Alex Chalk MP column: Bolstering Britain's defence is the right thing to do


"Speak softly, and carry a big stick."


So said US President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 to sum up US foreign policy. But it might have come from David Cameron this week as I listened to him unveil in Parliament his plan for the UK's military future.


The Strategic Defence and Security Review made clear that the UK's 'big stick' is getting more formidable. Over the next decade two new strike brigades will be formed, forces of up to 5,000 personnel each, equipped to deploy rapidly. Our country is also investing in special forces, cyber capability (benefiting Cheltenham of course) new frigates, and nine maritime patrol aircraft to protect our territorial waters.


That is the right thing to do. The first duty of government is to keep its citizens safe. Our economic security depends ultimately on our national security. Britain is fortunate to have some of the finest armed forces, counter-terrorism police and security services in the world. I am pleased that our economic strength will be used to equip them to tackle threats, including Islamic extremism.


But how should this stick be used? Should we join air strikes in Syria? Putting British forces in harm's way should only take place after the most careful thought. I believe we must learn from the searing experience of Iraq. So, before acting we must know two things: first, what does 'victory' look like, given that we are essentially at war with an ideology not an army? Second, what is the plan for the post-conflict era?


The PM will be setting out the case for us to join our US and French allies shortly. I will be listening with care. And I will be looking in particular for answers to the following: Are we planning for Assad to remain in power? If so, for how long? Do we intend for Syria to remain as one country? If so, what about the Kurds? How do we prevent wider Kurdish nationalism destabilising Turkey? And how will humanitarian post-conflict reconstruction be funded?


Here in Cheltenham I have focused heavily on education this week. I shadowed the head teacher of St Gregory's primary school to gain coalface experience of daily life for our brilliant teachers. It just confirmed the extraordinary dedication and sense of vocation they have. I also met Chinese maths teachers who were here at Pittville School for a teaching exchange. And I travelled to Birmingham to support our excellent Balcarras students in their mock trial competition.


Our young people are our future. We must do everything we can to keep them safe.