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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 March 2007, 12:36 GMT
NATO questioned
On Sunday Sunday 04 March, Andrew Marr interviewed Liam Fox MP, Shadow Defence Secretary

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Liam Fox MP
Liam Fox MP, Shadow Defence Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Now, this week the government announced a further 1400 troops for Afghanistan and acknowledged that Britain was shouldering a greater share of the burden than other NATO members who it called on, yet again, for support.

The Conservatives have backed the deployment and even seem to suggest they would increase the size of the army and the military budget, while the Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said, you cannot run wartime activities on peacetime budgets.

He joins me now. Welcome. LIAM FOX: Morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Let's start by talking about NATO, because it's been a huge disappointment for the British government that so few other countries have been prepared to lend a hand down in southern Afghanistan where it's getting very, very hot indeed.

What do you make of that, do you think NATO is fulfilling its purpose?

LIAM FOX: I think there's a real risk for the future of NATO, given what we're seeing at the present time. Part of the problem, as you correctly say, is that it's not just the British but the Americans, the Canadians and the Dutch who are carrying the burden of the fighting in the south of Afghanistan.

But worse than that, they're also carrying the financial burden because most people won't know this but when in NATO operations you carry out the operation itself you also pay for it. So there's no cost sharing. So that countries like Germany where there's a conscript army and where they don't want to send their troops in to fight, which might be understandable, they don't make any increased compensation for that by financial contributions.

Now, I think the problem here is that we're trying to fight 21st century problems with 1945 structures. And we need to update that, and specifically the link between fighting and funding needs to be broken - we need to make sure we've got better burden-sharing. Now, we've got our own sets of proposals which we're talking to other countries about, and the representatives, to see if there's a way in which we can find a consensus, because the worst thing is to have a stand-up, public fight between NATO allies which can only cause smiles in Moscow.

ANDREW MARR: So, in effect, what you would be saying to countries like Germany or France is, if you're not prepared to come down with your army we want you to pay for us to do it?

LIAM FOX: Well, perhaps direct funding into a NATO fund would be one way of doing it, perhaps earmarking specific equipment which NATO could have first call upon to relieve some of the shortages that we have at the moment, that would be better for NATO. It would also be better for us.

You mention the question of funding, all this is putting extra pressure on our defence budget when we should be part of a partnership. And one of the ways that we can actually alleviate the pressure on expenditure on defence in the UK is to get NATO working better, to get other partnerships working better, because we're carrying a disproportionate cost, both in terms of our military and in terms of our taxpayers, and that's not acceptable.

ANDREW MARR: Well, darn it, you have just answered my next line of questioning which was going to be: How do you reconcile what you're saying on Britain being overstretched around the world and the commitment to, you know, not to spend a great deal more on the Army at home because your colleague George Osborne actually singled out defence, I think, I think it's one of the things he couldn't spend a great deal more on.

LIAM FOX: Well I think that we need to be very clear about the direction we're taking, getting reform of NATO and proper burden-sharing is one of the ways in which we can ease some of the pressures on the finances for our defence, while still continuing to make sure that we're playing our full part.

The other thing that I've been looking at, for example, is the way that the MoD works in Whitehall, do we have procurement budget operates where this country seem to spend very vast sums of money developing things which we could buy off the shelf cheaper elsewhere. And we seem to spend a huge length of time and money getting things that don't appear within budget or within time.

ANDREW MARR: There's an awful lot of people whose jobs depends on defence manufacturing around the country, who will shiver at those words.

LIAM FOX: Well the primary job of the government is the defence of this country. And it's to make sure that our troops have the proper equipment when they need it.

And if you look at what Canada's done recently, for example, where it's had quite a big increase in its military capacity. It's bought more helicopters, more aircraft, and so on. But instead of developing its own it simply said "where can we buy them elsewhere in the world that will do the job for us".

ANDREW MARR: Buy more off the shelf would be your thrust from the Americans.

LIAM FOX: I think we spend too long in this country pretending that we can afford a bespoke military when actually we require a lot more off the shelf. Now there are clearly things that for the security in the long term of the country, we need to retain in terms of the skills base in defence in this country. For example, submarine building, the Trident programme requires us to have that capability.

But increasingly the debate round the world is about skill-sharing, what we're doing with the Americans on the joint strike fighter, for example, is I think a very good way forward when all countries are feeling the financial pinch of the military budgets, and finding better partnerships, better involvements in early procurement I think is a sensible way forward, and we've already started to look at some of those options.

ANDREW MARR: Sorry - I've just had text message - Gordon Brown's taken over as Prime Minister. He's called a snap election. You've won it - a very long text message - you're Defence Secretary.

LIAM FOX: A very welcome text message!

ANDREW MARR: A welcome text message, so there you go! Do you now keep British troops everywhere they are? Do you maintain the involvement in southern Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Balkans?

LIAM FOX: Well I've been saying for some time that I thought that our current government would be pulling troops out of the Balkans to make more troops available. In the rotation for Afghanistan that seems to be happening. Of course that depends in the wider security whether again our NATO partners are willing to take up the slack. And I was quite critical this week of the decision to pull troops out of Bosnia at a time when Kosovo may yet flair up. That's a separate issue. Iraq looks as though we're drawing down our troops and if there was an election in more the timescale I would expect, maybe summer 2009, perhaps we'll be out of Iraq altogether by that time.


LIAM FOX: We will not be out of Afghanistan.

ANDREW MARR: That's going to be a long one, do you think?

LIAM FOX: My guess is that we may see further British troop numbers going to Afghanistan again because some of our NATO partners will not be able to provide the numbers that our commanders are asking for. We'll be in Afghanistan for a long time. It's a UN mission, carried out by NATO.


LIAM FOX: It's absolutely essential that for the future functioning of the UN and its authority, but more importantly for the cohesion and the reputation of NATO, what we have success in Afghanistan. And it has a direct impact on this country's national security, which is top of the list.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely. Now you're a great Atlanticist, a great pro-American. John McCain who was at your party conference apparently yesterday has said that he's worried that your party leader David Cameron's gone soft on Iraq, and that there's now a bit of a gap between the way he sees it and the way the Conservatives see it.

LIAM FOX: Well what we've said was that on the extra troop deployments that the American Administration was making we were sceptical about whether that would be the answer to the problems there. But we obviously hoped that it would be. But if you go to the United States and I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago, there's quite a debate within the American Administration, within Congress, and between the Pentagon and the State Department, about whether this is the correct way forward.

All of us hope that we'll get better stability. But I think it's very clear to most of us that ultimately there will not be a military applied solution in Iraq until you get the Shia and the Sunni communities recognising that either they have mutual recognition and live in harmony, or they'll face mutual destruction and the problems will continue.

ANDREW MARR: Also, it does sound a little bit as if you're thinking as a party is close to the Democrats as it is to the White House.

LIAM FOX: No again you get a great spread of opinion. We've been very clear and very staunch in our belief that there needs to be this reconstruction in Iraq to move towards a democratic society is beneficial. I think perhaps where we have been critical is that in the west in general our timescales tend to be too short for these missions that we set.

In Britain, for example, we are celebrating, you know, 200 years since the end of slavery. But we abolished slavery long before we gave women the vote in Britain, we were liberal before we were democratic, and I think we need to understand that it's the institutions that underpin democracy, that need to be built over time, and that you can't simply give people the vote and expect it to be stable. If democracy were simply the exercise of electoral mechanics Gaza would be the beacon state in the Middle East.

ANDREW MARR: Now I read that in preparation for Brown taking over and all the changes there'll be in the government there, that David Cameron is going to do a reshaping of the Conservative team. And your name seems to be in the frame as Party Chairman again. How would you react to that?

LIAM FOX: I would react to it by saying that in weeks when there's very little news you get stories about reshuffles.

ANDREW MARR: All right, OK, well listen thank you very much for joining us. Liam Fox.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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