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UK foreign policy

By Peter Luff MP, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology

This is an abridged version of a speech given at the DVD 2010 show on 23rd June 2010

Our first priority must be ensuring that those we deploy on operations, and therefore those exposed to greatest risk, are provided with the best possible tools available.

Our second priority is the responsibility we have to ensure that we are as ready as can be for whatever future operations come our way.

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The Secretary of State for Defence (The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP): The significant increase in the number of international troops in southern Afghanistan is enabling commanders to make improvements in the laydown and command arrangements of coalition forces in the region. The first of these was the handover of security responsibility for Musa Qaleh district in Helmand province from UK to US troops on 27 March. This transfer allowed UK troops in Musa Qaleh to be redeployed to the population centres of central Helmand where they have increased ISAF's capacity to protect the Afghan civilian population from the threat posed by the insurgency, and to train and partner with the Afghan National Security Forces.

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Together, the United Kingdom, the United States and our allies around the world, face a difficult security environment, where the outlook is sobering and the threats diverse, growing and unpredictable.

We live in a period in which direct military threats to our countries' territories are low.

But in this globalised world, the scourge of terrorism, the danger of nuclear proliferation, the ungoverned space created by fragile or failed states, and the competition for energy and resources, will test our ability to deter, contain and deal with risks to national security.

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The International Security Assistance Force's strategy for defeating the improvised explosive device threat in Afghanistan can be characterised by three main elements - attacking the system, defeating the device and preparing the force.

Major General Gordon Messenger, the Chief of the Defence Staff's Strategic Communications Officer, and Colonel Peter Smith, Assistant Director of Counter-IED at Land Forces Headquarters, reiterated that the IED menace is being countered through intelligence, training and equipment at a briefing to the media in MOD's Main Building on Thursday 1 July 2010.

Reminding the audience that while improvised explosive devices are far from a new phenomenon and that around 300 are found every month outside Iraq and Afghanistan, Major General Messenger said that it was in Afghanistan that their use had become 'unprecedented'.

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The Government believes that we need to take action to safeguard our national security at home and abroad. We also recognise that we need to do much more to ensure that our Armed Forces have the support they need, and that veterans and their families are treated with the dignity that they deserve.

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16 Air Assault Brigade will replace 4th Mechanized Brigade in October 2010 as the lead formation of British troops in Helmand province, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox has announced today, Wednesday 14 July 2010.

Headquarters 6 (UK) Division will remain as Headquarters Regional Command (South) until November 2010.

The deployment of 16 Air Assault Brigade and accompanying units will not result in any change to the UK's established and enduring conventional force level of 9,500 personnel.

Volunteer and regular members of the Reserve Forces will continue to deploy to Afghanistan as part of this integrated force package, and we expect to issue around 770 call-out notices to fill some 600 posts.

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By Dominic C. MacIver

Barely addressed by Western media, over recent months Lebanon has seen an escalating political crisis that threatens regional stability. Confrontation continues between the two major political blocs. Put simply, one is the broadly pro-Saudi faction led by Saad Hariri whilst their opponent in the fragile power-sharing agreement is the broadly pro-Iranian faction led by Hassan Nasrallah. Nonetheless Lebanese politics are fluid, complex and unpredictable as regional and international powers ally with internal factions to gain advantage.

The argument between the two camps focuses on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) which is strongly opposed by Hizbullah. Their covert armed strength is growing, and is balanced only by assorted national and regional actors uniting to act as a counterweight to them and their Iranian patron. Notably included in these united powers balancing Hizbullah have been Syria and Saudi Arabia, who have not seen eye-to-eye for a long time. Their cooperation is central to the Arab Peace Initiative for Israel-Palestine and must not be jeopardized.

The STL is an impartial UN Tribunal with Lebanese and international prosecutors cooperating to bring the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to justice. Hizbullah protest that it is compromised, calling it an Israeli plot because it refused to investigate the possibility that Mossad organized the assassination. Meanwhile the son of the assassinated Hariri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, withdrew his former accusation of Syrian involvement. It is now expected that Hizbullah operatives will be indicted. Hizbullah have vetoed the funding that the STL receives from the Lebanese government, splitting the Cabinet and returning Lebanon to paralysis and crisis.

If this internal argument results in communal violence, with Hizbullah taking their arms to the streets (as they did in 2008) or provoking Israel into war (as they did in 2006), it would adversely affect many issues important to Western interests in the region. Although there are vastly too many variables to solidly predict outcomes, the list of endangered elements would feasibly include the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, the Israel-Palestine peace track, and US-led attempts at Iranian containment, not to mention the precarious existence of the pro-Western governments in Lebanon and elsewhere.

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By Lee Bruce

One of the most compelling myths propagated in public life is the presentation of the UK as an American 'poodle'. Before hammering the nails into the coffin of the UK-US partnership, politicians and their public should not dismiss the sheer historical resilience of the relationship, nor avoid the immutable limitations of an integrated European defence platform. Co-operation between the transatlantic partners will be essential given the potential for a rapid and game changing deterioration in the security context either in Europe or perhaps as a consequence of an extension of the conflict in Afghanistan. Assuming British statesman wish to play a role in stewarding an international system broadly sympathetic to UK interests they need to hold close to the US. Dispelling the 'poodle' mythology is essential if Britain is going to rediscover a credible defence posture and emerge from the terrible mess many believe her grand strategy to be mired in. The forthcoming Strategic Defence Review (SDR) is an opportune moment for the new government in London to demonstrate this subtlety of hand and save Britain from being relegated to a third rate power.

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

If there is one observation that everyone thinks to be true, it is that the United Nations is a humanitarian vehicle for doing good around the world. Perhaps. But certainly not in the sense that is usually presented to Western publics. The UN Charter was shaped by the wartime 'Big Three' (America, Britain, and the Soviet Union) and ratified on 24 October 1945; yet this document was decidedly not a vehicle for Utopianism and delusion. Instead, it constituted a thoroughly conventional framework for a 'Concert' of the major powers, through which these states would impose stability on the rest of the world. The difficulty is that in contemporary public debate there exists deep misunderstanding as to what the United Nations is for. At a time when financial stringency is likely to further diminish the West's standing, parliamentarians and other opinion-formers need to be far more aware of how the UN was actually conceived.

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

It has, sadly, become a common observation that Britain's strategy for defending her security is in a permanent mess, and only one crisis removed from meltdown. That is hardly to be wondered at when the sheer scale of the contradiction which exists between the two great departments of state charged with advancing UK interests the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence is laid bare. Such is the size of this gap that, if London is not careful, Britain might well tumble into it. A lack of effective leadership, the paucity of strategic analysis, and the incoherent worldview of the FCO has left Britain on the brink. Whichever party forms the next government will have to deal with the consequences of years of woolly thinking.

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