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Dr. Liam Fox, MP, on Afghanistan

Liam Fox, the Tory shadow defense secretary, spoke at the Heritage Foundation yesterday. His admirably concise remarks on the “The War in Afghanistan: Why Britain, America and NATO Must Fight to Win” will be available online shortly. They’re well worth your time if you’re interested in Afghanistan or what the Conservatives are likely to do if they come to power in May, as all the polls indicate they will.

The main takeaways are clear, and welcome. First, the Conservatives remain strongly committed to the fight in Afghanistan. Unlike conservatives in the U.S., they aren’t that much concerned that the current government wants out of the fight: bluntly, Gordon Brown is in too deep for that. Second, the Tories would back an increase in the size of the British forces in Afghanistan if those forces were used to train the Afghan National Army. And third, Fox in particular is concerned about mission creep in Afghanistan and how failure to fulfill all possible aims of the war is sapping public support. As he put it:

The best way to maintain support is to be very clear that we are there for national security reasons. . . . All of these other aims—on human rights, on democratic improvement, on what happens to education for the next generation, especially women—these are important and laudable aims in themselves but they’re not why we’re in Afghanistan.

For my part, Fox’s most interesting comment came toward the end of his remarks, when he pointed out that, while—as in Iraq—there will be many locals in Afghanistan who are reconcilable, there will remain a hard core of fanatics who will never be amenable to negotiation and who must be met with force. The belief that everyone is amenable to negotiation is, he argued, one of our most characteristic modern delusions.

Of course, this conviction is not unique to Dr. Fox. But he will shortly be in a position to act on it. And in the British context, something very much needs to be done. As evidence, I point to the most recent National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom, released in late June. The fact that it is 112 densely spaced pages long is one problem: nothing so wordy can possibly qualify as a strategy. But one of the worst bits is its treatment of ideology, which it describes, correctly if stiffly, as “a particularly important . . . threat driver.” But it then concludes:

Such [belief-based] rivalries can be made less potentially harmful if they are constrained within multilateral systems of rules, at the global level through the United Nations, though international law, through security and defence alliances such as NATO, and through regional organisations, particularly in Europe through the European Union. A rules-based international system is vital to help turn any rivalry into peaceful competition and in turn into constructive cooperation. This is another compelling argument for strong multilateral governance.

Yes indeed: the way to defeat rival ideologies is to invite those possessed by them into the UN, the EU, NATO, and the whole panoply of international institutions, membership into which will convince them to turn to “constructive cooperation.” That is the British government’s official view of how to deal with global ideological challenges. It is hard to imagine a more unserious and dangerous approach, or one more in keeping with the views that Dr. Fox rightly criticizes.



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