Afghanistan and Yemen Take Center Stage: What about Northern Ireland?

This week the British government hosted two major international conferences; one focusing on Yemen, the other Afghanistan. That both nations have problems worth discussing goes without saying. But why did these talks take place in London? One would assume that the British public or at the very least, British industry had something to gain from such hospitality. A lucrative mining contract to exploit Afghanistan’s copper deposits perhaps? No wait - China already grabbed that deal. A reduction in the immediate threat to our shores? Given that the UK terror threat was raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’ ahead of the summits, the answer to that would have to be a resounding no. It seems to me that the only people who saw an advantage in inviting the world to London this week were Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other political elites who insist on maintaining the pretence that Britain is a superpower.

Time To Focus Closer to Home

Being a superpower requires deep pockets and a large, well-equipped military. Britain is poised to drop out of the top ten world economies and the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are being gutted to pay for the war in Afghanistan. In short, we don’t have the financial or military muscle to remain a superpower, yet we still insist on behaving like one by playing the role of world policeman every time the US snaps its fingers.

Britain has sacrificed vast amounts of blood and treasure and dedicated a great deal of political capital to Afghanistan and Iraq. Now it appears as if we’re gearing up to do the same in Yemen. Enough is enough. We cannot continue to squander our resources abroad when we have problems at home which require urgent attention; problems which pose a far greater threat to our security than an aspiring underpants bomber with a boarding pass to Detroit. I’m talking about Northern Ireland.

It is inexcusable in my view that Gordon Brown left critical talks in Northern Ireland to fly back to London for an Afghan conference. The stakes in Northern Ireland couldn’t be higher right now. Achieving a deal on the devolution of policing and justice powers to Belfast is vital to the peace process. Northern Ireland should have been number one on Brown’s agenda.

Northern Ireland can no longer take a backseat to Afghanistan. When I think of the billions of pounds we’ve sunk into projects in Afghanistan, such as building schools in Helmund (schools which the Taliban will likely take over if they haven’t already), I can’t help but feel that the money would have been better spent in Northern Ireland. More secular schools in Northern Ireland that bring children of all faiths together under one roof would have a lasting impact on peace.

Of course, many will invoke the tired argument that if we ignore Afghanistan and Yemen, Britain will be more vulnerable to Islamic terrorists. Don’t be so narrow-minded. Not all extremists are Muslims and if the Northern Ireland peace process falls apart the dark days of ‘the troubles’ could very well return. As for those who fear that the loss of superpower status will make Britain irrelevant on the world stage I would say look no further than Switzerland. After all, the most influential conference did not take place in London this week – it was in Davos.

Bob Shepherd is an ex-SAS soldier and bestselling author of The Circuit. To read more posts by him, please visit