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Liam Fox MP: Why the West needs a wake-up call

Liam_fox This is the first part of a diary that Liam Fox, Shadow Defence Secretary, is writing from Singapore.

In the 1930s there was a perfect storm brewing. Its centre lay in Europe but it was to engulf the whole world. The signs were there for all to see but they were largely ignored, either out of intent or ignorance. A few, like Churchill, warned of what was coming but his words fell largely on deaf ears. Incompetence, appeasement and an optimism defying reality held sway - until it was too late.

This is not to suggest that today we are witnessing a similar phenomenon. But there are warnings we cannot ignore: the rise of a violent, internationalised and politicised form of Islamic extremism, the rise of Iran bolstered by a resurgent Persian nationalism, Russia’s increasing willingness to use fuel as a political weapon, rising tensions in Pakistan and the increasing fragility of non-proliferation come to mind. These things all require increased resolve by the international community and by the West in particular. Yet the commitment of the International Coalition to our current obligations in Iraq and NATO’s commitment in Afghanistan are being questioned by friend and foe alike.

In the United States politics has become ever more tribal with a full two years out of every four year term being taken up by campaigning rather than governing. The UK is in political paralysis as Tony Blair makes a self-indulgent farewell tour that is egocentric even by politicians’ standards. France is taking its first hopeful steps out of the Chirac nightmare years under President Sarkozy but Germany’s increasingly surefooted Chancellor Merkel remains locked in a frustrating and sterile coalition with the Social Democrats. If we can see these weaknesses so can those who wish us ill.

All this occurs against a disadvantageous cultural backdrop. The benign economic environment of the past decades has meant that voters on both sides of the Atlantic have been more interested in reality TV, talent shows and celebrity than possible geopolitical threats (compare the votes in American Idol or Big Brother with electoral turnouts). The political classes have conspired by largely telling their public what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. And all of it has been exacerbated by a news media that seems to regard its primary function as to entertain rather than to educate or inform.

It is against this background that Defence Ministers and security experts gather in Singapore this week, under the auspices of the IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies), to look at ways of dealing with common security threats. It is very regrettable that while the US Secretary of Defence, the German, Japanese and Australian Defence Ministers, senior representatives of China and India as well as some of the most eminent security thinkers are attending, the British Defence Secretary is too busy and is delegating to his Junior Minister. 

The next few days provide a top level environment to listen to perspectives on security from around the globe. Sessions include “Nuclear Challenges”, “Intervening in fragile States”, “Progress in counter-terrorism” and “India and China: Building International stability”.

Perhaps even more importantly it allows the opportunity for a wide range of bilateral meetings to be held in one location. I will report back on each day’s main discussion points which I hope will be of interest to ConservativeHome and beyond. Maybe we can even get some focus on some of the real and present dangers facing the UK.


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