It is now almost exactly ten years since the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's forces. The Gulf War was about defending basic principles of freedom, of standing up to tyrants and protecting the rights of small nations against more powerful and aggressive neighbours.
Had we allowed Saddam Hussein to succeed in his annexation of Kuwait - a peaceful country that posed no threat to him or anyone else - we would have sent out a message to tyrants everywhere that they could simply get away with acts of naked aggression. Nor should we forget that Saddam's ambitions were not confined to Kuwait. In time he would almost certainly have turned his attentions to other peaceful Gulf States.
That is why I was convinced that the Coalition, with the United States and Britain at its forefront, did the right thing in ejecting Saddam from Kuwait. Nothing that happened since has caused me to change my mind.
It remains essential that whenever Saddam acts in flagrant disregard of UN Resolutions we act swiftly and resolutely. For that reason the Government has our full support for the British and American bombing raids that took place on Baghdad at the weekend. Saddam's forces had been seeking to test the scope of the no fly zone. They had sought to shoot down British and United States aircraft. They represented a clear threat. So our actions were fully justified.
The action at the weekend has brought home two absolutely clear facts. The first is that the relationship between Britain and the United States remains essential. I regret to say that had we been relying on a European force to carry out this action we would almost certainly be waiting indefinitely for something to happen.
Other EU countries have displayed either a deep lack of enthusiasm or outright opposition to what Britain and the United States have done. They have shown the absurdity of plans to create a European army outside of NATO that would push the United States away from Europe and undermine our ability to carry out such decisive operations in the future.
Tony Blair should realise from experience that when Britain and the United States work together the world is a safer place. So my first message to him as he heads off to Washington is to make clear that the proposed Euro army is a non-starter and that any plans for enhanced European defence co-operation should be put firmly back within NATO.
The second lesson of the past few days is the extent to which the threat not just from Saddam but from rogue states everywhere is both real and potent. These countries are developing ever more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction that can be launched from a number of different platforms and can travel much greater distances than ever before. For tyrants everywhere ballistic missiles are the ideal weapons of terrorism and blackmail.
Saddam himself maintains the potential to destabilise the whole of the Gulf region and beyond, especially the middle east. As in the Gulf War itself, Israel would be a key target. Nobody here will forget the horror of Saddam's scud missiles being launched indiscriminately at Israeli targets.
That is why I believe that Britain should be giving its support to the Bush administration's clearly stated intention to press ahead with a system of ballistic missile defence. It is why the next Conservative Government will be enthusiastic about developing a defensive shield against the ever-growing threat of ballistic missile attack not just for Britain and the United States, but for other states, including Israel, too.
I believe that ballistic missile defence offers huge potential benefits for our security. Yet from Tony Blair there has been a distinct lack of leadership. All we have had from the Prime Minister is confusion and conflicting signals that have more to do with splits in the Labour Party than with defending Britain.
So my second message to Tony Blair as he heads to Washington is this. At the same time as abandoning plans for the ludicrous Euro army, he should start showing some real leadership, by signalling clearly that Britain will stand by its major ally on ballistic missile defence rather than putting our safety, and the future of the Atlantic Alliance, at risk.
And if a Labour Government cannot be trusted to defend our vital interests be in no doubt that the next Conservative Government will.