Monday, 20 May 2024
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UK opinion

By James Clinch

A child taking its first steps as the Soviet empire was breaking apart would barely have reached school age when MP Tony Blair charged the UK Defence Forum with 'thinking the unthinkable' on defence and security. Yet in that short space of time the pace of change was such that his radical appeal already had the ring of pragmatism. Verities that had guided strategic thinking for decades were, in the post-Cold War context and amidst contending images of the future, increasingly suspected of being outmoded. After the dramatic events of 2001 they were, it seemed, potentially even dangerous.

The drive to transcend conventional wisdom has only intensified since. U.S. General Martin E. Dempsey used this year's Kermit Roosevelt Lecture to warn against 'the failure of imagination' in respect of defence issues, and just last year respected analyst Joshua Cooper Ramo, managing director of Kissinger Associates, released a book declaring ours nothing less than the 'Age of the Unthinkable', urging a degree of mental dexterity commensurate to the bewildering complexity that he argues now defines the strategic realm. Ramo's work is merely the culmination of a trend: drop a line into any stream of the literature on defence and security over the past fifteen years and one is almost certain to catch a reference to the need to radically revise our thinking. But if the revelation of fresh ideas is now a commonplace, if the search for unorthodoxy is itself becoming orthodox, exactly what 'thinking the unthinkable' means is becoming increasingly hard to determine.

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By Ian Shields, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Much is being written at present about defence, about security, about Britain's place in the world, and the extent to which we need (note need rather than do not need) military power. But before we can determine how we are going to undertake defence, and in particular what force structures we need, we should first establish where the threat comes from: that critical link between defence and security. The conventional approach is to look at threats to the country from state and non-state actors, placing everything in the realm of International Relations, within the state-to-state construct. This essay will approach the issue from a more individual level by considering first insecurity, which then allows the focus to be applied to security and hence to those defence apparatus that afford security. It will do so by first exploring why we presently feel insecure, then propose a different approach to achieving security, before exploring some of the practical implications that such an approach would require, and finally summarising.

There appears to be considerable concern both at Governmental level and for the man in the street about the threats the country and its citizens face, leading to a growing feeling of insecurity. Why is this, is it rational, and what actually are the threats? In many ways security is now far harder to define, and to achieve. In the present era of globalisation, we are more interconnected than ever, more interdependent for food, energy and information. Events on the other side of the world can have a far greater impact on both the country and the individual than before: one thinks of the impact of the Volcanic Ash cloud earlier this year and the disruption it caused. Moreover, our borders are, compared with a century ago, far less inviolate: we have little real say over satellites passing over head, the advent of aircraft have brought a new dimension and a new challenge to securing our borders from a determined foe (and this is the 70th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain), while the invention of the nuclear weapon, and inter-continental delivery systems, brought an entirely new paradigm to the threat to security. Moreover, near-instantaneous global communications and the advent of the 24/7 media have not only shrunk the world in a new manner, but by beaming images of violence and disaster around the world direct to citizens' homes, have arguably increased the feelings of insecurity of the citizen.

And yet the world is no more dangerous in terms of natural disasters than it ever has been, the threat of state-on-state attack against the UK is, by historic measure, very low, and the vision of extinction from a massive nuclear exchange faded with the end of the Cold War; compared to most of our history we are in a period of marked peace. And yet we feel less secure, have introduced draconian legislation that limits individual liberties to counter what is, compared with history, a very minor threat; in doing so have further reinforced the feelings of insecurity within the populace. Do terrorists really threaten our vital interests? A little, maybe, but compared with the threats of much of the twentieth century, hardly. The capacity for terrorists to inflict crude but large-scale attacks on Western interests has already been largely curtailed, and they have never had the capacity to undertake complex and more meaningful actions. The gravest threat from terrorism is its ability to provoke unwise over-reactions on our part.

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By Nick Watts, Defence Correspondent, Great North News Services

The government's SDSR has set the framework for the next phase, a Green paper on the future of the defence sector in the UK. A White paper will follow in the spring. The CSR gives the context of a defence budgetary framework for the next 5 years to 2014-15. This is estimated to be a real terms cut of 8%. Beyond the headlines though, the key question for industry is: so what and what next? What does this mean for the relationship between MoD and Industry?

Industry must take a "glass half full" approach if it is to successfully weather the current state of affairs. The MoD and government are determined to ensure that a UK based defence industry continues to be viable. Not only to supply our armed forces with good kit but also so that it can continue to earn export orders. So its going to take two to tango

This process is going to have to negotiate a relationship between government and the defence sector which is beset with contradictions. The UK's defence sector competes in a globalized market. The UK is an open market for defence contractors, which stimulates competition. The defence sector needs both a predictable stream of income to sustain its operations, as well as markets into which it can sell its products. The taxpayer wants value for money and the services need good equipment.

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By Victoria Dawson

The Military Covenant, traditionally sealed by the payment of a shilling to a soldier, between the Nation, the British Army and the Soldier, has as its core principles from the 'Army Doctrine', which holds that; 'soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices – including the ultimate sacrifice – in the service of the Nation.  In putting the needs of the Nation and the British Army before their own, soldiers forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces.  In return, soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals.  In the same way the unique nature of military operations means that the British Army differs from any other State institution, and must be sustained and provided for by the Nation'.

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The UK Defence Forum has recently published the above regional study by Roshani Palamakumbura, research intern.

The article can be read here.


By Lee Bruce

One of the most compelling myths propagated in public life is the presentation of the UK as an American 'poodle'. Before hammering the nails into the coffin of the UK-US partnership, politicians and their public should not dismiss the sheer historical resilience of the relationship, nor avoid the immutable limitations of an integrated European defence platform. Co-operation between the transatlantic partners will be essential given the potential for a rapid and game changing deterioration in the security context either in Europe or perhaps as a consequence of an extension of the conflict in Afghanistan. Assuming British statesman wish to play a role in stewarding an international system broadly sympathetic to UK interests they need to hold close to the US. Dispelling the 'poodle' mythology is essential if Britain is going to rediscover a credible defence posture and emerge from the terrible mess many believe her grand strategy to be mired in. The forthcoming Strategic Defence Review (SDR) is an opportune moment for the new government in London to demonstrate this subtlety of hand and save Britain from being relegated to a third rate power.

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By Guy Birks

The proposed trial and creation of a National Citizen Service in the UK marks a bold attempt by the Coalition government to try and implement a form of national service. The stated intention is to introduce young people to the concept of civic responsibility through a kind of non-military national service. For some, however, this proposal does not go far enough. In the UK a significant section of the press and a large number of people frequently call for a military national service. In particular, it is believed that a national service scheme carried out within the military will help tackle anti-social behaviour and youth disaffection. The problems with this view can be highlighted by looking at national service elsewhere in other European countries.

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Dr Robert Crowcroft

The Strategic Defence Review process is underway, and already the signs are ominous for the UK and its role in the world. It is clear that the outcome will see the UK's military capabilities significantly, and probably permanently, diminished. It is an 'East of Suez' moment, a watershed. The Armed Forces will either have to undertake a radically different range of missions or, if the outcome of the SDR is a fudge whereby choices are avoided, the UK's military will be overexposed in future crises – perhaps disastrously so. What's worse is that there appears to be little clarity of thinking in Government about the general international strategy of the UK. Before policymakers work out how many soldiers, ships, and aeroplanes we need, they need to decide what world, or regional, role London will seek.

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

By far the biggest fiction in international affairs is the alleged centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian problem to achieving 'world peace' (which itself surely rates as the second biggest fraud). There is a widespread assumption in the West that resolving the disputes between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people who live on its border carries great importance. Indeed the peace process is usually seen as a key component – if not the key component – of winning the battle against Islamism by discrediting its narrative. The argument goes that the sight of Muslims being oppressed by non-Muslims (not oppressed per se, you will note) deeply antagonises the Islamic world; Muslims feel the need to take up arms, not only against Israel but the rest of us too. British government documentation appears to buy in to this. 'The pursuit of a final settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict remains a top priority for the Foreign Secretary and the Government', David Miliband stated when at the FCO. And of course we are all familiar with the vision for 'two states, living side by side in peace and security'. Thus, peace between Israel and the Palestinians will allegedly give a huge boost to stability across the Middle East; Muslims around the world will be less sympathetic to 'extremism'; and we will all be on the road to peace.

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

If the priorities of the leaders of Palestine – at first sight the victims of the crisis – and other Arabs are gesture and power-politics rather than peace, where does that leave the priorities of everyone else? Israel's adherence to the peace process and the 'need' to solve the issue is very similar: an elaborate fiction. Why does the problem of the Palestinians need to be solved so desperately? It doesn't. And Israel knows it. Rockets fired into Israel are certainly annoying, and demand retaliation. But, as described in Part I, the rockets are largely a gesture by Hamas, all part of the image of resisting the ghastly Zionists; the reality is that the terrorist threat on Israel's border is easily containable with occasional military incursions.

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By Jonathan Wilson

Preparing for the unthinkable to happen means that for the foreseeable future the UK is going to require some form of a nuclear deterrence to protect its national security interests. It would be unwise to assume that the current status quo of security threats emerging from non-state actors will remain throughout the 21st century. A political decision regarding the future of our nuclear deterrence will be required over the next five years should we wish to maintain a nuclear capability. During the election campaign the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had opposing views concerning the future of Britain's nuclear deterrence. The Conservatives backed Labours plans for a 'like-for-like' replacement and the Liberal Democrats opposed such replacement but acknowledged that Britain required some form of nuclear deterrence. Some estimates claim the renewal will cost £100Billion over a fifty year period and it has been argued that cheaper alternatives could provide a nuclear deterrence, such as the development of nuclear equipped Typhoon fighters at 1/10th of the cost. In the aftermath of the election the agreement made between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives placed the future of Trident in jeopardy, promising to include in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to 'ensure value for money.' Departmental infighting over who pays for the project between the MoD and Treasury has made it more likely that the project will be postponed or scrapped altogether. If the United Kingdom is to maintain its nuclear deterrence during the 'Age of Austerity' then it is essential that it should provide the British taxpayer with real value for money while delivering a guaranteed, affordable and most of all relevant nuclear deterrence.

Despite the change in threats to national security, nuclear deterrence has changed little since the Cold War. In order for deterrence to be successfully achieved it is essential to ensure that the state has a guaranteed nuclear capability that is protected form an aggressor's pre-emptive strike. The UK has since the 1960s maintained a so called second strike capability through four ballistic missile submarines which are deployed under the Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD) policy. Under this policy at any one time at least one nuclear armed submarine is on patrol at any time, ensuring that a nuclear response is constantly available. Due to commitments under various international treaties and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) all of the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) - as defined by the NPT - have reduced the number of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. The UK significantly reduced its own nuclear stockpile after the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, with the dismantling of the air-launched free-fall warheads and through a reduction of warheads carried on the Vanguard-class submarines to around 160. Despite the reductions made by the NWS, the number of states developing or possessing nuclear weapons has increased. In the twenty-first century there are fewer nuclear weapons with more fingers on the button. Working towards a nuclear-free world and reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed should be at the heart of Britain's future deterrence, but not at the cost of national security.

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By Imogen Baxter and Dr Robert Crowcroft

Recent events have brought a stark warning that, when it comes to peacemaking and the resolution of conflicts, pinning hopes on goodwill, or asking people to be 'reasonable', is just not enough. The morass between Israel and the Palestinian territories, in Afghanistan, or in Iraq, illustrate that every week. Now we have had another reminder, much closer to home, from an old foe.

There have been multiple incidents related to dissident Republican terrorist groups. Indeed, there has been a significant surge in dissident activity throughout this year, including widespread rioting in Catholic areas of Belfast in July. On 14 August, a bomb detonated in a wheelie bin in Lurgan, injuring three children. Beforehand warnings were given of a bomb being placed near a school; the suspicion is that the device exploded prematurely, it being intended to kill the police officers searching in response to the school threat. That night, police officers investigating warnings of other devices were attacked by petrol bombs and missiles. On 16 August, Patrick Mercer MP expressed the view that Oglaigh nah Eireann, a splinter group from the Continuity IRA, aim to renew attacks on British targets. When faced with this kind of situation, it is all too easy to simply cross our fingers and hope for the best. It is similarly tempting to shout 'Oh, come on!' at the television screen. But hoping for 'reasonableness' as a means of resolving conflict is inadequate, and Northern Ireland illustrates this point well; perhaps too well.

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By Anthony King

On 19 June 2006, British troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade's 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, deployed into Sangin. It was and remains a defining moment of the Helmand campaign.

The circumstances of the deployment are instructive. The commander of 16 Air Assault Brigadier, Brigadier Ed Butler who had just flown into Lashkar Gar, contacted Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, the Commanding Officer of 3 PARA, on the radio: 'Stuart, we have got reports coming in that the district centre is about to fall. If we are going to reduce the risks to helicopters we need to use the cover of darkness and go before first light. Given that dawn is less than three hours away, I need to know whether you can launch the mission in the next 90 minutes'.

Tootal and his tactical headquarters 'quickly rehashed the pros and cons', rightly observing that they 'were here to support the government of Afghanistan'. However, the ultimate impetus for insertion was primarily regimental: 'Finally we were Paras and being asked to do difficult and risky things was what we were meant to be about'. Tootal confirmed that he was ready to deploy for a 24 hour operation only 20 minutes after Ed Butler's initial communication.

Four years and over a 120 dead British soldiers later, the withdrawal of British troops from Sangin has just been announced. Having lost 13 men (including attachments) in two months, 40 Commando Royal Marines, who are currently holding the line in the Upper Sangin Valley, will be replaced by a US Marine Corps brigade in the coming months. The Marines will suffer numerous casualties in Sangin but they, unlike the British, may have the combat power to secure the area.

It is clear now that Ed Butler and subsequent British commanders underestimated the scale of the problem in Sangin. Sangin is a dense population centre some 30 miles north-east of Lashkar Gar and its location and geography present intense difficulties for any security force.

Sangin is on the junction of the Helmand and the Musa Qala Rivers and has long been the centre of narco-trafficking in southern Afghanistan with routes running north to Kabul, east to Kandahar and west to Iran.

As a result of its association with drugs trafficking, Sangin is deeply significant to local magnates, including the Taliban, whose wealth and power is based on opium. In 2006, Sher Mohammend Akhundzada, who was the governor of Helmand under Karzai until his removal in 2005 when nine tonnes of heroin was found in his compound by the FCO, was one of the most powerful figures in the valley. His family influence endures to this day.

The presence of unwanted British troops represented a serious challenge to the dominant economic and political interests in Sangin, precipitating much of the fighting. Further complicating the situation,

the Upper Sangin Valley is fragmented by tribal and communal politics which has engendered high levels of hostility not only between the villages but towards any outsiders. Moreover, in the summer, the irrigated fields around the Helmand River become as vegetated as jungle while each farm compound, with thick mud-baked walls, forms perfect defensive positions; it is close and difficult country.

Apparently ignorant of the political and geographic complexities of Sangin, British troops were rapidly engaged in a desperate battle of survival in Sangin. On several occasion in 2006, the platoon house in Sangin district centre was in danger of being overrun and from 2008, as insurgents changed their tactics, British troops have been encased in belts of lEDs which have now costs scores of lives and prevented any substantial progress.

In many cases from 2006 right up to the present, the British have not been fighting a unified insurgency with a clearly identifiable goal: the 'Taliban'. More typically, British troops have been engaged by local tribal militias (some associated with Akhundzada himself) often making alliances of convenience with local Taliban commanders who bring with them additional skills, resources and fighters.

The withdrawal from Sangin is necessarily an admission of failure — at least to some degree. British commanders did not understand the political dynamics in the valley and, crucially, despite a worsening situation from 2008, have been unable to generate sufficient force ratios to pacify the hostile population.

In a sense, the Upper Sangin Valley had echoes with the Ypres Salient in the First World War. In both cases, British forces were accidentally deployed into an unfavourable tactical situation from which, constrained by political imperatives, they could neither withdraw nor which they could improve. As on the western front, British infantry soldiers have simply had to endure in Sangin for four years.

Nevertheless, although the Sangin episode should certainly be sobering to officers up and down the chain of command and might usefully feature as a historical lesson on future staff courses, the withdrawal is only a local set-back. It is not evidence of the failure of the British campaign in Helmand more widely. On the contrary, the withdrawal should be welcomed. Since December 2008, British commanders have sought quite properly to focus on the central population area of Helmand in and around Lashkar Gar. Operations Sond Chara and Panchai Palang were evidence of this attempt to concentrate forces in that decisive ink-spot and, in February 2010, Operation Moshtarak was successful in deepening security around Lashkar Gar, in Nad-e-Ali and Narah-e-Saraj. British troops have sought to strengthen their hold of these areas since that time.

The relief of 40 Commando from Sangin — and future battle-groups that would have been stationed there—will be a major benefit to the prosecution of Britain's campaign in this area. It will provide commanders with the resources to execute a now coherent counter-insurgency plan.

In addition, it will reduce the logistics burden on the Helmand Task Force very considerably. In 2006, British paratroopers nearly starved in Sangin and eventually had to be supplied by a Canadian column in armoured vehicles. Logistics in Sangin improved thereafter, but sustaining operations in the Upper Sangin Valley has been a severe logistical problem. Every month, a Combat Logistic Patrol of some 200 vehicles, escorted by Apache and preceded by reconnaissance troops, has had to be driven from Camp Bastion, along Highway 1 and then up the desert, parallel to the lED-ed Route 611, to supply the Operating Bases in and around Sangin. These Patrols have represented British military ingenuity at its best but they also demonstrate the mistake of deploying into Sangin in the first place without the troop numbers to secure the lines of communication. For the last four years, Task Force Helmand has conducted a counter-insurgency operation on highly unfavourable exterior lines of communication.

The withdrawal from Sangin alters the entire geometry of the campaign in a single stroke. British forces are concentrated in the centre of Helmand close to the Main Operating Base at Camp Bastion with a vastly diminished logistics burden and reduced lines of communication. Current and future British commanders will benefit hugely from the increased tempo which follows this rationalisation of the force lay-down.

After the withdrawal from Sangin, Britain's Task Force Helmand will control an area of just over 200 square kilometres while the US Marines Expeditionary Force has taken command not only of Helmand but also of Nimroz and Farah as the new Regional Command South West.

Britain's mission has shrunk while the American contribution has expanded dramatically. This re-balancing of effort may deflate British pretensions somewhat. Yet, ironically, the current area of operation to which the British mission has been reduced is precisely the area identified in 2005 in the initial UK plan for Helmand.

The Bastion-Lashkar Gar-Gereshk triangle, where all UK troops now operate, was then rightly seen both as the decisive and as a manageable area for the level of the British commitment. The British concept of operations in this area is now coherent and mature; it represents the most likely chance of success in the province.

However, even with this increase of force ratios and logistical relief which the withdrawal will bring, British commanders might remember the central lesson of Sangin. Afghanistan is all about politics and even the 10,000 troops now dedicated to Lashkar Gar and its environs will not alone be enough if

British military and civilian leaders fail to understand and engage with the key political actors in Helmand.

It is finally these leaders, the powerbrokers, who will bring peace to Afghanistan, not NATO's forces however brave and skilful they have been.

About the author

Anthony King is a Professor in Sociology at the University of Exeter. His main areas of research are football, social theory and latterly, the military.

This article first appeared in the August 2010 edition Parliamentary brief, entitled 'Sangin is no loss', and is reproduced with permission.


By Lee Bruce

In the past year the rising tide of violence in Northern Ireland has lead commentators to suggest that the peace process is in terminal danger. Defence analysts question how an entrenched and complicated political puzzle like Northern Ireland can be 'solved' – as if to assume that all conflicts can be ended provided that sage politicians are prepared to engage in rational and constructive debate. Both of these interpretations should be questioned. Firstly, an increase in sporadic acts of sabotage and assassination from dissidents who are marginalised from power (political conflict bloodless or otherwise is all about getting your hands on the levers of power) does not mean that there will be a return to the ferocious insurgency of the 1970s and 1980s. And secondly, there needs to be a clear definition of how victory is to be understood. Resolution in Northern Ireland (or any other counter-insurgency for that matter) is not an end to all violence of any kind as this is impossible in the Hobbesian world – sink estates in England, Wales and Scotland attest to the type of racketeering, drug running and gangsterism that afflicts Belfast, South Armagh and Londonderry. Success should instead be defined as finding 'an acceptable level of violence'. And this has been achieved by British intervention in Ulster.

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

Today the spectre of conflict in Europe has receded to the point that a general war is virtually unthinkable. Since the termination of the Balkan wars, smaller conflicts are also unlikely. A view has arisen that the structures of stability and co-operation are now so deep that Europe is perhaps in a state of 'perpetual peace'. This is usually attributed to post-war Franco-German reconciliation, the rise of the European Union, economic interconnectedness, and the Euro. And it is true that no region has such a range of well-developed institutions as Europe from the EU to NATO, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Western European Union, and more. Indeed analysts now often find Europe – the arena that inspired International Relations theory – so dull that they look elsewhere for the required fix of tension, competition, and violence. But the current state of affairs is not as resilient as some maintain. It might be that the whole rationale for co-operation between the states of Europe is, actually, remarkably thin.

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Dr Robert Crowcroft

Two decades ago, analysts expected the reunified Germany to adopt a more assertive role in international politics. Yet since 1991 Germany has been only a small and generally unimpressive presence on the world stage. In footballing terms, a Premiership club, certainly; but more West Ham than Arsenal. While Berlin is insistent on playing the role of a 'good' neighbour – so as not to reawaken memories of German aggression – for the most part this is down to routine diplomatic incompetence and policy misjudgement. A brief historical detour underlines this. In the early 1990s, German ambition was obvious. The country hoped for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, and made a major financial contribution to the costs of the 1991 Gulf War. But the focus of German policy was directed at Europe, and here German assertiveness and influence was clear. The Maastricht Treaty transformed the EC into an EU on German lines; agreement was reached for a single currency, again on German lines; and a form of federalism was adopted, fully compatible with German understandings of that concept. Germany also led the way in recognising the collapse of Yugoslavia, and facilitated the entry into the EU of pro-German nations like Austria, Sweden, and Finland. In essence, there was every sign that the old German 'customs union', Mitteleuropa – the dream of the Kaiser – was at last about to emerge.

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By Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

In an article in The Washington Times retired Admiral James A. Lyons suggests that with China's influence on the rise in the South China Sea, the United States should reinvigorate military ties with the Philippines. After the U.S. left the islands in 1991, China began laying claim to and occupying contested islands in the region. In 1995 China built a facility on Mischief Reef, a region recognised as within the Philippines' economic zone. According to Lyons, the Clinton administration's failure to effectively respond to China's illegal actions began fifteen years of regional policy inertia. Yet at the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Hanoi, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton signalled a change in U.S. policy. In a challenge to China's bilateral approach to addressing territorial claims, the Secretary of State emphasised that Washington wished to see disputes resolved through collaborative diplomacy. Yet in the case of the Philippines, Lyons suggests the United States should be doing more.

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By Adam Lyons

At a time when economic constraints are unleashed across broad areas of public spending, it is right that defence should receive its share of the pain. However, during a time of conflict in Afghanistan, it is essential that defence should not bear the brunt of the cuts that are to come, as continued operations have added unforeseen, but necessary strain to the defence budget. Neither should the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review be overwhelmingly influenced by that conflict. Afghanistan is a current priority. Consequently there is a danger that this will result in an overwhelming focus upon counter-insurgency operations, to the detriment of future operational effectiveness. Where, and in what form future conflicts shall take, cannot be accurately predicted. It is vital, therefore, that the United Kingdom's armed forces should remain effective, whilst becoming increasingly economical. To abscond from its world role and relegate itself from the league of true blue-water military powers, for mere short-term savings, would be devastating for British security and global influence. The maintenance of a modern, technological force is becoming increasingly expensive to the point where elements have become unaffordable. As coalition warfare has become the norm, some capabilities and assets can be dispensed with. A complete overhaul of the defence procurement budget is also needed to make it more affordable and effective. Yet, significant investment in air, land and sea projects must be continued to meet the unforeseen challenges of the future.

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By Lukas Milevski

What is, and is not, unthinkable in defence and security depends upon the culture of the group doing the thinking. Culture is a web of narrative threads on issues, topics and themes relevant to a particular group. In terms of defence and security these narratives concern history, geography, the roles of force and law in society, and so on. Indeed, behaviour generally cannot be isolated from the culture of the acting group without making that behaviour random and meaningless. It is culture that gives meaning to thought and action. Culture is therefore in practice the sovereign context in which not just thinking and judgment take place, but also decision-making and doing. No analyst or decision-maker is autonomous of culture.

In practice, no state is a unitary political or strategic actor. A government is made up of a number of different ministries, occasionally conflicting, each with its own culture, and thus its own priorities, value judgments and methods of decision-making. At lower levels of granularity still, each ministry is itself comprised of discrete offices, each again with its own culture, occasionally conflicting with others, and so on. The holistic strategic culture of a state is therefore essentially an amalgam of a myriad of different tribal mentalities and cultures with the admixture of a sense of greater purpose not typically found within a single tribe itself. This does not just complicate decision-making, but also complicates the lesser task of consensus, due to the inevitable conflicts which will spring up in both discussion and action.

Within this context, friction is inevitable within a strategic culture among the various tribes of the defence and security community. Cracks appear in the faηade and cannot be papered over, because disagreements are significant and the respective positions are too far apart to be reconciled among the various defence tribes. Such cracks represent issues dear to one or more of these tribes. These cracks thus represent 'unthinkables,' or issues for which certain outcomes are unthinkable for certain tribes.

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The UK Defence Forum has published the above regional study, a joint collaboration between Seckin Baris Gulmez (PhD Candidate at Royal Holloway University of London) and Adam Dempsey (Research Associate, UK Defence Forum).

Their report can be read here.


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