Lecture by Dr Liam Fox MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and Conservative Member of Parliament for Woodspring.
In his lecture, Dr Fox addressed the challenges the next government is likely to confront while attempting to carry out a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). He discussed the strategic thinking on which the foundation of a future Conservative government review will be based, the structure of the review and specifically how the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will carry out its role in the SDSR process to best prepare the MoD for the challenges of the Twenty-first Century.
Thank RUSI for hosting this event this morning and the huge contribution they make to the 'defence debate'. It is a pleasure to speak to such a distinguished and knowledgeable audience.
In many ways there is no ideal time in which to conduct a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). Twelve years have passed since the last review. The MoD notes in the recent Green Paper that 'the international context has changed radically'. It certainly has- and the review is scandalously overdue.
Of course, reviews of this nature always bring an element of instability which can be particularly unwelcome at periods where there is a high tempo of activity.
Today our Armed Forces are currently participating in sixteen operations around the globe and have a military presence in the form of 41,000 troops in thirty-three countries and overseas territories.
They are performing gallantly on remote battlefields in southern Afghanistan, on the high seas combating piracy, and in the Gulf capacity building and protecting Iraqi Oil Platforms.
With the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the threat of terrorism at home, nuclear proliferation, and our contingent maritime operations in the Gulf and the Horn of Africa, conducting the next SDSR will be like building a ship while out at sea.
But it will bring new opportunities.
The Conservative Party's National Security Green Paper made clear that the next review-a Strategic Defence and Security Review under a Conservative Government- will look beyond defence in the traditional sense.
It will be a cross- departmental review that brings together all the levers of national and domestic security policy with our overseas interests and our defence priorities.
It will be a chance to have a clean break from the legacy and mindset of the Cold War and should be viewed as an opportunity for fresh thinking and change. Make no mistake; we need a step change not tinkering.
The next Government will have a unique opportunity to provide a new direction and renewed leadership inside the Ministry of Defence.
It is worth noting that if the Conservative Party wins the next General Election neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign or Defence Secretaries nor the Chancellor will have been in the House of Commons at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It will be our first post- Cold War government, better attuned to the new realities of globalisation.
Today, I am here to talk about the specific aspects of the SDSR which will fall into the remit of defence so my focus will be on the Armed Forces and how the Ministry of Defence will support them.
Let me be clear about two essential points at the outset.
First, we know from bitter historical experience the difficulty of predicting future conflict- either its nature or its location. We cannot base our future security on the assumption that future wars will be like the current ones. That is why we must maintain generic capability able to adapt to any changing threats.
Second, we cannot accept the assumption in the Green Paper that Britain will always operate as part of an alliance. We have unique national interests and have to maintain the capability to act on our own if required.
It is of course imperative that we win in Afghanistan - and we wish our forces well in their forthcoming operation. There is no doubt that in Afghanistan the government have been too slow to give the army, in particular, the agility and flexibility it needs to maximise its effectiveness. The Army and the Marines have carried the greatest cost of that failure and we must learn from our mistakes.
But we must also remember that we are a maritime nation dependent on the sea lanes for 92 per cent of our trade. A time when the threat of disruption on the high seas is increasing is no time for Britain to become sea blind.
As for the review itself, it must have a logical sequence. It must begin with our foreign policy priorities, outlining our national interests. We must then consider the threats which may affect our interests so that we can determine the defence strategy needed to respond to them. Only then can we determine the military capabilities we need to protect those interests in this threat environment.
Only then can we come to the equipment programmes that will make these capabilities a reality.
Finally, we will have to confront the harsh facts of the economic climate in which we will have to operate given the catastrophic economic management of the current Labour Government. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full text of the speech, on the RUSI website.