Armed forces 'must remain robust amid cuts' warns Liam Fox

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The Independent Online

Britain must retain its "war-fighting edge" even at a time of cuts in state spending, Defence Secretary Liam Fox is expected to say today.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) being conducted this autumn must deliver "robust and well-equipped" armed forces able to intervene abroad to defend Britain's interests and protect the country from threats at home, Dr Fox will say.

The Ministry of Defence is expected to face cuts of 10% or more in its £36 billion annual budget as the Government seeks to balance its books, with the precise details of where the axe will fall coming after the SDSR is completed.

Dr Fox is expected to argue in a speech at Chatham House in London today that the UK's allies and enemies will be watching the review - the first since 1998 - for any signs of reduced British determination or ability to deal with threats to its interests or engage in international affairs.

The country will be "at risk" unless its enemies understand that Britain has "the credible capability to intervene and the political will to carry it through", he is expected to say.

"Whatever the specific outcomes of the SDSR, I am determined to ensure the UK retains robust and well-equipped armed forces, capable of intervening abroad where necessary to protect our security and interests at home," Dr Fox will say.

Chancellor George Osborne has indicated that, because of the "particular pressures" on defence, the savings demanded from the MoD in the October spending review will be less savage than the average 25% cuts required from other Whitehall departments over four years.

Today's speech may be interpreted as a signal from the Defence Secretary that he will fight to protect as much as possible of his ministry's budget.

While acknowledging that these are "tough economic times", Dr Fox will warn that the SDSR will be "watched closely by our adversaries and allies alike", adding: "We must make sure that the signals we send are not perceived as a diminution of our commitment to engagement in world affairs, nor as curtailing our ability to respond to the threats we face.

"So, where we can deter, we will; where we cannot deter, we will contain; where we cannot contain, we will deploy force and seek to defeat the threat."

In order to deliver effective deterrence, the UK requires "maritime-enabled power projection, the capacity to control air-space to guarantee freedom of manoeuvre and the ability to deploy land power with the logistical strength to sustain it", Dr Fox will say.

And he will add: "Maintaining capable Armed Forces with the credibility to project and sustain combat power is expensive, but it provides nevertheless the bedrock for general deterrence as a clear signal of a commitment to guard our interests."

In comments which will be seen as a reflection of his stance on Afghanistan, Dr Fox will say: "Success in warfare... includes having national resilience and political determination to face down threats, to accept the risks to life and limb that that entails, and to have the self-belief, patience and determination to stay the course."

And he will say that Britain needs to continue to show it has the will and ability to stand up to terrorist groups which may target the UK.

"We will not bend to the will of those who threaten our values, our liberty or our way of life," he is expected to say.

"Our opponents need to be convinced that we have the political will to oppose them, the support of our people and the means to follow through. We would put this country at risk if we did not make every effort to make deterrence credible.

"We must show that we refuse to be terrorised. We must show that we are resilient in the face of attack."

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