Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2002
Chairman, colleagues, friends.
What a privilege it is to welcome two of the most distinguished Falklands veterans to our conference platform today, in this 20th anniversary.
Unless the politicians listen to people like you, who really know, then how will the politicians ever get it right.
It is people like you we must listen to,
And we are listening.
Anyone listening to this debate can be left in no doubt.
We Conservatives understand these dangerous times.
At our 1990 conference, twelve years ago, in this same hall, we were celebrating the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.
Do you remember how we welcomed their newly elected leaders to this very platform?
Many statesmen and politicians then talked of a 'new world order'.
The old opposing power blocs have gone, but have been replaced by a dangerous and unpredictable tapestry of shifting alliances.
Rogue states emerged, seeking nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
At first, few understood the new dangers.
Those few included Iain Duncan Smith.
As long ago as 1995, he was warning:
The world is not safer, but more dangerous.
He was warning about the threat of weapons proliferation.
Meeting the new threats
If you want peace, you must face reality.
The world in which you go to work, you take your children to school, you do the shopping and you take your holidays is more unpredictable than ever before.
And the atrocity of 11th September simply proved: that is the reality.
Technology, economic progress, the freedom to travel - are great benefits to millions of people.
But they also provide opportunities for extremist groups, terrorist networks and rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, to spread fear across the world.
America, the most powerful nation the world has ever seen, suffered such a terrible attack, without warning, because the old doctrine of deterrence is no longer enough.
The new adversaries are not rational.
To them, life is cheap. Even their own lives.
Britain's nuclear deterrent protects the nation from adversaries, who are rational.
But it will not scare off suicide bombers.
If they can get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, these people will use them.
So, defence policy is no longer just about
- which particular governments
- of which particular countries
have evil intent.
In a world where political change can happen so quickly, we can't possibly say who may be planning another attack in ten years - or five, or even one?
As a Conservative, you have the courage to see the world as it really is, not as you would wish it.
This is the heart of the real debate about Iraq.
It is about how long peace-loving nations should allow an individual like Saddam Hussein just to carry on.
He has used these weapons before. On his own people.
Already thousands of our people are within range of Saddam's weapons.
He could give them to terrorists.
Increasingly, he threatens the stability of the whole of the Middle East.
He does not have the bomb yet, but how will we confront him when he has got it.
How will we tackle international terrorism - as in Afghanistan - when he can deter us?
So that is why the UN resolutions defied for eleven years by Saddam must be backed by the threat of military action.
We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people.
They know who is their real oppressor.
I have met leaders of the Iraqi opposition.
They dream of restoring a tolerant and civil society in their land.
Making Baghdad once again a flourishing economic and cultural centre, not a byword for repression.
Maybe, just as twelve years ago we welcomed the leaders of the new European democracies to this platform, one day, we may give that same welcome to the leaders of a democratic Iraq.
Iraq should be a foundation for stability in the Arab world, not a sponsor of suicide bombers.
Some of you have stopped me, this week, to talk about Iraq and tell me your worries
I don't want war. No one wants war.
But we cannot walk away.
The fact is the only reason Saddam has agreed to any new weapons inspections at all, is because Britain and the US have threatened military action.
So long as the Prime Minister is doing the right thing, we recognise that we have a duty to support him.
We will continue asking him questions -
- about how we will stay within international law;
- about what contribution our armed forces may make;
- about their welfare and protection;
- about what would happen if Saddam falls;
- about the Iraqi opposition groups the government should be talking to
The Conservatives are Her Majesty's Official and Loyal Opposition.
Effective opposition is not about just saying what you think people want to hear.
Politics should be about principle and consistency.
That is whole purpose of this conference.
And what is the foremost principle of all?
Britain's security comes first.
We have some criticisms of the government's defence policy, but it broadly builds upon work started under the Conservatives.
Last year, the British Armed Forces mounted the largest overseas exercise since the Gulf War in 1991.
It was the biggest test of our skills in expeditionary warfare since that work was started.
The exercise in the deserts of Oman showed how Britain can project, and sustain, serious military power, thousands of miles from home.
The expeditionary concept is the fundamental principle of our modern defence - taking the fight to the enemy, before the threats come to us.
The Conservatives are absolutely committed to it.
It is the only way to confront the new threats in the war against terrorism.
These are the capabilities we need.
To be able to deploy a fighting force of tens of thousands of people, complete with armaments and munitions, tanks and artillery, helicopters and land transport, strike aircraft and air cover, spares, accommodation, food, medical support and communications, with an effective and responsive chain of command, and to sustain them, so they can fight a high-tech war with the minimum of casualties, thousands of miles from home.
This is an incredible feat.
Only the United States can surpass us.
And even to them, the British Armed Forces are a benchmark of excellence.
Our armed forces are ever ready to give their best.
The army alone is deployed in some 15 different operations around the world.
This very hour, Royal Navy sailors are patrolling the Persian Gulf.
Today, RAF pilots are risking their lives, to protect the people living under the Iraqi no-fly zones.
The professionalism and dedication of our armed forces is second to none.
I have seen with my own eyes how they transformed the City Kabul.
They were even rebuilding the schools.
There is no task they will refuse.
But they are increasingly overstretched.
No sooner did the Paras get back from Kabul, they were training for Northern Ireland.
When all else fails, where would the government be without them?
- after the recent floods;
- in the foot and mouth crisis
And now what?
19,000 service men and women are, once again, off operations, off training, leave cancelled to bail out another Labour failure, the firemen's strike.
After 6 months in Bosnia, the Welsh Guards had their leave cancelled to train on Green Goddesses.
Today, the fragile situation in Northern Ireland could mean more troops are needed there.
Our soldiers there feel forgotten.
18 months ago, there was hardly a soldier on the streets of Belfast.
Now there are four Battalions.
And now the armed forces must prepare for possible operations in Iraq.
You can only take servicemen and women away from their families for so long before something has to give.
Last year, yet again, more people left the armed forces than joined.
What a waste of talent and experience!
Listening to Simon Weston, is it any wonder that the armed services feel let down by the politicians?
He reminds us of the real sacrifices they are prepared to make for our country.
How can we repay them enough!
And while the government announces new aircraft carriers and new aircraft for some time in the future, they are quietly cutting today's front line capabilities.
Yesterday, we learned by accident that the Royal Navy is to lose another 10 warships.
We heard from Sandy Woodward about the Sea Harriers.
Recently, the government announced they will also scrap a front line Tornado air defence squadron.
Last week, the captain of an incoming airliner raised the alarm, and those Tornadoes were actually scrambled.
Next time we need them, they may have been scrapped.
How can the government say they will maintain the same defence with fewer aircraft, fewer ships and a smaller army, despite the increased threat?
When will the government be honest enough to have a proper and open debate about how best we should spend the defence budget?
WE understand the real situation.
It is still some years before the next general election.
We shall only be able to decide on the proper level of defence spending in the next Parliament after consultation in government with the Chiefs of Staff and our allies.
However, I give this pledge to the armed forces and to the nation.
The next Conservative government will fully fund the defence capabilities that are essential to safeguard national security and to fulfill our international obligations.
Britain's security comes first.
That is why we attach so much importance to revitalising NATO, rather than creating an EU defence, outside NATO.
To guarantee security, European nations must work closely with our all our key allies, including the United States.
NATO unites the world's leading democratic nations.
Of course, Europe must do more for it's own defence.
But a Euro-Army outside NATO, will undermine NATO.
And how will it work?
Just take the present crisis.
The German Chancellor has just won an election on a policy opposed to Britain and America.
So what use is a Euro-army, when the government's involved cannot agree on first principles?
It cannot even agree on how to take over a small peacekeeping operation in the Balkans.
We do not need -
more military staffs,
or more chauffeur-driven cars.
The Euro-army is a Trojan horse for anti-American sentiment - a dagger pointed at the heart of NATO.
Under the Conservatives, Britain will back NATO.
Because Britain's security comes first.
If people ask you, 'What do the Conservatives stand for?'
This is what you can tell them.
The first duty of government is your security.
In a more and more uncertain world - where enemies can strike without warning - that duty extends far beyond our shores.
We have the courage to accept there are clear and present dangers in today's world.
We have the resolve to face such dangers.
And we will give our armed forces - the best in the world - the manpower and the tools to do their job.