‘Belligerent’ Fox wants war-fighting capability

By Alex Stevenson

Liam Fox has made the case for maintaining Britain’s present balanced military approach, sending strong signals that Britain’s strategic defence review is likely to avoid making a decisive break from the past.

The defence secretary laid out the utility of military power across the spectrum of foreign policy – from prevention and deterrence to intervention and stabilisation.

He argued this could not be achieved without maintaining a “war-fighting edge”.

“Deterrence only carries weight if our adversaries understand that we have the credible capability to intervene and the political will to carry it through,” he said.

“From a military point of view no other means can provide greater conventional deterrence than the capacity, either independently or with allies, to project credible land, air and maritime power with considerable geographic reach.”

Dr Fox argued Britain could maintain a balanced approach by relying on international partners as its “lynchpin”.

He was challenged by an audience member that his rhetoric sounded “belligerent”, to which he responded by insisting he was not prepared to adopt an idealistic world view.

“I hope to those who post a threat to the United Kingdom that I do sound belligerent,” Dr Fox insisted.

“Sometimes you have to fight for the peace, sometimes you have to die for the peace. That is the lesson of history.”

The typically pugnacious speech came as no surprise from a defence secretary who has already developed a direct reputation.

His unreserved hardline comments against Russia while in opposition did not go unnoticed in diplomatic circles.

And after gaining power it was not long before he landed the government in hot water. On their first trip to Afghanistan as ministers Dr Fox said Britain was not in Afghanistan “for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country” as international development secretary Andrew Mitchell argued his department’s work was “central to defeating violent extremism and protecting British streets”.

The defence secretary clarified his position by saying he believed the primary reason for maintaining a British force in Afghanistan was national security.

Today he suggested diverting from the present balanced military approach would represent a concession to terrorists threatening Britain’s way of life.

“None of this is easy, but we will only have any hope of being effective if we retain effective capabilities, strong intelligence and united international political will,” Dr Fox added.

“We have to show our resolve because this acts as a deterrent to people who may otherwise be drawn to the same methods.

“We must show that we refuse to be terrorised. We must show that we are resilient in the face of attack.”

Dr Fox’s calls for the ongoing maintenance of a strong military threat are likely to be met with enthusiasm by the British public, according to a poll out today.

YouGov’s research for Chatham House found the public see the need for military power, while the pollster’s opinion formers tend to prefer the judicious use of aid and ‘soft’ power.