Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox has given an interview to the Sunday Express, where he talks about overcoming a sense of "colonial guilt" bestowed by revisionist historians and the need for a new government to forge defence links with commonwealth nations, such as Australia and New Zealand, but he also cited India and Saudi Arabia. They have a “strong appetite” for closer defence links with the UK, he argues.
Looking at variable defence relationships with countries like India, and non-NATO partners like Australia makes good sense. Nicolas Sarkozy has done the same – and even invited Indian troops to march down the Champs-Élysées last year on Bastille Day. A parade down the Mall with Indonesian, Indian, Pakistani, Brazilian, Chilean troops would be a powerful – and colourful – show of “Fox Doctrine”.
But this policy is not without problems, even when it comes to close allies. Having worked with the Australian Army in Basra, I have the utmost respect for their commitment, and effort. But NATO-Australian defence links are not always as smooth as one might hope for. NATO commanders have recently expressed frustration over the restrictions imposed on the deployment of Australian troops in Uruzgan. At the same time, as more and more non-NATO governments join NATO missions, they naturally seek more involvement in decision-making, making NATO’s committee-based process even more cumbersome. If every representative of every troop-contributing country speaks, it will take more than seven hours to finish.
Defence relations are about a lot more than operational cooperation. Liam Fox is on to something by eluding to the diminution of defence diplomacy over recent years. Where once the Ministry of Defence had independent funds in order to advance defence ties, these were taken away and pooled together with money from other departments. Recent changes have given some funds back to the MoD, but looking at ways in which Britain can enhance its security diplomacy -– and the MoD’s role within this – is very welcome.
As part of this, a new Tory government should help NATO re-think its links with other countries. NATO has relationships with countries from Central Asia to the Middle East, but many of these are now outdated or perfunctory. NATO will need the help of the British government, an early champion of ‘Partnership for Peace’, which brought the Warsaw Pact into the Alliance, to rethink its “bilateral” links.
One way to advance these links might be for Liam Fox to appoint a senior diplomatic adviser, perhaps a former senior Foreign Office mandarin like Charles Crawford, who can help rebuild the MoD’s role in advance Britain’s diplomatic clout.