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National Security Council

Speech by General Sir David Richards KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen ,Chief of Defence Staff, The Policy Exchange, Monday 22nd November 2010

Over the past month I have been getting to grips with my new appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff. Whilst I do not have time to ponder it too much, I am genuinely still somewhat baffled how I have ended up in this position. The 18 year old boy who joined 29 Commando Regiment to follow his brother would not recognise the rather care-worn man who stands before you and would have quailed at the thought of high rank dismissing it without doubt as ridiculous anyway.

The job will not be simple, but it will be made easier by the fact that I know I will be supported by some of the most capable, dedicated and selfless soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that this country has ever produced. And by the civilians in the MOD who have again and again demonstrated their skills and commitment.

I am not going to dwell on people in this talk other than to say that if we fail to attract and retain the very high quality people that historically join the British Armed Forces, our prospects for the future will diminish markedly. They lie at the heart of military capability. I am not certain the consequences of failing in this are always fully appreciated. People tend to focus more on the kit and metal than the people.

Over the next decade we will need every ounce of their dedication because the issues that we, in Defence as a whole, have to address are diverse and challenging. And, as was the case with every one of my predecessors, I recognise that the outcome of our efforts must meet the very real challenges confronting us. It is vital for the future security of our nation.

I speak at a time when all three services are heavily committed to operations. In Afghanistan, off the Horn of Africa, in the Gulf and in the Falkland Islands, to name a few prominent examples, the Navy, Army and Air Force are together ensuring the UK's interests are defended. They and the civilians who work alongside them across the Ministry of Defence, and indeed on operations themselves, have rarely been pushed so hard. Current commitments demand our endurance and test our resolve. But I have no doubt that with the support of the people of this country support not only for who we are but for what we do the Armed Forces will meet every challenge thrown at us. I am confident that they will not let you down.

I wanted to talk to you this evening about three things:

First, the National Security Strategy which is the guiding document for our analysis. It set the strategic context for and then shaped the Strategic Defence and Security Review, as it will the follow-on work. It is, in military speak, our Commander's Intent.
Secondly, the Review itself; the options we had, the choices we made and the military judgments that lay behind them. As with any outcome that is properly strategic in its approach, our military judgments are matched to the resource it is deemed the country can afford. This has required the difficult decisions we have taken to be a reasoned balance of acceptable risks.

And third is Afghanistan; the last in this list but the absolute priority of the National Security Council and the Armed Forces. The Defence Secretary reiterated in parliament this month that it is our main effort. And as I have said in the past, our actions in Afghanistan are vital for the short and long term national security of our country. The consequences of the choices made there will reverberate for many years to come, on international security and stability but also on the ability of Britain to exert influence worldwide.

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