It’s reported in the Telegraph that Liam Fox has made his first faux pas as Secretary of State for Defence, stating that the UK is not engaged in Afghanistan for the ”education policy” but to assure UK security.
There are two issues with this, the first around who owns the policy for being there, and the other is what contributes to security.
Defence policy is driven by Foreign policy, and the strategy needs to be derived from that. In this sense there is clear tension between two senior and experienced Conservative politicians, one with experience as leader and one with aspirations to lead. William Hague directs why we are in Afghanistan, and Liam Fox delivers the military effect to support that. There is naturally something for them to resolve between them, but they need to work out maintaining a consistent message.
The second aspect is more significant, and his failure to appreciate how MoD, FCO and DFID need to work together is a concern, particularly when he’s been shadowing Defence for four and a half years with several months shadowing SoS for Foreign Affairs before that. Our security is assured by supporting the ability of Afghanistan to stabilise and deliver an effective state. Challenging, given that it’s a blend of tribes and city states with no common language or culture and a long history of instability, internal conflict and defending against incursion.
The Afghan government need to put in place education, an effective policing system, judicial system and penal system and a government and governance system. The UK is one of several countries providing expertise and support in delivering these, some of the personnel doing that are military, many are not. Military effort is aimed at providing the security to deliver the training and to develop the systems.
So if we’re not operating in Afghanistan for the benefit of education, then why are we there at all?