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By Dr Liam Fox MP
Today we have seen in our servicemen and women examples of what our country can be. Courageous, professional, self sacrificing.
Their stories have been astonishing, inspirational, and moving.
All too often the successes and the sufferings of our Armed Forces are distorted by the white noise of trivia that occupies so much of our celebrity obsessed media.
Today we have had a chance to see the true role models for our young people and we are proud to pay tribute to them and to all their families who give so much so that we can all be safer.
I would also like to thank Freddie, Simon and all of their team on the fantastic work they have done on the Military Covenant Commission. And we should recognise our own MPs and Prospective
Candidates in our Armed Forces some of whom are on the frontlines today even as we meet here in Birmingham.
To all those who have served and are currently serving our country we are proud of you and we thank you. From all of us to all of you—thank you.
Make no mistake- we need our Armed Forces for we live in an increasingly dangerous world. We have seen in recent weeks what Russian bullying meant for the people of Georgia. Russia is currently engaged in a 0 billion rearmament programme. It has laid claim to 450,000 square miles of the oil and gas rich Arctic. They are supplying a new high-tech missile defence system to Iran and talking of new defence deals with Venezuela and Cuba.
What they had in mind in Georgia was clear. They wanted to send a message to NATO that they would not tolerate Georgia and the Ukraine becoming part of the alliance.
They wanted to make it clear that they had control over what they call their "near abroad" –in other words a veto over the foreign and security policies of sovereign and democratic countries which they once dominated as the Soviet Union.
And they wanted to send a message to the broader West that Russia takes the competition over control of energy resources more seriously than anyone else.
We in this party should be proud of the strong and robust response made by David Cameron, including his immediate visit to Tbilisi to make it clear that aggression should never pay. What an impressive reaction it was and how it compared to the timid, almost invisible response of our dithering Prime Minister.
Then we have the growing problems of Iran. There are those who say that we must accommodate a nuclear Iran. Let me give you three reasons why this is simply not acceptable.
First, the nature of Iran's leadership. Those such as President Ahmadinejad who talk about wiping Israel off the map simply do not belong in the civilised family of nations.
Secondly, the Iranian regime has shown itself to be, par excellence, a net exporter of terror and destabilisation. Do we really want to see nuclear weapons added to this mix? Do we really want to see Hamas or Hezbollah able to make a dirty bomb?
Thirdly, if Iran get a nuclear weapon then won't Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt be next in the queue? Surely we do not want a new nuclear arms race in the world's most unpredictable region. Surely we want to leave a better legacy behind us.
And then there is Al-Qaeda. The cancer that is Al-Qaeda remains a consistent threat to our global security and our wellbeing here at home. These extremists hate us for who we are—our values, and our way of life.
In recent days the firestorm of this fury has found its way into Pakistan and India. No one, no where is safe. The contagion is spreading and must be eliminated. No nation can be under the false illusion that these people can be reasoned with or accommodated. They are violence and hatred personified —and they must be defeated.
In this dangerous world we have to choose our alliances carefully. And for the United Kingdom that means that NATO not the EU must be the cornerstone of our defence.
It is increasingly common for those on the European left to sneer at the United States with contempt and derision. Yet the Special Relationship remains this country's most important strategic alliance. When Winston Churchill first talked about the special relationship it was not some dewy-eyed Disneyesque emotional attachment. As a wartime leader he saw the value of sharing military operations, training and intelligence with America.
The relationship reached its peak at the height of the Cold War with the closeness of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. What giants they were and how much we owe them.
For those who want to rewrite history let me just point out that the Cold War didn't simply end - it was won.
The Berlin Wall didn't just fall down it was torn down by those who hated the inhumanity of the communist system and who sought a better future.
The end of the Cold War was a victory and a vindication of our values as well as a testament to the strength, consistency, and sheer grit of our leaders. We will need these qualities again. Once again our values, our security and our very way of life are under threat.
Peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace requires security and the freedom to decide the future for individuals and nations alike. Peace does not come cheaply. There are those in the EU who say that the real role for Europe should be peacekeeping. Let me be frank- you cannot choose just to be a peacekeeper. You can only keep the peace if it is there to be kept in the first place.Sometimes you have to fight for peace. Sometimes you even have to die for peace.
Today, too many NATO countries seem to want to have the insurance policy without having to pay the full premiums.
Of course, we are not without our own problems. Only two weeks ago, and some of you may have seen it, on the last night of the Proms, crowds in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and London joined in by singing the traditional words that —"Britannia rules the waves".
I wonder how many of those present know that under New Labour our navy has been reduced to only 27 warships. Now we hear that they want to sell HMS Victory for some quick cash. I suppose that after selling the Navy it was only a matter of time before its history and heritage also went under the hammer. That's New Labour.
You know when New Labour started it was a charm offensive. But the charm resigned—now, it is simply offensive.
Yesterday, I returned from a visit to Iraq. David Cameron and William Hague have just returned from Afghanistan. In both places the international community has had noble ambitions – to deny a safe haven to the men of terror and tyranny and to develop for their people the political and social opportunities that so many of us in the West take for granted.
But noble ambitions have to be tempered by realistic expectations. We cannot take a broken 13th century state and turn it into a thriving democracy in just a few years. We need patience and persistence.
Democracy is not simply the exercise of electoral mechanics. It requires foundations- a fair and impartial legal system that applies equally to the governing and the governed. It requires the ability to exercise your own economic liberty in a free market system and a concept of rights irrespective of gender, religion or race.
Ultimately, the fate of these nations will be decided by politics and economics. But our military can provide the breathing space needed for such states to develop if we plan properly.
In Afghanistan we must have a clear strategy and a clear means of implementing that strategy. Our own country's efforts need to be streamlined so that the Foreign Office, the MoD and DFID all know what they are supposed to be doing.
Internationally, we need to simplify the military command structure and coordinate it fully with the economic and reconstruction plans.
Above all we must give our troops whatever they need to do their job successfully and safely.
To this day it remains a national scandal that because Gordon Brown was never willing to fully fund Tony Blair's military campaigns Labour cut £1.4 billion from the helicopter budget in 2004- in the middle of two wars.
Of course, it is not the Government politicians, but our servicemen who have paid the price for this betrayal. But their time will come.
By contrast in Iraq we have seen profound improvements in the security situation with a dramatic reduction in terrorist attacks and the consequent death and injuries to troops and civilians alike.
Of course, further bloodshed and conflict are likely in a country with such a violent history. But less than 96 hours ago I was able to walk with the commander of our troops in the centre of Basra. We did it without helmets and body armour and were able to talk to local residents—young and old—about their hopes and plans for the future. Even a year ago this would have been unthinkable. Our service men and women contributed to that success and we should be proud of their achievement.
What I found profoundly moving in Iraq was the selfless way in which so many of our troops are willing to serve our country.
I came across a 52-year-old grandmother from Merseyside serving in the TA—how about that! There's still time for some of you yet!
And I met a Naval Reservist from Dumbarton who manned an air defence system against incoming rocket attacks. Like those who share his job he sits for hours on end, isolated in a tiny cubicle watching a screen ready to react at a moments notice. He told me "I've not often had to press the button and it can be very boring but I know that when I have done it I might have saved lives on the base".
I asked him what motivated him to stay in the reserves after more than 20 years. Do you know what he said? He said "I want to walk down the street wearing my medal and if anyone says anything I can say- I've done my bit-what are you doing?"
That is what this country can be.
I don't know about you but when I hear people insulting our troops it makes my blood boil. How dare anyone ask members of this nation's Armed Forces to remove the Queen's uniform in an airport in our own country?
How dare someone refuse to sell petrol to a soldier in uniform? How dare they!
How dare someone refuse a room in a hotel to a young soldier visiting a wounded colleague? They claimed they had a policy not to give rooms to the Armed Forces. What an absolute outrage!
Being in uniform should open doors in our society not close them. Those who dishonour our Armed Forces deserve our contempt and to be shunned by decent society.
We need to take this trend head-on and I am so pleased at the success of the Help for Heroes and other campaigns which have done so much to raise the public awareness of the sacrifices made by our troops. I was one of the 52,500 who were crowded into Twickenham last week for the Help for Heroes rugby match. What a shame it didn't get more coverage on the BBC. If half that number had been on an anti-war march in Hyde Park it would have got infinitely more airtime.
But charities can never be enough. Governments must honour their part of the covenant.
We must end the scandal of squalid accommodation.
We must ensure that service families get the healthcare and education that they deserve.
We must make it easier to get onto the housing ladder.
We must make it easier for those who leave the Armed Forces to train for another career.
We need to understand that our duty of care lasts a lifetime and that in areas such as mental health we need to find ways of picking up problems which may take years to manifest themselves.
We need to ensure that we have happy service families if we are to recruit and retain for the future.
That is why my Chadow Cabinet colleagues will be setting out detailed plans in their own policy areas during this Conference to achieve thse objectives.
Sometime, in the months ahead, we will fight an election to have the honour of governing our country. We may well face a very dangerous and uncertain world. We will need to call upon all the strength and experience of our party for that task. We will need to take pride and comfort in our history and our beliefs if we are to weather the storms that may lie ahead.
We must have faith in what we believe to be true- and the courage to challenge the prevailing wisdom.
For we are not and have never been simply "citizens of the world" but prime movers in our own destiny and that of the world around us.
Let us be unafraid to say that all value systems are not equal. That all nations do not have moral equivalence. That tyrants, despots and human rights abusers cannot expect to be treated as equals and that some things are right and some things are wrong.
We need optimism to face the future but we also need the certainty of belief and the comfort of strength. We need to find the courage that previous generations found when confronted with dangerous threats.
We will ensure that our Armed Forces are able to meet challenges that our national security demands. And when we are asked by our country if we are up to the challenge then we will say "yes we are and we will do our duty". We will keep faith with our history, our people and our Armed Forces and we will never let our country down.
This is the full text of Dr Fox's speech to the Conservative Party Conference, 28th September 2008.