Ten British defense secretaries came and went in the decade from 2001 at the rate of about one a year. In the eight years of Labor rule, before it was replaced 17 months ago by a coalition led by David Cameron, defense secretaries were by and large pallid figures chosen more for their loyalty to Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown than their competence in managing military or strategic affairs.
In those years, Britain's armed forces and defense capabilities stagnated and the MoD went into deep decline as its decision-making powers passed to the Prime Minister's Office.
At the end of 2002, Blair decided to send British troops to take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq and reinforce the British units fighting in Afghanistan.
In 2001, Brown reversed his predecessor's decisions. He resolved to pull British units out of Iraq and pull them back from the front lines fighting Taliban in Afghanistan.
As long as Labor was in charge, those decisions were referred from on high to the MoD as a technical office for executing decisions taken at 10 Downing Street. This power vacuum was gladly filled by the Foreign Office which by virtue of its control of Britain's secret service, the MI6 (counterpart of the US CIA), is party to all decisions on covert operations.
The other body which gained clout at the expense of the MoD was the Joint Intelligence Committee, a part of the British Cabinet Office which is responsible for directing the national intelligence services and advising the Cabinet on security, defense and foreign affairs.
The MoD under Fox gained influence but lost funding
When Dr. Liam Fox was appointed defense minister in May 2010, he decided to put up no longer with his department's non-status and set about restored its old repute by reconfiguring it in the image of the US Pentagon.
Fox started out by placing his department on a par with the PMO and Foreign Office instead of their obedient servant. He went on to carve out a superior voice in strategic decision-making.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in London report that initially Prime Minister Cameron quietly went along with Fox's plan, but exacted a price: The defense secretary had to agree to unprecedentedly deep cutbacks in military spending to free up desperately need funds for shoring up Britain's sinking economy.
Cameron promised that when the economy was back on its feet, he would restore the defense budget to its former level.
However, on Sept. 27, a think tank, the Royal United Services Institute – RUSI, concluded that after the axe had fallen, Britain's shrinking military will "never again be among the global superpowers," but will have enough capability to assist in operations such as Libya and Afghanistan in the future.
The study added that the MoD's finances "will be capsized and its resources further diminished unless there is a substantial increase in defense spending."
Then, last week, Royal Navy Admiral Lord West caused outrage when he said that "the UK should not consider itself a second-tier power like bloody Belgium or Denmark."
Confronted with lethal spending cutbacks and a revolt of British army leaders and senior MoD staff, who feared for their powers and their jobs, the defense secretary, came up with a plan for keeping his ministry and department afloat and effective.
A private intelligence, arms trade boosting arm
Because he did not trust existing military and security mechanisms, Fox enlisted an external intelligence arm which our intelligence sources report that he created in 2008, two years before his appointment as defense secretary. Like many world leaders, Fox paved his road to office by creating a private intelligence agency to boost his leverage in and outside the UK.
He now harnessed this outfit to the task of lifting the MoD's falling standing.
Adam Werritty, a businessman and trusted friend was head of this private clandestine service.
The British media made much of Werritty's residence at Fox's London apartment 2002 and 2003 and his choice as best man at the Fox wedding in 2005. The two were also business associates.
And so Fox entrusted Werritty with bringing the British arms industry big export orders to help the MoD overcome its funding shortage – or even enlarge its budget.
The Fox plan had the British government performing strategic policy-making in two places, 10 Downing Street and the defense secretary's private intelligence arm, an arrangement which gained the prime minister's quiet assent.
The same applied to foreign policy: Foreign Secretary William Hague commanded one course of action, while Dr. Fox and his private clandestine service headed by Werritty initiated a parallel path.
Our intelligence sources report that the two main intelligence arms determining British foreign policy finally clashed almost a year ago on Nov. 2, 2010.
Matters come to a head over two dinners
The collision occurred in the wake of Foreign Secretary Hague's visit to Israel. He was looking forward to the high event of his visit: a banquet at the residence of British Ambassador Matthew Gould at which a British-Israeli exchange of views on the Iranian nuclear issue was to take place.
The guest list included Israel's Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon, Mossad Director Meir Dagan, Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin (since departed) and the director of Israel's Nuclear Energy Commission Shaul Horev.
Sir Robert John Sawers, head of MI6, was to have come over especially to attend the dinner.
Before accepting the British ambassador's invitation, the Israeli invitees checked with the prime minister and defense minister in view of the sensitive subject to be discussed there. Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak told them to attend the dinner but to refrain from getting into any conversation about the Iranian question.
It is a historic fact that Israel has never trusted the British Foreign Office in view of its traditional pro-Arab bias, certainly not on a crucial issue like Iran's nuclear activities. Furthermore Netanyahu and Barak decided that it made no sense for Israel to make use of two intelligence-sharing channels with the British government, MI6 and the Fox organization.
End of the line for Liam Fox
Hague and Sawers were even more put out by the snub when they discovered that four months earlier, Werritty had also arranged a dinner. That one was attended by Dr. Fox, Ambassador Gould, senior Israeli politicians and Israeli intelligence agents among them the head of Mossad. On that occasion, Iran's nuclear program was discussed.
The event took place during an Israeli security conference in Herzliya.
Fully alert to the prime minister's support for Liam Fox, Hague and British intelligence agencies cast about for a subtle way to discredit the defense secretary and get him removed.
Their plan was delayed by the outbreak of the Libyan war in February. Cameron was exceptionally keen on Britain succeeding in its role as a leading NATO power for bringing Muammar Qaddafi's rule to an end. This was obviously not the right moment for an intrigue against Defense Secretary Fox.
Ten months later, when the Libyan conflict looked like dying down, the opportunity was seized to release to the media a spate of suggestive leaks about Fox's relations with Adam Werritty.
The defense secretary was forced to step down saying "the media frenzy… should worry us all."
His admission that he had allowed his personal loyalties and professional responsibilities to become "blurred" over his dealings with Mr Werritty, was the closest he came to owning up to running an intelligence outfit independent of MI6.
But Fox's tone was defiant rather than apologetic and he referred to "personal vindictiveness" and "even hatred" which forced him to resign. He clearly expects more efforts to hound him out of politics and is unlikely to submit without a fight.