This is the first part of a diary that Liam Fox, Shadow Defence Secretary, is writing from Singapore.

In the 1930s there was a perfect
storm brewing. Its centre lay in Europe but it was to engulf the whole
world. The signs were there for all to see but they were largely ignored,
either out of intent or ignorance. A few, like Churchill, warned of
what was coming but his words fell largely on deaf ears. Incompetence,
appeasement and an optimism defying reality held sway – until it was
too late.

This is not to suggest that today
we are witnessing a similar phenomenon. But there are warnings we cannot
ignore: the rise of a violent, internationalised and politicised form
of Islamic extremism, the rise of Iran bolstered by a resurgent Persian
nationalism, Russia’s increasing willingness to use fuel as a political
weapon, rising tensions in Pakistan and the increasing fragility of
non-proliferation come to mind. These things all require increased resolve
by the international community and by the West in particular. Yet the
commitment of the International Coalition to our current obligations
in Iraq and NATO’s commitment in Afghanistan are being questioned
by friend and foe alike.

In the United States politics
has become ever more tribal with a full two years out of every four
year term being taken up by campaigning rather than governing. The UK
is in political paralysis as Tony Blair makes a self-indulgent farewell
tour that is egocentric even by politicians’ standards. France is
taking its first hopeful steps out of the Chirac nightmare years under President Sarkozy but Germany’s increasingly surefooted Chancellor
Merkel remains locked in a frustrating and sterile coalition with the
Social Democrats. If we can see these weaknesses so can those who wish
us ill.

All this occurs against a disadvantageous
cultural backdrop. The benign economic environment of the past decades
has meant that voters on both sides of the Atlantic have been more interested
in reality TV, talent shows and celebrity than possible geopolitical
threats (compare the votes in American Idol or Big Brother with electoral
turnouts). The political classes have conspired by largely telling their
public what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. And
all of it has been exacerbated by a news media that seems to regard
its primary function as to entertain rather than to educate or inform.

It is against this background
that Defence Ministers and security experts gather in Singapore this
week, under the auspices of the IISS (International Institute for Strategic
), to look at ways of dealing with common security threats. It
is very regrettable that while the US Secretary of Defence, the German,
Japanese and Australian Defence Ministers, senior representatives of
China and India as well as some of the most eminent security thinkers
are attending, the British Defence Secretary is too busy and is delegating
to his Junior Minister. 

The next few days provide a
top level environment to listen to perspectives on security from around
the globe. Sessions include “Nuclear Challenges”, “Intervening
in fragile States”, “Progress in counter-terrorism” and “India
and China: Building International stability”.

Perhaps even more importantly
it allows the opportunity for a wide range of bilateral meetings to
be held in one location. I will report back on each day’s main discussion
points which I hope will be of interest to ConservativeHome and beyond.
Maybe we can even get some focus on some of the real and present dangers
facing the UK.

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