The following is a transcript of the full speech given by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff
Two weeks ago was a busy week for the UK government, with the publication of three key documents. On the Monday we published our new national Security Strategy. Tuesday was the document we're here to talk about today – the Strategic Defence and Security Review. And Wednesday was the Spending Review which sets budgets for all government departments. Taken together these three documents represent three of the essential elements of strategy: the policy ambition (on Monday) the military capability (on Tuesday) and the financial resources (on Wednesday). The fourth essential element is that the three are in coherent balance (but that is not the work of a single day).
Indeed, to me, the maintenance of that coherence between policy ambition, financial resource and military capability is the art of strategy. Because coherence is not the natural state of things. The fundamental elements of strategy are more like helicopter flight – inherently unstable – needing constant recalibration. So our SDSR is a start point not a finish.
Some have accused the UK government of having conducted a somewhat rushed process. I do not hold to that. The UK Ministry of Defence has been preparing the intellectual ground work for a Defence Review certainly for the past two years – Particularly with work on Global Strategic Trends and Future Character of Conflict.
We also recognised that the military instrument of national power entered a strategic review in a difficult – or more accurately vulnerable position. I say this for 3 reasons.
First, the UK fiscal position was acute. And the government's determination to close the fiscal deficit in a single parliamentary term added to the challenge of curbing government spending.
Second, an existential threat to the UK in hard defence terms seems increasingly unlikely. The SDSR, therefore, correctly conflates defence and security for the first time. And many correctly question the relevance of some of our traditional military capabilities.
But third – and I would doubt that this is a particularly British condition – the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan have bequeathed an immediate legacy of political caution and societal nervousness over the purposes to which the military instrument of National Power has been most recently been put.
The British are in one of our typically ambiguous mindsets where our Armed Forces have never been held – at least recently – in such high regard – but the purpose to which they have been put has never been so seriously questioned.
So, the military instrument of National Power entered our Defence Review in a vulnerable position – with many in the Whitehall village viewing it as big, dangerous, expensive, and attended by unforeseen consequences.
Given that context I believe that defence has emerged from the process remarkably well. Its resource position has been defended. Its utility to the strategic context is actively being reshaped. And the political context for its utility has significantly matured.
By Nick Watts, Defence Correspondent, Great North News Services
The government's SDSR has set the framework for the next phase, a Green paper on the future of the defence sector in the UK. A White paper will follow in the spring. The CSR gives the context of a defence budgetary framework for the next 5 years to 2014-15. This is estimated to be a real terms cut of 8%. Beyond the headlines though, the key question for industry is: so what and what next? What does this mean for the relationship between MoD and Industry?
Industry must take a "glass half full" approach if it is to successfully weather the current state of affairs. The MoD and government are determined to ensure that a UK based defence industry continues to be viable. Not only to supply our armed forces with good kit but also so that it can continue to earn export orders. So its going to take two to tango
This process is going to have to negotiate a relationship between government and the defence sector which is beset with contradictions. The UK's defence sector competes in a globalized market. The UK is an open market for defence contractors, which stimulates competition. The defence sector needs both a predictable stream of income to sustain its operations, as well as markets into which it can sell its products. The taxpayer wants value for money and the services need good equipment.
Dr Robert Crowcroft
The Strategic Defence Review process is underway, and already the signs are ominous for the UK and its role in the world. It is clear that the outcome will see the UK's military capabilities significantly, and probably permanently, diminished. It is an 'East of Suez' moment, a watershed. The Armed Forces will either have to undertake a radically different range of missions or, if the outcome of the SDR is a fudge whereby choices are avoided, the UK's military will be overexposed in future crises – perhaps disastrously so. What's worse is that there appears to be little clarity of thinking in Government about the general international strategy of the UK. Before policymakers work out how many soldiers, ships, and aeroplanes we need, they need to decide what world, or regional, role London will seek.
By Jonathan Wilson
Preparing for the unthinkable to happen means that for the foreseeable future the UK is going to require some form of a nuclear deterrence to protect its national security interests. It would be unwise to assume that the current status quo of security threats emerging from non-state actors will remain throughout the 21st century. A political decision regarding the future of our nuclear deterrence will be required over the next five years should we wish to maintain a nuclear capability. During the election campaign the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had opposing views concerning the future of Britain's nuclear deterrence. The Conservatives backed Labours plans for a 'like-for-like' replacement and the Liberal Democrats opposed such replacement but acknowledged that Britain required some form of nuclear deterrence. Some estimates claim the renewal will cost £100Billion over a fifty year period and it has been argued that cheaper alternatives could provide a nuclear deterrence, such as the development of nuclear equipped Typhoon fighters at 1/10th of the cost. In the aftermath of the election the agreement made between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives placed the future of Trident in jeopardy, promising to include in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to 'ensure value for money.' Departmental infighting over who pays for the project between the MoD and Treasury has made it more likely that the project will be postponed or scrapped altogether. If the United Kingdom is to maintain its nuclear deterrence during the 'Age of Austerity' then it is essential that it should provide the British taxpayer with real value for money while delivering a guaranteed, affordable and most of all relevant nuclear deterrence.
Despite the change in threats to national security, nuclear deterrence has changed little since the Cold War. In order for deterrence to be successfully achieved it is essential to ensure that the state has a guaranteed nuclear capability that is protected form an aggressor's pre-emptive strike. The UK has since the 1960s maintained a so called second strike capability through four ballistic missile submarines which are deployed under the Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD) policy. Under this policy at any one time at least one nuclear armed submarine is on patrol at any time, ensuring that a nuclear response is constantly available. Due to commitments under various international treaties and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) all of the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) - as defined by the NPT - have reduced the number of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. The UK significantly reduced its own nuclear stockpile after the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, with the dismantling of the air-launched free-fall warheads and through a reduction of warheads carried on the Vanguard-class submarines to around 160. Despite the reductions made by the NWS, the number of states developing or possessing nuclear weapons has increased. In the twenty-first century there are fewer nuclear weapons with more fingers on the button. Working towards a nuclear-free world and reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed should be at the heart of Britain's future deterrence, but not at the cost of national security.
By Adam Lyons
At a time when economic constraints are unleashed across broad areas of public spending, it is right that defence should receive its share of the pain. However, during a time of conflict in Afghanistan, it is essential that defence should not bear the brunt of the cuts that are to come, as continued operations have added unforeseen, but necessary strain to the defence budget. Neither should the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review be overwhelmingly influenced by that conflict. Afghanistan is a current priority. Consequently there is a danger that this will result in an overwhelming focus upon counter-insurgency operations, to the detriment of future operational effectiveness. Where, and in what form future conflicts shall take, cannot be accurately predicted. It is vital, therefore, that the United Kingdom's armed forces should remain effective, whilst becoming increasingly economical. To abscond from its world role and relegate itself from the league of true blue-water military powers, for mere short-term savings, would be devastating for British security and global influence. The maintenance of a modern, technological force is becoming increasingly expensive to the point where elements have become unaffordable. As coalition warfare has become the norm, some capabilities and assets can be dispensed with. A complete overhaul of the defence procurement budget is also needed to make it more affordable and effective. Yet, significant investment in air, land and sea projects must be continued to meet the unforeseen challenges of the future.
By Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum
One of the main priorities of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is to ensure that the Defence Budget is spent efficiently, effectively and in line with foreign policy requirements. In meeting such objectives both the SDSR and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) may advocate an increase in the outsourcing of services to the private sector. Whilst outsourcing is already a well-established practice, the Government's commitment to reducing public expenditure is likely to offer opportunities for the private sector to participate within a wider range of military activities. This will not only increase the size and value of the outsourcing market, it will also re-ignite debates regarding the 'value' of this practice.
For many, France is the old enemy (that is after discounting the Scots. And the Welsh. And the Irish). For me, from a line of centuries of agricultural peasant the thought that my Saxon ancestors had it all taken away from them after the Norman French invasion of 1066 is an interesting diversion. What Englishman's blood does not quicken at the mention of Agincourt, Crecy, Poitiers?
But the reality is that once the upstart Napoleon got his comeuppance enshrined in the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, France and Britain have become natural allies - Crimea; two World Wars; Suez; NATO.
The Entente Cordiale of 1905 ; Churchill's 1940 offer of pooled nations; the St. Malo Declaration; all underpin joint actions. But the ingrate General Charles de Gaulle, with his rejection of Britain's first attempt to join the European Common Market, put things in a proper perspective. Nations have permanent interests. Their alliances and friendships may be more transient in nature . And a friendship may put the frights under the neighbours - witness Germany's concerns about encirclement which had an impact twice in the last century and which even today underpin their willingness to be the European Union paymaster.
All of this is rehearsed by way of introducing the topic of defence collaboration with France. Should we - and equally importantly, could we?
By Dirk Siebels
NATO-bashing is a recurring topic among left-wing politicians and intellectuals, especially
in western Europe. Even during the Cold War, NATO was never the most popular
organisation and it seems unlikely that popularity can be gained from actually fighting wars
such as in Kosovo or in Afghanistan. Without being populistic, however, NATO really has
expired its best before-date. For various reasons, European countries should find another
arena to discuss security matters:
• NATO will continue to be heavily influenced by US politics; in large parts of the world,
Europeans are seen as not much more than aides-de-camp to the Americans.
• To develop a common identity in security politics, it is necessary for Europeans to
develop common institutions and procedures, independent of US influence.
• Overlapping security interests can still be dealt with on a case-by-case basis;
European interests, however, are for Europeans to defend.
More importantly, even though wars and interventions may be necessary at times, they
cannot be won by military means alone. The "real work" has to be taken care of parallel to
an intervention; issues like the future status of the area, the return of refugees or justice for
war crimes have to be solved as quickly as possible. One famous line, often quoted by
official delegations and non-governmental organisations when it comes to the task of
nation-building, goes as follows: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to
fish, feed him for a lifetime." In reality, however, the important questions are which warlord
has enough power to demand bribes for a fishing permit or whether the riverbank is
covered with landmines.
By Leon Grasmann
When we think about defence and security, we must clearly consider the world we live in. We must reflect upon the threats that face us, and the possible solutions that exist to these threats. Viewing defence only in terms of manpower, technology, and munitions limits change to the small and incremental. When governments think about security in the UK these days, it seldom involves thinking about defending the UK or the EU from external military threat, for no such credible threat actually exists. Since the 1950's, the UK has largely used its military forces in support of US, NATO and UN missions, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether this should be considered a desirable use of UK forces or not lies outside the scope of this essay. But within the scope of this essay lies the necessity to relate defence capability to defence needs.
By I.E. Shields
It is undeniable that the UK is in a financial mess, and it is equally incontestable that the present Government is determined to address the deficit since they believe that this is in the country's long-term interests. This article will challenge neither of these assumptions, but will look at the degree to which the present, and ongoing, Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is being conducted and ask whether we are in fact sleepwalking into a security disaster?
We do not know what the SDSR is going to conclude and this article is necessarily, therefore, speculative, albeit that it will not try to guess the contents of the Review. But what we do know is that the SDSR is being conducted at break-neck pace, by a very small circle of insiders (despite Government claims that it is inviting outside views: with such a compressed time-line there is insufficient time to undertake proper strategic analysis, let alone take into account external views). The results will be known soon, but we should anticipate little time for debate after the results are published, more likely an unseemly rush to implement what are likely to be hefty cuts.
And herein lies the biggest danger, not the reduction in spending, driven as it is by necessary financial considerations, but the lack of real scrutiny. There are suggestions, if not actual claims, that the Review will be based on, at least in part, a review of where Britain sees her place in the world and therefore (one might expect) how we are both to discharge our global responsibilities, and lever influence, not only to meet our own needs but also to play our part in maintaining the international order. These are lofty and laudable aims, and such a Review is to be supported and applauded. However, within such an ambition lies a potential danger: what if the conclusions are wrong? Now nobody can predict the future with much, let alone total, certainty. But scrutiny is needed for the price of failure – at best Britain's place in the world diminished (with concomitant implications for the national economy), at worse either this country or the way of life and international order to which we adhere under severe threat. No, this is not melodramatic, but a plea that the Review receives due scrutiny. But scrutiny from whom?
By Dr Robert Crowcroft
The leak of a confidential letter written from Liam Fox to David Cameron has now been widely picked up in the press. The upshot is Fox's complaint that the Strategic Defence Review process is fast losing credibility and coherence – because of the Treasury's willingness to subordinate national security to a timetable chosen by Cameron and George Osborne for very political reasons – to try get the bad news out of the way, in one go, in the Comprehensive Spending Review. While one has to admire the political gusto of Cameron – and in the unlikely event he pulls it off, it would constitute a masterstroke – nonetheless Fox is right: that these kind of grave decisions cannot be taken in such a short space of time (while Guardianistas will vomit righteous indignation, the fact is that Defence is different from other departments, i.e. more important), and that there has been an inadequate scope for debating the future of Britain's role in international politics.
The basic problem is this: the UK is currently engaged in a war in Afghanistan, and will be there for about five more years. This requires proper funding of the ground forces which wage counterinsurgency conflicts. However, to fund the Afghanistan commitment, the Army will need to be shielded while the other services are squeezed – the aircraft carriers potentially face the axe, as do other classes of surface vessel, several kinds of aircraft, and even the Trident submarines. The strategic dilemma facing the country is whether future security crises requires long-term occupation and nation-building on the Afghanistan model, or whether the threat, and demands on the UK, will look quite different. If the future is not more Afghanistans, then favouring the ground forces now by badly weakening the naval and air power available to the country risks calamitous damage.
By Jeffrey Sterling and Nick Butler
Over the next three weeks the coalition Government will make the most significant set of decisions on UK industrial policy which have faced any administration in the last four decades. Important enough in terms of Britain's strategic position in the world, the decisions on the defence budget to be announced by the Chancellor could also crucially shape the future of much of our remaining industrial and engineering base.
Attention, both within Whitehall and in the media has inevitably focused on the possible reductions in troop numbers, on the number of carriers and jet fighters we need, on the role of the Royal Air Force, and on the future of the UK's independent nuclear deterrent.
All are serious issues but equally important, and so far barely discussed at the meetings of the National Security Council which will advise the Prime Minister on defence issues, are the questions concerning the industrial capacity which must underpin any defence strategy.
No one can deny the serious economic circumstances facing the Government or the budget problems facing the Ministry of Defence in particular. The bow wave of commitments repeatedly "pushed to the right" - a piece of civil service jargon reflecting the tendency to extend the timescale of individual projects in order to spread the cost into future years - has been well documented. So too has the "bias to optimism" which has produced a persistent and repeated underestimation of costs.
Both are real and serious problems. As the Defence Secretary has said the MoD's finances are in a mess and must be sorted out. But Britain's future defence capability cannot be made the victim of punishment for past mistakes. Defence cannot be treated as just another Government department while soldiers are fighting and dying for their country in Afghanistan. Five years ago the UK devoted some 4.5 per cent of its GDP to defence. To reduce that proportion to only 1.6 per cent – which would be the effect of the proposals currently under consideration - would not only breach our commitment to NATO which has set a two per cent guideline but would also ignore the reality of the risks we face. Balancing the budget is important but so too is Britain's ability to defend itself and our strategic international interests in a dark and threatening world.
The definition of those interests and the scale of resources applied to their protection are matters for high political decision. But defence is not an abstract concept. The details of each assertion of defence policy depend on the underlying ability to deliver what is promised. In 2005 the Defence Industrial Review identified the key areas where Britain needed to protect and develop engineering and technical strengths to meet specific defence needs. The report was clear. While some equipment can be bought on the open, international, market other elements absolutely require indigenous industrial capability. The integration of complex information in the cockpits of planes , the management of information gathered from multiple sources which make up the most advanced Command and Control systems and cryptography – the protection of vital information – are not skills which can be outsourced even to suppliers located in countries with whom we are close allies.
At the heart of defence policy is the national interest and to protect that interest in extreme circumstances we need companies which can develop, manufacture, supply and then service each of key leading edge technologies. We need to retain the skills and experience of the individuals and teams spread across large and small businesses whose brain power has given Britain not just security but a source of real competitive advantage.
In many of areas UK companies hold world leading positions. Although some technology cannot easily be traded, much can – to the benefit of the balance of payments and to employment across the UK. Such trade can also bring direct benefits to our own defence. There are huge spin off benefits from a sector which now represents Britain's largest remaining investment in advanced manufacturing and high level engineering skills.
A prime example is in homeland security where the world leading technology developed in this country which tracks the movements and activities of individuals and groups through advanced data management technology helps protects both against terrorism and against organised crime. Much of that technology can be sold abroad and such sales can extend the security of people in this country by making other countries such as India and Pakistan safer against threats which respect no national frontier.
The analysis behind the 2005 Defence Industrial Review was extended and updated by work undertaken by the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Business and the Home Office before the General Election. That work, commissioned and led from No 10 by one of the authors, identified the crucial links between defence policy and industrial capability. That report also identified the extent and quality of the supply chains which underpin the strengths which exist today. Regrettably that report remains unpublished.
That report should be on the table for the National Security Council, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister as they take the crucial decisions on defence policy over the next few weeks.
Traditionally and beneficially major decisions on defence in the UK have been taken on a bipartisan basis. Both the Prime Ministers we have worked for, from their very different political perspectives, believed that defence was too important to be left to the bickering and pointscoring of party politics. That was the spirit in which the last Government launched the current Strategic Defence Review. The terms of reference were discussed on a cross party basis. The timetable for the review was deliberately set to run beyond the General Election and in order to ensure that the conclusions as far as possible could be reached without reference to short term political advantage.
The serious risk now is that hasty decisions driven solely by budget considerations will destroy that bipartisan approach and will pre-empt the serious work which needs to be done in analysing the threats and risks to our national interest. We need a defence strategy which is not only resilient in the face of a fluid and volatile set of risks but also and crucially a strategy which is matched at the industrial level by an absolute commitment to maintain the means of delivery.
Once destroyed by random budget cuts that capability cannot be recreated. To cut without thought for the consequences would be to imperil the security of the nation which is the first, and preeminent responsibility of any Government.
Lord Sterling was a senior adviser on industrial policy to the Government of Margaret Thatcher. He was also Executive Chairman of P and O SN.
Nick Butler was senior policy adviser on industrial policy to the Government of Gordon Brown until the last election. He was previous head of strategy for BP.
This is an extended version of a letter published in the Financial Times yesterday.
Driven by globalisation, the world is rapidly and irreversibly changing. So too is the character of conflict: the Cold War is emphatically in the past. However, Defence has not changed apace. It must therefore transform in order to remain relevant and thus continue to secure UK national interests. The Army has conducted a detailed study, drawing on lessons from contemporary operations and the deductions from Defence's thorough examination of the Future Character of Conflict. Based on this, we have designed a relevant, adaptable and cost effective Future Force, which will continue to evolve as the demands of operations change over time and is designed to meet future threats and challenges. This work is known as Transformational Army Structures (TAS). The key word is transformational; the Army will continue to evolve.
Whilst TAS focuses on the Army's deployable component, the broader study encompasses all elements of the Force, including the Territorial Army, our Reserves and those which support the deployable component from 'the home base'. Furthermore, it is fully integrated with a number of other detailed studies focused on Equipment, Doctrine, Infrastructure and Personnel. This note focuses on the deployable structure, that which we must protect.
Extracts from a submission for the Strategic Defence and Security Review by Oliver Covile MP. Mr Colvile is MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and chairs the Royal Marines group within the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review is being conducted in the context of a much wider public expenditure review. Public expenditure needs to fall as a proportion of national income to stabilise the public finances and to reduce the crowding out effects that public spending has on private sector economic activity.
Nevertheless, this paper argues for establishing the priority given to defence spending within public spending and national income as a whole.
The previous Labour Government's Green Paper (February 2010) assumed that defence should be planned within the current level of spending or less. I believe that this assumption needs to be explicitly abandoned by the Coalition Government. Defence of the Realm and its interests are a fundamental duty of any Government and a core belief amongst Conservatives.
Defence spending within overall public spending and national income
While it was right to reduce defence spending as a share of GDP after the end of the Cold War from around 5 per cent of GDP, the peace dividend sought in the early 1990s was too great.
The Options for Change White Paper went too far in reducing defence spending in relation to the international risks UK has to recognise and prepare to meet in terms of properly funded defence capabilities.
Having reduced the share of GDP devoted to defence to less than 3 per cent, defence spending after 1997 was subject to a further squeeze that pushed it slightly below 2.5 per cent of GDP in the mid 2000s, despite increased spending resulting from extensive overseas operations.
In my judgement this is an unrealistic basis for defence and foreign policy planning. Historically it is a very low level indeed, apparently lower than the previously lowest recorded proportion of national income spent on defence in 1930 when it was 2.6 per cent.
Not only has defence spending fallen as a share of national income but also as a proportion of total government expenditure. The ONS study in 2009 on public sector output productivity between 1997 and 2007 among other things exemplifies how public expenditure priorities have been changed.
The weight given to defence within General Government Expenditure by sector weight, fell from 15.1 per cent to 11 per cent. What this shows is that during a period when there was increased international risk and with more than two major protracted operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, at a time when public spending was rising rapidly, the priority given to defence was reduced.
In my judgment this priority need to be reversed. It is not a question of affordability but priority within public spending.
The proportion of public expenditure devoted to defence should return to a position that is at least comparable to that in 1997. I believe that the ratio of GDP spent on defence should return to a more realistic level closer to 3 per cent of GDP.
The principle issue about the level of defence spending is not one of affordability, but rather one of deciding political priorities.
China, South Korea, Australia and Russia are all investing heavily in amphibious capability right now. So why is ours under threat?
The great strategist Basil Lidell-Hart once said that a self contained and sea based amphibious force is the best kind of fire extinguisher because of its flexibility, reliability, logistic simplicity and relative economy. Is that still true?
Currently the UK maintains 2 formations which have historically constituted the conventional element of our Response Force: 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade. The critical difference between these formations lies in the way they deploy to a theatre of battle / influence, the former by air and the latter by amphibious shipping. Traditionally the argument has been that a nation seeking to have global influence must maintain both. However, as financial pressures compel the Armed Forces to economise and assess ambition, it seems increasingly unlikely that a Response Force consisting of 2 Brigades is either plausible or necessary.
There are three options; keep both, amalgamate them, or scrap one or the other. The UK armed forces will be operating in a post-Afghanistan/Iraq era where the political, social and military appetite for conducting enduring stabilisation operations – in the way they have been conducted - will be significantly reduced. The 'selected option' would have to be resourced fully. Specialist Brigades need specialist equipment, people and training. This analysis considers what capability the UK needs from its Response Force, demonstrating via the components of fighting power that the Royal marines provides the UK with the best, single Brigade option and that resources are already in place.
By Robert Crowcroft
Today, many people seem to think that war and violence are of declining importance in the international system. In British politics, we see scepticism about the relevance of force manifested in the debate on the Strategic Defence Review. The view that military power is of doubtful utility underpins the arguments of most of the people who oppose the replacement of the UK's nuclear deterrent. And it has reared its head time and again in the claim that violent conflicts – from Iraq to Georgia and the Palestinian territories – are somehow a backwards aberration. War is seen as being particularly irrelevant for Western states, apart from the odd bit of peacekeeping. When inspected closely, however, there is no reason at all to think that war is declining, or that the usage of violence has less utility than it did in the past. Instead, those who make this claim turn out to simply be the usual peacenik sorts who should never be listened to; explain away all evidence that contradicts their views – like the inconvenient fact of the major spread of disorder and violence in the last two decades; and deserve no sympathy whatsoever.
This argument that 'war' is now a thing of the past for us in the West is connected to something else in public discourse: the rise of 'security' as the key paradigm rather than 'war', 'strategy', or even 'defence'. This assumption is held to by public commentators and academics alike. Universities offer courses in 'security studies' or 'peace studies', to match their degrees in 'development studies'. These degrees invariably subject students to courses in which 'gender' and even 'health' are identified as being major forces in international politics.
Thankfully my own university pays little attention to this nonsense, so when I recently picked up one of the major textbooks in the field, Security Studies by Paul Williams, I was surprised to be introduced to the claim that even simple exercises like war-planning – one of the core duties of the state, after all – have wicked and beastly 'gendered associations'. I will not bore readers with more of this, except to say that this consists of the usual gibberish that is now ascendant in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and makes ordinary people wonder why on earth the universities are even kept open. As a rule, those scholars obsessed with 'gender' – incidentally, nearly always female and feminist – deserve ridicule, and when they pontificate on war one wonders what Machiavelli and Clausewitz would make of their valuable 'contribution'.
But I digress. What matters is that this is a human rights-centric vision of the world in which international politics should now be about being virtuous and providing 'security' – a spectacularly nebulous concept – to our fellow human beings. The problem is that this is a vision of what a precious few Western states are willing to do – and even then, only on occasion. It is not a realistic framework for general policy action by those countries, let alone the other nations of the world. Banging on about it has only tied the hands of Western statesmen in confronting the unpleasant realities of the world, and delegitimised action in defence of national interests.
By Dr robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum
Although it is important not to jump the gun and draw conclusions about what the Strategic Defence Review process will recommend for the future of the Armed Forces, nevertheless there are some early smoke signals emanating from Whitehall that are worth commenting upon. The most important seems to be the fact that, while all the Services face hefty cutbacks, the Government is going to protect the Army first and foremost; in other words, that the ground forces are to have primacy in how the UK military of the future is shaped.
Again, precisely what is going on behind the scenes is still unknown; so judgements are provisional. But it is evident that the Navy and the Air Force face the most severe swings of the axe. There have been multiple newspaper reports that where the Prime Minister has intervened it has largely been in ways that prioritise and protect the Army. On 11 October, for instance, the Times reported that David Cameron has 'signalled his desire' to save the Territorial Army from the cuts in it that were mooted; specifically, to 'resist' cutting the size of the reserves. On 16 October the Daily Telegraph revealed that, the previous day, Cameron personally intervened to quell a revolt by senior military figures – including the Chief of the General Staff – who made clear they 'would not accept' cuts to the defence budget that might hinder the Army's mission in Afghanistan. Cameron apparently overruled the Treasury's demand for a ten percent cut in defence spending in order to protect the size of the Army. These and other, hints from the Prime Minister strongly imply that the SDR will seek a slimmed-down military in which 'boots on the ground' receive the most support from the politicians.
There may be two forces at work here (or both could be playing a role). The first is that the Prime Minister has peered into the crystal ball and concluded that, in the coming years and decades, the gravest threats to UK interests will require a response shaped around land forces; and that the Navy and Air Force will both be of rather lesser importance. This almost certainly fits into a popular – if controversial – vision of future warfare in which conflict will take place 'among the people'. Counterinsurgency (COIN), low-level violence, and perhaps nation-building will be the tasks facing the Armed Forces. The second possible calculation in the Prime Minister's mind is more political: Britain is probably going to be committed in Afghanistan for most of Cameron's time in office. The under-resourcing of the mission in Central Asia became a major weapon with which to beat Gordon Brown; Cameron will be desperate to shield himself from the charge of failing 'our boys' at a time when the defence budget is going through major cuts. The last thing he wants is to be blamed for lots of deaths or, worse, an embarrassing withdrawal. More body bags are inevitable, and – as always – many will seek to attack the Government on the matter. Hence, short-term calculations of Mr Cameron's own political fortunes could be just as significant in shaping the future of Britain's Armed Forces as considered strategic judgement.
Whatever is driving this, the question must be asked: is the future of warfare really more conflicts like Afghanistan? If so, then configuring for COIN will probably be the right decision. And, with the intellectual rise of the war 'among the people' paradigm, many think that Western forces will, in future, wage precisely these kinds of conflicts over and over again – due to the spread of failing states and a 'responsibility to protect'; because of Islamist terrorism; and because weaker adversaries will seek to fight us in asymmetrical ways.
However, scepticism is in order before we decide that the current war is necessarily the challenge that we should prepare for in the future. Making that assumption may actually be dangerous. After all, most of the irregular/COIN conflicts entered into since the fall of the USSR have been wars of choice – for instance, the American intervention in Somalia, the British intervention in Sierra Leone, and the decision to try to keep the peace in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s. The most significant low-level conflict of choice was the American decision to stick around during the Iraqi civil war, rather than evacuating and blaming it on the inhabitants (which was, of course, also the truth). Instead the US committed itself to the long-term work of stabilising Iraq. Only the Afghanistan conflict was really a low-level war which the West had no choice but to wage. The other conflicts in which the West has engaged since 1991 – the Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003, the repeated bombing of Iraq in the intervening period between those struggles, and Kosovo in 1999 – were not COIN but conventional operations centred upon attrition. Therefore it is nothing short of ridiculous to conclude from the recent evidence that the future is somehow 'inevitably' going to be based around COIN. If anything, there is rather more evidence to suggest that the future will require conventional warfare of the standard sort.
This is especially the case if we look at the problem another way. Yes, there has been a marked increased in low-level violence, and insurgencies, across the world. However insurgency is nothing new and therefore does not pose the kind of conceptual problem that some academics and defence specialists seem to think. It should also be pointed out that insurgencies are very difficult indeed to wage successfully. When confronted with a functioning, competent state – like the IRA versus Britain, or the Palestinians versus Israel – insurgencies are typically a dismal failure. It was not an insurgency that won in Vietnam, but a transition to conventional warfare after the US withdrew. And though the Americans retreated from Lebanon and Somalia, the insurgents themselves were not the 'winners' of the struggles there either.
In addition – and this point is important – despite the prevalence of low-level conflicts, Western states have been very discriminating in selecting where to get involved – let alone how to fight. As indicated above, they have been fairly successful in the last two decades at managing to wage war in conventional ways, despite doing so in a world supposedly ready to suck them in to endless low-level violence. There is no reason to think that they will become less skilful (or, alternatively, unwilling to get bogged down) in the future. It seems more likely that wars such as Afghanistan will be the exception, not the norm.
Anyway, will democratic politicians, with their focus on the electoral cycle, want to go and do another inconclusive, protracted Afghanistan anytime soon? They won't, and this should be critical. COIN requires patience and commitment, above all else. It is largely a psychological matter – centred on willpower to stay the course, and, actually, on the question of whether we can be bothered engaging in it in the first place. Retaining public support for a protracted conflict is very difficult; democratic publics demand quick results. There is also a potential problem for liberal values in this type of warfare. In a minefield as dangerous as this, the natural inclination is surely to say 'why bother?'
Often the charge is made that the US cannot 'do' irregular war; specifically, that its military culture privileges firepower and therefore does not breed the necessary patience for COIN. However this assessment is problematic. We must bear in mind that areas where the US has withdrawn from COIN and low-level operations – Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia – were all far from the US homeland. Arguably there were few American national interests at stake, certainly not great enough to warrant bearing the costs of victory. When the US has been minded to do so, its military has performed admirably in this kind of warfare. Most recently, their performance in defeating Al-Qaeda and other insurgents in Iraq was a textbook model of COIN; and in the nineteenth century the Native Americans –located not thousands of miles away but in the continental United States – were crushed. The lesson, then, is that when it matters the US has stayed the course and won; hence, by extension, that the key issue in low-level, protracted conflicts, is old-fashioned willpower.
If the big issue in successfully fighting insurgencies, securing 'the people', and nation-building is a matter of political resolution, then we need to ask whether the will to wage this kind of war is really going to be there; whether public support can be retained; and – more strategically – whether vital national interests will even be regularly threatened in ways that necessitate protracted interventions. If the answer to these questions is no, then we need to think long and hard before concluding that 'insurgency' is the future model of warfare and that the British military should be structured around it.
Robert Crowcroft is a Research Associate at the UK Defence Forum and a specialist on British politics and defence
By Chris Newton
The various news reports over the past weeks and months have suggested that the government has been locked in a heated debate over the future of British strategy. On the one side it appears that David Cameron and George Osborne believed that future British force structures should be geared towards the war in Afghanistan, and therefore the Army should take priority. Liam Fox on the other hand suggested that the future force structure should take a more long term view, prioritising the Navy to ensure that Britain's maritime and trading interests are protected.
The field of strategic studies is at a similar crossroads. During the first few decades since its conception, the prime concern of strategic theorists was nuclear strategy. In the 1990s, their attention primarily turned to 'peacekeeping' and peace support operations. After 9/11 the principal interest has been counterinsurgency operations. The key question now is should strategists continue to focus of COIN theory or should they now look to other forms of warfare post-Afghanistan?
Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum
The blunt truth is that the SDSR process has not been a strategy exercise. The review was conducted with such speed that attention within the MOD and the Armed Services focused on where the axe will fall, not geopolitics and policy responses. Nor has there been time to convincingly reform the badly mismanaged procurement policies of the MOD. Fundamentally, the SDR has been a political exercise with spending as the bone of contention and – most important of all from the perspective of those ministers involved – personal credibility riding on the outcome. It is a personal and party struggle, not a clash over policy itself. The purpose of this essay is to highlight the high political context in which Britain's national security strategy has been created.
Since taking office in May, the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, has been engaged in a long and at times fairly brutal power struggle with George Osborne, the Chancellor. The SDSR was supposed to provide a coherent framework for future defence policy but swiftly became a guerrilla conflict to ward off the Treasury's crusade for drastic cuts. Fox found himself immersed in a bureaucratic turf war with Osborne; a turf war in which the fortunes of both men was intimately bound up. One imagines that private meetings between the two have been angry affairs. Politically, the SDSR runs along a fault line within the Conservative party that has absolutely nothing to do with defence policy: specifically the mistrust of the 'Cameron project' and widespread disappointment that the election in May did not generate a Conservative parliamentary majority.
There are multiple ambitions at work here. Osborne's agenda is that he has to confound the doubters and prove himself a successful Chancellor. His political skills, highly rated by some, have long been questioned by others. His priority is to 'save the economy'; only by being able to make that claim will Osborne justify his billing. He simply has to pull it off. And the job is not just an opportunity, it is also fraught with danger. It is just as likely that the Chancellor will end up shipwrecked, either from an unresponsive economy or through bearing the opprobrium for painful cuts. To avoid this, he first needs to rein back state spending by every penny he can find, and secondly target the cuts smartly, on things which do not impact the daily lives of the public – like defence.
Osborne is also part of the Cameron faction of the Conservative party – tolerated but never loved by most MPs and activists. A second agenda in his rivalry with Fox has been to try and discredit the Defence Secretary as part of an internal Tory power struggle. Fox taps into a middle-class, no-nonsense strand of Conservatism that Cameron and Osborne struggle with: both are too cosmopolitan, and physically too baby-faced, to strike a chord. It is well-known that Cameron and Osborne do not like Fox, to say the least. Keeping people such as him from becoming a threat requires careful management, cunning, and a willingness to plunge the dagger in if it arises. The Cameroons clearly revelled in reports that Fox was struggling at the MOD in his first months. There is a clear 'win' to be had if Fox is seen to fail, or loses credibility in the eyes of the party. Defeating Fox is a crucial task in consolidating the Cameroons' hold on the party at a time of growing discontent over the alliance with the Liberal Democrats. Others who could theoretically be a threat have either shot themselves in the foot (David Davis), or been cleverly co-opted by Cameron as an air-raid shelter (William Hague).
The Conservative party must surrender to the Cameron agenda if the Coalition is to be a success, and it is by no means clear that it will do so. There are always plenty of people waiting in the wings – whether the ambitious or the bitter – who look for 'issues' and 'crises' to use as platforms to boost their position. Many such platforms will be available in the coming year, especially with the imminent Comprehensive Spending Review and future government legislation. Spiking the guns of someone like Fox would be both personally helpful to Osborne, and beneficial in party management terms to Cameron.
Fox, meanwhile, had ambitions of being Tory leader at one point, and he may still harbour them. A future lurch away from Cameron may see Fox become an acceptable candidate for the party. Whatever his plans, to fulfil them Fox must be a successful minister. He can't be seen to fail and therefore defeat to Osborne was unthinkable. In July, Fox went public with the battle and warned Osborne not to 'play fast and loose' with national security when the Treasury sought the shift the cost of the Trident replacement to the main defence budget. The overt posturing continued until early October and the leak of a private letter from Fox to Cameron warning of 'brutal' political consequences if 'draconian' cuts were imposed – swiftly bolstered by hints that Fox himself would resign. This forced Mr Cameron to come to the MOD's aid. Fox played it cleverly, outflanking Osborne on ground which resonates with the Conservative party and bouncing the Prime Minister into helping him by loudly emphasising the damage that Mr Cameron will sustain if he did not. For the Prime Minister, political good health was more important than destroying an enemy. Fox calculated this and by last week, he had won: Osborne's desired cuts of at least ten percent were reduced to just seven percent – still a significant fall of the axe, but not as bad as it could have been. In this staring contest, Downing Street and the Treasury blinked first. On 14 October, Fox was scheduled to attend a NATO meeting in Brussels, but decided to remain in London in order to consolidate his victory over the Treasury.
Where is the defence policy in all of this? Well, it isn't really there – and that's the point. The SDSR process has been carried out at great speed, and proved to be more of a budget battle than an analysis of Britain's needs. For instance, Fox's success, though on the surface a victory for 'security' over 'cuts', is not necessarily a victory for strategic good sense. Fox appears to be quite happy for the Navy to bear the brunt of the cuts, with a surface fleet slashed to just twenty vessels. To this author at least, that is a disturbing policy.
Mr Cameron's recent measures –the appointment of his own military adviser, and taking on the job of personally unveiling the SDSR– signal that the war with Fox is far from over. The Prime Minister does not want it to appear that the Defence Secretary has established his own personal fiefdom in defiance of Downing Street. On 18 October there were stories in the newspapers about Fox's partying lifestyle and drinking habits, which Fox quickly labelled a smear by internal enemies. Cameron would doubtless like to trap and maim Fox, but the indications are that he is too afraid of sustaining political damage if he supports Osborne, and has chosen to spare the military even if it means that Fox escapes the Treasury hounds. The Defence Secretary rubbed salt in the wound by gleefully telling the BBC that 'Well, I think it's always helpful to have the Prime Minister on your side in any spending round. And it's very clear that the Prime Minister himself is very committed to the Armed Forces'.
The result will be that Fox emerges looking triumphant, strong willed, and resolute: sure to chime well with a frustrated Conservative party. No doubt Cameron, Osborne, and their Notting Hill mafia will seek future opportunities to send out the hounds; and Fox's next challenge will be converting this victory into broader personal success. But, for now at least, the wily Defence Secretary has outsmarted his opponents. Where that leaves Britain's international strategy does not appear to be on the agenda.
Robert Crowcroft is a Research Associate at the UK Defence Forum and a specialist on British politics and defence.
The backgorunder to the Strategic Defence and Security Review - the National Security Strategy can be read here.
Air Mshl T M Anderson – Air League Slessor Lecture - 11 Oct 10
The Royal Air Force, in common with the Army and Royal Navy, is committed to prosecuting the campaign in Afghanistan. On a daily basis, our personnel successfully face the significant challenges of delivering air power to a joint multi-national operation, in a complex counter-insurgency campaign in a physically very challenging environment, amongst an uncertain population and against a highly resilient and adaptive opponent.
Geography, distance, time and the ability of the enemy to restrict surface movement all make air power absolutely imperative to routine operations. It is unquestionably the glue that holds the campaign together, from the strategic air bridge, to fixed wing and helicopter tactical mobility within theatre, to persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and direct support to ground forces in contact with the enemy, delivered by manned and remotely piloted combat Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance air systems.
With less than a handful of exceptions, the entirety of the Royal Air Force's force elements - Tristar, C17 Globemaster, Hercules, Chinook, Merlin, Tornado, Reaper, Sentinel, Nimrod R1, VC10 - are fully committed to Afghanistan. Our Airspace Control Centre, No.1 ACC, came back last December after more than 3 years in theatre. The Royal Air Force Regiment continues to provide force protection to enable operations at both Kandahar and Bastion airfields, the RAF contributes disproportionately to the delivery of air operations and the provision of intelligence to operations in Afghanistan and RAF officers command in the Joint and Coalition environments. The RAF thus contributes to every air power role, and many joint roles, not only in Helmand, but also "across divisional boundaries" in support of ISAF partners in different provinces – and often during the same mission. This multi-faceted, professionally delivered, theatre-wide presence is highly prized by those engaged in the doing of the current operations, particularly those on the ground in harm's way. And I am consistently impressed by the professionalism of those RAF personnel involved, by their calm acceptance of risk, and by their courage – particularly that of our support helicopter crews operating routinely amongst an enemy determined to target them, and of the RAF Regiment in facing the IED threat on a daily basis.
And there are occasions when air power is absolutely critical to operational outcomes in Afghanistan. Let me take you back to Op MOSHTARAK earlier this year – one of the largest airborne assaults since the Second World War. The planning was meticulous. The whole range of ISR capabilities, including images collected by REAPER and the RAPTOR reconnaissance pod mounted on RAF Tornados, and information fed from the ground, was fused and exploited - for months before the operation was launched. For instance, images were taken of the intended helicopter landing sites for the main assault every day for weeks in advance. These were not only used to prepare the helicopter pilots, but also to analyse enemy activity such as the laying of IEDs.
When the main clearance phase of the operations was launched from Camp Bastion Airfield, the RAF completed 167 air moves and coordinated 90 aircraft in just four hours. RAF personnel helped to ensure the US Marine Corps deployed to their objective to take Marjah and that 1,200 UK and Afghan troops were airlifted to secure the Nad 'Ali and Showal areas of central Helmand province. For every single helicopter landing site we had a fast jet with a targeting pod examining the site before the troops arrived and watching as the troops were unloaded, searching for enemy activity or threat, and providing armed overwatch to protect the troops unloading. Overall tactical control for this phase was vested not in a ground commander, but in a Tornado navigator orchestrating a myriad of capabilities from his 500 mph 'office' 5 miles above events on the ground. Air resupply continued as the operation progressed – not just delivering supplies to the troops, but also a massive airlift of food, water and fuel to areas recaptured from the Taliban, with the Joint Helicopter Force based at Camp Bastion moving around 100 tonnes of supplies for troops and civilians.
I offer another example. On 20 August 2009, the Afghan Presidential Election saw a spike in violent incidents, from an average total of 90 daily incidents, to over 500 incidents on the day, which, unusually, occurred across the whole country. Eighty required an immediate air response, including several from RAF Tornado GR4s. That no request was refused, and support was provided to most within 12-15 minutes, is testament to the flexibility of carefully postured air support.
Twice in 2008/9, insurgents sought to exploit the 6 monthly rotation of British brigades, by attacking the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, combining previously infiltrated suicide bombers with a conventional attack by several hundred fighters. In October 2008, attack helicopters were used against 2 groups of Taleban approaching the town (killing 90) to deny a substantial propaganda victory in a conflict where public perception – both Western and Afghan - is all important. In May 2009 a similar threat temporarily fixed the British ground forces, which were insufficient to both secure Lashkar Gah and extend control to the Babaji area in preparation for the Presidential election. Air presence (a near constant audible and visible fast jet presence overhead) was used to prevent the deployment of enemy forces towards Lashkar Gah. Concentration of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets, including REAPERs remotely piloted from thousands of miles away, was used to locate Taleban commanders in the area, which ultimately resulted in a successful operation against the Taleban district commander. This removed the momentum from the Taleban at the beginning of the 2009 fighting season, and re-established the initiative with Task Force Helmand.
I could go on. But for now, my emphasis is on the links between these events - speed of reaction, significance of the effect and the agility of air commanders quickly interpreting COMISAF's intent and exploiting the inherent advantages that air power affords. Contemplate, if you will, the consequences in any of these examples of air capabilities being absent and of the scale of effort – in theatre and at home – to ensure its provision.
Our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to the development of the Combat ISTAR concept, with the addition of 'Targeting' and 'Acquisition' referring to the ability to not just watch, but also prosecute targets. Aloft in the air provides a unique vantage point for ISTAR assets above the battlefield and gives airmen the ability to act rapidly, or even concurrently, through the delivery of both kinetic and non-kinetic effects. Combat ISTAR is currently provided by multi-role platforms, such as Tornado GR4 and Reaper, and in the future by F35 Lightning II, Typhoon and future remotely piloted air systems. For today, what is important is that Combat ISTAR actively facilitates delivery of the commander's intent and engenders a palpable, high level of confidence in ground forces, without infringing the doctrine of "courageous restraint". At its heart is the adaptability of our airmen and women - an adaptability that is borne of some of the most consistent, intelligent and enduring training of any air force in the world – affording the RAF the ability to switch seamlessly between roles, including ISR and attack, which both, incidentally, increasingly make a significant contribution to the Counter-IED fight.