Defence in the World

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 1:42 pm on 1st February 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 1:42 pm, 1st February 2007

One need not look far beyond the borders of Iraq to see substantial Iranian influence, and to see Iran using as a proxy those who seek to do damage to the coalition troops. If the hon. Gentleman considers Iran's influence on Hezbollah, he will see just how much Iran was influencing events in Lebanon. Anyone who is naive enough to believe that Iran is a peace-loving country, and that the regime does not pose a threat to the region, is not looking at the same information as the rest of us. Disruption in Lebanon, and in Palestine via Hamas, control of Hezbollah, and insurrection in Iraq are all testaments to a regime that is certainly not to be trusted.

I turn to an issue not often debated in the House: the substantial rearmament programme taking place in Russia. There has been such a focus on the middle east in recent times that very little has been said in the House or in our media about the growing and accelerating rearmament in Russia. The Russian national armament programme for 2007-15 will cost about $183 billion. Let me give the House a flavour of what the Russians intend to do with much of the money—and, it has to be said, with the many petrol dollars that we contribute to them. At the tactical level, they want 1,400 tanks, 4,100 infantry fighting vehicles, 3,000 armoured personnel carriers, 1,000 combat aircraft and helicopters, and 60 theatre quasi-ballistic missile systems. At the strategic level, they want 69 Topol-M missiles with between 70 and 200 nuclear warheads, five nuclear ballistic missile submarines and 60 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles, with an increased number of warheads—that is, between 400 and 600.

I mention that because the subject of what we are doing in terms of our nuclear deterrent has been raised in the House. We are set to introduce our next generation deterrent, which will have fewer warheads than at present, but the Russians are already investing heavily in more warheads. Not only that, but they have been careful to ensure that funds remain available, so that they can keep that expenditure going. As their oil and gas exports have increased, and because of the rise in the price of oil—every $1 rise in the price of a barrel of oil provides another $1 billion for the Russian exchequer—they have, through their stabilisation fund, built up large reserves that enable them to keep spending on defence, right through until 2015. As of 1 September 2006, they had in their central bank's gold reserves almost $65 billion, and in their currency reserves they had $259 billion. While we are discussing our overstretch and what we can afford to spend on defence, Russia has been extraordinarily clever in ensuring that it will continue to improve and expand its capability, all at a time when the eyes of the west have been elsewhere.

I mention that because it goes hand in hand with an increasing resource nationalism in Russia, and its increasing willingness to use natural resources, fossil fuels in particular, to achieve political ends. We saw the warning signs in the Baltic states, in Ukraine, in Georgia, and in Belarus. We now need to be aware of the potential threats posed by the Russian Government. Of course their forces were degraded, and of course until 2003 they were experiencing a vast reduction in their capabilities, especially their army and naval capabilities, but they are now building them up. I simply say in this debate about defence in the world that that is something that our country needs to keep an eye on. When we plan for our expenditure in future, we need to take into account the fact that a new and growing risk is posed in an area in which many of us had hoped there was a declining risk, following the end of the cold war.

I shall mention one other subject before I end: the need for alliances. I have for some time held the view that politicians love the upside of globalisation. They love the prosperity and the trade, and they like the potential security. What politicians do not really like, and do not like to talk about, is the downside of globalisation: the shared risk—the increased risk exposure to asymmetric threat, for example. If we live in an interdependent and sensitive global economy, we cannot be isolated from the risks of events in any other part of that global economy. Some of my American colleagues are barely capable of giving a speech without saying, "America will be energy-independent," but that is a fat lot of use if al-Qaeda take down a supertanker in the Malacca strait, creating not only an environmental disaster but a potential crisis in confidence for the Japanese or Chinese economy, and a shock to the oil price.

In future, we will all live in a much more interdependent world, but we are trying to deal with a properly globalised economy with political structures that were designed for the end of the second world war, and with military structures that were largely designed for the cold war. We require leadership that brings those international structures up to date, so that we can find ways of co-operating to deal with shared risk. That is why the Riga summit was such a disappointment and such a failure. At that summit, we needed to get a redefinition of NATO's role, looking well ahead into the years to come. We needed to talk about the decision-making processes that NATO might have, to talk about the funding and the mechanisms, and how we would get countries to make the appropriate commitments to funding for NATO. EU-NATO relations are at an all-time low, and that needed to be addressed at the same time.

The NATO alliance should continue to be the primary military structure for the United Kingdom's security. Our alliance with the United States is the most important alliance that we have. The size of the American defence umbrella could not be matched, even in the medium term, even if our European partners were dramatically to increase their expenditure. America, by virtue of heritage, culture, language and history remains our ally of choice. I have no problem with the European Union's being able to act as part of the delivery arm of NATO—for example, through the Berlin-plus arrangements—if that is what is desired, but I have a problem with the EU wanting to supplant NATO rather than to supplement it. All those arguments should have come out at the Riga summit.

There is one other issue that Europe and NATO need to deal with: Turkey. It was deeply disturbing to see the passing of the Armenian resolution in France, which was almost certain to alienate Turkey at a time when Turkey is of enormous importance strategically to this country, NATO and Europe. Purposely to set out to alienate Turkish opinion is extremely dangerous. To have Turkey move into the arms of either fundamentalist Islam or the new-found, newly nationalist Russia would be to fail to recognise that throughout the cold war we attempted to stop a sulking and resentful Turkey moving towards the Soviet Union.

There is the potential for Congress in the United States to pass exactly the same resolution as the French. That could result only in a hugely adverse reaction from Turkey. Turkey is one of the main allies of NATO and a country of enormous geopolitical importance. We need to keep it on good terms. If those in some European countries—France, Germany and Austria—think that they would have problems incorporating Turkey into the European Union, they might want to think what an unfriendly fundamentalist state on the border of Greece would mean for European security. That may be the choice that they face.

Defence in this country has traditionally been a bipartisan issue, and it would be of enormous benefit to the country, to our process of government and to our security if it continued to be so. For that to happen the country needs to have a genuine debate about its level of commitments and its level of resources. If we want to maintain our current commitments, it is impossible to keep exceeding our defence planning assumptions and to continue with the same budget for any length of time. Of course, our armed forces will cope. They have a can-do mentality. They will try to do whatever they can with whatever we give them, but if we are genuine about the role of the United Kingdom, we will have to look at the resource base if we are going to continue at this tempo. Alternatively, if we feel that we cannot afford the resources, we have to look at the level of commitment that the United Kingdom is able to make within the wider alliances that we have.

When the Government undertake the comprehensive spending review, they must take into account what was said in the strategic defence review and how defence planning assumptions have been exceeded. Are they still committed to the SDR and do they still wish to act within the DPAs? Those are important questions and this side of the House will want to get clear answers when we get further details of the comprehensive spending review. Things cannot go on as they are. If the Government will not change their approach and insist on carrying on with things as they are, despite all the difficulties that have been so clearly enunciated by so many of those who have been in charge of our armed forces, the only conclusion will be that we have to change the Government.