The Daily Mirror 4 March 2014

The Daily Mirror 4 March 2014

The Ukraine crisis is one of those rare occasions when the West should follow the immortal advice of Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army: “Don’t panic!”.


We so love to frighten ourselves rigid by the Russian bear that we are missing the key point.


Russia is not a strong state it is a weak one. Its population is plummeting – the life expectancy of the average Russian is just a little over 60. They cannot to populate their own space let alone undertake sustained military adventures outside it. Their system of Government depends upon corruption, not the rule of law. They failed to invest their oil wealth in modernising their industry, and now have a rust bucket economy. If a Chinese businessman makes a million he invests it in China. If a Russian oligarch makes a million he gets it out of Russia as fast as he can – usually into property in London. When Mr Putin invaded Georgia it looked as though he had won. But in the end that was a catastrophe for Russia. They lost massive international support and, as Western intelligence knows, exposed their army as inefficient and out of date both in technology and tactics.


At the heart of the Ukraine crisis lies a clash of cultures. We in the West understand that today the destiny of nations depends on the will of their people. But Mr Putin thinks he is still in the nineteenth century when big-powers subjugated small ones if they were considered within their “sphere of influence”. That was what got us into the mess of 1914 – and again 1939. When Mr Putin threatens to invade Ukraine if Ukrainians of Russian origin are in danger, he is precisely repeating Hitler’s Sudetenland argument for invading Czechoslovakia.


So, we used military force then, should we use it now?


No. This time there is a better way


Yesterday the Russian stock market collapsed. The economic, diplomatic and political pain which Russia would suffer if the West now acts decisively, strongly and with unity, could be unbearable.


I remember negotiating with the Russians in Bosnia – the plainer they get the message, the better they understand it.


So here’s what should happen.


Firstly, the West must speak with a single voice. Mr Hague was in Kiev yesterday. But the key voice Russia has to hear is that of Chancellor Merkel – for Germany has always been closest to Russia.


Secondly if diplomacy is our game, then it must be muscular diplomacy aimed at isolating Russia until she changes course – starting with boycotting the coming G8 meeting in Socchi.


Thirdly we should have a sliding scale of economic sanctions – starting with Western investment and moving on to targeted individual sanctions on travel and assets. Freezing the foreign assets of Putin supporting oligarchs would be a good place to start.


Russia failed to win the argument with the Ukrainian people. Now it’s trying to win the argument with force. That is not a measure of strength, but of weakness. There has to be a cost for this illegality. But it is better exacted through economic and diplomatic means than military ones.

Ukraine The Independent 8 Feb 2015

Ukraine The Independent 8 Feb 2015

 The Chinese philosopher Sun Tze said “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”


In the Ukraine crisis, Putin is playing strategy. We are playing tactics.


The West lost the greatest strategic opportunity of recent times when we reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, not with a long term plan to bring Russia in from the cold, but by treating Russia to a blast of Washington triumphalism and superiority. Instead of opening the doors to a strategic partnership to Moscow, we sent young men still wet behind the ears from Harvard business school to privatize their industries, and teach them the Western way of doing things. The result was a bonanza of corruption, the humiliation of the Yeltsin years and a clumsy attempt to enlarge our “Cold war victory” by seeking to expand NATO and Europe right up to the Russian border. There was always going to be a consequence of this folly and its name is Vladimir Putin.


The problem with Russia now is not its strength, but its weakness. The massive energy revenues of the good times were not invested in modernizing Russia, but either squandered at home or shipped abroad by the Oligarchs to buy yachts and London properties. The Russian economy now staggers under the effect of falling oil prices and Western sanctions. The population is plummeting. Male life expectancy, at 64, places Putin’s state amongst the lowest 50 countries in the world for population regeneration. The empty spaces of Putin’s eastern territories now increasingly depend economically, not on Russians, but on a gathering invasion of Chinese small businessman and traders. Add to all of this, Russia’s own home-grown struggle with Sunni Jihadism in the Islamic republics of Chechnya and Dagestan and it is little wonder that many in Moscow worry about the long term integrity of the Russian Federation.


And that’s the problem. A strong self-confident Russia would be easier to deal with. But for a weak one – and especially a weak one led by a muscular leader – the distractions of military adventurism are irresistible.


So now we face a very dangerous crisis. That this is, in part, of our own making provides an explanation for how we got here, but not a signpost for what we should do next. For Putin has chosen to challenge, not just the sovereignty of Ukraine, but the very basis on which the peace of Europe has been founded these last fifty years. When the Second World War ended, Europe determined that it would end a thousand years of warfare driven by the assertion that large powers have the right to subjugate the freedoms (even the existence) of smaller nations, if they believed them to be within their spheres of influence. Instead Europe’s peace would in future be based on the principles of co-operation, peaceful co-existence and the right of all nations, large and small to determine their future based exclusively on the will of their people. By denying that right to Ukraine on the grounds that it is Russia’s sphere of influence, Putin asks us to abandon those principles. We cannot do so.


So what should we do?


Our greatest lever still lies in economic means rather than military ones. The sanctions are having an effect. It may even be that Putin is bringing things to a head military in an attempt to foreshorten the economic pain. So the first strand of our strategy should be patiently to stay the course of economic sanctions.


The second is to continue what the West, through Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande have begun. Keep pushing for a peace based in a cease-fire and greater autonomy for eastern Ukraine.

Does this mean no direct military response? Unless NATO is threatened directly, it does.


Does it mean no military diplomacy? Not it doesn’t. The right reaction to Russian arming of the Ukrainian rebels is to make it clear that we are prepared to do the same for the Ukrainian Government. But not now, not quickly and not all at once. What we need is more a process, than an event. Start small, slow and un-aggressively – with communications and intelligence equipment for example. Expand by steps when we have to.


All these actions are necessary, but they are not sufficient. We still lack a broader diplomatic strategy. Yet one stares us in the face, if only we could see it.


The West is not succeeding against ISIL in the Middle East. The US led coalition is too small, too Sunni and lacks international legitimacy. This is one area where our problems are Russia’s problems too – we may be threatened by Jihadis returning from the battlefield. But Russia is part of the battlefield. ISIL will not be beaten by Western bombs and guns alone. But they can be beaten by a much wider international coalition including Turkey, Iran and – why not? – Russia too. This would add real diplomatic and military firepower to our cause. And offer Russia a partnership over an issue that threatens them arguably even more than us.


As we should have learnt by now, it is always unwise to paint Russia into a corner – even one of its own making. So balancing a hard line on Ukraine with an offer of partnership against the Jihadi threat, makes solid sense – and perhaps even the start of a strategic approach to the Ukraine crisis, rather than a purely tactical one.




These are confusing times for supporters of NATO. On the one hand, the transatlantic alliance has completed its Libya mission without suffering a single casualty. On the other, NATO’s future looks uncertain in the face of fiscal austerity, growing burden-sharing problems and dwindling US faith in its utility. The onus is now on Britain and France to show the way forward.

In 2000, the US share of total defence spending among NATO members was around 50%. Today, it has risen to 75%.Many European nations have cashed in on continental peace, re-directing spending towards other priorities and free-riding off the US in dealing with overseas threats.

This burden-sharing problem will only get worse. Every European NATO member will see severe defence cuts over the foreseeable future, including France whose review of the Livre Blanc begins next year. So we can expect European capabilities and share of NATO defence spending to decline further.

But Europeans are not just spending less on defence; we continue to spend badly. Military spending is channelled through dozens of separate national programmes and structures creating enormous duplication and failing to achieve economies of scale. As a result, while there are half a million more European military personnel than the US, Europeans can deploy just a fraction of those that America does on overseas expeditions.

The second concern is future US foreign policy. In his last European speech as US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates warned that the US is looking west across the Pacific as much as east across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, what they see in NATO is yesterday’s vision of the future: allies with declining capabilities, reluctant to put troops in harm’s way, an institution ill-suited to addressing US overseas interests. Moreover, looming US defence budget cuts means the mood in Washington is to focus US overseas commitments its core interests.

Libya is a case in point. After the initial airstrikes, the US played a substantial but supporting role, encouraging Britain and France to lead what they saw as an operation primarily of European interest. As a result, the mission suffered from substantially reduced firepower with less than a quarter of the planes used in Kosovo, flying less than a fifth of the air sorties and ammunition running dangerously low at times. Without US military assets, the mission would have been impossible.

As in Bosnia in the 1990s, so again in Libya today, this operation has cruelly exposed how poorly equipped, organised and prepared we Europeans are for undertaking serious and sustained missions, even in our own backyard. Given that the Americans are clearly less willing to lead this sort of operation in the future, this should be a sharp wake-up call.

So what can we do? How do we reassure the Americans that Europeans are fully committed to the transatlantic alliance? How do we Europeans deliver greater military capabilities when money is tight? How do we provide for our own security interests if and when the US declines to lead in a cause vital to Europeans in the future?

Some say the answer is a European army. But this is a pipedream for lazy thinkers requiring a common budget, common equipment, and integrated command, under clear political direction: none of which are intended by its advocates. Yet the status quo is equally unpalatable. I welcome last year’s British-French Defence Treaties. If we will them, these could deliver real cost savings through joint procurement, R&D, maintenance, training, and shared military doctrine essential for joint operations. But therein lies the rub. Without the will to develop a wider vision, they risk descending into the black hole for good intentions that swallowed up St Malo.

The first deficiency of the London-Paris defence axis is the assumption that deep co-operation can be achieved by bringing the Generals together to agree how to collaborate on the battlefield; or fitting aircraft carriers with catapults. This is a perfectly sensible idea. But it is neither big, new nor original. It’s what Blucher and Wellington tried at Waterloo, Hague and Foche attempted at Flanders, what my father hoped for in the British Expeditionary Force before Dunkirk, and what I did with the Dutch Marines in the 1970s. Working co-operation, even integration, between troops is sensible. But it will not lead to the deep co-operation and cost-saving we need.

Proper defence co-operation will not be driven by the Generals at the top, but by integrating defence industries at the bottom. Address this and we will open up genuine co-operation driven by the requirement to rationalise a common interlocking strategic view as a prelude to achieving common procurement. That’s what will give reality to genuine defence co-operation. That’s where the huge savings we need will be made. That’s how we can finally begin to construct a globally competitive European defence industrial base.

The second problem is that London and Paris see these Treaties differently. For Euro-sceptics, it’s a step back to the future; the entente cordiale re-created; an exercise stopping at Paris. But for Paris it is much more. There is already an active structure for Franco-German co-operation, the UK-Dutch Amphibious Force and the Nordic Grouping. The London relationship adds to it. The French vision is to create a wider process of pragmatic defence co-operation between like minded European parties based on practical steps and what is in our interests to do. This is the right vision. But it is anathema to some in London.

London must realise that in isolation, British-French cooperation will not provide the European capabilities required to strengthen Nato. By itself, it will not deliver the cost-savings needed to rescue defence budgets. Without others, Britain and France will not be able to provide for our collective security interests when the US declines to lead.

So we must deepen our bilateral cooperation. We need to actively explore defence cooperation with other serious European partners. And we should be relentless in exporting our cooperative model across Europe. As British-French leadership in Libya comes to an end, British-French leadership in Europe needs to begin.

NATO at Bucharest Paddy Ashdown 30 March 2008

NATO at Bucharest

Paddy Ashdown

30 March 2008


NATO’s post-Cold War accomplishments are legion and have confounded those who in the early 1990s predicted the Alliance’s demise. Key achievements include the Alliance’s expansion and its Balkan operations, which extended the Euro-Atlantic community’s reach and created a ‘zone of peace’ across the European continent.

But as NATO leaders prepare to meet in Bucharest, considerable challenges remain. Two immediate operational tests stand out: First, NATO’s Afghan operation; second the KFOR mission in Kosovo. Beyond operations, NATO needs to rescue its enlargement strategy – initially towards the Western Balkans and Ukraine – and launch a new approach towards its partners, notably Australia and Japan but also the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.


For Afghanistan, in the next three years, ISAF needs to build the Afghan army and even the Afghan police’s capabilities, expand security across the southern and eastern provinces and develop a modus operandi not only with the Afghan government but also with international organizations such as the UN and EU, so that a truly “comprehensive approach” can be brought to bear.


From now to spring 2009, the key challenge will be to hold the alliance together, ensure enough additional troops to guarantee that Canadian and Dutch contingents remain and to prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban.


With the Germany reluctant to move south, NATO needs to find ways of “alternative burden-sharing” e.g. support for NATO’s southern mission by partners with troops deployed in the north. This might include establishing an Afghan Army Fund to pay for the army’s development.


For many European countries, however, counter-insurgency is not a politically palatable narrative. But democracy-promotion might well prove potent (even post-Iraq). NATO should therefore use the Afghan elections in 2009 as the catalyst for continued allied commitment.


From spring 2009 onwards, when a new U.S president is likely to surge additional troops to the south, it will be vital to ensure that while NATO’s southern operation becomes “Americanized”, other allies do not withdraw. Here it will be key to examine new ways of collaborating with the EU. One idea would be for the EU to take charge of reconstruction in Afghanistan’s 12 largest cities, with NATO providing security inside and U.S forces operating in the provincial hinterland. A “Kabul Security and Development Plan” could be a first step; another, could be for European gendarmerie forces – either through NATO or the EU – to help build the Afghan police.


In addition, NATO should look for ways to contribute to a regional solution, involving Pakistan and India, possibly by examining the scope for an external Baker-Hamilton-style commission to review current policies.


Risks abound, not least that the U.S will come to see the decision to hand ISAF over to NATO in 2003 as a mistake and will again favour a “coalitions-of-the-willing” policy, with consequences for intra-NATO solidarity and, at the tactical level, an increased gap between a U.S-led “RC South caucus” and the rest of the Alliance.


NATO’s second immediate challenge will be to maintain its credibility in Kosovo, to ensure peace throughout the territory of the newly-independent state, and assist the EU’s police-and-justice mission in tackling Kosovo’s major problem: organized crime.


An early priority will be to ensure institutions such as the police and EULEX gain access to Mitrovica while, at the same time, giving neither side the opportunity for further violence. In time – if the political decision is made – NATO should plan handing over security responsibilities to the Kosovo government, perhaps aided by an EU force.


Both the Afghan and Kosovo missions will necessitate better integration of civilian and military assets and increased NATO-EU and NATO-UN cooperation.


NATO-EU relations remain famously difficult and reliant on the EU’s relationship with Turkey and the status of peace talks on Cyprus. But there may be scope for increased tactical cooperation, especially in-theatre, which could exploit a strategic rapprochement between NATO and the EU should one occur.


Practical areas for EU-NATO collaboration, including in-theatre ISAF support to EUPOL, joint training and pre-deployment preparation for PRT staff and joined-up civil-military exercises.


Outside current commitments, two long-term operational challenges for NATO are likely to emerge. The first is NATO’s potential role in any Israeli-Palestinian settlement including peacekeeping tasks and assistance in building Palestine’s security institutions. The second, longer-term challenge, is how to deal with Africa.


NATO has yet to find an effective way to assist the African Union (AU) in building its capabilities. Meanwhile, US plans for Africom risk marginalizing NATO as a security player in Africa. NATO should examine how it might operate with Africom and the AU as they stand or explore the possibilities for a new hybrid construct, such as an AU/NATO set-up – perhaps even involving the UN or EU – which could have a permanent presence in Africa, become a long-term partner for security assistance and work to prevent conflict.


Reforms are needed to improve both current and future operations including, adjustments to NATO’s command structures so that greater authority can be delegated to military commanders and in-theatre integration with partners like UN can be improved, without, of course, compromising the role of the NAC and the Secretary-General. Changes in the way NATO missions are financed should also be explored, perhaps through the development a commonly-financed NATO operations budget or, initially, joint financing for parts of NATO operations.


Unforeseen challenges will doubtless emerge. And both current and future operations will vie for attention with the “new” threats such as cyber attack, weapons proliferation and energy security.


NATO’s 60th anniversary in 2009 presents an opportunity to revitalize the world’s premier security organization and following this year’s US presidential election, to re-build a consensus on Euro-Atlantic security, including ways to improve NATO-EU cooperation.


As the NATO Secretary-General recently stated, this may include “updating” the Atlantic Charter and clarifying the meaning of Article V in an “age of terror”. This weeks’ Bucharest Summit should lay the groundwork for next year’s re-affirmation of the world’s most important alliance.

Drones The Tomes – 7 Dec 2013

Drones The Times 7 Feb 2013

A Royal Marine I once knew would, in any given tactical situation, come up to me, a worried frown on his face, and say “But Sir, what if a tank comes along”. My answer was always the same: “Marine Snodgrass, if a tank comes along, we’re f****ed. Alright?”. Satisfied, he would then cheerfully go off upon his duty. I eventually concluded that his question was asked, not out of fear, but from a desire to be helpful by checking that I had spotted the danger he had spotted.


The current debate about drones is, no doubt fired by the same intention. And with good reason. Drones have become the weapon of choice of President Obama and – perhaps especially – of his new CIA Director, the rather scary looking Mr John Brennan. The issue is now a matter of hot debate on the other side of the Atlantic and, increasingly here too. Some call for constraints; others for clear guide lines; others still for a new international treaty governing their use, as we had for cluster bombs. Given that drones are (relatively) new and offer commanders new choices, this debate is all, no doubt perfectly healthy – provided it is properly rational.


But that’s the problem – so far it hasn’t been. The result is that misunderstanding – even perhaps deliberate mis-representation – are clouding the real issues involved.


First a health warning. War is a revolting practice and cannot be discussed without using revolting words. So the squeamish and those morally offended by all violence should look away now.


The first point may appear semantic, but it is not – it is fundamental. Drones are not a weapon like cluster bomb – they are a delivery system. They do not, like cluster bombs, scatter themselves indiscriminately over large areas, or lie there unexploded for children to step on later. The weapon they deliver is a so called “smart” bomb which has the same purpose, effect and horrible result, wherever and however it is launched. If this is what offends because it leads to “extra-judicial executions” (and that does indeed raise serious moral questions) then it should offend whether the weapon is launched from a drone, a nearby Special Forces team, a helicopter at 10,000 feet, an aircraft at 25,000, satellite at the edge of space or even nowadays with their accuracy, a submarine launched Cruise missile from hundreds of miles away.


Of course if it’s the “smart” bombs we don’t like, fine; then lets ban them. Then we can all go back to good old indiscriminate high explosive – not “smart”, not trying to be selective (not always succeeding, but at least trying) and of course not at all pleasant for the inadvertent innocent who, in much larger numbers, will get killed and maimed along with the intended target. To say nothing of our own servicemen, more of whom who will also have to die in the use of it.


We don’t want to do that do we? Of course not.


So if its not the “smart” bomb we object to it must be the drone itself.


But why?


A Peer who ought to know better said in the House of Lords the other day that it was because the drone was especially dangerous since it “kills people remotely from some a leafy suburb in the middle of one’s own country” – as though this was somehow happening in a garden shed close to you.


But of course it is not. Yes, these decisions are being controlled from thousands of miles away. But is that more or less thousands of miles away than the decision to send in a stealth fighter? or give the order to launch a missile from a nearby Special Forces team? Or a Cruise from a submarine? And – and here’s the point – thousands of miles from the battlefield, is thousands of miles closer to the politicians who have to be accountable and many tens of people less for them to hide behind. It is said that every week president Obama sits down with his advisors and personally decides how drones will be used in the week ahead. Can we imagine what that must be like for a democratically elected politician? No taking shelter behind a command chain which reaches right down to the judgement of the poor bloody soldier on the ground. This time the President is personally involved – personally accountable; perhaps even in a way which could, theoretically at least, be open to challenge before an international court of law. So if we want political accountability for the violent actions of war taken in our name – and presumably we do – then we get more of it, not less from a decision to launch a “smart” bomb from a drone which politicians have to take, than one taken, for instance by a pilot in a split second, in the heat of conflict, 25,000 feet above the battlefield.


For some the worry about drones is the way they are being used extra-territorially – in other nation’s jurisdictions. That too is a proper concern – but it’s not a new one.


In the Borneo jungle conflict of the early 1960s I was ordered to take my unit across the Indonesian border to carry the war to “terrorists” sheltering on Indonesian territory. The operation was secret, sanctioned by the Cabinet and never came to light at the time. But if it had I am sure that the Government would have claimed that the action was consistent with the well established practice of “hot pursuit” and a country’s legal right to take “self defensive” action where its security is threatened from the territory of another nation. Of course such action is always highly debatable and often used as a pretext for something much more sinister. But the point is that this is not a new practice, it’s a very old one and there is an established body of law to cover it. And that law is neither less valid nor less applicable because the instrument is a drone today, rather than me and my Royal Marines colleagues in the 1960s.


Drones may be new. But they come from a long line that goes back to the Roman trebuchet. In contemplating their use we should doubtless carefully consider how the old laws and practices apply. But we do not need new ones.



Defence review – The Times 21 Oct 2010

 The Times

Article by Paddy Ashdown


Last week’s “Strategic Defence and Security Review”, or SDSR is not what wise heads would have brought forward if they had been starting with a blank sheet of paper.


But the Coalition had to start, not from scratch, but from what they found they found when they arrived in office.


A war to fight in Afghanistan – which has to come first. Another to fight on the deficit, which, if we lose it, will threaten our economy, our national cohesion and our capacity to defend ourselves all at the same time. Some criticise the SDSR because they say the Treasury had too big a hand in it. But every Defence Review is a tussle between what we ought to have and what we can pay for. It has to be so. You cannot defend a country with flights of fancy.


And above all an inheritance left behind by the last Government which combines incompetence and irresponsibility in equal measure. Labour allowed a defence budget of some £36 Billion to run at an annual deficit of £10 billion for years without lifting a finger to put this right; they failed utterly to check huge cost overruns, like the £800 million overspend on Nimrod MRA4 ; they presided over a Ministry of Defence which, under the last three Secretaries of State, has become increasingly dysfunctional (the old problem of Ministers without experience of conflict finding it difficult to say no to Service Chiefs with lots of scrambled egg on their hats); they ordered two aircraft carriers which the nation didn’t need and couldn’t afford – more it seems for political – even constituency – reasons, than those of national interest. And then they left behind a poison pill that made them more expensive to cancel than to build. The national interest (and the Coalition’s too I suspect) would be served by an immediate investigation into this fiasco by the National Audit Office


But the Coalition’s limited room for manoeuvre was an argument for giving the Review more strategic oversight, not less. The National Security Council (NSC) strategy paper which was genuinely new and commendably wide in scope. But then it all degenerated back, as so often in the past, into an unseemly and uncontrolled squabble between the Service Chiefs about who could hang on to their most iconic bits of kit. The NSC should have done much more to get control of the MOD when it became obvious that things were going awry. It should not have been necessary for one of the key players, General Sir David Richards, to have to do a side deal outside the Review with the Prime Minister in order to stave off Army cuts that would have terribly undermined the struggle in Afghanistan. Things finally came off the rails when the MOD’s proposals had to be taken over by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to sort out the mess.


So what of the proposals themselves?


Overall – and after Downing Street’s intervention – they seem to have made a pretty fair job of an awful inheritance.


But there are exceptions.


Because we have decided to keep both of Gordon Brown’s “white elephant” aircraft carriers, the Navy can’t have the escort vessels they need much more (not least to protect capital ships like aircraft carriers!). Was it really impossible to do deal with the ship builders to cancel at least one carrier, for more escort orders?


As it is, now, the devil, as ever, will lie in the detail.


Being lumbered with the two carriers is not without its risks. It’s a safe bet their costs will grow – possibly by enough to put at risk a defence budget which will remain precarious for at least the next four years. The upgrade of the first carrier with arrestor gear (the so-called “cats’n’traps”) will cost a lot of money (a billion or so, apparently), and relies on an a US electro-magnetic catapult which is as yet unproven in a maritime environment. We don’t yet know how we will crew or support these ships – or even whether they will be able to be properly serviced while alongside Portsmouth dockyard.


Its difficult, too not to conclude that, in cancelling the Navy’s Harriers and keeping the RAF’s Tornados, we got rid of the wrong fleet of aircraft. The reason for this, we are assured, is nothing at all to do with the fact that our retiring CDS is an RAF Air Marshal and everything to do with the war in Afghanistan; the Tornado (they provide only around 8% ISAF’s ground support assets) are more capable in the ground attack role than the Harriers which we used to have there. That may be so. But, if the question is whether to have marginally less capable ground support aircraft, or no carrier borne aircraft at all for the next decade, then the answer would seem to be pretty self-evident. The Government should re-visit this decision before the ink on the SDSR gets too dry and the mindsets in the MOD, too fixed.


But the main truth which leaps out of the whole SDSR process, is that we have an MOD which is no longer fit for purpose. One outcome of this Review should be that the MOD itself needs reviewing. And it can’t be done – it shouldn’t be done – just by insiders. No private business which found itself in this kind of mess would dream of trying to put itself right without outside help. Some of the Department’s miseries are not of their making. The MOD’s was not designed to fight wars; its role was to prepare for them. Directing a war is the job of politicians, not civil servants. But the refusal of the last Government – and especially the last Prime Minister – to take responsibility for this, meant that this task was dumped on the MOD. And this at a time when victory depends, not just on the armed services but on using all the levers available to the great Departments of state in a coordinated fashion. Mr Cameron promised to form a proper War Cabinet for Afghanistan. There seems to be a view in Downing Street that the NSC does this. It doesn’t. We need something much more like a command structure, than a committee. We need the MOD to focus on its original role as a strategic headquarters, in which the Chiefs of Staff Committee is dominant. And we need all this soon; not just for the Afghan war but for our war-torn Ministry of Defence as well.



Defence – The Times 21 Jan 2012

We politicians stand accused by The Times of failing to grasp the nettle on defence, of tacitly agreeing to avoid the issue in the run up to the General Election. The issues are so complex that there is a temptation to sweep them under the carpet. But national security should be at the heart of any government’s strategy, and judgments on the fitness of politicians to govern should include a judgment of how well they will protect the people. So let’s start the debate now.

There is a political consensus on the need for a defence review. What I think we need is something much broader. The complexity of the threat demands it.

Defence used to be about how high to build the walls around us to protect from the enemy outside. Now public security can be threatened by anything from viruses in our computer networks to swine flu. It is not enough to be resilient as a nation; we must use the levers of civic society to make resilient communities too. So what we need is a comprehensive national security review.

The broader we draw the boundaries of security, however, the more we need to discuss what it is that we are seeking to protect or to champion. We are moving from a position of “defending the realm” to one of “protecting the people”. This will bring us to an uncomfortable but necessary debate about our place in the world.

We are currently trying to maintain the myth that we can have full-spectrum armed forces ready to operate anywhere in the world. But do we want and expect to remain a world power, with all the military hardware that implies? Or is it the case that we can only operate in close co-operation with Allies?

A common characteristic among modern organisations is to work out not just what they can do by themselves, but how they can join up with others to do better — I call it Ashdown’s Third Law. Our first step should be to work closely on defence with the only other European country with serious industrial capability — the French.

Once we have analysed the challenges across the spectrum we can make better decisions about where to invest (or where to spare the Treasury axe). We need to identify the right mix of diplomacy, intelligence, aid, economic assistance, security capacity building, and force to lead us through these turbulent times. We will not do that by looking in isolation at each department’s area of responsibility.

But within all that reviewing of options and building of strategy, one essential element remains constant: we must have the ability to deliver. And in the Ministry of Defence we have a department that is not fit for purpose. We have a department whose performance against its Public Service Agreement targets has been steadily declining since 2005.

This is a greater issue than procurement or buying the right kit. It is about having a department that is able to direct the resources at hand — both money and, crucially, lives — effectively. It is about having a department that is able to overcome its own institutional insularity and link up with partners and nations.

At the moment the MoD is sclerotic and resistant to change — the very faults identified by Kipling after the Boer War. It is hamstrung by an inter-service rivalry which is out-of-date and now manifests itself publicly in arguments about cuts.

While the American Army under General Petraeus has developed a culture of listening and learning to troops, whatever their rank or experience, the culture in the MoD is that you don’t take lessons from junior officers. The ministry needs to become a learning institution if it is to become effective.

The adaptation to counter-insurgency operations seems to have been much slower in the UK than the US, despite our much vaunted experience from Northern Ireland of which we were so proud in southern Iraq in the summer and autumn of 2003.

A national security review would provide the leadership of the MoD with a clearer set of activities and missions. The ministry must then adapt itself to deliver those in as effective and transparent a way as possible.

Take procurement reform. The department should be congratulated on commissioning Bernard Gray to investigate the weaknesses within the current system. The recommendations and observations about behaviour and incentives within the MoD’s procurement section reveal a department that, even though it knew what was wrong, could not bring itself to remedy the problems. And the report looked at only one side of the equipment buying process, deliberately not investigating the role of the defence industry, either the UK’s, or that of our European and other allies.

These are institutional challenges that the MoD must overcome, irrespective almost of the nature of the security tasks it is given. And they will require wholesale changes of the structure and governance of the department.

I have not mentioned Afghanistan. Clearly, the Taleban must be defeated and the people of Afghanistan allowed to govern themselves in a free, representative, and inclusive way. The focus of all agencies of government must be on success in that endeavour.

Future conflicts may not be exactly the same in terms of the enemy, the terrain and the weapons employed. But those adversaries who threaten the UK will look to our successes and failures in Afghanistan and Iraq and use these to plot their own strategic review. We must be faster at learning to be better than our enemies.

Defence and the MoD The Times Feb 2011


The Times


Britain’s Ministry of Defence is no longer fit for purpose.
This is not primarily the fault of the present Government. It is chiefly the fault of the last one, which, for year after year, failed to address the department’s deep and growing dysfunctionalities. As the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee reports today, this led to a position where the MoD was running a recurring annual deficit of £10 billion a year, on a budget of £36 billion, without Ministers lifting a finger to put it right.
But here’s the rub. The present parlous state of our nation’s defence may not be down to this Government. But it is down to them to put right this monstrous mess. And they are not making enough progress.
The dust is now settling on the Strategic Defence and Security Review, published last October. And what it reveals is that the deeply painful cuts already announced are not going to be enough to balance the books. There will have to be more — there maybe even have to be, what is in effect, a second Review (though they will call it something else).
Of the £36 billion of cuts the MoD agreed to make over the next four years , it seems to have found less than half. If this is true, then the scale of the black hole which remains means that even if the MoD cuts everything, except what is needed to fight the war in Afghanistan (which the Prime Minster has ring fenced as forbidden territory for cuts), it would still not be enough to bring the department back within budget. Watch this space: we are about to see either a Treasury bail-out or more defence cuts down to a level which could even include our precious amphibious capability.
Today’s PAC report cites delays and alterations to project specifications as the key cause of previous cost over-runs. That is bad enough, but worse still, we are still making the same mistakes. The recent decision to fit ‘cats and traps’ to the new aircraft carriers in order to take cheaper planes has, the committee reports, been made on the basis of an “inadequate understanding of costs”.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review almost ended in disaster. This is not because it was done too quickly, as Labour claim. Any government having to slash welfare, housing, council spending, schools and hospitals in order to reduce the deficit, could not allow defence to wait until later. No Government (and certainly no Labour one ) could have got away with that.
No. The problem with the SDSR was not speed, but lack of political direction. That’s why it ended up, not in a sensible re-arrangement of our defence resources to better meet the national need, but in an unseemly squabble between the service chiefs to hang on to their favourite pieces of capital equipment. One result was that Sir David Richards, then head of the Army and now Chief of Defence Staff had to bypass the whole process (and his Secretary of State) to appeal to the Prime Minister, in order to avert catastrophe in the Army.
The decisions made in the SDSR, with some notable exceptions, like the decision to scrap the Harriers, were broadly right — but only thanks to the last-minute intervention of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
The review should have marked the beginning of a new era. Instead, the MoD is still haemorrhaging money at a colossal rate. Some of the blame for this lies in the MoD’s initial misjudgement that, when the chips were down in the bargaining over cuts, the Prime Minister would back them and not the Chancellor. He didn’t and was never likely to. By the time this realisation dawned, it was too late in the process for rational decisions and hasty, ill-thought out ones had to be made instead to meet the deadline.
The Secretary of State found himself in charge of a department facing tremendously difficult financial choices. And I accept that these will take time to resolve. But not only do these problems remain — the MoD has also made some new blunders.
There were the civil servant emails sent to sack long serving soldiers who should have been told in person (preferably by their Commanding Officers) that they would have to leave. There was the leaking to the press of the termination of the careers of young pilots still under training.
These are bureaucratic mistakes which can be made even in the best run organisations. But they can also be symptoms of a much deeper malaise — and, in this case, they are.
The underlying problem is that because the last government was reluctant to set up a war cabinet to give political direction to the Afghan campaign. the MoD was left to do it instead and its civil servants subsequently strayed well beyond their proper remit. The MoD’s job should be to service the services, not to run them.
Yet today, it is civil servants, not generals, who move around individual units, right down to platoon level, in Afghanistan. Indeed, it is now often the case that those in command sometimes do not even know their units have been moved (or their men sacked) until after it has happened.
With the creation of the National Security Council we are beginning at last to create the architecture for a genuine, joined-up approach to the nation’s security. (Though not yet I fear the strategic thinking or, perhaps, the political will to drive it.) Our armed services themselves are more than capable of playing their part in this. But our Ministry Defence, which has been encouraged to think of itself as a war fighting organisation, rather than one which prepares for war. This needs to be put right soon.
And that can only be done if the politicians who direct this broken instrument focus energetically and exclusively on mending it.
In these turbulent times it is hard to tell where the next security challenge will come from . But I fear that if Britain were to face such a challenge in the next two or three years, our current inadequacies at the heart of defence would be cruelly exposed. That would be very dangerous for our country — and could prove disastrous for a Conservative-led government.

Anglo – French Defence deal 19 Dec 2010

The ratification of the UK-France Defence Treaty is potentially a real ground breaker in the way we look at our national defence and secure our place in a fast changing world. But only if there is a much clearer view of what all this means and genuine political will to drive it through.

The Suez crisis cruelly revealed the weakness of the old European colonial powers once we were left naked and exposed without US backing. Britain responded to this humiliation by snuggling closer to the US. France moved the other way, standing apart and trying to build a European alternative based more on incipient rivalry to the US rather than engagement with them.


Both of these responses were perfectly rational in the days when the world was mono-polar and dominated by a single super power. But the rise of China, India, Brazil and others is creating a very differently shaped globe. The US may well – probably will – remain, for the next decade or more, the world’s most powerful power. But she will now hold that power in a very different context – a multi polar world, not a mono-poplar one.


Washington is now looking just as much west across the Pacific as east across the Atlantic. Europe cannot any longer rely on ties of history language and culture to underpin our relationship with Washington. We are judged by this US Administration – and will be judged by all future ones – less by bonds of sentimentality and more by what Europe can deliver to the causes driven by our shared interests. And if Afghanistan is anything to go by, that’s currently not much.


One reason for this is that we Europeans haven’t got our act together – though Washington now enthusiastically wants that to happen, where previously they opposed it.


Another is our severe financial difficulties.


Here France and Britain face exactly the same problem. And these are not just financial. They also touch on our view of ourselves, which now has to be tempered by a proper if painful assessment of what we really need for security in the new world in which we now find ourselves.


So working together makes economic sense, strategic sense and geo-political sense at the same time.


To our west, the US will remain our principle non-European ally. But we can no longer rely on her as defender of last resort and friend in all circumstance in the way we have in the past. To our east we have a highly assertive Russian President, prepared to resurrect the Brezhnev doctrine and use force when he thinks he can get away with it – as we saw in Georgia. And beyond that, a rising China, a increasingly self-confident India and fast growing economic powers in South America.


If we Europeans does not realise that the right response to the new global situation we find our selves in, is to deepen the integration of our defence and foreign affairs (and yes economic affairs, too) then we are bloody fools and the next decades will be much more uncomfortable that they need be.


Which is why the new Franco-British military axis is so important.


There are however three key problems which need to be overcome, if this is important new direction is not to meander away into the wilderness and get lost, like Mr Blair’s St Malo initiative before it.


The first is political will. If this to be more than gimmick, then it needs to be invested with real political will – from the very top – and from both sides. I hear there is already some slackening of interest in both Paris and London.


The second is a realisation – so far, I believe almost totally absent on both sides – that this will not be done from top down, but from the bottom up. You cannot bring two armed forces relying on both sides Generals and defence experts sitting in a room together. That’s one of the reasons why St Malo failed. And it is one of the reasons why the current Franco-German military relationship appears to be making little progress, too, despite regular meetings, served by a huge secretariat and a whole Franco German Brigade to show for it. Generals will not drive the kind of integration we want. Only a real push towards integrating our defence industries will. That’s where the huge savings are to be made. That’s where the move towards common procurement can be pursued. That’s where we can put together a genuine European defence industry which would compete better with and make us less reliant on, the defence giants on the other side of the Atlantic.


This won’t be easy of course. Attempts to do it have not been hugely successful in the past. But times are different now. We have less money to waste and greater need to act together. Given the political will (and we will need a lot of it in both Paris and London) this is where real progress – with real effect – could be made.


The third impediment to making a success of this new direction is the wide disparity of views between London and Paris on what this is all about.


Paris, with an already existing military relationship with Germany, sees this as a key building block to assembling, albeit organically rather than through Brussels, a hard core of European military co-operation which others will then join. They see this as the first step in creating a genuine, rather than mythical, European defence entity.


But London (or rather some in the London Government) regard that with horror. They do not see this as the first step to wider European defence co-operation but as a single and not be repeated step with a single ally which can go thus far, but no further.


This is the principle rock on which all this could founder. And that would be tragedy.


I am struck by the fact that the Conservatives in the Coalition have been more pragmatic than dogmatic about Europe and greatly welcome this.


I hope they will now be able to find the space to be pragmatic on this issue too. Our defence co-operation with France has huge dividends to deliver. But only if it can be underpinned by an equivalent integration of our two defence industries, backed by with the will behind it to make it happen and an understanding that, if it works, then it something to build on and not just an end in itself.


Then we would doing something which our best ally Washington wants very much, which would help both our security and our tax payers and which makes solid good sense in the new world in which we Europeans now find ourselves.


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