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Defence in the World

17th October 2002

In listening to the debate, what first comes to mind is that we live in a more dangerous world than ever before.

5.4 pm

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): In listening to the debate, what first comes to mind is that we live in a more dangerous world than ever before. The weakened grip of the old Soviet bloc has unleashed a multitude of regional power struggles, with dictatorships and nascent democracies fighting for influence and recognition within their own continents or, as in the case of Islamic extremism, against anyone who speaks in favour of secularism, liberty and democratic values.

Instead of rogue states spending less money on arms, more money than ever is being spent on more powerful weapons, and nuclear proliferation is now a reality of regional power building. Sanctions, for the main part, have had a laughable effect, except of course on the civilian populations of the countries concerned. Be it diamonds in Africa or oil in the middle east, these reserves are not like bank accounts, which can be frozen. Even if Saddam were to allow in the inspectors, his access to 10 per cent. of the world's oil reserves means that he can afford whatever weapons he wants, whenever he wants. Last year, for instance, it is estimated that he earned some $2 billion from oil, despite sanctions and a bad oil market. In this regard, I note how the Government always seem ever so wary of mentioning oil when discussing the possibility of war against Iraq. That, in my view, is wrong, as the effect on world trade of organised market manipulation or embargoes is clearly a significant matter of national interest.

Some people argue that a kind of post-cold war international vacuum has been created, thus undermining the now central role of the United States. Others more blatantly accuse the United States of warmongering or of getting involved only when it suits them and even isolationism. Such arguments are deeply flawed and very dangerous.

What is the ultimate weapon of defence? It is certainly not nuclear weapons or anything to do with the military. It is the growing understanding within most of the developing world of the value of individual liberty, democracy, free enterprise and the liberalisation of domestic and world trade. This message has not been lost on America's enemies, many of whom predicted that the terrible events of 11 September would lead to increased US isolationism and even the end of the world globalisation process. How wrong they have been. The process has been accelerated rather than slowed. In the face of the common terrorist defence threat, developing countries and western countries are seeing more than ever how their common defence interest lies in the development of trading relationships between them and the resulting higher living standards for their peoples. The best example of that was the agreement to move ahead on the World Trade Organisation trade round at Doha, which, prior to 11 September, was on the verge of collapse. However, within two months of 11 September, it suddenly happened because it made people think about the problem.

I mention trade because it is key to understanding the reasons behind the new worldwide, American-led resolve to counter terrorism and to deal with national defence in the new global context. States that were once blacklisted by the United States, such as India and Pakistan, are now back at the table. Relations with China are improving. It is no coincidence that, only a few months ago, China joined the World Trade Organisation and now wants to expand its commercial base.

Diplomatic ties between Russia and the west are increasingly strong, with exchanges of security information and a co-ordinated, albeit different, approach forming. Once again, trade is playing its part in that. Russia, with its significant investments in Iraq, has every interest in retaining interest and dialogue with the United States in preparation for the possibility of a post-Saddam Iraq.

The United Kingdom can also see how, working closely with the United States, we can have an influence-for example, in encouraging the US to work with the United Nations, or having a continued involvement in the post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan.

The message is that by standing together we will defeat common threats to world security-that is the message of 11 September and, indeed, of Kuta beach. That has been the basis of our recent successes in putting Saddam Hussein on to his back foot and of NATO's successes in recent decades. Standing together without the ability and ultimate intent of using force will lead to failure. Let us suppose that we took NATO or the United States out of the picture. Consider the prospect of Europe acting alone, with France soft-pedalling on the one hand, and Germany hostile to a firm answer to Saddam on the other. Where would we be now? I would say, XNot very far". How quiet the Government have been recently on the Nice treaty's European security and defence policy-a toothless dead duck of a proposal if I ever heard one. The lesson is clear: we stick with NATO, we do not cut out our allies, such as Turkey, and we do not alienate the United States.

It is refreshing that the Government have stopped talking about a peace dividend-of course, there never was one. Now, we should stop wasting our time on European Union defence and going it alone, with its inherent risk of splitting NATO, we should stop running down our regular forces, stop decimating our reserve forces and put more money into our military so that they can cope with their ever-growing number of operations.

In that regard, November's Prague NATO summit will be very important-not only in terms of the enlargement of NATO and the related reorganisation that that involves, but in providing us with the opportunity to disown the disastrous European defence experiment and to reaffirm our support for NATO and US involvement.

In fairness, the Government talk of supporting NATO, but can they deliver, given the way in which we are heading? While Europe is spending its time fretting about from whom its ever-smaller forces will take orders, America has been spending money on its defence. The problem is that, since 11 September alone, America has spent $48 billion more than Europe, Russia and China combined on its defence. Some people complain about the US unilateralist approach. Indeed, they say that the US has been unwilling to work within NATO in relation to Afghanistan or Iraq. The fact remains, however, that Europe's forces are now so weakened that US unilateralism is becoming increasingly inevitable, even if we say that we are going to support the US with men or indeed just with words.

To that extent, America is fully justified in saying that Europe should be paying more for its own defence-not only to up our game in absolute terms, but even if just to support a keyhole-surgery type approach of targeted rapid reaction and mobility. Let us not forget that the more that we rely on specialist forces, the more that technology comes into play. Here more than anywhere US research investment means that the US is pulling away from us so quickly that arms compatibility within NATO is becoming an ever more serious issue.

On equipment, the Government seem concerned about maintaining competition within the arms industry. Some people believe that Europe should jealously guard its manufacturing capability. That may sound attractive, but frankly we have missed the boat, as Europe's historic unwillingness to invest in research now means that we have a great and ever growing reliance on US technology. Why waste time fighting the inevitability of market consolidation? We should actually be prioritising European and US arms compatibility-that is, if we are going to have any sort of industry in Europe at all in future.

The Government also need to be more upfront on the realities of our and Europe's weakening position. Why, for instance, have they been sitting on the fence with regard to America's national missile defence proposals? Earlier today the Secretary of State moved towards a positive position on the issue, but not quite. Surely it is in our best interests that America feels safe from attack. Why not help it to feel safe in a way that would enable us to receive the benefit of the missile shield against nuclear proliferation? Given our overall relationship with America, surely it is highly unlikely that a missile threat against America would not also pose a threat to us.

Effective defence measures do not begin and end with star wars projects. Indeed, our civil defence capability is widely seen as inadequate and underfunded. How many terror incidents must there be before we sort out our civil defence?

Finally, the Government need to appreciate that if we are to maintain our severely stretched operational capability and improve the technical capability of our military, we will simply have to increase spending on our armed forces.

5.14 pm

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