The Right Honourable Michael Fallon is Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Defence or Defence Secretary which means he is head of the Ministry of Defence. It is clear from his comments over the last 24 hours that he is entirely unsuited to this role. His views appear to hark back to a time when an earlier generation ran our nation. We clearly need a new Secretary of State as a matter of urgency. According to the BBC Mr Fallon who was speaking in the light of the appalling destruction of flight 9268 said:
“That is morally indefensible that our streets should be protected by French, Australian and American aircraft, when we are not prepared to bite the bullet and get the Tornados dealing with these supply routes,” he said. Asked whether it would strengthen the case for British if IS was found to be responsible for bringing the Russian airliner down, he replied: “We don’t know whether it was Isil. If it turns out to be Isil, of course.”
So there we have it, a man willing to retaliate, even before it is clear who the culprit was. The clue for Mr Fallon is in the title, he is the Defence Secretary. In 1947 a man who most of us know as Lord Longford was as The Lord Pakenham the last holder of the post of Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State for War. It seems perverse that a peaceful man like Frank Longford was Minister for War and a warmonger like Michael Fallon is Minister for Defence. It is clear that sometimes, defending our nation and our allies will depend on the deployment of military resources that leads to the death and destruction of other people on other lands. Although that concept is not something I find entirely comfortable, there are many others such as Sir Max Hastings who are not at all shy about the use of such resources. However as Max made clear on last nights Radio 4 Any Questions, the idea of going to ‘war’ against ISIL is something that would be counter productive and add to the threats against the defence of our comfortable and peaceful land, not diminish them. Sir Max argued that the deployment of missiles and bombs in Syria would be a terrible mistake. His view is that the use of such weapons should only be considered if there is clear set of objectives and a plan in place for both the war and a subsequent peace. All of these elements are painfully absent from the words and arguments being employed by Michael Fallon. Neither of these two men have ever served in the armed forces, although Hastings has been a war correspondent and seen plenty of action close up and personal. Fallon is currently one of the few people in our nation in the short list of those who could authorise the use of nuclear weapons. This is like leaving an addict with a set of keys to a brewery or drug cabinet.
Last year, Parliament approved UK airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq but ministers have said they will only seek MPs’ approval to extend the action to Syria if there is a political “consensus” behind the action. Whilst there are many arguments for helping to protect the lives and lands of Iraq from ISIL in a place where we have dismantled much of the state infrastructure following the disastrous war that so many of us opposed, that same argument does not carry across into Syria as Max Hastings expressed so well last night. It is vital that the Defence Ministry is protected from the excesses of men like Michael Fallon, and that a more measured and better prepared Minister is brought in to replace him as soon as possible.