Tuesday, 30 May 2017
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UK opinion

By Chris Newton

It has been a long, strenuous, and difficult summer in the Ministry of Defence. As part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), it and the entire defence community has been grappling with two fundamental questions about the future. What will the future strategic environment look like? And what does this mean for our Armed Forces? There are those commentators who can, with a remarkable degree of confidence, say that they can predict what the future character of conflict will look like. Future conflict will be similar to the wars we have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 9/11 was a significant date that heralded a new kind of warfare.

But is this certainty in predicting the future justified when history always teaches us to expect the unexpected? History does not follow a linear, pre-determined path; it is about men and women making choices between alternative futures and scenarios. A gunshot in 1914, for example, completely destroyed an entire European and world order. So we should at the very least be open to alternative scenarios and future pathways. Moreover, there is another significant date has passed us by that could signal the change the world is about to face, and we could risk harming our future security and prosperity if we choose to ignore its significance.

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By Roshani Palamakumb?ura

The Russian military is undertaking one of the most significant programmes of modernisation since the end of the Cold War. Russia's political and military elite appear united in the goal of an improved and updated military. However, the project for internal reform has become increasingly sidelined in the rush to buy expensive new technology. The glaring issues of hazing, corruption and lack of civilian oversight continue to plague and weaken the armed forces. Without a serious attempt to resolve these issues, the ambition of a functioning 21st century army will remain a distant dream.

Roshani's full report can be read here.

 

By Petr Labrentsev

International migration, polyethnicity, and transnationalism are major trends intrinsic to modern globalization. They have increasingly affected the societies of major immigrant-receiving countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. Do they affect these countries' national security? For instance, is ethnic espionage a rising major threat? This essay attempts to answer these questions. It does not intend to present solutions. Rather, by examining and correlating socio-cultural, security, and globalization dimensions, it intends to point out to the forthcoming security challenges modern liberal-democratic countries might potentially face.

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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.

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By Chris Newton

Throughout its period in opposition the Conservative Party continually criticised many aspects of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). This culminated in the party's opposition to the Lisbon Treaty and its defence provisions, including a mutual defence clause and permanent structured co-operation. Some commentators have expressed concern about the future of Anglo-European defence relations now that the Conservatives have been elected to power. But how justified are the concerns? Will the next few years prove to be the nadir of Anglo-European defence co-operation, a continuation of the past few years, or even an improvement from the past few years?

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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?

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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.

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The UK Defence Forum has recently published the above paper, written by James Gray MP in 2003. The paper forms part of the Forum's library of Grey papers and is available here.

 

By Christopher Newton

In 1981 it was naval power. Now thirty years later, it seems that the UK's air assets and the RAF in particular will bear the brunt of the government's cuts in another defence review. If the news reports are right, then the RAF is heading to be smaller than when it was in its infancy in 1918. There could be considerable reductions in the number of Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter orders, and the Tornado fleet could be withdrawn earlier than planned. Reports also suggest that an aircraft carrier could be the price of the government's policy to fund the Vanguard class successor submarines from the defence budget and not from the treasury, although this now seems unlikely. Either way, the number of aircraft in the Navy looks set to be reduced considerably.

The logic behind cutting aircraft numbers is understandable enough. The war in Afghanistan is largely consuming the energy and resources of the ground forces, so they need to be preserved as much as possible. The Navy will always be required to protect British sea lanes and wider interests abroad, and it will probably be required to conduct counter-piracy and patrolling missions for the foreseeable future. And today Britain faces no threat from an opposing air force. If one of the three services has to face savage cuts, then surely it makes sense that it is the RAF?

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By Leon Grasmann

Introduction

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.

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Dr Robert Crowcroft

We are all now accustomed to being assured that something called 'globalisation' has revolutionised the world over the last fifteen years or so, and is continuing to do so. Commentators, politicians and academics deploy the phrase willy-nilly, to frame an explanation for all manner of problems. 'Globalisation' is a catch-all. It seems sophisticated. People tell us that the phenomenon is changing everything, from the experiences of everyday life to the character of international politics itself. Trade, migration, and international organisations mean that the nation state system is weakening and being supplemented or, according to some, even replaced by a world of global governance, multinational companies and cross-border social movements. As a result, globalisation constitutes the most profound change to the Westphalian international system since its inception.

That all sounds very grand. Unfortunately, it isn't really true. It is a myth. More: it is a myth with a pernicious effect in misinforming and distorting public debate about contemporary international politics. Why is that? The theory of globalisation flows from an assumption that the key drivers of the international system are now non-state based entities and ideas. That could be the World Bank or it could be Burger King. And its advocates emphasise issues which generate a degree of international co-operation like climate change, war crimes, economic crises and rogue regimes.

But the problem is that, when subjected to scrutiny, the evidence for such extensive co-operation doesn't really stack up. Still less does the co-operation that does occur constitute a systemic change in international relations. How much unanimity between nations has there really been on issues, like Iran, which present an obvious danger to much of the so-called 'global community'? Brokering agreement between separate polities remains as difficult as ever. Even the North Atlantic states, most menaced by Islamism, cannot agree between them on what to do and where. Remember Iraq. And for that matter observe Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pakistan today.

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Globalisation tells us that the world is 'shrinking' and interdependence is increasing. I will deal with that claim in greater detail below, but for now the point must be made that all of this is based upon an assumption that there is, in the first place, a 'world' or a 'global' system that can be studied politically. In fact, that is a very big claim indeed. World politics is regional politics. The globe is divided into regions (North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia and East Asia) and sub-regions, and states pay minimal attention to things that happen elsewhere. Only the US is genuinely 'global' because of its military and economic presence. But how many educated Europeans know the name of the Japanese prime minister, or pay attention to Columbian politics? Who would invest Japan with greater significance than France, despite Japan being a much more important country? Very few. And who can really blame them? The problems of those areas remain remote.

David Miliband, when Foreign Secretary, announced that 'power is moving to a global level'. In truth, the idea that there even is a 'global level' is a fallacy. International institutions lack real power, and only have it when the states they consist of can agree to do something; more often than not they are paralysed by those states. The rulings of the United Nations Security Council are mostly gesture, lacking in bite. Anyway, the most effective international bodies like NATO, the EU or the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation are regional, not global. Rhetoric aside, regional politics are what matters. Since the Cold War, the major states have continued to negotiate with one another directly and solve problems between themselves, with the most powerful having the most influence. The collapse of the bi-polar framework saw more states become increasingly relevant. What that means, far from offering any support to globalisation, is that the traditional bases of international relations have been reinforced, not weakened.

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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?

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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.

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The UK Defence Forum is delighted to announce that the winner of the 2010 Tim Garden Essay Competition is Rikke Haugegaard.

Rikke's essay, entitled 'Female power: the role of Afghan women in counter insurgency', is now published on the UK Defence Forum website www.ukdf.org.uk . She explores how local women can contribute to the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and how ISAF and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan can gain terrain by building alliances with local women.

Rikke Haugegaard holds a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Copenhagen, and a PgCert in Information Operations from Cranfield University, Faculty of Defence and Security. Rikke is a Cultural Awareness instructor in the Danish Army and police, and has been conducting pre-deployment training of primarily CIMIC officers in Canada, Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Sweden. She has been doing research on Afghanistan for the Royal Danish Defence College, and her research interest is post-conflict reconstruction and the role of women in global security. Rikke Haugegaard is the owner of the consultancy firm Understanding Culture.

Two other entrants were highly commended:

James Clinch for 'Between change and continuity: Western cultural memory and 21st Century security.'

Ian Shields for 'Security or insecurity,'

Both have been published on Defence Viewpoints www.defenceviewpoints.co.uk .

James Clinch is studying for an MSc in International Relations at the LSE, and was previously awarded first class honours in Political Science from the University of Melbourne. Between graduating high school and starting university James took several years out to travel, and has explored many remote corners of Asia. In 2007 he did an internship with the International Crisis Group, in Pakistan, working on a report about madrassas in Karachi, and is currently an intern at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London.

Ian Shields is a retired RAF Group Captain and is now studying for a doctorate in International Relations at Cambridge University where his thesis will be on the impact of Globalisation on Civil-Military Relations. He has lectured and been extensively published on Air and Space Power and in his final RAF tour he authored the 2009 Future Air and Space Operational Concept, looking forward 20 years; his other academic interest is in strategic thinking.

The chairman of the judging panel, Baroness Garden of Frognal, said:

"Tim once wrote 'corruption undermines the relationship between officialdom and the citizen, and is an attack on democracy. Thus when we claim a role in promoting democratic values around the world we have a special responsibility to prevent corruption.'

"Rikke points out that in Afghanistan, corruption is widespread. Local women have only limited access to resources because they are not part of the drug trade network and associated corruption dominated by local warlords and the Taliban. Education of local women in good governance would help to move towards a society less dominated by corruption and the opium trade, thereby achieving the aims of a wide range of supporters of intervention, which has so far cost over 300 British, 1000 American and other allies' lives.

"Rikke has not only 'talked the talk' she is 'walking the walk' by training Danish forces who are serving alongside British forces in Helmand, both in Denmark and in Afghanistan.

"The standard of entries was very high, and the competition a close run thing as witness the joint runners-up I highly commended. Entries from more than ten universities have encouraged us to start thinking about the 2011 essay competition already."

 

Dr Robert Crowcroft

The facts of the latest terrorist plot against the West are still hazy, but what we do know is this: simultaneous attacks have been planned against several European cities, including London and probably sites in France and Germany. These attacks were to be modelled on the effective 'commando raids' in Mumbai in 2008, in which groups of terrorists wreaked havoc with automatic weapons and killed hundreds of people. India has still not recovered. And the plot was led by senior Al-Qaeda figures in Waziristan. The intelligence services think that the plot was in the 'final stages' before being launched, that it would have been a 'spectacular', that British Muslims were once again involved, and that the purpose was an old-fashioned suicidal rampage. The plot seems to have been disrupted by American drone strikes in Pakistan, killing the brains of the plot.

There are two points here. One is the absolute centrality of the United States to any sensible security strategy for Britain. I will try not to even get into what this latest American intervention to protect our citizens says about the perspectives of those like Labour leader Ed Miliband (who wants a more 'independent' foreign policy) and his ally Sadiq Khan (who thinks the US alliance is 'poison' for Britain). All I will say is that I look forward to the day when the likes of Miliband and Khan sign up to defend the country with their lives if the Americans decided a whining ally isn't worth having. As a university teacher, when confronted by anti-American students I routinely stop seminars and pose the question whether they, personally, would be willing to kill in order to defend the realm. The bewildered look on their faces when I do so tells me that they have never contemplated an activity that throughout human history as been the norm for most males. But the fact that people in this country can lead such a sheltered existence is due only to Britain's alliance with the United States and our possession of nuclear weapons. Surely it isn't beyond us as a society not to mess it all up.

The second point is that given the inability of Islamic terrorists to match, or better, the 9/11 atrocities over the past nine years, from their perspective this kind of attack would appear to be the most sensible kind of approach to take. All they need is a few guns and a rampage can be launched. With Mumbai-esque operations there is less of a need to do the kind of things that increase the risk of detection like buying chemicals and cooking explosives in suburban kitchens. The blunt (and frightening) truth is that if I was an Islamic terrorist, settling on a 'commando raid' rampage would now look a far more profitable means of spreading fear and chaos than attempting to stage so-called 'grand' terror attacks.

Will home-grown terrorists head in this direction? If they do, the prospects for social peace in this country will be poor. It is significant that this plot emanated from Pakistan where Islamic extremists are at least familiar with the concept of 'strategy'. We should be grateful that, so far, domestic extremists have proven even more inept at waging an insurgency against Britain than was the IRA and they were shockingly bad, to say the least. Instead those British citizens who turn to terrorism have been more inclined to gesture and feel-good exhibitionism about killing the infidels than with actually getting on and killing then. The 7/7 bombings were the only significant Islamist attack on these shores since 9/11, due to not only the diligence of law-enforcement agencies but also the incompetence of domestic terrorists. If more British Muslims come under the operational sway of those people abroad who actually understand how to run an insurgency, then terror attacks could become a more frequent occurrence.

Take the 2005 attack on the Tube and Tavistock Square. Brutal? Yes. Strategically effective? Absolutely not. The purpose of an insurgency is to win the support of a particular part of the population (in this case, the wider British Muslim community). To do that, they need to be radicalised (here, made not only sympathetic to, but willing to actively assist, the Islamist causes). And to be radicalised, the majority of the population must be persuaded to take repressive measures against them (in other words, turn the non-Muslims against the Muslim minority). From this perspective, 7/7 was a dismal failure. The plotters were glorified exhibitionists. Contrast it with the Chechens who conducted the horrendous Beslan school siege in 2005. Now they had an eye for strategy. And compare it with the Mumbai atrocities as well. The reaction of the British public to rampaging, random attacks against the vulnerable or major national hubs doesn't bear thinking about. At the very least, racial tensions in this country would increase markedly.

The terrorists, therefore, have important decisions to make. If they become more cunning and with a greater eye for strategy, then our stable society will find itself in danger. And so we have important decisions to make too: about whether we will stop rubbishing the relationship with the United States, and what we are going to do to prepare for attacks like Beslan or Mumbai. Because it is almost certain that, sooner or later, they will happen.

Robert Crowcroft is a specialist on British politics and defence.

 

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.

 

By Chris Newton

In order to prevail over Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, democratic countries need to win the support of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the moderate Islamic community, and its own electorates. This is the crucial battleground in the 'War on Terror'. However, many academics and commentators have concluded that the Islamists currently have the advantage in this area. Just as the situation in Iraq in 2006 demanded a review into US military strategy, the situation today requires just as important a review into the west's approach to strategic communication. This article examines the flaws in the current approach and provides suggestions as to how the west can establish a better 'strategic narrative'. It predominantly takes a UK perspective.

Losing the war of words?

Scholars and analysts have not rated the west's efforts so far on this front. Indeed, the various opinions polls suggest that British public support for the war in Afghanistan is waning. Why? As David Betz suggested in an article on propaganda in 2008, there Islamist strategic narrative is more coherent than the west's. The Islamists tell a story of victimhood which its audience can relate to. It combines elements of truth, such as the Abu Ghraib incident, with fiction into an emotive narrative of western persecution and aggression. It disseminates its message across the world, using the internet and the media effectively. And as a result, regardless of how preposterous their claims are, the coherence of their argument makes it compelling to its target audience.

The western narrative, as David Betz showed, lacks coherence and is rather confused. The different objectives for the Afghan mission, ranging from getting rid of Al Qaeda to the elimination of poppy crops has confused people as to why we are really there. And given that the main military part of the 'War on Terror' is taking place in a distant land, the audience finds it difficult to relate Afghanistan to security in the UK and the west. What makes it even harder for a western narrative to gain currency is that so many of the public are cynical towards politicians and are consequently susceptible to anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, and anti-war narratives. This is because of the disintegration of unity and a lack of self confidence within western countries, especially the UK. Moreover, Islamist ideology is only one narrative that the west has to tackle in addition to the established narratives of Marxism and emerging narratives put forward by authoritarian rulers.

But is the west really doomed to fail here? David Betz contrasts the west's performance in the war on terror with western societies' marketing and public relations activities in business, fashion, and popular culture. Why can't we translate this success to the area where we need it most war? In domestic politics, politicians hire public relations professionals to develop its own narratives about the state of the country and how they will change things. Political party offices hire people to monitor the words and actions of their opposition and they develop material that highlights inconsistencies and hypocritical actions. But for some reason, governments and news organisation are extremely poor at communicating to the public the inconsistencies of the Al Qaeda narrative.

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

Predicting the future is usually a mug's game. Trying to discern what will, and will not, happen is not a profitable activity. Fortunately, however, the outlines of the international order over the coming decades are already there, at least for those who want to see them because, in a very real sense, the 'future' is happening now. And that future is dystopian.

Definitions of 'dystopian' yield phrases like 'grim' and 'as bad as can be'; there is widespread 'human misery' and 'repressive social systems' under the guise of idealism, as well as 'poverty', and a 'constant' state of warfare and conflict. To those willing to recognise it as such, a new international political order has been emerging since the 1990s, gathering force by the year, and extending ever wider. This is a dystopian order, and, in short, is a very bad thing for humanity. Seeing the world in this way offers a far more realistic framework for understanding contemporary events and international dynamics than the unfounded dreams of an approaching golden age of co-operation forced down our throats by shrill Western leftists.

What makes the new international system qualify as dystopian is a convergence between the near-universal utopianism that marks political language in today's world with the increasing prevalence of violence, the impact of ethnic tensions, unprecedented global population growth, resource shortage and climate change, and the way in which technological advance facilitates police states. The strength of these forces is striking. Take Africa. In the last two decades the 'dark continent' has been exceptionally violent. Warfare has occurred virtually everywhere in Africa, both within and between states. There are precious few polities that function even adequately, let alone well. Tribal loyalties remain a powerful call on loyalties, and where ethnic tensions occur they ripple across national borders. In Central Africa, for example, in 1993 Tutsis in Burundi staged a coup and slaughtered around 100,000 Hutus. In 1994 the Hutus struck back with a coup in neighbouring Rwanda, overthrowing the Tutsis and celebrating the victory by instigating a genocide that left up to one million Tutsis dead. The effects rippled out across the geopolitics of the Great Lakes region: Uganda, Tanzania, and Sudan all felt the impact, as did the Democratic Republic of Congo, essentially a huge ungoverned space for several decades. But this is just one example; indeed the African states system has essentially collapsed. External states display only a fleeting interest in the region, and the two Sub-Saharan powers of any significance, Nigeria and South Africa, are both unwilling and probably unable to do much about it. This, surely, is 'as bad as can be'. During the football World Cup, when South Africa scored in the opening match of the tournament the BBC commentator obviously brainwashed with comforting liberal assumptions about Mandela and so on couldn't wait to exclaim that 'It's a goal for South Africa! It's a goal for all of Africa!' Presumably someone had written the line for him, but I wonder how the Hutus and the Tutsis feel about being lumped together, by the ignorance of the white man, into an imaginary emerging multicultural paradise? The arrogance is outrageous. When Germany defeated Uruguay in the third place play-off, was anyone stupid enough to yell that 'It's a victory for all of Europe'?

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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.

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