Saturday, 19 September 2020
logo
Up-to-the-minute perspectives on defence, security and peace
issues from and for policy makers and opinion leaders.
        



dv-header-dday
     |      View our Twitter page at twitter.com/defenceredbox     |     
strategic issues

By Marko Papic

Twenty-eight heads of state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will meet in Lisbon on Nov. 20 to approve a new "Strategic Concept," the alliance's mission statement for the next decade. This will be NATO's third Strategic Concept since the Cold War ended. The last two came in 1991 — as the Soviet Union was collapsing — and 1999 — as NATO intervened in Yugoslavia, undertaking its first serious military engagement.

During the Cold War, the presence of 50 Soviet and Warsaw Pact armored divisions and nearly 2 million troops west of the Urals spoke far louder than mission statements. While Strategic Concepts were put out in 1949, 1952, 1957 and 1968, they merely served to reinforce NATO's mission, namely, to keep the Soviets at bay. Today, the debate surrounding NATO's Strategic Concept itself highlights the alliance's existential crisis.

Read more...  

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.

Read more...  

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

 

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.

Read more...  

By Ian Shields, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

On 10 October the Prime Minister presented to Parliament the National Security Strategy (NSS), titled "A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty". This article will examine the Strategy's contents, and ask to what extent it achieves the aim of the introductory statement that "the security of our nation is the first duty of government. It is the foundation of our freedom and prosperity".

First, then, the contents. There is a disappointing but unsurprising number of criticisms of the previous administration that reek of party politics ("Unlike the last Government, our strategy sets out clear priorities" – p.5 – for example) when national security should be above such squabbling. The Strategy highlights the formation of the National Security Council, and explains how this will function in terms of reviewing the Governments list of security challenges, drawing together expert advice and offering broad changes in direction: all good, strategic stuff. It lays out, very clearly, in Section Three (see especially p.27) what are seen as the current priority risks, grouped into three tiers of importance. The highest tier comprises international terrorism, cyber attack, a major accident or natural hazard, or an international military crisis that draws in the UK. These are all entirely reasonable, and with the promise that the list will be kept under constant review and formally refreshed every second year, a sensible and open method of identifying threats. A state-on-state threat to the UK is, entirely reasonably, afforded lower priorities (a Tier Two threat if using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, Tier Three if conventional weapons only are employed in attacking us).

Much is also made of alliances, with the relationship with the US stressed as remaining the most important (see p.4) followed by the EU and then NATO. Again, this is entirely sensible and in keeping with the theme of living in a globalised world, and the new demands (and, therefore, security challenges that we face). The other broad theme that runs through the Strategy is the need to harness all the levers of national power (with particular emphasis on the diplomatic) to secure Britain's place. And finally, this NSS stress that it addresses only the ends and ways, the means being left to the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). Given that the SDSR deals with more newsworthy items such as troop numbers, ship orders and air base closures, and was to be seen as an element of the Government's spending plans, it is unsurprising that the SDSR has received much more attention than the NSS; whether this emphasis of public review is correct is less clear.

Having made the link between the NSS and the SDSR, and having claimed that the NSS sets the strategic direction and boundaries within which the SDSR should operate, it is clear that one should follow the other, and that they should be read in conjunction with each other – for without a strategic direction, how can the SDSR match the necessary means to achieve the ends and ways, particularly when defence procurement is itself so drawn out, and therefore requires a clear strategy?

And it is here that I start to struggle with the NSS. For the SDSR to have real meaning, the NSS must and should be the leading document, yet it has received scant attention in the blaze of publicity surrounding the spending announcements. The NSS makes much of our strength as a trading nation, with the added bonuses of English being the world's lingua franca for trade, and our geo-temporal positioning as part of Europe and straddling the time differential between the Far East and the US. But what is left unanswered is the key question of what role does Britain foresee herself playing in the future? While the NSS is strong on identifying some of the challenges the world faces in a globalised era, including such extremes as climate change and international, ordered crime, it singularly fails to give a clear articulation of the role this Government expects the UK to play, beyond some fairly broad, even banal, statements about maintaining order and upholding rights. And of equal concern is that this document claims to be a strategy, but looks forward little more than five years (convenient since that equates to the life of a Parliament, but hardly strategic in time-scale). It contains some well-crafted rhetoric, but gives little feel as to how or why further change might occur, how this might affect the UK, and what the country might do to influence the course of events in Britain's best long-term interests.

The Government is to be applauded for going as far as it has in producing this NSS, but it leaves too many nagging doubts. Has the Government really got a clear view on the likely course that world events will take? Does it see the world being uni-polar or multi-polar in the future? What will Britain's relationship to major, and regional, powers be? What is the most likely role for the EU, for the UN, for NATO, what part will we play and how will we influence their direction of travel? And w(h)ither our relationship with the US? Perhaps this was just too rushed; perhaps, since it is the first attempt at such a strategy, it is only a starting point; perhaps there is another, classified document addressing such questions. But perhaps it is also something of a missed opportunity....

I suspect that Pitt the Younger, one of William Hague's great heroes from history, had a clearer idea of the country's strategic direction when he came to power (and I am not referring to the period of the Napoleonic wars, but before those conflicts started); having carefully read this National Security Strategy I am unsure where the Government intends Britain to head, or how it envisages us reaching this undefined Nirvana.

 
3
Next
End
 

Cookies
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Defence Viewpoints website. However, if you would like to, you can modify your browser so that it notifies you when cookies are sent to it or you can refuse cookies altogether. You can also delete cookies that have already been set. You may wish to visit www.aboutcookies.org which contains comprehensive information on how to do this on a wide variety of desktop browsers. Please note that you will lose some features and functionality on this website if you choose to disable cookies. For example, you may not be able to link into our Twitter feed, which gives up to the minute perspectives on defence and security matters.