Foreign Affairs

Dr. Liam Fox on Britain

Conservatives in Britain need to strengthen ties with their NATO allies rather than the European Union, Dr. Liam Fox, Britain’s Shadow Defense Secretary, said on a trip to Washington last week.

Fox, a practicing doctor and Member of Parliament for Southwestern England, sat quietly in the Mandarin Hotel downtown, answering questions sitting in the marble lobby, trying to ignore the loud music and bizarre thunderstorm outside.  Fox has acquired poise and focus during years in the House of Commons. Listening to him with eyes closed (which this correspondent did not) one could easily  imagine Sean Connery in “Thunderball,” with that Scottish burr in his speech.

Fox commented on newly installed Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s decision to stop using “War on Terror” as the term for the Iraq War.

“No, I wouldn’t disagree with him,” Fox said. “I think ‘War on Terror’ is a very generalized phrase, to the point that it becomes almost euphemistic. What we’re engaged in is a battle against violent, anti-Western, fragmented minority elements of a Sunni sect.”  Fox’s “agreement” with Brown draws a sharp distinction.

As for the transfer of 10 Downing Street, however, Fox was more critical.

“Tony Blair’s seven-week, self-indulgent departure — which far too much of our media bought in to… It was cringing, in the way it depicted the Blair years. I think once the starry-eyed Blair departure and its emetic effect is worn off, normal service will be resumed.”

The Atlantic Bridge group — Fox’s conservative think tank which  sponsored his trip — continues to connect a “network of like-minded conservatives in politics, business, journalism and academia on both sides of the Atlantic,” according to its web site.

“We want to get cooperation from like-minded people. My Atlantic Bridge group, for example — we’re having Rudy Giuliani in London on the 19 of September,” Fox said.
While conservatives are experiencing a surge across parts of Europe, Fox is not quite holding his breath. “It would be nice to think that we’re next in line for the domino effect [of a conservative swing], but I wouldn’t in any way try to read too much into what’s nonetheless a welcome trend.”

Part of Atlantic Bridge’s platform includes building on Britain’s stock in NATO, of which Fox is an ardent advocate. But just ask him about political intervention by the European Union.

“I’m implacably opposed to the whole concept of a common EU defense policy,” Fox said without hesitation. “The bedrock of our security is, and must remain, NATO — and nothing must be done which damages the primacy of NATO.”

Prime Minister Brown recently issued a statement saying refuting claims he will change the US-UK alliance, after the rhetoric from Fox and his colleagues in Washington caused somewhat of a stir.

“Britain this year is spending… our lowest proportion of our nation wealth contributed to defense since 1930,” Fox said during his interview. “Britain’s still the highest spending country on defense at about $60 billion a year, compared to America’s $590 billion. The idea that Europe would ever provide us with the level of expenditure that could in any way match the defense umbrella afforded to us by the United States is laughable.”

That, according to Fox, is the more general reason for the UK to be hesitant about the EU. More importantly, he said, is why he could not support EU decisions over Britain’s own sovereignty.

“We could never accept a super-national decision to send our troops into battle. That’s a decision that governments need to take in the full knowledge that they are answerable to the domestic electorate,” he said.

TURKEY IN EU?

The EU is debating — endlessly, over decades — Turkey’s entry into its ranks. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is outspokenly opposed to Turkish membership in what some Turks deride as “their Christian club.” Fox pointed out why he believes Sarkozy is in the wrong

“It is extremely important that we do not push Turkey away from us, because it is to our huge advantage to have a liberalizing, Western-friendly, secular Turkey, as one of our major strategic partners,” Fox said.

“It would be massively to our disadvantage to see a resentful, sulking Turkey move farther, closer to Russia’s orbit,” Fox said, noting Turkey’s “progress” in recent years.

“Those who talk up the difficulties — and there would be considerable difficulties of Turkey joining — should think of what the alternative might be, and just how much they would appreciate having a fundamentalist Islamic state on the Greek border.”

Then again, said Fox, “It was ever thus in the Balkans. If most complicated geo-political problems are jigsaw puzzles, then the Balkans is a Rubik’s Cube.”

All that Parliamentary debate was clearly not lost on Fox. Nor has his time in the Defense Ministry been.

“The Balkans showed how fragmented Europe could be. In fact the irony is, of course, that if it had not been for the intervention of the United States, we would probably have been treated a humanitarian catastrophe as a consequence of Euro-paralysis.”

Other members of the EU agree, though no definitive vote has officially been held. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has established herself in the EU as a crucial member of the organization, one whom many politicians agreed would be the person to broker an agreement between opposing leaders like Brown and Sarkozy.

“I think that Angela Merkel, whom I hugely admire… has actually been very brave on a number of issues, [and] is self-constrained by the abilities of her coalition government, in relation to Russia in particular. She has been very vocal about Putin, at a time when I think other Western leaders have remained shamefully silent.”

As his aides begin to peer surreptitiously at their watches, Fox agrees to answer a few more. On Brown’s new administration, Fox is reserved.

“I think we should wait until we see exactly what policies we’re intending to produce before we go around making pronouncements,” he said. “There’s always a great deal of positioning in politics, but a government is defined by what it is they ultimately do, not the postures they adopt, particularly in opposition.”


Sign Up