.”
“For sure we could have remade better, but Afghans didn’t choose the Taliban makeover,” he added.
With the US out of the picture in Afghanistan, there is now a need for Europe and NATO to defend itself more effectively, argued Blair. He compared the situation with the end of the Kosovo war when in 1999 he initiated a military partnership with France designed to handle future international crises independently of the United States.
“After Kosovo, I initiated European Defence with France. I did this precisely because I realised that without the USA, and President Clinton’s commitment, we could never have resolved the crisis. And today the Balkans… can aspire to a peaceful future hopefully within Europe. Yet the crisis was on Europe’s doorstep not America’s.”
Blair further asked: “How do Europe and NATO develop the capability to act when America is unwilling?”
Although he offered no solution, Blair said he was alarmed by “the sense the West lacks the capacity to formulate strategy”.
“Maybe my generation of leaders were naïve in thinking countries could be ‘remade’. Or maybe the ‘remaking’ needed to last longer. But we should never forget, as we see the women of Afghanistan in the media… now fleeing for fear of their lives, that our values are still those that free people choose. Recovering confidence in our values and in their universal application is a necessary part of ensuring we stand up for them and are prepared to defend them,” he ended.