Former British defense chief aims to provide leadership he charges the West lacks

Special to

by Dr. Jack Caravelli, Geostrategy-Direct

The summer months have been relatively quiet in Ukraine but the approach of fall could see a new round of Russian military opportunism and aggression according to former UK Secretary of State for Defense and current Member of Parliament, Dr. Liam Fox.

Fox, during a recent visit to Washington, discussed the ongoing threat not only to Ukraine in the wake of the early 2014 annexation of Crimea but also the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Fox claims that while working for former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher he learned an important lesson in leadership. Quoting Thatcher, Fox said neither she nor he was interested in “followership,” meaning it is the duty of elected leaders to shape rather than merely reflect public opinion.

Dr. Liam Fox.
Dr. Liam Fox.

Under one political scenario, Fox could become leader of the Conservative Party which would provide him opportunity to begin demonstrating the leadership he views as lacking in many of the West’s democracies.

Fox served as UK defense chief from 2010-2011 and, while deeply opposed to the “retreat” in U.S. global leadership which he attributes to the Obama administration’s goal of “avoiding war at any cost,” was and remains an ardent advocate for renewed U.S. leadership after the 2016 presidential election.

Russia tops Fox’s list of security concerns confronting Europe but he maintains a different set of worries regarding the NATO alliance of which his nation is a prominent member. Ten years ago the alliance agreed that each member would contribute annually at least two percent of its GDP to defense spending.

That commitment has been rarely met; in the post-Soviet era many nations viewed Europe as safe from any overt security threats and rarely felt compelled to meet their spending commitments.

Fox compares this situation to that of Europe in the late 1930s when the Third Reich began a march across Europe which resulted in World War II. While critical of the Obama administration’s refusal to “see the world as it is rather than how they wish it were,” Fox also criticizes those in Europe who want to avoid war at all costs.

Fox claimed he had a “thousand conversations” with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about the refusal of many NATO members, including Germany, to meet their defense spending goals. At present he asserts the combined defense spending of UK and France make up the lion’s share of spending by European NATO members.

But that is cause for concern as Fox acknowledges that Prime Minister David Cameron’s government also is much more concerned about domestic spending issues than committing additional resources to shore up the significant reductions in British military manpower resulting from past budget decisions under Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

Fox understands that public opinion in many European nations opposes increased defense spending.

Notable exceptions are the Baltics states and Poland, nations that suffered under Soviet rule. He attributes this lack of support to leaders in many European nations who won’t lead or try to shape public opinion.

Russia’s next steps regarding Ukraine and the Baltic states center on President Vladimir Putin, who dominates Russia’s policy decisions, his goals and assessment of possible Western response to any future Russian actions in the region.

According to Fox, those who say they don’t know what Putin wants “are not paying attention” to his pronouncements. Fox cited Putin’s claim that Russia would appoint itself as “caretaker” for ethnic Russians living in other countries rather than acknowledging the appropriate role of those nations in protecting their citizens.

Fox also believes Putin will continue to undermine and challenge NATO, especially in the Baltic where the three nations — all NATO members there are small, geographically vulnerable and already under pressure from Russian cyber attacks.

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