Page last updated at 16:57 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010

David Cameron plans post-war 'stabilisation force'

David Cameron
Mr Cameron said security policy must be more joined-up

David Cameron would set up a UK "stabilisation" force to lead post-war reconstruction in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq if he wins power.

The Tory leader said post-war planning in both conflicts had failed and reconstruction efforts must start from "day one" after fighting stopped.

While the move will be partly funded by the foreign aid budget, he said its core aid commitments were sacrosanct.

Labour said details of the plan and how it would be funded were vague.

Joined-up approach

Amid concerns about the implications of the plan for spending elsewhere, Mr Cameron stressed his party was still committed to increase spending on international aid to 0.7% of national income - a commitment supported by all three main parties - by 2013.

The Tories have pledged to ring-fence overseas aid from spending cuts although the Tory leader said defence, foreign and security budgets would not be immune from the squeeze in public spending required to tackle the deficit and departments had to do "more for less".

Before the speech, the Conservatives published a 30-page report, entitled A Resilient Nation, setting out how they would place more emphasis on preventing conflicts and dealing with their aftermath.

Outlining plans for a new force for war-torn nations like Afghanistan, which could perform tasks like building bridges and restoring power supplies, he said there must be much more focus on "what happens after the soldiers go in and kick the door down".

To anyone in the development community who is worried that this, in some way, might abuse the development budget I would say this is absolutely not the case
David Cameron

The Tories say current reconstruction efforts are hampered by the fact that development experts are often not contractually permitted to work in the most dangerous areas.

Funding will be met from existing MoD resources, such as its £269m annual Stabilisation Fund, but also the international aid budget where it meets internationally recognised criteria on aid spending.

Defending this, he said diplomatic, security and aid efforts must be better co-ordinated to promote stability and economic development and budgets "pooled" where there were common objectives.

"To anyone in the development community who is worried that this, in some way, might abuse the development budget I would say this is absolutely not the case," he said.

"What this is about is making sure our effort is properly joined-up and we are thinking about how to deliver security and stability which are, in many ways, the absolute bedrock of development."

Speaking later, the party's international development Andrew Mitchell said its pledge to spend a fixed level of national income on overseas aid was "absolutely clear and unequivocal".

Mr Cameron said his proposals marked the "most radical departure" in approach to security for decades.

The current security apparatus was "disconnected", he said, with lack of co-operation between government departments and structures still geared up to fighting the Cold War.

Foreign policy and homeland security needed to be much more closely integrated, he said, to enable the UK to respond quickly to foreign threats ranging from terrorism to flu pandemics.

Mr Cameron said the UK must be more realistic about where and when it committed its armed forces and do more to identify regional flashpoints and prevent them from spiralling into armed conflicts.

War cabinet

If the Tories win the general election, Mr Cameron said he would establish a National Security Council on his first day in office, with a permanent national security adviser.

It would serve as a war cabinet directing the conflict in Afghanistan and co-ordinate a future strategic defence review.

Referring to decisions taken in the run-up to the Iraq war, he also pledged to keep intelligence reports free of political influence.

Among other proposals are a new homeland command of military and police to deal with national emergencies and a new command centre to deal with the "growing threat" of cyber crime.

"Are we doing enough to combat cyber terrorism? No we are not. We need to be prepared and ready to deal with all cyber attacks."

Labour said the Tory strategy was full of "unanswered questions".

"David Cameron made more pledges but without telling us exactly how he would fund it," said development minister Gareth Thomas.

"He needs to be clear and let us know exactly what he will do with the aid budget."

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