DEFENCE – STRATEGIC DEFENCE & SECURITY REVIEW – 21 June 2010

Dr Julian Lewis: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

[The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): This brings me to the second aspect of the armed forces' primary mission. Defence is also there for when everything goes wrong-when despite our best efforts, deterrence and containment have failed, diplomacy is exhausted, and, as a last resort, the use of lethal force is required. No other arm of Government can deliver this or is designed for this purpose. So our armed forces must be structured, first, to deter; and secondly, to deliver the use of force in support of our national interest and to protect national security. We undertake this strategic defence and security review at a time when our armed forces are delivering on that primary mission in Afghanistan. We must have strategic patience and resource that mission fully, but it would be a mistake to base our future security on the assumption that future wars will be like the current ones. That is why we must maintain generic capability able to adapt to changing threats. I now give way to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).]

Dr Lewis: My right hon. Friend must have read my mind; perhaps that is not difficult to do. I congratulate him on taking up his post; it is a pleasure to see him there. My right hon. Friend says that we cannot assume that future wars will be like current counter-insurgency campaigns, yet some very senior figures in the Army are asking us to make that very assumption. It cannot be safe for this country to plan on the basis that just because we are engaged in irregular warfare now, we do not have to worry about state-against-state conflict in future. Will he say, once and for all, that there is a danger that we could one day find ourselves opposed by a modern, well-armed, industrialised state, and that we have to be prepared for that terrible eventuality?

[Dr Fox: I would never be so presumptuous as to believe that I could read the complexities and high intellectual level of my hon. Friend's mind, but let us just say that having spent four years in opposition together, I have a fair idea of what he is likely to raise and when. He is absolutely correct, and I reiterate that it would be wrong, and fly in the face of everything that we have learned from history, to believe that future wars will be predictable or like the ones in which we are currently engaged. We must maintain generic capability that is flexible, adaptable and able to deal with changing future threats of a sort that we cannot possibly predict with any certainty.]

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Dr Lewis: I thank the shadow Secretary of State [Bob Ainsworth] for being so generous in giving way, but he must accept that it is not just a question of mixed messages in one part of the alliance, given that President Obama himself has suggested the possibility of a run-down of troops in Afghanistan as early as 18 months from now. If we are to come out with our strategic interests intact, we must have new thinking about how best to protect them, and sending people out on uniformed patrols day after day to be shot at and blown up may not be the most intelligent way of doing that.

[Bob Ainsworth: I know the hon. Gentleman's views. I have heard him describe, both privately and publicly, his position on Afghanistan and how we can pursue it. I have to tell him, however, that we are pursuing a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan-that is agreed across the coalition-and while that is so, while there are people in theatre and while they are doing the very difficult work that we have asked them to do, we must give them support. ...]

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Dr Lewis: I am fascinated by this point about the number of submarines required. Is the hon. Gentleman [Eric Joyce] aware that the plan was originally to have five Polaris submarines and that the number was reduced to four by the incoming Labour Government to give them an excuse to say that they were doing something different from the previous Conservative Government? I sometimes get the impression that some of my now allies are trying to make the same sort of suggestion about changing the number from four to three for a similar reason.

[Mr Joyce: I enjoy giving way to the hon. Gentleman. He made an excellent speech earlier, and I will come to him in a moment; the second part of my speech is on Afghanistan. ... The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has ideas that are worth fleshing out.]

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[Kevan Jones (Shadow Defence Minister): ... It was remiss of me not to welcome members of the Front-Bench team to their new positions. Let me also say that I am sad that the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who were collateral damage in the reshuffle, are no longer in that team. They worked very hard in opposition, and always dealt with me courteously when I was a Minister.]

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[The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): ... There were many other thoughtful contributions, and I particularly agreed with the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) that future battles will not all be like Afghanistan. When the Secretary of State says that there are legacies of the cold war that have to be laid to rest, that does not mean that we will focus entirely on Afghanistan and what Afghanistan entails. We must be prepared, as the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said, for whatever the future might hold for us and whatever the case might be in three decades' time. That will be the watchword of the defence review. As we look at all our capabilities across the board, we will try to be ready for any eventuality – ]

[For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here]