Wednesday, 18 May 2022
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Book review

Reviewed by Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Between 1986 and 1998 STRATFOR'S Fred Burton was at the forefront of the United States' counterterrorism efforts. As part of the relatively low-profile Diplomatic Security Service's (DSS) Counterterrorism Branch, Burton gained first experience of religious terrorism and extremism. 'Ghost' is his attempt to take the reader into his – and the West's – struggle against terrorist atrocities. This is a journey into what Burton calls the 'Dark World' and as such throws light on the response to terrorism that is seen by all but a few.

Ghost is divided into three sections, each reflecting stages of Burton's career with the DSS and also developments within the international system. Part 1 details Burton's transition from a beat cop into a counterterrorism professional. It also covers the Beirut hostage crisis and the beginnings of Libya's support for Middle East terrorism. From the outset it is absolutely staggering just how inadequately prepared the United States was for international terrorism. Initially, the Counterterrorism Branch was comprised of just three federal officers. There were no set guidelines or standard procedures and you get the sense that Burton and the team truly made it up as they went along.

To begin, Burton applies a beat cop mentality to the task at hand. At times part 1 reads a little bit like a counterterrorism manual. It is full of anecdotes about lessons learned, advice to take out into the field and 'do's and don'ts'. Part 1 also provides the reader with the side of intelligence and counterterrorism that is regularly played out in Hollywood movies. Burton introduces us to the FOGHORN messenger facilities, the standard uniform and accessories of a federal agent and the near constant stream of intelligence that needs to be sifted and made sense of quickly. There is also a sense that because the Counterterrorism Branch was so small and compartmentalised they were a breed apart from Washington's other federal agencies. Yet all this is forgotten when it is discovered that they have lost one of their own.

As hostages are gradually released in Lebanon it becomes clear that William Buckley, the former CIA Bureau Chief in Beirut, died in captivity. Burton's memoirs capture the overall despair that all federal agencies felt in not saving the life of a colleague. Indeed the death of Buckley is one of many acts of extremism that Burton and his own take very personally. In doing so the Counterterrorism Branch shifts from being a regular place of work to almost the cornerstone of Burton's very existence. Holidays are lost, family commitments are overlooked and weekends merge into the working week.

A further demonstration of how all consuming counterterrorism became to Burton is his 'hit-list' of terrorists. For twelve years, Burton did not rest in his attempts to bring each and every name on that list to justice. Indeed many names were added to the list throughout his career. The bombing of the TWA Flight over Greece, the Lockerbie disaster and the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre all bring the same heartfelt response from Burton. They also take him to the safe-houses and the back streets of the world in his attempts to capture those responsible. When Burton slips off the scene almost entirely, the reader joins him on a journey into the murkiest parts of the 'Dark World'.

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Legion of the Rearguard: Dissident Irish Republicanism (2010), by Martyn Frampton

Reviewed by Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

As recent events have made clear, the political instability that wracked Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles has not been consigned to history. The development of a seemingly tolerable political settlement in 2007, and exemplified by the Ian Paisley-Martin McGuiness 'double act', has not addressed the essential segregation between the Protestant and Catholic communities. Nor does it mean that there are not people on both sides who still prefer resistance to accommodation.

The most obvious of these factions is the dissident Republican movement. And this movement is the subject of Martyn Frampton's new book. In it, he traces the growth within the Republicans of opposition to the strategy developed by Gerry Adams. Beginning in the 1980s, tensions grew as Adams came to increasingly control Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA (PIRA). Gradually, he set the Provos on a new course. His was a masterclass in political leadership and manoeuvring, but Adams was not without internal enemies.

Eventually, this led to schism and the emergence of new Republican groups outside the PIRA/Sinn Fein, such as Republican Sinn Fein, the Real IRA, and the Continuity IRA. Academic work on these groups and what they are up to is sorely lacking, and Frampton does an admirable job of filling in the blanks. What follows is a well-researched analysis of the groups and their activities. The most striking thing is the fact that boundaries between these groups are highly porous; members of one faction will operate in conjunction with those from others. The whole thing is largely ad hoc. The professed purpose is simply to advertise the fact that Northern Ireland is not a 'normal' state and therefore perpetuate the instability; to this end, there is a willingness to co-operate with virtually anyone who will help.

Frampton's book will quickly become the standard work on the dissidents. Given the lack of research into the subject, assembling the book at all is a considerable achievement. Those readers with backgrounds in research will know just how punishing (and exciting) the work can be if one has to play detective and research a topic where no-one has gone before. Importantly, Frampton had access to numerous key dissidents and interviewed them. Their personal perspectives are cited frequently, bringing the mental universe of dissident Irish Republicanism to life.

But a number of problems emerge. Most are definitely not of the author's own making. The reality is that these dissident Republicans are, in a structural sense, largely irrelevant. Reading this account, I felt like I was reading one of those books on a very minor, peripheral left-wing faction. And the truth is that the dissident Republicans are operating very much in the margins. The current level of violence is perfectly sustainable, and there is no appetite whatsoever for a return to the Troubles. Their base of support is tiny. Of course, one cannot guess what will happen in twenty years time, but it is difficult to believe that any contemporary dissidents have futures worth commenting on.

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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.


Reviewed by Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

If one is being honest, political memoirs rarely make for exciting reading. Either they are structured badly, taking the reader on a tedious chronological narrative – Bill Clinton's being the best example of this type – or the prose style is somewhat lacking – take Tony Blair's The Journey as a case in point. Whereas I found the first two hundred pages of the Blair book enjoyable and most of the rest fairly turgid, the memoirs of George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, remain enjoyable throughout.

The prose is engaging, and the structure clearly the subject of much consideration. Bush chose to focus on key 'decisions' in his life and use this as a thematic device to provide the book's content. If this means that a great deal is left out, it makes for a better book. The 'decisions' that Bush opts to concentrate on extend from his decision to quit drinking, running for office, stem cell research, his huge increase in HIV/AIDS support, Katrina, and the War on Terror. Bush is, of course, the subject of much derision but has been widely compared to Harry S. Truman: another man who left office under a cloud but eventually came to be seen as having been right all along. As Bush admits in the book, he is aware of the analogy and hopeful that people may one day view him in the same light as Truman.

When discussing George W. Bush, I always wonder why people hate him so much. The Democrat party stalwarts on the East and West coasts despise him for being a conservative and, even more so, for being from Texas. His background is a reason why the Western European Left hate Bush also. He may as well be from Mars, what with his earthy manner, frontier-speak, cowboy boots, and lack of the moral ambiguity that the cosmopolitan classes think it so necessary to bask in. He is widely lampooned for 'Bushisms', slips of the tongue that often involved making up brand new words. Yet that always seemed to me a consequence of his dislike of speaking to an assembled audience; tellingly, Bush never makes such mistakes when conversing with a single interviewer in a one-to-one situation. Seeing Bush as a moron became the norm, even a sign of one's own sophistication; but one wonders if this was based on evidence or, rather, a reflexive tendency to swallow anything produced by the liberal media and recite it as 'truth'. As is so often the case, then, the lazy thinking of those who read the Guardian and New York Times should be chortled at rather than taken seriously.

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As reviewed by Madeleine Moon MP

If you want to understand how we came to the current impasse and difficulties ISAF forces are facing in Afghanistan then Ann Jones' description of life in Kabul between 2002 and 2005 is a good place to start. The book chronicles the hope with which the American forces were greeted in 2002 through to the exhaustion as reconstruction and development fail to take place; attention shifts to Iraq and the Talban re-emerge as a powerful force.

Ann gives the back history to Afghanistan, its times of peace and affluence and attempts to change and modernise this deeply traditional male dominated society. She neatly lays out British failure to establish control and the use of Afghanistan to fight proxy wars by Pakistan, Russia and the US. The terrible impact of years of war are starkly set out in figures. In 1979 the population of Afghanistan was 16 million. When the US quit in 1992, over two million Afghans had been killed, 600,000 to two million maimed, one and a half million driven insane, two million were internal refuges while six million had fled to Pakistan or Iran. All of this before the mujadaden civil war, the rise of the Taliban and the invasion of 2002.

Grim facts cascade from Ann's record of her life in Afghanistan. The lives of women and girls are starkly set out with the routine use of rape, confinement, beatings, murder and sale as their lot in life from the moment of birth. In 2001 Physicians for Human Rights reported that 70% of Afghan women suffered from major depressions, nearly two thirds were suicidal and 16% had attempted suicide. The granting of equal rights and duties before the law to men and women by the 2004 constitution is shown to be sham. The Chief Justice setting out the three privileges accorded to women lists them as, praying, obeying the husband and restraining from bad acts. It is estimated that 95% of Afghan women are subject to violence, living their lives only at the pleasure and command of men.

Education is seen as the way to improve the lives and opportunities of the people of developing countries. Afghanistan's education system was described by the UN as the worst in the world but sadly the NGO and military investment in education by 2005 has made little impact on literacy and numeracy. Donor aid for education fails as 80-90% of aid goes into US contractors and sub-contractors US bank accounts leaving only 10-20% spent in Afghanistan. Action Aid paint a rosier picture estimating that only 60% of aid is phantom, spent on accounting, technical assistance and international experts.

Below the statistics and evidence of failure are the human stories which make this an enjoyable read. Ann paints a picture of people struggling to make a life in the midst of chaos and the clashing to two cultures. The description of the holiday journey taken to Mazir-i-Sharif through the Salang tunnel sums up the chaos, the unpredictability and the everyday dangers of life in Afghanistan while highlighting the difficulty of moving goods south to meet the voracious needs of a military campaign.

With her class of women students Ann celebrates International Women's Day and goes through a list of rights for women. The right of a woman to make choices is one the woman struggle to comprehend. The description of life inside the Kabul women's prison is as cold and stark as the reasons behind the women's imprisonment. The women live a life of Catch 22, they are guilty because they are in the prison, they are in the prison because they are guilty. Afghanistan has many laws but not one against rape. Rape is described as a subsection of adultery. A woman who is raped is imprisoned and charged with adultery and investigated to see if she consented to the rape. Compensation can be given for crimes often in the form of fat sheep, new copies of the Koran and women as second or third wives or for household labour.

The invading military forces and the NGO's are mostly painted in a negative light. They drive up the cost of housing for ordinary Afghans, seduce professionals away from jobs to act as guides and interpreters, create chaos in the streets and ignore the views and opinions of Afghans when planning aid and development. I smiled at the joke that when men are put in charge of an aid project they think first of concrete.

This is a book about survival and failure between 2002-2005. The personal stories of survival within the chaos of war, invasion and a society which discounts the lives of 50% of its population are riveting. The failure is of the west to understand the world it has entered. There is a lack of engagement with the population, peace, infrastructure and governance but corruption, promotion of warlords and the vacuum into which the Taliban re-emerged funded by drugs.

Ann's account of her years in Afghanistan paints a picture of wasted opportunity, wasted money and wasted talent as the focus moves to Iraq. We are now five years on from Ann's departure from Afghanistan. Recently in the voting lobby I spoke to a colleague who had just returned from Afghanistan and he talked of visiting a northern town which was orderly, growing in affluence and where he had visited a factory where men and women worked together. I hope he is right.

Kabul in winter, by Ann Jones is published by Picador


By The UK MOD's Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre

Download for free via or purchase from DSDA Forms and Publication (01869 256139).

Reviewed by Ian Shields

The UK MOD's think-tank, the Development Concepts and Doctrine centre (DCDC) have already published some good work, including their paper on the Future Character of Conflict and their 2009 Future Air and Space Operational Concept (both available from the web-site listed above). Having identified a need for a textbook on space, given the ever-increasing reliance on space for contemporary military undertakings (one thinks of surveillance, satellite communications, weather forecasting, GPS for navigation and weapon guidance, and much more), the DCDC set about writing, from first principles, their UK Military Space Primer some two years ago, and have now completed the task. There is much to praise, not just about the product, but about the vision and initiative that led to this publication, but let me start with a few criticisms. First, for understandable reasons it is titled the Military Space Primer and, indeed, has a military bias. But the vast majority of the text is as applicable to the civilian sector as to the military. Second, what a shame that, again for understandable reasons, this could not have been published commercially as it is the best and most complete explanation of Space and its uses that virtually anyone would require, and deserves a wider audience. Certainly, any A-Level student with an interest in Space would benefit greatly from reading this, and it would not be out of place in any school – or, indeed, University – library.

Some 250 pages long, it takes the reader at a sensible pace, is well-written and copiously illustrated with photographs and excellent diagrams. Divided into four chapters, it starts with an explanation of what space is, an easily-digestible section on geometry and orbitology (no advanced mathematics – in fact, barely a formula in sight!), before translating the theory into the practical: which orbit for which capability and how to get there. The short second chapter covers Space and the Law at sufficient depth for the non-specialist (see the book review on Space Law: A Treatise in the June 2010 edition of Aerospace Professional for a truly in-depth book on Space Law), before the heart of the Primer, Chapter Three on the Military Uses of Space. Each use, be t surveillance or communications, is addressed in clear and concise language, that unravels the mysteries of the advantages and disadvantages of Space. Indeed, it is not even necessary to have read the explanatory Chapter One before dipping into Chapter Three. Again, although aimed at the military reader, for anyone with an interest in how pace can be used, if only where does your Sky Satellite Signal come from, will gain from this Chapter. The final Chapter looks more widely at Space and Society highlighting, for example, how dependent civil society is on Space – and if there is a justification for the non-military to read some of this Primer, it is in Chapter Four. A series of more in-depth annexes follow, and the publication ends with a good bibliography.

Extensively cross-referenced throughout, this Primer is not meant to be read at a single sitting, but dipped into for knowledge and education. Those in the wider Space industry will, I am sure, welcome this Primer and use it to educate those new to their business. Those with no knowledge but an interest, those with some knowledge and a wish for more detail, and even those with a deep understanding will all find value in this timely and well-produced piece. Not a book in the conventional sense as normally reviewed on these pages, but nevertheless a significant and welcome addition to our understanding of Space.


By James Holland

Reviewed by Ian Shields

In this seventieth anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, James Holland's new book that looks afresh at those critical five months in the Summer of 1940 is a timely arrival. This is a long book (over 600 pages of text, together with a further 70 of notes, sources and index) and is very detailed. The book has been well received (Saul David in The Sunday Telegraph on 16 July 2010 describing it as "excellent") and I was very much looking forward to reading it. Good though the book is – and it has many strengths – for me its faults were rather too obvious.

However, let me start by emphasising the book's strengths. The work seeks to put the Battle in a wider context, and although the title suggests just the five month period of May to October 1940, the first third of the book deals with the earlier months of the War, and in particular the fall of France and Dunkirk. Furthermore, he seeks to put the aerial battle in the context of a much wider struggle, including aircraft production and repair, maintaining moral on the home front, the battles on (and under) the sea, and the political conflicts both within the House of Commons and between Britain and America (in this latter instance, the US Ambassador, Joseph Kennedy, is the subject of much criticism by the author). Holland also seeks to bring the narrative alive by telling the story at least in part through the eyes of participants on both sides, and not just aircrew. And he is most certainly to be congratulated for the depth of his research, which has clearly been a gargantuan undertaking.

It is this research with which I have my the first of my difficulties. Holland has made extensive use of the archives, plus some interviews with survivors, although there is always a danger that they have told their stories so many times by now that they may no longer be able to distinguish true memories from imagined. However, the bulk of his sources are clearly secondary, using books and the memoires of others, which he appropriately acknowledges. Next, although the author is good at distilling the story, he is somewhat lacking in critical appraisal or analysis, as witness his lionising of the Spitfire in the closing paragraphs of his book, while his claim that these five months changed world history when arguably there have been many more critical junctures both before and since are largely unsubstantiated. For some his use of the experiences of individuals to bring to the narrative to life will be pleasing, but I found it confusing in parts (he arguably has too large a dramatis personae) and again lacking in objectivity: he too often describes the participants whose stories he is including in glowing personal terms (good looking, muscular, attractive and so forth). Meanwhile, the maps were almost in a 1940's pastiche, and lacked clarity, and his English I found overly casual for his subject matter, being littered with split infinitives and haphazard sentence construction. However, my biggest difficulty is that the author does not stick to his own title, with too much of the book given over to events that were not within the five-month window the title suggests.

While these remarks may appear overly critical, it is important to appreciate what this book is, and what it is not. As an overview of the first fifteen months of the war it is good, and if it had been titled The Battle For Britain, 1939 – 1940 it might have been slightly more honest. There is, however, a place for this book on your bookshelves if you seek a fairly accessible read and a broad introduction to the period that includes what we now call the Battle of Britain. Alongside pleasurable reads such as Rowland White's Vulcan 607, this book holds its own, but although he may seek to emulate Anthony Beevor, James Holland is not in the same league. An enjoyable read and one that does well in linking the aerial battle to wider issues, while this book falls short of serious history it is worthy of consideration for those seeking to explore the events of the Summer of 1940 for the first time, perhaps before moving on to, for example, Richard Overy's book – confusingly also titled The Battle of Britain.


Reviewded by Roger Green, Principal Reviewer, U K Defence Forum

Anyone reading the newspapers over the last two decades could not help but notice that UK defence acquisition is in a parlous state. It became obvious that a cosy relationship existed between the MoD and defence companies and that with cost-plus contracts and 'requirements creep' the government was being ripped off. The many large scale studies in the 1990s resulted in little change to procurement, defence contracts remained subject to delays and huge cost overruns, programmes ran for years and years with minimal progress and the end result was often a procurement that no longer met the original requirement and was poor value-for-money. The initial effort in 1998 to introduce procurement programmes that

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By Leila Ouardani

'The basic question is not whether terrorism can be defeated; even third-rate dictatorships have shown that it can be put down with great ease. The real problem is the price that has to be paid by liberal societies valuing their democratic traditions.'

Walter Laqueur

Over the last two decades considerable academic debate has taken place concerning the correlation between differing political systems and terrorism. It has become somewhat conventional wisdom to argue that liberal democracies are disadvantaged, when compared to illiberal non-democracies, in countering terrorism because of institutional constraints that prevent them from responding to terrorism with repression.

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By Elayne Jude, Great North News Services

"Nobody knows the exact date when they started calling us 'Night Witches'. We were bombing the German positions every night, so the Germans began saying these are 'Night Witches', because it seemed impossible to kill us or shoot us down."

- Senior Lieutenant Serafima Amosova-Taranenko

In 1942 the Soviet Union was throwing everything into the fight against Germany, including its women.

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