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Britain is already at war, and nobody wants to admit it

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There are fewer than three weeks to go until polling day and, amid all the desperate campaigning and counter-campaigning, there is a dog that hasn’t barked – even though it is perhaps the most vital of all for our long-term survival.

I refer to the systemic threat to those of us who live under democracy and the rule of law. The danger posed to the free world by the new axis of totalitarian states is the greatest we have faced since the end of the Cold War. It has been growing in plain sight, but the leaders of the West have done their level best to play it down.

The chief members of this axis are China, North Korea, Russia and Iran. But alongside them is a growing list of totalitarian fellow-travellers, from Syria and Myanmar to some of the Gulf States and significant numbers of African nations. Each of these countries already exhibits a charge list of brutality that is chilling.

Russia’s crimes are, of course, well known, many of them committed as part of Vladimir Putin’s quest to restore the borders of the old Soviet Union.

After the Kremlin got away with its war of aggression against Georgia in 2008, its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 was followed by its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Putin’s internal repression of political opposition and external cyber-attacks on the West add to his country’s appalling and threatening reputation, both abroad and at home.

Russia has been given both practical and moral support by Beijing – including help in arranging arms shipments from North Korea. China is at the same time committing genocide in Xinjiang, systematically destroying the Uyghur people. It has trashed an international treaty, the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong, and since then has been arresting and imprisoning democracy campaigners.

It practises slave labour and a state-organised programme of forced organ harvesting, particularly of prisoners of conscience, including religious groups. Up to 100,000 of these procedures are estimated to be carried out every year. China threatens to take over Taiwan by force and has militarily occupied islands in the South China Sea, intimidating any who come too close.

China and Russia also work closely with Iran, offering not just weapons supplies but strategic support. They have failed to back Israel in the aftermath of Hamas’s brutal murder and hostage-taking of Israeli civilians on October 7 last year.

Hamas, an organisation supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, would have known very well how Israel would respond. Russia has gained some respite from the United States’ strategic distraction; it certainly helped to further delay the latest vital military aid package to Kyiv.

The West is effectively in a state of war with this axis of totalitarianism, and the stark reality is that we are losing without even realising it. Since the end of the Cold War, democracy has been in gradual retreat. Now, for the first time in years, more independent states are governed by autocracies.

China’s role in bringing this about is critical. Western governments have massively boosted Beijing’s economy and, as a consequence, have become completely dependent on China for a huge range of goods.

Look at our rush to net zero. Many in the West turn a blind eye to the use of a critical element, polysilicone, in solar panels allegedly produced using slave labour in Xinjiang.

We are dependent on this threatening and brutal country for vast swathes of our economy. Batteries, wind turbines, electric cars, rare earth minerals, the list goes on and on. Even our universities are addicted to Chinese student money.

China has blatantly pursued dissidents who have fled to the West, setting up illegal police stations all over Europe. Yet even though G7 nations acknowledge that there is a problem, they seem to think it easier to do nothing, while reaping whatever short-term gains are on offer.

The rot has spread across our economies and societies. Here in the UK, we ban TikTok from government phones out of security concerns but then all major political parties are using the platform in this election campaign.

I recall that, as the Berlin Wall came down, many took it for granted that democracy had won. We were told the free market would lead to liberal democracy inevitably becoming the natural form of government for all. History had come to an end.

Yet now the growth of totalitarian states, and the West’s failure to act, is redolent of appeasement in the 1930s, with all its consequences. No, it’s not some mythical “end of history”, but only history repeating itself.

As Rudyard Kipling wrote:

“That the dog returns to its vomit and the sow returns to her mire,

And the burnt fools bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the fire.”


Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith is one of the British parliamentarians sanctioned by China for alerting the world to the genocide in Xinjiang

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