Liam Fox on Commonwealth Defence: ‘It is Time to be Bold’

Dr Fox Commonwealth AFP Reuters
AFP / Reuters

As a think tank publishes a new study advocating a new defence forum for members of the Commonwealth of Nations, former secretary of state for defence Liam Fox MP has said the “huge geological reach” of the Commonwealth makes it well suited for the modern, globalised world.

Writing in the foreword of The Commonwealth’s Call to Duty, launched Tuesday night in London by the Commonwealth Exchange think tank, Doctor Fox said: “[The Commonwealth] is an organisation with huge geographical reach and which represents a wide range of states.

“It includes some of the most affluent and developed nations as well as some of the poorest and most underdeveloped. All share, to one degree or another the vulnerabilities of our times – the risk of failing states, the rise of transnational terrorism, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, global financial imbalances and the competition for commodities.

“We cannot have too much dialogue or an excess of information in the era of globalisation. It may just be that the Commonwealth could be coming of age in the right way at the right time. It is a time to be bold”.

Citing successful Commonwealth deployments in the post-war world before Britain turned her attention to the European Community, the report suggests the unique bonds of language, culture, and military traditions inherited from the common experience of the British Empire could yield tangible benefits. Calling for the establishment of a Commonwealth military forum to bring together defence ministers, senior officers, and defence-focussed think tanks, the paper suggests timing them to coincide with the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting would allow it to take place with minimal additional cost.

Summarising the logic behind the plan, the report said: “we are looking ahead, not to the past.

“History provides the backdrop, but ultimately solutions to the Commonwealth’s pressing defensive problems need progressive and modern architecture to deal with them. The Commonwealth must be better prepared.

Illustrious Sirius MOD

Aid-laden HMS Illustrious takes on fuel and supplies from Australian tanker HMAS Sirius in 2013 / MOD Pic

“As a collection of developed, developing, and emerging economies the Commonwealth can utilise this unique club working in the strategic realm for mutual aid, protection, and security. We see no better way than to commence discussions with a forum of Commonwealth partners. Many lives would certainly benefit and indeed prosper.”

Other suggestions include closer work on defence interoperability – allowing Commonwealth ships, aircraft, and ground forces to seamlessly work together and share equipment and bases. The navies and intelligence organisations of the leading Commonwealth nations such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are the most advanced in this area at present. When British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was suddenly redeployed to the Philippines in 2013 to deliver aid to the Philippines after typhoon Haiyan, it didn’t have enough fuel to complete the mission.

Thankfully, a Royal Australian Navy tanker was able to meet the ship mid-Pacific and because they share common equipment and practices, they were able to refill the warship-turned-aid delivery platform so it could complete its mission.