This week, the town of Cheltenham was hotly discussed in the South American cities of Santiago and Valparaiso.
It was in the context of defence talks between the UK and our South American allies, which took place in Chile. I travelled there on behalf of our country with a team of UK officials and military figures to lead discussions with my Chilean opposite number, and deepen the close military and political relationship between our two nations. Those links go back at least two centuries, with the Chileans remembering fondly the British naval officer, Admiral Cochrane, who helped found the Chilean Navy.
The relationship is particularly important given our nearby presence in the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic. We want our cooperation to develop further, and so I was pleased to sign agreements concerning joint military training, and also to discuss Chile’s potential procurement of the British Type 31 frigate.
But as well as conventional defence, it was the topic of cyber security which featured heavily. The Chileans are conscious of the threat it poses, and the importance of ensuring they are suitably defended.
And in that context, I was delighted to see how familiar they are with GCHQ. They knew of our signals intelligence capability, and it was clear that they had a high regard for it. I had a similar reaction when I held talks alongside our ambassador, with senior military officers from Brazil and Peru at the naval EXPO on the Chilean coast.
This capability increasingly underpins and strengthens Britain’s global influence. That’s because excellence in intelligence helps to keep us and our allies safe, but also offers capabilities which friendly nations aspire to learn from.
Our country has an important role to play in the world as a champion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. British military and security capabilities help ensure we can stand up for the international rules-based order.
[Column first published in Glos Echo]