Monday, 20 May 2024
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UK opinion

China, South Korea, Australia and Russia are all investing heavily in amphibious capability right now. So why is ours under threat?

The great strategist Basil Lidell-Hart once said that a self contained and sea based amphibious force is the best kind of fire extinguisher because of its flexibility, reliability, logistic simplicity and relative economy. Is that still true?

Currently the UK maintains 2 formations which have historically constituted the conventional element of our Response Force: 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade. The critical difference between these formations lies in the way they deploy to a theatre of battle / influence, the former by air and the latter by amphibious shipping. Traditionally the argument has been that a nation seeking to have global influence must maintain both. However, as financial pressures compel the Armed Forces to economise and assess ambition, it seems increasingly unlikely that a Response Force consisting of 2 Brigades is either plausible or necessary.

There are three options; keep both, amalgamate them, or scrap one or the other. The UK armed forces will be operating in a post-Afghanistan/Iraq era where the political, social and military appetite for conducting enduring stabilisation operations – in the way they have been conducted - will be significantly reduced. The 'selected option' would have to be resourced fully. Specialist Brigades need specialist equipment, people and training. This analysis considers what capability the UK needs from its Response Force, demonstrating via the components of fighting power that the Royal marines provides the UK with the best, single Brigade option and that resources are already in place.

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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.

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By Dr robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Although it is important not to jump the gun and draw conclusions about what the Strategic Defence Review process will recommend for the future of the Armed Forces, nevertheless there are some early smoke signals emanating from Whitehall that are worth commenting upon. The most important seems to be the fact that, while all the Services face hefty cutbacks, the Government is going to protect the Army first and foremost; in other words, that the ground forces are to have primacy in how the UK military of the future is shaped.

Again, precisely what is going on behind the scenes is still unknown; so judgements are provisional. But it is evident that the Navy and the Air Force face the most severe swings of the axe. There have been multiple newspaper reports that where the Prime Minister has intervened it has largely been in ways that prioritise and protect the Army. On 11 October, for instance, the Times reported that David Cameron has 'signalled his desire' to save the Territorial Army from the cuts in it that were mooted; specifically, to 'resist' cutting the size of the reserves. On 16 October the Daily Telegraph revealed that, the previous day, Cameron personally intervened to quell a revolt by senior military figures – including the Chief of the General Staff – who made clear they 'would not accept' cuts to the defence budget that might hinder the Army's mission in Afghanistan. Cameron apparently overruled the Treasury's demand for a ten percent cut in defence spending in order to protect the size of the Army. These and other, hints from the Prime Minister strongly imply that the SDR will seek a slimmed-down military in which 'boots on the ground' receive the most support from the politicians.

There may be two forces at work here (or both could be playing a role). The first is that the Prime Minister has peered into the crystal ball and concluded that, in the coming years and decades, the gravest threats to UK interests will require a response shaped around land forces; and that the Navy and Air Force will both be of rather lesser importance. This almost certainly fits into a popular – if controversial – vision of future warfare in which conflict will take place 'among the people'. Counterinsurgency (COIN), low-level violence, and perhaps nation-building will be the tasks facing the Armed Forces. The second possible calculation in the Prime Minister's mind is more political: Britain is probably going to be committed in Afghanistan for most of Cameron's time in office. The under-resourcing of the mission in Central Asia became a major weapon with which to beat Gordon Brown; Cameron will be desperate to shield himself from the charge of failing 'our boys' at a time when the defence budget is going through major cuts. The last thing he wants is to be blamed for lots of deaths or, worse, an embarrassing withdrawal. More body bags are inevitable, and – as always – many will seek to attack the Government on the matter. Hence, short-term calculations of Mr Cameron's own political fortunes could be just as significant in shaping the future of Britain's Armed Forces as considered strategic judgement.

Whatever is driving this, the question must be asked: is the future of warfare really more conflicts like Afghanistan? If so, then configuring for COIN will probably be the right decision. And, with the intellectual rise of the war 'among the people' paradigm, many think that Western forces will, in future, wage precisely these kinds of conflicts over and over again – due to the spread of failing states and a 'responsibility to protect'; because of Islamist terrorism; and because weaker adversaries will seek to fight us in asymmetrical ways.

However, scepticism is in order before we decide that the current war is necessarily the challenge that we should prepare for in the future. Making that assumption may actually be dangerous. After all, most of the irregular/COIN conflicts entered into since the fall of the USSR have been wars of choice – for instance, the American intervention in Somalia, the British intervention in Sierra Leone, and the decision to try to keep the peace in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s. The most significant low-level conflict of choice was the American decision to stick around during the Iraqi civil war, rather than evacuating and blaming it on the inhabitants (which was, of course, also the truth). Instead the US committed itself to the long-term work of stabilising Iraq. Only the Afghanistan conflict was really a low-level war which the West had no choice but to wage. The other conflicts in which the West has engaged since 1991 – the Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003, the repeated bombing of Iraq in the intervening period between those struggles, and Kosovo in 1999 – were not COIN but conventional operations centred upon attrition. Therefore it is nothing short of ridiculous to conclude from the recent evidence that the future is somehow 'inevitably' going to be based around COIN. If anything, there is rather more evidence to suggest that the future will require conventional warfare of the standard sort.

This is especially the case if we look at the problem another way. Yes, there has been a marked increased in low-level violence, and insurgencies, across the world. However insurgency is nothing new and therefore does not pose the kind of conceptual problem that some academics and defence specialists seem to think. It should also be pointed out that insurgencies are very difficult indeed to wage successfully. When confronted with a functioning, competent state – like the IRA versus Britain, or the Palestinians versus Israel – insurgencies are typically a dismal failure. It was not an insurgency that won in Vietnam, but a transition to conventional warfare after the US withdrew. And though the Americans retreated from Lebanon and Somalia, the insurgents themselves were not the 'winners' of the struggles there either.

In addition – and this point is important – despite the prevalence of low-level conflicts, Western states have been very discriminating in selecting where to get involved – let alone how to fight. As indicated above, they have been fairly successful in the last two decades at managing to wage war in conventional ways, despite doing so in a world supposedly ready to suck them in to endless low-level violence. There is no reason to think that they will become less skilful (or, alternatively, unwilling to get bogged down) in the future. It seems more likely that wars such as Afghanistan will be the exception, not the norm.

Anyway, will democratic politicians, with their focus on the electoral cycle, want to go and do another inconclusive, protracted Afghanistan anytime soon? They won't, and this should be critical. COIN requires patience and commitment, above all else. It is largely a psychological matter – centred on willpower to stay the course, and, actually, on the question of whether we can be bothered engaging in it in the first place. Retaining public support for a protracted conflict is very difficult; democratic publics demand quick results. There is also a potential problem for liberal values in this type of warfare. In a minefield as dangerous as this, the natural inclination is surely to say 'why bother?'

Often the charge is made that the US cannot 'do' irregular war; specifically, that its military culture privileges firepower and therefore does not breed the necessary patience for COIN. However this assessment is problematic. We must bear in mind that areas where the US has withdrawn from COIN and low-level operations – Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia – were all far from the US homeland. Arguably there were few American national interests at stake, certainly not great enough to warrant bearing the costs of victory. When the US has been minded to do so, its military has performed admirably in this kind of warfare. Most recently, their performance in defeating Al-Qaeda and other insurgents in Iraq was a textbook model of COIN; and in the nineteenth century the Native Americans –located not thousands of miles away but in the continental United States – were crushed. The lesson, then, is that when it matters the US has stayed the course and won; hence, by extension, that the key issue in low-level, protracted conflicts, is old-fashioned willpower.

If the big issue in successfully fighting insurgencies, securing 'the people', and nation-building is a matter of political resolution, then we need to ask whether the will to wage this kind of war is really going to be there; whether public support can be retained; and – more strategically – whether vital national interests will even be regularly threatened in ways that necessitate protracted interventions. If the answer to these questions is no, then we need to think long and hard before concluding that 'insurgency' is the future model of warfare and that the British military should be structured around it.

Robert Crowcroft is a Research Associate at the UK Defence Forum and a specialist on British politics and defence


By Chris Newton

The various news reports over the past weeks and months have suggested that the government has been locked in a heated debate over the future of British strategy. On the one side it appears that David Cameron and George Osborne believed that future British force structures should be geared towards the war in Afghanistan, and therefore the Army should take priority. Liam Fox on the other hand suggested that the future force structure should take a more long term view, prioritising the Navy to ensure that Britain's maritime and trading interests are protected.

The field of strategic studies is at a similar crossroads. During the first few decades since its conception, the prime concern of strategic theorists was nuclear strategy. In the 1990s, their attention primarily turned to 'peacekeeping' and peace support operations. After 9/11 the principal interest has been counterinsurgency operations. The key question now is should strategists continue to focus of COIN theory or should they now look to other forms of warfare post-Afghanistan?

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By Alex Shone

The prime minster of the Serb Republic within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzergovina (FBiH), Milorad Dodik, campaigned in the 3rd October Presidential elections on an open platform of secession. If the republic were to secede from the FBiH it would pose a host of problems for the country and could have the potential to spark a resurgence of regional ethnic violence. There is strong pressure on the international community to intervene to prevent such an event from occurring; however, the capacity for such a response is fraught with complications.

The issue of secession in this region stems from a rhetorical question that if Bosniaks and Croatians could secede from Yugoslavia then why can the Serbian populations not respectively do the same from those regions? The answer is simply because the Serb populations of Bosnia and Croatia are not equal to the populations of either of those states and therefore their right to self-determination has never been recognised. The Bosniak population of the country stands at 48% while the Serbs are 37.1% with Croats constituting just 14.3%. A direct comparison is the Albanian population of Macedonia whose right to self-determination has also never been recognised by the international community.

In this respect, the Serbian population in the FBiH is very much an exception where they have their near autonomous republic known as the Republika Srpska (RS). The land mass of the RS is disproportionate in terms of its size compared to the Serbian population of the FBiH, comprising a 49% share of the country's territory. Dodik's call for secession has not been continual; rather the RS has waited and clearly acted at what seems the opportune time.
Prior to this, the RS has steadily retrenched and enhanced its position within the FBiH. Weak international protest was launched against the RS's inflammatory move this September to pass a law that transferred all property into direct RS ownership. Similarly, in the same month, the plan drawn up for the Inter-Entity Boundary Line is a serious breach of the 1995 Dayton Agreement that stipulates that all border demarcations must be in mutual agreement and conducted under the supervision of an international military force. It was this move particularly that inflamed opinion in Croatia whose president, Stjepan Mesic, threatened military intervention if secession were attempted.

Dodik's campaign for secession is based upon a precedent he claims was made by the international community when the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo's secession from Serbia was not illegal. International recognition of Kosovo as a nation state is not yet at hand; the secession of the RS from the FBiH would however set a precedent that would certainly destabilise the country and perhaps even the region. To once again make a contrasting example, the West has never recognised the right to self-determination of the Albanian populations of Macedonia, Montenegro or indeed Serbia itself. These could potentially be some of the wider impact points for a resulting wave of counter-secessionist sentiment.

Therein is where the threat to Balkan security lies. If secession by the RS from the FBiH were to occur, there is undoubtedly the potential to trigger a wave of counter-secessionism amidst states where political, social and economic structures are continuing to be refined and even built. If any kind of regional destabilisation were to occur, this would also have implications for the European Union's enlargement project.

Western support and recognition of Kosovo as an independent state was based on a policy of support for the controlled re-ordering of the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Undoubtedly this was in support of breaking away at the defeated Soviet Union's spheres of influence in the wake of the end of the Cold War. However, any such policy is now more complicated by other pressures weighing on Western capacity to act in the region.

South Eastern Europe and in particular the Balkan region is an immensely complex ethnic melting pot with a long legacy of conflict. International involvement in this region was conducted at a time when the US was more European-centric in its foreign policy outlook. Now however the US is embroiled in Afghanistan as well as having the pressure of present and future issues in Iran and North Korea. European involvement is similarly pressed by the same commitments as well as painfully-felt defence spending cuts. Therefore, the few states that do have an expeditionary force capacity are incredibly strained. A recurrent conflict in the Balkans is certainly a contingency that was once prepared for; but now times and priorities have drastically changed.

US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton's arrival in the country announced the US's continuing commitment to the country. The US has clearly stated that they do not support any kind of Serbian secession from the FBiH and wish to see security and peace preserved in the region. The timing of Dodik's call for secession shows the perceived strength of their position versus that of Western powers who are perceived to be very much 'on the back foot' in the region.
Inextricable to this situation is the factor of any potential for genocide and/or ethnic cleansing. This is would of course be an unacceptable development although the question surrounding its likelihood is not a simple one to answer. The fact of the matter is that the same ethnic violence undeniably remains somewhere beneath the surface of the demarcation between the different communities. Whether this situation has the potential within it to create 'another Srebrenica' is unclear though events can hardly be allowed to unfold unchecked whereby the world might find out. Though few could disagree with the international responsibility to prevent such events, we should not forget that genocide in the previous wars occurred despite an international intervention.

Ultimately, the situation that is unfolding is a challenge to the FBiH as a viable state. If Dodik's description of Bosnia as an 'impossible' country is not to be proven correct then it is a challenge that the state must smash. It is the perception amongst other ethnic minorities across several of the Balkan states that Serbians are being appeased that is a key factor of the problem. If the RS were to secede it would confirm to them that the state is not workable and would provide minority nationalist politics with a very strong platform from which to operate. In short, secession cannot be allowed to occur if the FBiH is to remain a viable state. However, we cannot simplify the problem or deny the fact that the FBiH state is in poor condition to accept this challenge. The state is crippled by the weight of its own bureaucracy and the economy is heavily stagnated. All of which exacerbates tension that allows nationalist sentiment to re-open still-raw wounds in society.

Arguably, the international community is simply not in a position to respond to this situation. In the US and Europe, all available capabilities are destined for Afghanistan with forces already committed to new states where future transnational counter-terrorism efforts are to be prosecuted. Likewise, spending cuts have focused all available contingency conflict planning on potential action over Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. The extremely shaky ground that EU enlargement already rests on as a result of recent internal challenges could very well dissuade European interest in the region. Ultimately, expeditionary capabilities are highly unlikely ventures for the time-being and this could spell tragedy for Bosnia and the region if ethnic violence were once again to flare. Belgrade and the RS clearly see the reality of the international community's position and it would seem that they are prepared to act on it.


Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

The blunt truth is that the SDSR process has not been a strategy exercise. The review was conducted with such speed that attention within the MOD and the Armed Services focused on where the axe will fall, not geopolitics and policy responses. Nor has there been time to convincingly reform the badly mismanaged procurement policies of the MOD. Fundamentally, the SDR has been a political exercise with spending as the bone of contention and – most important of all from the perspective of those ministers involved – personal credibility riding on the outcome. It is a personal and party struggle, not a clash over policy itself. The purpose of this essay is to highlight the high political context in which Britain's national security strategy has been created.

Since taking office in May, the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, has been engaged in a long and at times fairly brutal power struggle with George Osborne, the Chancellor. The SDSR was supposed to provide a coherent framework for future defence policy but swiftly became a guerrilla conflict to ward off the Treasury's crusade for drastic cuts. Fox found himself immersed in a bureaucratic turf war with Osborne; a turf war in which the fortunes of both men was intimately bound up. One imagines that private meetings between the two have been angry affairs. Politically, the SDSR runs along a fault line within the Conservative party that has absolutely nothing to do with defence policy: specifically the mistrust of the 'Cameron project' and widespread disappointment that the election in May did not generate a Conservative parliamentary majority.

There are multiple ambitions at work here. Osborne's agenda is that he has to confound the doubters and prove himself a successful Chancellor. His political skills, highly rated by some, have long been questioned by others. His priority is to 'save the economy'; only by being able to make that claim will Osborne justify his billing. He simply has to pull it off. And the job is not just an opportunity, it is also fraught with danger. It is just as likely that the Chancellor will end up shipwrecked, either from an unresponsive economy or through bearing the opprobrium for painful cuts. To avoid this, he first needs to rein back state spending by every penny he can find, and secondly target the cuts smartly, on things which do not impact the daily lives of the public – like defence.

Osborne is also part of the Cameron faction of the Conservative party – tolerated but never loved by most MPs and activists. A second agenda in his rivalry with Fox has been to try and discredit the Defence Secretary as part of an internal Tory power struggle. Fox taps into a middle-class, no-nonsense strand of Conservatism that Cameron and Osborne struggle with: both are too cosmopolitan, and physically too baby-faced, to strike a chord. It is well-known that Cameron and Osborne do not like Fox, to say the least. Keeping people such as him from becoming a threat requires careful management, cunning, and a willingness to plunge the dagger in if it arises. The Cameroons clearly revelled in reports that Fox was struggling at the MOD in his first months. There is a clear 'win' to be had if Fox is seen to fail, or loses credibility in the eyes of the party. Defeating Fox is a crucial task in consolidating the Cameroons' hold on the party at a time of growing discontent over the alliance with the Liberal Democrats. Others who could theoretically be a threat have either shot themselves in the foot (David Davis), or been cleverly co-opted by Cameron as an air-raid shelter (William Hague).

The Conservative party must surrender to the Cameron agenda if the Coalition is to be a success, and it is by no means clear that it will do so. There are always plenty of people waiting in the wings – whether the ambitious or the bitter – who look for 'issues' and 'crises' to use as platforms to boost their position. Many such platforms will be available in the coming year, especially with the imminent Comprehensive Spending Review and future government legislation. Spiking the guns of someone like Fox would be both personally helpful to Osborne, and beneficial in party management terms to Cameron.

Fox, meanwhile, had ambitions of being Tory leader at one point, and he may still harbour them. A future lurch away from Cameron may see Fox become an acceptable candidate for the party. Whatever his plans, to fulfil them Fox must be a successful minister. He can't be seen to fail and therefore defeat to Osborne was unthinkable. In July, Fox went public with the battle and warned Osborne not to 'play fast and loose' with national security when the Treasury sought the shift the cost of the Trident replacement to the main defence budget. The overt posturing continued until early October and the leak of a private letter from Fox to Cameron warning of 'brutal' political consequences if 'draconian' cuts were imposed – swiftly bolstered by hints that Fox himself would resign. This forced Mr Cameron to come to the MOD's aid. Fox played it cleverly, outflanking Osborne on ground which resonates with the Conservative party and bouncing the Prime Minister into helping him by loudly emphasising the damage that Mr Cameron will sustain if he did not. For the Prime Minister, political good health was more important than destroying an enemy. Fox calculated this and by last week, he had won: Osborne's desired cuts of at least ten percent were reduced to just seven percent – still a significant fall of the axe, but not as bad as it could have been. In this staring contest, Downing Street and the Treasury blinked first. On 14 October, Fox was scheduled to attend a NATO meeting in Brussels, but decided to remain in London in order to consolidate his victory over the Treasury.

Where is the defence policy in all of this? Well, it isn't really there – and that's the point. The SDSR process has been carried out at great speed, and proved to be more of a budget battle than an analysis of Britain's needs. For instance, Fox's success, though on the surface a victory for 'security' over 'cuts', is not necessarily a victory for strategic good sense. Fox appears to be quite happy for the Navy to bear the brunt of the cuts, with a surface fleet slashed to just twenty vessels. To this author at least, that is a disturbing policy.

Mr Cameron's recent measures –the appointment of his own military adviser, and taking on the job of personally unveiling the SDSR– signal that the war with Fox is far from over. The Prime Minister does not want it to appear that the Defence Secretary has established his own personal fiefdom in defiance of Downing Street. On 18 October there were stories in the newspapers about Fox's partying lifestyle and drinking habits, which Fox quickly labelled a smear by internal enemies. Cameron would doubtless like to trap and maim Fox, but the indications are that he is too afraid of sustaining political damage if he supports Osborne, and has chosen to spare the military even if it means that Fox escapes the Treasury hounds. The Defence Secretary rubbed salt in the wound by gleefully telling the BBC that 'Well, I think it's always helpful to have the Prime Minister on your side in any spending round. And it's very clear that the Prime Minister himself is very committed to the Armed Forces'.

The result will be that Fox emerges looking triumphant, strong willed, and resolute: sure to chime well with a frustrated Conservative party. No doubt Cameron, Osborne, and their Notting Hill mafia will seek future opportunities to send out the hounds; and Fox's next challenge will be converting this victory into broader personal success. But, for now at least, the wily Defence Secretary has outsmarted his opponents. Where that leaves Britain's international strategy does not appear to be on the agenda.

Robert Crowcroft is a Research Associate at the UK Defence Forum and a specialist on British politics and defence.

The backgorunder to the Strategic Defence and Security Review - the National Security Strategy can be read here.


Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Almost certainly the biggest contemporary problem for the way in which the US and its allies wage war is our curious aversion to destroying and killing the enemy. The military power wielded by the US is so great that it is difficult to see how it can be 'defeated' in anything but the long term. Surely, you would think, that once battle has been joined the priority would be crushing the enemy, no matter how it is done. This trend is especially puzzling when we bear in mind that recent conflicts have been expeditionary operations and are, in effect, wars of choice: we have chosen to designate certain people as our enemies and make war against them.

The reticence about utilising our full strength to achieve our goals – goals which are apparently so important that we committed to war – is debilitating. Doing so for 'moral' reasons – in reality, merely the need for a socially unrepresentative group of politicians and commentators to feel themselves virtuous – only reduces the prospect of victory and, usually, constitutes no solution to the problem at hand. One important point here is that military behaviour appealing to the prejudices of the cosmopolitan classes hardly ever works and should be avoided like the plague. Another point centres on the unpalatable truth that killing the enemy and inflicting violence upon him is absolutely central to a successful war. It always has been. In the West, our sheltered societies have forgotten that. The contemporary expectation for wars to be virtually bloodless is simply pathetic and says a great deal – none of it good – about the state of our civilisation.

The fact is that there is no substitute for convincing an adversary of his defeat through graphic means; of shedding the enemy's blood in adequate quantities to achieve this; of showing resolution against opponents whose cultural background means that they only respect the clenched fist; and doing all this as quickly as possible once battle is joined. The modern aversion to inflicting, and sustaining, death in large quantities means that we no longer understand war for what it is: a matter of attrition, and of killing the opponent. War is brutal, and it must be so. Moreover, as Ralph Peters argued, attrition is 'not something to be avoided – and no rule says that attrition must be fairly distributed. The well-fought war inflicts catastrophic attrition on the enemy'. Only by sustaining heavy losses will the enemy be convinced of his defeat. Additionally, a few adversaries – like many Islamists – cannot be persuaded to desist no matter what we do; and so they must be killed.

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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.

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By Ian Shields, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


We invite you to contribute your ideas to those we came up with at the
last editorial meeting.

Roads. The Roman legionnaires built a network across England which has
determined the routes of most major highways ever since.

Maps. The Ordnance Survey was founded in 1791 to chart the country
thoroughly, and its detailed maps were widely available almost immediately

GPS. The satellite base global positioning system to accurately target
missiles now sends commercial lorries into cul-de-sacs.

T'interweb. All power to Tim Berners-Lee, but it was hardened redundant
military communications networks that created the pathways along which the
electrons could buzz.

The jet engine. The military power pack that takes us on cheap holidays

Clocks. Without the winner of a Royal Navy competition for a ship's
chronometer where would we have got the travel alarm clock from?

Computers. Like this one. Bletchley Park code breakers started the
original "difference engine" on the path to every office and most homes in
the country.


Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

The last two years have seen the return of piracy, usually off the coast of Africa, to the minds of the public as a significant international issue. Indeed piracy is now a genuine problem for the nations and corporations that rely on oceanic trade. While only a small number of vessels will ever be hijacked or seized by pirates, bear in mind that 95% of global trade is carried by sea. This means that there is plenty of scope for piracy, whether in the waters off Africa, in South Asia, or Latin America. At the moment, Somali pirates are holding about twenty EU-registered vessels for ransom. The American government has singled out Somali pirates as the biggest pirate problem, responsible for around half of all incidents worldwide in 2010.

And the ongoing multinational effort to police the lawless seas off the Horn of Africa is expensive – unsustainably so.

Moreover, the blunt truth is that there are higher priority operations that naval forces could be attending to. Between five and ten US warships are typically tasked with dealing with the issue at any one time, and there are other nations involved as well. India, for instance, last week asked African nations to do more to tackle piracy. Maintaining forces at sea on long-term operations is a costly business.

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Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

The most common starting point when analysing international politics is to argue that decisions are framed by 'national interests' and 'reasons of state'. Academics, analysts, and journalists alike do it. The basic assumption here is that the external forces exerting themselves on states (usually connected to security) are the key factors in determining what a government chooses to do, and not do, in its foreign policy. Only a fool would deny the importance of challenges from other powers, the threat of refugee flows, and the need for a secure neighbourhood. However, other perspectives do exist. One of the more persuasive centres upon the domestic high politics of foreign affairs. By that I mean the way in which domestic political pressures and ambitions can influence decisions taken in foreign policy.

In this framework, foreign policy should be seen as not only a device for safeguarding national interests, but also as a means of advancing the personal agendas of political leaders – perhaps irrespective of what that might mean for those broader 'national interests'. A recent STRATFOR essay speculated that Barack Obama may choose to escape from his domestic political problems by focusing on the realm of foreign affairs, using his constitutional freedom of action in that realm to make a bold move. The purpose would be to rebuild his credibility, appear tough and 'Presidential', and seek a high-stakes 'win' that might just be enough to turn the electoral tide and secure Obama a second term in the White House. How would he do this? By waging a successful war against Iran.

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