2011/08/30 - Partnership with Purpose: Multi-Layered Security in the 21st Century

Speech delivered by Secretary of State for Defence at the Baltic Defence College, Tartu, Estonia, on Tuesday 30 August 2011.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Liam Fox


20 years ago this month the international community recognised the restoration of independence and liberty in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as the shackles of the Soviet Union were cast off once and for all.

This was, of course, not a single event but the culmination of a struggle - a struggle spanning half a century - with many heroes - and sadly many victims of many different nationalities.

In Britain we continue to mark the 8th May 1945 as Victory in Europe Day.

But we remember that liberation for some was not liberation for all and the throwing off of oppression that the 8th May represents for much of Europe was not secured by many in North and Eastern Europe for another 45 years.

We should never forget that the Cold War did not simply end.

The Cold War was won - won by those who believed in the triumph of liberty and human spirit.

Not by guns and tanks and missiles, although deterrence played its part, but won by the dynamism of the free market and the courage of people desperate for freedom.

Liberty is not the natural state of affairs - it must be fought for and defended repeatedly in place and time, in every nation and by every generation.

The current struggle in Libya is part of that same long continuum that people here in the Baltic are familiar with.

It will not be the last conflict.

The forces of freedom and the forces of tyranny are in a constant battle for supremecy.

For the ‘Baltic Way’ of 1989, when millions linked the capitals of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius in a human chain, read Bouazizi Square, Tahrir Square and Martyr Square in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli today.

Here and now, in the 21st century, the people of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia are enjoying the fruits of 20 years of successful democratic governance.

Now members of NATO and the European Union.

Part of a family of nations united by values - united in defence of those values and in defence of one another.

This Baltic Defence College here in Tartu is part of how that unity is fostered - those with a responsibility for national and collective Defence coming together to learn together - and to learn from one another.

And I am particularly pleased that, after a few years absence, the United Kingdom is once again represented among the student body.

This college teaches not only the craft of defence but the values of NATO - values which have been on display in the campaign in Libya - not only the justification for NATO’s initial involvement, but also the way in which the campaign has been prosecuted - with precision, to protect civilians and to minimise casualties showing that we have greater regard for life than the regime being overthrown.

Today I want to talk about how we defend our values and maintain our collective defence in this globalised, unpredictable, fast moving world - a world in which threats are not single but diverse - a world in which our security response necessarily cannot be monolithic but needs to be flexible and multi-layered.


But first I want to dwell for a moment on another, much less auspicious anniversary that is nearly upon us.

The 11th September will mark ten years since the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, which killed nearly 3,000 innocent people and changed the way many political leaders saw the world.

Ten years later Osama Bin Laden is dead, but the followers of his deadly, nihilistic, extremist creed - though weakened - have not gone away.

You can’t shoot an idea. Just as Soviet communism had to be beaten in the mind, the heart and the pocket - so must violent Islamic extremism.

That is why the Arab Spring and what NATO has been helping to achieve in Libya is so important.

It shows that violent extremism is not the only route to change.

It demonstrates that representative government and freedom are not simply ‘western’ values but represent a universal aspiration.

It disproves the myth peddled by extremists that freedom is somehow incompatible with Islam.

The desire for control over your own destiny is not constrained by religion but by those who seek to use religion to oppress legitimate aspirations.

Of course the presence of NATO in Afghanistan is a direct consequence of 9/11.

For the first and only time in its history, NATO invoked Article V of the Washington Treaty - an attack against one being an attack against all.

Our mission in Afghanistan is to build up the capacity of the Afghan Government so that it is able to prevent the return of those who pose a threat to us and our allies around the world.

We protect our own national security and the security of the NATO alliance by helping the Afghans take control of theirs.

Progress has been slow at times and difficult, but it is real and meaningful.

We are now entering a new phase.

The size and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) has grown significantly, first meeting and exceeding targets, and is now at the stage where transition of lead responsibility for security can take place area by area as conditions allow.

This is happening now in Helmand where US, British, Estonian and Danish troops are co-operating together alongside the ANSF.

Afghan forces are doing more fighting and patrolling - our forces are doing more training and mentoring.

Security for the provincial capital Lashkar Gah is now the responsibility of the ANSF, but the security situation in other parts of the province remains challenging and there is no room for complacency.

Afghanistan remains a dangerous place and progress is by no means irreversible.

All the Baltic nations are contributing to ISAF and on behalf of the British Government I want to thank Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for their efforts in pursuit of our collective security.

With your contributions you are putting to shame some of NATO’s larger nations and this will not be forgotten.

I hope you will forgive me for dwelling a moment on the contribution of Estonia, whose troops train side by side, and fight side by side with those from Britain.

We are particularly grateful that Estonian troops serve without caveats.

They are a valuable part of Task Force Helmand - valued in particular at that soldier to soldier level where personal trust is paramount.

Operating now with 42 Commando Royal Marines as part of Combined Forces Nad ‘Ali (North), the Estonian troops from the 1st Infantry Brigade have played a significant role in the latest Operation OMID HAFT.

I know that the Estonian BRIMSTONE team of bomb disposal experts were outstanding in finding and disposing of the deadly IEDs that laced the area.

Operations like this are inherently dangerous and I pay tribute to those Estonians who have lost their lives.

Their sacrifice is not forgotten - nor do we forget those who have been injured - just as we fight side by side, so do our medical teams work side by side - and those who are seriously injured are able to use the medical facilities in the UK designed for treatment and rehabilitation.

Last week I was at the military ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham.

I met there a young Estonian soldier who is recovering from his wounds.

I told him I was soon to be visiting Estonia and speaking here at Tartu.

He said I was lucky and that he was looking forward to coming home.

He and his colleagues are truly ‘Lions of Estonia’ - highly capable, good in a fight, and feared by the insurgency for their tenacity and professionalism.

We share with the Government of Afghanistan the objective that the Afghans assume lead security responsibility across the country as a whole by the end of 2014 so British troops will not be in a combat role by 2015.

But as Minister Laar, Minister Bech from Denmark and I set out when we met in Kabul in June, “though the nature of our forces might evolve during the transition process, the mission will remain resourced and the right balance maintained between combat troops and others.”

Preparing for the Future

Afghanistan represents a significant test for the NATO alliance and it may well point the way to a character of warfare that NATO could face in the future.

But we must be careful not to use Afghanistan - or indeed Libya - dogmatically as exemplars of other current challenges or those that we may face in the future.

We can never assume that the conflicts of the future will be the same as the conflicts of today.

In the United Kingdom we have just been through a rigorous process of reassessment, completing our first Strategic Defence and Security Review for over a decade.

The transformation of our Defence capability is now underway.

The British Armed Forces that will emerge from this process will remain formidable, advanced and structured for swift deployment overseas, but they will be more flexible and more able to withstand the rigours of modern warfare on land, sea, air and notably in cyberspace.

And we will of course remain a nuclear power, supported by the fourth largest defence budget in the world, continuing to meet the NATO criteria of 2% of GDP.

Our review was thorough, based on a fresh assessment of Britain’s wider national security requirements, and based on realistic judgements about the nature of the threats we face and the risks we need to prepare for.

Economic Strength

Let me share with you with just a few strategic conclusions I have drawn from the process we have been through.

First - structural economic weakness is a national security liability and has to be dealt with as a priority.

You can’t be secure if you are broke.

Without sound finances and a sustainable defence programme the inevitable result in the long-term is a collapse in capability.

The Soviet Union’s implosion was in part caused by an economic system that could not sustain the myth of communism’s superiority - nor sustain the military forces required to hold the myth together.

The lessons of history are clear.

Relative economic power is the wellspring of strategic strength.

The determination of the UK Government to reduce the structural deficit in our public finances comes in part from recognition of this fact.

This reality is being recognised in the United States and in some parts of Europe, but I fear that the message still needs to get through in some quarters.

Structural economic weakness, if not dealt with, will bring an unavoidable reduction in our ability to shape the world.

But it is not only economic weakness that could stand in our way.

This brings me to my second point.

Adaptability, Deployability and Political Will

In this volatile world we cannot predict with certainty exactly when and where threats may emerge so the requirement is for Armed Forces that are agile, adaptable and of high quality.

And equally important is that they must be deployable - and supported by a political class willing to use them and to explain to their public the requirement for intervention in the collective interest - even if the public mood is otherwise.

Having the means without the will to use it is not what NATO needs.

This new world is not only volatile, but connected like never before.

Just like contagion in financial markets, it is not long before threats emerging from instability even in regions thousands of miles away, are felt in our own backyard.

That can be through disruption to trade, access to natural resources, through migration flow, or even more directly through security threats like trans-national terrorism.

There has never been, nor can there ever be, such a thing as Fortress Europe.

We have to be prepared to confront those who would threaten international stability or our collective security - outside our region and outside our comfort zone if necessary.

As the philosopher John Stuart Mill said: “war is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war is worse.”

I am not advocating a strategy of unfettered liberal interventionism, but I am advocating a hard headed strategy of enlightened national interest where threats are tackled at source.

An integrated approach which includes financial action, trade, conflict prevention, poverty reduction and development assistance is of course part of such a strategy, but ultimately we have to have the will and capability to respond militarily if required - swiftly, decisively and at distance.

That is why I have a great deal of sympathy with the forensic dissection of the challenges facing NATO delivered by my very good friend and former US Defence Secretary Gates in June.

The imbalances in NATO that Bob Gates set out are not only financial - they are about the kind of capability that exists and the political will to use it.

Let me be clear, I do not believe we need to choose between the capabilities required for both Article 5 and non-Article 5 activities - deployability is central to the effectiveness of NATO in both areas.

This brings me to my third point.

Partnership with Purpose

No country acting alone can hope to protect every aspect of its national security.

Partnership is not discretionary - partnership between like-minded countries - partnership with clear purpose - based on clear values - is the only way to meet the threats of this new age.

The United Kingdom belongs to a wide range of organisations and institutions allowing us to generate influence - the Security Council of the United Nations as a permanent member, NATO, the Commonwealth, the European Union, the G8, G20 and others.

The UK’s membership of NATO remains the bedrock of our collective security.

And it is through NATO that the UK is committed to ensuring the continuing active participation of the United States in Europe’s security into the future.

As our SDSR confirmed, the United States remains Britain’s most important security relationship, not least because of our conviction that NATO should remain a guarantor of European security well into the future.

That is why NATO will not be well served by a dismissive response by some European members of NATO to issues raised by Bob Gates.

The European Union is also a key part of the means through which we could promote security and prosperity in our neighbourhood - but it should be complimentary, and in addition, to NATO. Not a substitute which dilutes or diverts our efforts.

I firmly believe that what is required is multilayered security so that nations can respond using the right means for the right occasion - through multi-lateral organisations such as NATO wherever possible - but also through small group and bilateral relationships - when the task requires it - or when wide consensus is harder to achieve.

That is why the United Kingdom is embarking on a drive to maintain, improve and forge where necessary bilateral and small group relationships between like-minded states.

This is what we might describe as a ‘building block’ approach to defence and security in the Euro-Atlantic area and further afield.

It allows natural bi-lateral partnerships to flourish, allows regional groupings to flourish - and crucially it has the capacity to add value to the capabilities available to larger multi-national institutions such as NATO, the UN or the EU.

A combination of strong bilateral ties and multilateral arrangements brings added strength to the whole.

The UK-France Defence Co-operation Treaty is part of this process for us.

So too is the Northern Group of nations, which includes the Baltic and Nordic countries, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

This recognises our shared history as Northern European states - a history which I have to admit for too long Britain seemed to have forgotten but which the new Coalition Government greatly values.

Here in the Northern European neighbourhood it makes sense to work together to secure our own region, to keep our trade routes open, to exploit together new opportunities and to face together threats as they arise.

The UK does not believe that relationships in Europe always have to be about political Europe or the EU - we can and should work with geographical Europe.

We view Europe differently, not just in terms of its institutional structures, but as a geographically united group of sovereign nations.

The Northern Group includes nations who are members of NATO but not the EU and vice versa.

So this model of multi-layered security is inclusive - it is a perfect example of why multilateralism outside traditional institutions is sometimes a better way and certainly a complimentary way to work together.


Let me conclude with this thought.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Baltic region has experienced a reawakening and renewal - a renaissance that Britain is proud to have supported and been involved in.

But of course our shared history is much wider and deeper covering over a thousand years of migration, trade and yes, conflict at times.

I was struck by Mart Laar’s pamphlet on the Estonian War of Independence. He set out how the intervention of the British Fleet in Baltic waters was instrumental in the struggle leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Tartu in 1920.

Indeed, Admiral Cowan is remembered here in the Baltic Defence College and of course in the name of the first Sandown Class mine countermeasures vessel commissioned in the Estonian Navy.

The British were among those who gave their lives in the fight for freedom in the Baltic.

Today in the 21st century, that passion and committment is absolutely undiminished.

Updates to this page

Published 30 August 2011