Trade is the first line of defence 

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With my own military background, now viewed through the lens of a career in the City, I believe trade delegates and our armed forces have an important role to play in working towards a positive future for the UK as well as our international allies.

When we think about defence of our nation and international peace, trade isn't always at the forefront of our thoughts. Equally, when we consider the economy, growing food, energy insecurity and political turbulence, we don't necessarily think of our armed forces and the role they may be able to play in correcting the course. 

However, trade, diplomacy, economics and security are all inextricably linked, and when they work together they can achieve great things. Our forces are, quite literally, a weapon in our collective arsenal, but their function is more sophisticated, more nuanced and more powerful than we might instinctively recognise. 

With my own military background, now viewed through the lens of a career in the City, I believe trade delegates and our armed forces have an important role to play in working towards a positive future for the UK as well as our international allies.

The power of being seen 

The visibility of the Union Jack is central to our trade diplomacy. Our nation's presence is at its most potent in the magnificence of our forces. It was brought to the forefront of our minds once again with pageantry and precision as the British Armed Forces performed their last duty to Her Late Majesty The Queen last year, and it was further  highlighted by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin Lord Mayor of London, in his Defence & Security Lecture in October. He said:

"...we should recognise the authority and agency that the military instrument offers, and we should willingly embrace the ability of the Armed Forces to support our national interest in all its forms."

His speech reiterated and elaborated on the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith's Annual Defence and Security Lecture in 2021, in which he said that strong trade links are the first line of defence. Last year, Sir Tony Radakin built on that concept, drawing a line between defence and trade and investment.

The silent strength of the armed forces 

It is not just the big events in which the UK’s visibility is pronounced and powerful. The quiet presence of our nation around the world is equally important. Going forward, the hope is that the Lord Mayor’s business delegations overseas might coincide with the visits of Royal naval ships to local ports - each reiterating the other. 

To some extent, this is already the case. We currently have ships in the Pacific, we had an aircraft carrier in the region early last year, and we have submarines in the Indo-Pacific region as part of the AUKUS deal - the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In short, the visibility of our nation is an important reminder to all of Britain’s place in the world. From powerful leaders to investors and trade delegates, they are reminded that they can look to us for investment and commercial progress. 

Sir Radakin continued: "It is about a maximalist approach to the military instrument. Using our power and influence in all its guises: both to further our security and prosperity. But especially – when we get it right – to add to the agency and authority of the British Government and the nation."

Security and stability matter in the City of London 

There is, of course, a practical link between the armed forces and trade. The mere ability to do trade is something we all need to safeguard for our collective survival and the forces are integral to that. 

Consider the impact of the events in the Ukraine, which have been appalling to watch on a human level, and have also caused massive economic disruption - blocking trade routes and threatening oil and gas supplies. Putin acts believing his actions have no consequences beyond the ones he himself wishes to unleash. His actions do matter though - as Admiral Sir Tony Radakin continued: 

"... they matter here in the City of London too, because markets thrive on stability, and our prosperity rests on a world that is safe for the passage of trade. And when the rules are broken, volatility and instability follow. When aggression is left unchecked the costs ricochet through global markets. This affects people everywhere, and especially the world’s poorest."

The British Army is one of the most highly regarded and best equipped armies in the world, with heritage in delivering success in combat. Our Royal Navy is one of the most respected armed forces in the world. The RAF is one of the most technologically sophisticated and capable air forces, and Britain's Royal Marines are known for their worldwide rapid response and ability to deal with a spectrum of threats and security challenges.

Our Prime Minister has previously said that he believes in "investing in our armed forces". As we look to repair the economy, improve global security and move forward positively, the links between trade and military strength should not be ignored. To finish on one final extract from Sir Radakin's speech:

"It is also a tool to help drive a broader national agenda. And when we get it really right, then we enhance the authority of the British government, and with it our nation’s strength and security in this competitive world."