I have just sat down to read Liam Fox’s NATO speech (as I could not attend), which he gave at Chatham House recently. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I think Liam Fox is a first-rate politician. His ongoing exposure of the Government’s military under-resourcing has been excellent. On a Tory team that is sometime accused of lacking stand-out talent, he is a national politician with clear views, consistency and a large following.
But there have been undeniable rumblings in the Westminster Village that the MP for Woodspring is not up to the job, that he would be better off as Shadow Home Secretary. David Cameron’s appointment of General Dannat was widely seen as a slap to his leadership rival – and necessitating a line in the Leader’s speech that guaranteed Fox the MoD job.
Unfortunately, speeches like last week’s will do little to assuage those who are critical of Fox’s performance. It was long on conventional analysis and short on new ideas. Those that looked like new ideas -– such as looking at common funding for operations -- were previewed by David Cameron in April 2008. Having participated in the Strategic Concept seminars Fox refers to in the speech, his views on the EU-NATO relations are completely out of synch with the rest of the alliance, which is taking a much more pragmatic view.
If he wanted the defence community to sit up and take notice he needs to show more leg. How should NATO more effectively blend military or civilian assets? Should there be a NATO Military Advisory Corps, so the alliance can train local forces better? Should NATO plan for defence from attack by Russia– and how to do so while not annoying Moscow? Should NATO take over the US-led AFRICOM to undertake operations e.g. in Africa? What can be done to shore up solidarity in the alliance? If cooperation with the Gulf is key, what form should this take? Does Ukraine have a NATO future? If there are “strong arguments can be made that Article V should be expanded to cover new threats such as energy security or cyber terrorism” should NATO attack Russia, since Estonia was attacked by Moscow? Should NATO have a role on non-proliferation? On Iran policy? I could go on.
In the Q&A session, Fox showed how good he can be, but I now worry a Strategic Defence and Security Review is needed not just to fix long-standing problems, but actually to give the Conservatives some new defence ideas.