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strategic studies

By Alex Shone, Research Associate, U K Defence Forum

The above Themed Study has been recently added to the UK Defence Forum library.

The full paper can be accessed here.

 

Reviewed by Ian Shields

This weighty tomb, at nearly 650 pages, came highly recommended with dust-sheet endorsements from Professors Richard Holmes (The Little Field Marshal: A Life of Sir John French) and Andrew Roberts (Napoleon and Wellington : The Battle Of Waterloo—And The Great Commanders Who Fought It), which augured well. Physically, the book is well produced, which helps, and it proved to be both a fascinating and educative read. For once the publicity surrounding the launch and endorsements are accurate. Indeed, I found it hard to put the book down and it took me some time to read only because it demanded, and deserved, careful attention.

It feels almost churlish to criticise this book, although there are a few detractions to this important new work. First, I learnt comparatively little about Manstein the man, other than that he was very much a product of his time and upbringing, and was representative of a class, that has today if not disappeared, then become very difficult to recognise. The detail of which corps, division or battalion formation was moving where and under whose command was almost overwhelming on occasions, leaving the reader to decide whether to keep a very accurate tally of all the units listed, or just take an over-arching view (although I am sure many of my army colleagues would cope easily with these order-of-battle lists!); whichever, it is testament to the depth of research that the author clearly undertook to produce such detail. Perhaps my only serious reservation is that to understand fully the importance of this biography, one must be familiar with the concept and practice of "operational art" and the author does rather presume a high degree of pre-knowledge in this area. This is hardly surprising given that Melvin is one of the British Army's foremost experts on operational art and was involved in the 1990s with Richard Holmes in developing the concepts of "mission command" (I can still remember his lectures on the subject when I was a staff college student) although his own expertise in this field does rather assume a similar level of understanding among his readers, not all of whom may be as expert as he.

However let these comments be placed firmly into context: this book is a stunning achievement. It has been immaculately researched (as evidence by the extensive end notes), is excellently written, and is completely fair and balanced in its judgements. The author devotes by far the greatest part of the book to Manstein's period on the Eastern Front in the Second World War though charts clearly Manstein's early career, involvement in the First World War and through the inter-war period, and his successes in France during 1940. That said, the period that will be of most interest - and controversy to readers - is undoubtedly that time when Manstein was commanding on the southern sector of the Eastern Front.

His successes and failures are treated with both equal attention and judgement in this balanced account, and Melvin does not shy away from criticising his subject when he deems it deserved. He questions carefully Manstein's involvement in, and handling of, Stalingrad, and recognises the ultimate futility of the German effort against the juggernaut that the Soviet armed forces had produced by 1943. Nor does the author duck difficult questions: could Manstein, if he had been afforded the freedom of action he desired, altered the outcome of the War in the East? What was Manstein's relationship to Hitler, and to what extent was he involved in the plot to kill the Fuhrer in 1944? Above all other considerations, the question of the discharge of the war in the East, with its brutality, treatment of non-combatants and, not least, genocide of the Jews, receives full, frank, balanced and non-judgemental coverage. Likewise, Mungo does not avoid the difficult issue of Manstein's trial and conviction for war crimes, discussing the issue fully and dispassionately. Despite what is clearly a very high regard for his subject, the author acknowledges the Field Marshal's shortcomings, not least his refusal to accept blame or criticism for the events on the Eastern Front.

The latter stages of the book, from Manstein's conviction in December 1949 for war crimes to his death in 1973 are considered in only passing detail; Melvin himself acknowledges that this period would probably be worthy of a book in its own right. Given the strength of this book, it is to be hoped that the author himself chooses to undertake such a task at a later date.

In summary, an excellent book full of detail and accurate analysis. This volume does not avoid the contentious issues, nor does it fall into the trap of following popular trends when considering Manstein's guilt and/or contrition. However, this book requires dedicated reading time and deserves no less. Alongside volumes such as Slim's Defeat into Victory, this book should be on the bookshelf on anyone with a serious interest in military command and leadership at the highest operational level.

 

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 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?

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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...  
 

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