Afghanistan Guardian 18 Sep 2009

Joint article for the Guardian

By Nick Clegg and paddy Ashdown

Publication Friday 18 September

Embargo midnight 17 September


The crucial question on Afghanistan today is not is this war important? It is. It is not are the consequences for failure serious? They are. It is the much more brutal question: Can we win?


And the answer is no. Unless we change both our current polices and our present attitudes, failure is inevitable.


The reasons are manifold.


The international community continues to lack a united strategy with clear priorities. Nato is all over the place. President Obama’s plan is taking too long to be applied. British soldiers are fighting the war at full capacity, but their government is not. Respect for the Karzai government, to which we are tied, is not rising, it is falling. We lack a political plan that works. And it is far from clear that the military plan is working. All of this has led to public support for the war eroding at a frightening rate.


There are no quick fixes. But we need to start immediately, to forge a co-ordinated response to each of these problems and, above all, to show the strategic resolve to see it through.


The central failure is the absence of any clear international strategy. The British think Afghanistan is Helmand; the Canadians think its Kandahar; the Dutch think its Uruzgan; the Germans think it’s the North and the Americans, until recently at least, thought that the only solution was a kinetic one.


Gordon Brown and his European allies have called for an international conference to review progress. This will be a waste of time, if it does not produce the single united international strategy that has so far been so disastrously lacking.


Nato, too, has to wake up to the fact that it faces a catastrophic failure with very wide consequences for its own future, unless it can start working like an integrated military alliance, rather than a hotch potch of the committed and the half hearted.


We now have an Afghan military team of the highest quality in US Generals Petraeus and McChrystal, recently joined by Britain’s new head of the army, General David Richards, the first person to hold that post with actual – and much admired – command experience in Afghanistan. There is a chance for a new start. But the word from Washington is that Dick Holbrooke is floundering and the political plan is taking far too long to put together. Some say the fault lies in Washington in-fighting, with Holbrooke imprisoned in the State Department and ignored by the Defense Department and the CIA. Others that the problem is the Holbrooke personality. Whatever the reason, there is a perception of lack of co-ordination and drift from Washington. President Obama’s March white paper on Afghanistan was excellent. But why is it taking so long to be properly applied? Much rests on General McChrystal’s imminent, long anticipated military plan. He should propose a change in strategy and a change in gear.


The British government needs to change gear too. Mr Brown’s recent speech should have been a clarion call to the nation. Instead it was a lecture on post-rationalisation. We all know our prime minister will never be Henry V at Agincourt – his chief means of persuasion is not charisma, but volcanic grumpiness. Nevertheless he must find better means to tell us what this war is for if he is to reverse the alarming erosion in public support. The British people are not squeamish. They have shown time and again that they are prepared to put up with pain and sacrifice, provided that they are convinced of the cause and see a reasonable chance of success.


You cannot win a war on half-horsepower. The prime minister needs to make it clear that this struggle is now the nation’s first priority and we will strain every sinew to win it. In most of our recent wars, the prime minister formed a special war cabinet. Why not now? Why not a minister for Afghanistan? Why have we not assembled the very brightest in the FCO, DfID, the MOD and Cabinet Office to from a co-ordinated team to see this thing through?


This war will not be won by the bomb and the bayonet. It will be won by development and local ownership. So why is increasingly prosperous India top of Britain’s aid list, receiving more than twice the money than the ever more dangerous (and grindingly poor) Afghanistan?


We need to think again about the Afghan government as well. If, despite the cloud hanging over the election, President Karzai is returned to power, we have to ensure that Karzai II is very different from Karzai I. His government must not be made up of the unfragrant coalition of war lords and crime bosses he put together to get himself elected. It should be a genuine government of national unity that will clean out corruption and pursue an aggressive policy of integration of those Taliban who will pursue their aims through the constitution, not the gun.


This should include a recognition by the international community that a programme to strengthen local government, running with the grain of Afghanistan’s tribal structures, will be more effective than pouring more money into government in Kabul. Tribal politics are the key to Afghanistan, not western models of centralised government.


We must also take a long hard look at our military tactics on the ground. The policy of “clear hold and build” in rural areas might have worked three years ago. But since then, the situation has moved heavily against us. Now, in the rural areas at least, we are no longer fighting an external insurgency, but, for most of the contested rural areas of Helmand and Kandahar, a war amongst the people. The aim of Operation Panther’s Claw was to resurrect our lost opportunity. The theory was that if our troops moved in, there would be a spontaneous reaction from the locals to abandon the Taliban and seek our protection and development. But in most cases it hasn’t happened, leaving our soldiers once again over-extended and isolated in Beau Geste style forts, from which they can only dominate an area large enough to increase their vulnerability to ambush and roadside bombs, but too small to begin the development process.


If this is so, then it’s time to consider Plan B. One would be to concentrate our forces in future in the cities, so as to deepen the effect of the development process where it matters most, and then build out from there as force levels and resources allow.


Beyond that we may even have to consider Plan C, a modern version of the old policy of Lord Curzon, but run from Kabul instead of Calcutta, which would use airpower and special forces to prevent the Taliban ever again marching on Kabul or becoming a haven for al-Qaida, while we concentrate on the rest of the country outside the Pashtun belt.


All this will be very uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as re-enforcing failure with more lost lives.


It is not yet lost in Afganistan. Not quite. We are in the territory of the last chance. There will be no more.


Nick Clegg is leader of the Liberal Democrats. Paddy Ashdown is a former leader of the party and served as international high representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Afghanistan The Times 23 Nov 2012


It is not worth wasting one more life in Afghanistan.

All that we can achieve has now been achieved. All that we might have achieved if we had done things differently, has been lost. The only rational policy now is to leave quickly, in good order and in the company of our allies. This is the only cause for which further lives should be risked.

It is now crystal clear that we have lost in Afghanistan. We have succeeded in only one thing; albeit the big thing we first said we went to war for – driving out Al Qaeda. In almost all the other tasks we set ourselves, especially the establishment of a sustainable state, we have failed. The word “defeat” is only inappropriate because it infers some stain upon the extraordinary young men and women who have fought our cause in a foreign land. They alone emerge from this, anything but unscathed, but, in large measure, untarnished. They were not beaten. In the battles they fought against the Taliban they invariably won.

Our failure in Afghanistan has not been not military. It has been political.

This was a war that it was proper to fight and that the international community could and should have won. We went in under a UN Security Council mandate, in support of international law, consistent with our own national interests and with the overwhelming support of the Afghan people. Eleven years later we have recklessly squandered all these assets and, in the process, written the definitive text-book on how to lose these kind of wars.

The reasons for this are not new. Many of us have been warning about them for years.

The international community in Afghanistan needed to speak with a single voice in pursuit of a single plan with clear priorities. Instead we have been divided, cacophonous, chaotic. We should have concentrated on winning in Afghanistan where it mattered, instead of distracting ourselves with adventures in Iraq. We should have engaged Afghanistan’s neighbours, instead of going out of our way to make them enemies. Our early military strategy we should have been about protecting the people, instead of wasting our time chasing the enemy. We should have made fighting corruption our first priority, instead of becoming the tainted partners of a corrupt Government whose writ, along with ours, has progressively collapsed, as that of the Taliban in the South has progressively widened. We should have understood that victories on the battlefield are meaningless if you can’t translated them into political progress and better lives for ordinary people. We should have placed more emphasis on political means than military ones, instead of looking to the soldiers to win the war for us. We should have understood the culture and history of Afghanistan, instead of imposing an unaffordable Western style centralised constitution on a country which has been decentralised and tribal for more than a thousand years. And at the end we should have grabbed the best opportunity for a negotiated peace three years ago, instead of continuing our blind pursuit of the illusion of outright military victory.

Up to now the price for these follies has been paid in lives – those of our young soldiers and far too many Afghan civilians – but they soon need to be. Now there will be a political price to pay in diminished Western influence and increased instability in what is one of the most instable regions in the world.

We may not like that, but we are not now in any position to alter it.

There is only one thing more we can do now to buttress Afghanistan after we go, and that is not military, it is diplomatic; try for a regional treaty to underpin the integrity of the Afghan state.

Beyond that, what can be done to stop Afghanistan internally unravelling into chaos, has already been done. The only outcome of staying longer is more deaths for no purpose; most of them now caused, not by the enemy in front of our troops, but by the enemy amongst them. 54 Coalition soldiers have been killed this year by members of the Afghan National Army or Police – 12 of them have been British.

So now is the time to abandon the pretence that there is more of substance to be achieved in Afghanistan. The main thing to do now is leave as quick as we decently can, providing as much protection for our friends as we can, in the best order that we can and with as much of our equipment as we can.

Soldiers call this a fighting withdrawal and it is the most difficult military manoeuvre of all.

To succeed it needs clarity of purpose, speed and perfect co-ordination. None of these are in place.

Our commanders are not clear about their tasks. Do their political masters really mean what they say; that there is still more to be done? Or can they now concentrate on what they know is sensible; getting out in good order? Someone should tell them which – soon.

Meanwhile, a deadline has been set; all out by 2014. The military say it will take that long to get the kit out. Maybe. But the longer it takes, the greater the sacrifice. Maybe we have to balance a quartermaster’s perfection, against the lives lost in delivering it.

Meanwhile, our allies by their actions seem to think co-ordination a dirty word. Most are now rushing headlong for the exits. The US hints darkly about leaving earlier. Obama’s re-election probably means they will. But no-one knows for sure. The Government should be pressing them hard for clarity on this. Young brave lives – their and ours – depend on it.

In together out together may remain the best policy. But our other motto for the moment should be “quick, neat and soon”, if we are to avoid having to answer in our time, the famous question Senator John Kerry’s asked over Vietnam

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

1002 words


The Afghan War Feb 2012

The Times


The Afghan War February 2012


And so the long baleful litany of tragedies of the eleven year Afghan war continues. On Saturday it was announced that the civilian death toll in the country rose for the fifth consecutive year – by 8% to 3,021.


Among these tragedies is that fact that this was a war we didn’t have to lose. Launched in 2001 was not a detested invasion like the Russian one which preceded it. It was underpinned by a UN Security Council Resolution and overwhelmingly supported by the Afghan people. But now it will end almost exactly where the Russians ended; an untimely exit leaving behind, at best, a strong military, a corrupted police and a weak Government. The tragic price paid for that in Western blood over the last decade will end in a little over two years. But the even higher price paid by the Afghans will not.


We, the Western nations, have no-one to blame for this but ourselves. Afghanistan will be seen in the future as a copy book example of how NOT to do these things.


We failed to concentrate first on the rule of law and now find ourselves both burdened and besmirched with a Government in Kabul so tainted with corruption that its writ (and ours) declines by the day, while that of the Taliban increases. At the important moment when we should have concentrated for success, we distracted ourselves with by Iraq. For too many years our military strategy was chasing the enemy, when we should have been protecting the people. We wasted resources, money opportunities and lives on our own impossible ambitions rather than delivering the simpler things the Afghans would have been content with. We have been blunderingly ignorant of Afghan customs, traditions and language because we thought we knew better. We have repeatedly deluded ourselves about “successes” which never existed and thus took so long recognising that a victor’s peace was beyond our reach, that we wasted the best opportunities for a negotiated one. We failed to understand that, in these wars it is the politics, not the weapons, that counts most; even if you win on the battlefield, you lose if you lose politically – which we have, painfully. And – greatest mistake of all – when unity of command and action on the part of the interveners is the crucial ingredient of success, we have completely failed to achieve this in the places, Kabul chiefly, which really matter. And we’re still doing it. As everyone rushes for the door in Afghanistan, there is a real danger, following the French unilateral withdrawal and US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta’s unwise announcement that they weren’t fighting after next year, that this now turns into a disorderly retreat.


Only the “Poor Bloody Military”, who have done the jobs we asked of them with such outstanding courage and professionalism, can march out of Afghanistan with their heads high. One of our biggest challenges over the next two years will be to sustain their morale and explain to the country, why young lives should continue to be maimed and sacrificed for a cause which is now dribbling away towards an end which is so much less than we said it would be when it all started. Another will be to ensure that, as the Western armies head for the exit, they do it together, in good order and continue to sustain their aid programmes in Afghanistan. But having wasted so many billions, do we have enough left?


So now, this eleven year extended exercise in self-delusion has to end. It is vital that we see the next forty months before final withdrawal with an absolutely clear eye.


First, talks with the Taliban, coming so late, are now little more than a mask for retreat – we know it, they know it and every Afghan knows it. The peace process can now result only in an Afghanistan government in which the Taliban, armed or not, will play constitutional part, especially in the Pashtun south. That is the bitterest pill, especially for those – chiefly women – who looked to us for a chance to get on with living their lives by more civilised values. But it is nevertheless a pill we need to swallow. Perhaps there is meagre comfort in the thought that, once the Pashtuns can choose their own Government it will not be long before they choose not to have a Taliban one.


Second, as after the Russians, the danger now is civil war. All our last actions in Afghanistan have to be dedicated to building the best bulwarks we can against this possibility. That – not “beating” the Taliban – is the reason why leaving behind a professional, constitutional and non-political Afghan Army is so important.


It is also why we have to do what we can to promote a change to the constitutional structure of the country. It was arrogance compounded by ignorance which led us to press for a western style centralised constitution in a country which as been decentralised and tribal for at least two thousand years – complete with elections they couldn’t afford without our money. A sustainable peace in Afghanistan requires a new de facto constitutional structure which runs more with the grain of its tribal realities.


It also needs an external context in which to better sustain its internal peace. The best means of ensuring this is through a treaty based international agreement, rather like the Dayton Agreement for Bosnia, underpinned by great power guarantors (especially Russia the US and China), in which the neighbours – crucially Pakistan, India and Iran – commit to preserving the territorial integrity of the country and refraining interfering in its internal affairs. This will not act as a perfect bulwark against further blood in Afghanistan, especially if Pakistani malevolence cannot be restrained (though a Taliban government in the south may make that less tempting for Islamabad). But it’s probably be the best we can do.


Because of our mistakes, we are heading towards a malodorous exit from Afghanistan – one which will probably – and probably rightly – stop us ever doing this kind of thing again. Let us at least do this last bit right, so that we do not add even more innocent lives to the price of our failures.






Paddy Ashdown comments on GKN Closure in Yeovil

Yeovil Liberal Democrats

Thursday 17 November 2016


Lord Ashdown reacts to news of GKN Plant Closure in Yeovil


Lord Ashdown has responded to the news that the GKN Plant in Yeovil is to close at the end of next year.

“Even if this news was expected by many, it is sad news and bad news for Yeovil and those affected especially just before Christmas. My heart goes out to them and their families. This is the inevitable consequence of the foolish decisions by this government to give the recent apache order to the United States without even a competitive tender.”

“It is vital now for the Yeovil site and for our communities future prosperity that the Government foes two things: firstly uses the tooling at GKN, which they own, as leverage to insist that this work stays on the Yeovil site and is not allowed to be exported to Italy or anywhere else. Secondly to make it explicitly clear in the forthcoming policy paper on Britain’s industrial strategy that the govern sees Yeovil’s capability to design and construct helicopters on the integrated site in Yeovil as an essential part of the nation’s industrial base.”

“I will continue to lobby pressure the government to do this, along with the local unions and I hope Yeovil’s Member of Parliament, if he is prepared to work with us.”


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Letter Paddy Ashdown to Harriett Baldwin MP 16 Nov 2016

Harriett Baldwin MP
Minister for Defence Procurement
Ministry of Defence,

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Dear Harriett,

Thank you for finding time to meet with me yesterday to discuss the situation in Yeovil, following the GKN redundancies.

I was glad to hear of your work abroad to sell the AW159 Wildcat helicopter and to know that you believe this aircraft has wide market appeal in other countries.

But I am sure you will agree with me that it is vital that the benefit of the work and skill enhancement of these sales, if they are achieved, should benefit, not just Leonardo, but the Yeovil site and its workforce. You know my concerns on this matter, which I repeated to you in detail during our meeting. It seems to me that there is nothing in the Government’s Strategic Partnership Agreement with Leonardo which would in itself prevent Leonardo from effectively siphoning off technology assets and skills from Yeovil to Italy, while transferring Italian costs to the Yeovil site. I am, I should stress, NOT saying this is happening – only that the terms of the agreement as it stands means that it could happen – with very grave consequences for the Yeovil site as a whole. I accept, of course that any such “siphoning” strategy would be contrary to the spirit of the Strategic Agreement. But unhappily it is not, it appears, contrary to its letter. I asked you for an undertaking that the Government would keep a close oversight on the conduct of the Strategic Partnership in order to ensure that the Yeovil site is not disadvantaged. I hope you will be able to provide this in your response to this letter.

I also pressed you, as I have in my letters to the Secretary of State, for a clear undertaking that the forthcoming Government Green Paper on the national industrial strategy, due to appear you said before the end of the year, would include a clear statement that the Government regards Britain’s stand-alone ability to design, manufacture and assemble helicopters as an essential part of our national aero-space industrial base which should be preserved. I was, I confess, surprised to learn that, even at this late stage you were unable to provide this assurance, on the grounds that the Green Paper is being drafted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. But surely it cannot be the case that, as Minister for Defence Procurement whose decisions have a profound impact on the country’s aero-space industry, that you have not had – and do not intend to seek – input into the Green Paper? I hope you will be able to re-assure me on this matter. If it were to be the case that there was no such statement in the Green Paper, then people would be bound to conclude that this Government, unlike its predecessors, was not fully committed to maintaining the full range of skills, integrated assembly and technology, which only the Yeovil can provide for the nation.

Finally, there is the matter of the GKN tooling for the AW 159 Wildcat work currently being carried out in Yeovil. This tooling is, as you know, essential for the production of the AW159. I pointed out to you the fact that the MoD owns this tooling gives the Government very substantial leverage over what happens next. It is open to the MoD, as owners of this tooling, to insist that it will not be shipped abroad, but maintained on the Yeovil site. This will, of course ensure that much the work involved will stay in Yeovil, rather than being allowed to leach away elsewhere, along with the technology and skills involved, We both agreed that the Government’s intention is to ensure that the Leonardo relationship should enable “the Yeovil group to continue to be a centre for the design and development of the AW159 and other aircraft”. I cannot see how this commitment could be fulfilled if the Government fails to use its ownership of the 159 tooling to ensure that the lost GKN work stays on the Yeovil site, instead of being shipped abroad, along with the jobs involved. I hope that you will be able to give me this undertaking in the near future.

Thank you again for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours etc




Paddy Ashdown

Ashdown letter to Fallon 19 Oct 2016

The Right Hon Michael Fallon MP,
Secretary of State for Defence
Ministry of Defence,

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Dear Michael,

I hope you received my last letter and am sure you will have had my question in the Lords on the present situation in GKN Yeovil, brought to your attention.

I am grateful to you for arranging for me to speak today with Harriett Baldwin MP the Minister for Defence Procurement.

I am writing to you following that call to confirm my understanding of what was agreed with Minister Baldwin and to place on record my views of the urgent action that needs to be taken if we are to avoid a difficult situation in Yeovil, turning into a worse one is short order.

I do not wish to re-rehearse how we got into this situation. That was fully explained in my previous letter.

But I do want to express my concerns, substantially re-enforced after my conversation with Harriett Baldwin. I need to repeat my warning, shared by many others, that, absent a clear and imminent statement from the Government that it sees the maintenance of a full domestic capacity to design and build Helicopters in the UK (in effect in Yeovil since this the UKs only integrated base capable of doing this), then the consequence of the Apache decision, followed by the repatriation of GKN work to Italy, will be that Yeovil’s stand alone capacity to design and manufacture helicopters will risk being eroded.

Sub-contract work for other manufacturers has been and always will be, a key part of the work done in YeoviI. But this work, valuable though it is, will not be sufficient by itself to sustain the wide technological, design and skill base in Yeovil. I am sure that, given the Prime Minster’s stated intention to create a national industrial strategy, it cannot be the Government’s intention to undermine this base, even if by oversight, given the important contribution it makes to our national defence and aero-space industry.
In short, sub contract work for others is necessary, but it is not sufficient to preserve Yeovil’s crucial capacity to build helicopters.

The damage capable of being done as a knock on consequence of the Apache and Leonardo decisions could be very grave. But this is easily prevented if the Government now will, as a matter of urgency make a clear public statement along the lines I have suggested above.

Minister Baldwin told me that the forthcoming Green Paper on the Industrial strategy would contain words of comfort on this subject and asked me if I had seen these through my contacts with Leonardo. I have not. But I asked her if, in the light of the importance of this issue I might be allowed sight of these on a Privy Council basis. I hope you will agree to this. It would be extremely helpful if I might see them in the very near future.

One final question.

I mentioned to Minster Baldwin the very recent “tweet” from our local MP Marcus Fysh to the effect that that she had promised him “Big support for helicopter industry in #Yeovil. £3 billion being spent with Leonardo”. She confirmed to me that that this, as I understand it, is not in fact a new commitment relating to the present situation, but rather an already existing indicative estimate of likely expenditure over the period of the next decade. Perhaps you would be kind enough to confirm this.

I hope to hear from you in the near future.

Yours etc.

Paddy Ashdown

Lords Question My Lords, on the subject of the industrial strategy, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the situation in Yeovil, which is the last integrated site capable of designing, manufacturing and assembling helicopters. As a result of the Government’s short-sighted decision to grant the order for the Apache to the United States without any tendering whatever, the Italian owner, Leonardo, has now concluded that we do not seem interested in producing helicopters on a stand-alone site and is now shipping all the work on assembly back to Italy. What is needed now is the Government’s clear statement that they wish to see helicopters made in Britain, of British manufacture, for our Armed Forces, as they have been for nearly 50 years now.

Ashdown letter to Fallon 12 Oct 2016

The Right Hon Michael Fallon MP,
Secretary of State for Defence
Ministry of Defence,

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Dear Michael
I had hoped to see you to discuss the situation with Leonardo and GKN in Yeovil and its impact on Britain’s Aerospace industry. I understand that you cannot find time in your programme for an urgent meeting but have arranged a meeting in the near future with the Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin MP.

I am writing this letter to lay out the issues before that meeting.

I am extremely concerned that Britain’s stand alone capacity to manufacture helicopters, which has been for so long a vital part of our Aero-space industry, is in serious jeopardy, as a result of the events leading up to the recent Leonardo decision to ship back to Italy, all AW159 “Wild Cat” structure work currently being carried out at GKN Yeovil.

It may be helpful if I briefly rehearse how we got here.

You will recall that, during the Coalition Government, the MoD wished to purchase some Apache helicopters for the Army. You, as Minister for Business and Enterprise, agreed in 2014 that Westland should bid for this order on a commercial basis. Westland, were confident that they could easily compete with Boeing on price (you will be aware that their unit labour costs are significantly lower than those Boeing). But then, out of the blue MoD unilaterally insisted on (some say “engineered”) a new requirement which they knew could only be supplied by Boeing. This effectively ruled Westland out of the bidding, which MoD must have known when they insisted on this new requirement (the so-called wash-wipe system – which even the US Army does not have).

Vince Cable MP, as Minster for Business and Innovation and David Laws (the then MP for Yeovil), warned that the knock on consequence of this could endanger the capacity for stand-alone helicopter production and assembly at Yeovil, the only British integrated site capable of doing this. They proposed that the order should not be awarded to the US until there was a full tendering process. The then Chief Secretary for the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP agreed and insisted that competitive tendering should take place before the order was awarded. You were at the time HYPERLINK “”Minister for HYPERLINK “,_Innovation_and_Skills”Business and Enterprise and, I understand, strongly supported this course of action. You made it clear at the time “that defence procurement should be seen as linked to industrial strategy” and not driven solely by the dictates of the MoD’s civil servants. Quite so.

Despite all this, the new Conservative Government, once elected, placed the order with Boeing – without further ado and without any tendering process. I am not sure what local political lobbying the Government received opposing this decision at the time. But if they did receive any, they clearly ignored it.

The Government’s decision to buy from Boeing instead of a potentially cheaper UK option was a bizarre and short sighted decision, even by the standards of the time.

But in the present post-Brexit climate it is even more inexplicable. We should surely now be doing all we can to boost exports? The message that was sent to the world when the current Government insisted that a competitive U.K. Company, who was a successful Prime Contractor on the Apache for many years including during wars, had been deselected as MoD’s Prime Contractor, was devastating.

Many of us warned at the time that the current owners of the “Westland” site, the Italian firm Leonardo, would conclude that the UK Government was not committed to helicopter production in the UK and act accordingly.

This, I regret to say, is exactly what has now happened. In the absence of a clear commitment, spoken or tacit, from the UK Government to continued helicopter production in the UK, Leonardo has now, I am told, felt it necessary to respond heavy pressure from Government and political circles in Italy to move all “Wild Cat” structure work back home.

The consequences of this decision, not just for the Yeovil site, but also for an essential part of Britain’s aero-space industry – and for our national capacity to design, create, build and assemble our own helicopters – are, I believe, very serious.

The Prime Minister has announced that she wishes to see a national industrial strategy. This is very welcome news. But now we have to make her words a reality. If the Government will not now act to make it clear that they regard the maintenance of a stand lone, helicopter manufacture and assembly capacity as a vital part of our national high tech and aerospace industrial base, then I fear many will conclude that the Prime Minister’s claim to have an industrial “Industrial Strategy” will seem no more than hollow words.

The GKN workers are highly skilled and we are an enterprising community. With energetic work from the local Council and others we will be doing our best to ensure that those who have lost their jobs, find new ones, preferably in Yeovil the area.

What is at risk here is, however much more than damage to the Yeovil and south Somerset community.

Without a clear Government statement that it is committed to maintaining a stand-alone UK capacity for helicopter design and production, I fear we may be placing in jeopardy a vital part of our national industrial and technological base, along with the ability to procure for our armed forces the vital equipment they need on the battlefield, from British sources.

The Yeovil “Westland” site and its workforce have loyally served the nation’s defence interests for more than a 100 years. Its aircraft and equipment have been used by our armed forces in every conflict we have fought in the last century (as I recall myself in the little conflicts in which I was involved in Aden and Borneo and in my service in Northern Ireland). We look to the Government now for a clear statement that it understands the importance of that contribution and will do whatever is necessary to support and preserve the nation’s helicopter industry.

This matter is now of great urgency. I hope to receive assurances from you and the Government on this in the very near future.

Yours etc.

Paddy Ashdown

What does the Trump victory mean for us?

Before the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld famously said that the known ‘knowns’ he could plan for, the known ‘unknowns’ he could predict – it was the unknown ‘unknowns’ that scared him
The election of another Donald, Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States signals the end of a polarising, poll-defying political campaign and the beginning of a period of high anxiety and deep uncertainty for us all. The politics of populist cultural identity have never been stronger or more ascendant and the liberal consensus, which has dominated our domestic and international politics for the best part of 100 years, has never been weaker or more under attack.
The effects of this profound – perhaps historic shift – will be felt in every corner of the globe
Europe next?
Received wisdom suggests that Marine Le Pen and her fellow right wing anti-Europeans will benefit from the post-Trump public mood. But this is not a given. The tide of anti-European public sentiment on the continent receded after Brexit, as the cost Britain was paying for her decisions, became apparent. Caught between Trump isolationism to the west and Putin aggression to the east, the nations of the EU may find the appeal of unity stronger than that of disintegration. At least, in a rational world that ought to be so. Whether, after these recent convulsions, we still live in such a world, remains to be seen.
Europe’s instiutions
I have long believed that the integration project in the EU would not really gain momentum until the external threat to the Union was greater than our internal suspicion of the Brussels institutions. That moment arrived unannounced and unexpected, in the early hours of last Wednesday morning. The right reaction to the new isolation in which the EU finds itself, not least in terms of security, is to deepen its economic, political and defence institutional framework. Its is clear that this is where the EU’s leaders would like to go, as they attempt to mark a different course away from Anglo-Saxon isolationism and exceptionalism and towards European solidarity. But will their people allow them? The answer to that will come in next year’s European elections.
Post Trump, however, those who wish to defend and re-assert European liberal and democratic values at this moment of maximum danger, will have to understand that their current narrative has disastrously failed. They will need to completely reframe their arguments in favour of those that address, rather than ignore the people’s fears. This new script should combine a clear commitment to redistribution aimed at sharing the wealth of globalisation, with a better articulation of the necessities of internationalism (including trade and immigration) and a reformed view of government based around the empowered individual, rather than the powerful state.
Europe and Britain’s Security
Last Tuesday night also altered the entire geopolitical position in which Europe now finds itself. If Trump is true to his rhetoric, then the era of a US led a western coalition driving for free trade, a rule based world order and multilateral solutions to the world’s problems is, for the moment at least, over. Isolationism, protectionism and global relationships based on the exercise of power, rather than shared values, will be in the ascendancy. A rapprochement with Putin’s Russia looks very likely, at least in the initial phase of Trump’s Presidency. The implications of this for the security of Europe along its eastern littoral – from the Baltic states, through Ukraine, to the Balkans – are profound and worrying.
The challenges for Britain are no less dramatic. We are now, as a nation much, much more alone than we were on Tuesday night of last week. Then, outside the EU we could still rely on NATO for our security. Now, who do we rely on? Our choices are stark. Either snuggle close to Trump’s US in a near satrap relationship. Or find our way back to the EU. Pay your money and make your choice – one relationship will be deeply uncomfortable; the other very difficult to get to.
A new international cockpit of tension?
One other area where the Trump ascendancy will be strongly felt is the Pacific. Managing Western – and especially US – relations with China was always gong to be one of the key strategic challenges of our time. It just got a lot more difficult. If, again, Trump delivers on his rhetoric than a tariff fuelled trade war between the US and China looks highly likely. Europe has been the cockpit of global tension for the last 100 years. Is that unenviable reputation about to shift east to the Pacific?
The end of liberal interventionism may mean fewer little wars, but have we, in exchange, embarked on the long road to bigger ones?
The Global economy
If we are to see a move away from free trade towards protectionism, then the impacts on a still fragile global economy could be very damaging, China has its own internal economic problems, the EU stutters and the US recovery remains at best, weak. The world is not well placed for yet another economic shock.
The President and Washington
The answers to many of the questions thrown up by Trump’s election, depend on whether and to what extent, his ambitions will be tamed by the checks and balances in the US system. With the Republicans dominating both Houses of the Washington legislature he has, on the face of it, more domestic room for manoeuvre than any US President of recent times. Some suggest, hopefully, that this will be counterbalanced by fact that many of the Republicans elected with Trump, hold very different views to his. Trump was, after all elected, not because of the Republican Party, but despite it.
I am not sure how much weight can be deposited in this hope. It will be a brave Republican who stands up to a President of his own Party, who was elected on such a clear, resounding and personal popular mandate. One area, however where we might see push back from Congress, is on “Trumponomics”, as it is already being called. Trump is liberal on fiscal matters and hawkish (very) on trade. Most Washington Republicans are, by contrast, fiscal conservatives and trade liberals. It is here that the fireworks, if there are to be any, will be most likely to go off.
A final thought. If Trump enacts his words, then almost everything as we knew it changed in the early hours of last Wednesday morning. We may see the dim outlines of what is to come. But there is much more we cannot yet see. As Donald Rumsfeld might have said, when it comes to assessing what lies ahead, it is the unknown unknowns that should scare us.

Withdrawing from Afghanistan 27 Oct 2014 – The Mirror


I keep a diary. The entry for 18 December 2001 reads “To Downing Street to see Tony Blair… We discussed Afghanistan. He said, ‘We will have a very limited operation… It will be confined to Kabul and we will get out early. I don’t mind us going in early providing we get out early’. I replied that was wise. Things would get worse the longer we stayed.”

Thirteen years, XXX British soldier’s lives, thousands of Afghan ones and £100 billion later, we are finally leaving.

So has it all been for nothing?

No. There are children – and esepcially girls – going to school in Afghanistan who wouldn’t be there if British troops not risked their lives to give them the chance. Democracy, though frail, has taken root. There is growing prosperity in some areas, markets in previous ghost towns, new roads that never existed and, perhaps most important of all, a knowledge of how things can be better, planted in people’s minds.

Was it then worth the price?

It’s too early to say.

If, as many believe, Afghanistan plunges back to civil war; if corruption remains permamently embedded in Afghan Government; if the Taliban, who now control many areas British troops died for, return to their bad old, brutal old ways; if the ungoverned spaces in south Afghanistan once more become a play ground for Jihadism and an outpost for the Islamic caliphate; if fractured Afghanistan gets drawn into the widenting Sunni/Shia religious war now spreading in the region, then the answer is no.

If, on the other hand, Afghanistan remains united; if it continues its slow progress to some kind of unity and good government and if, crucially, the Afghan Army remains united and capable of maintining order, then maybe.

My prediction? Sadly, I fear most of the first is far more likely than any of the second.

So, victory or defeat?

No British soldier and no British unit was ever defeated in any one of the thousands of individual engagements they fought with the Taliban during the long thirteen years of this costly war. Given their poor equipment at the beginning and how vulnerable they were, especially in such exposed positions at the start of Helmand, this is a truly remarkable record. Our fighting men and women can march home from “Afghan” with their heads held high.

But they are the only ones.

Our failure in Afghanistan has not been not military. It has been political.

This was a war we could and should have won. We went in under a UN Security Council mandate, in support of international law, consistent with our own national interests and with the overwhelming support of the Afghan people. Thirteen years later we have squandered all these assets and, in the process, written the definitive text-book on how to lose these kind of wars.

The international community should have been united in pursuit of a single plan for Afghanistan, with clear priorities. Instead we have been divided, cacophonous, chaotic. We should have concentrated on winning in Afghanistan, instead of getting distracted by adventures in Iraq. We should have engaged Afghanistan’s neighbours, instead of going out of our way to make them enemies. Our early military strategy should have been about protecting the people, instead of foolishly scampering off, chasing the enemy. We should have made fighting corruption our first priority, instead of becoming the tainted partners of a corrupt Government whose writ, along with ours, has progressively collapsed, as that of the Taliban has progressively widened. We should have understood that victories on the battlefield are meaningless unless translated into political progress and better lives for ordinary people. We should have placed more emphasis on political measures than on military ones, instead of looking to the soldiers to win the war for us. We should have understood the culture and history of Afghanistan, instead of imposing an unaffordable Western style centralised constitution on a country which has been decentralised and tribal for more than a thousand years. We should not have allowed realistic short term ambitions to slip into grand dreams which were as unachievable, as they were unworkable. And at the end, when we should have grabbed the best opportunity for a negotiated peace five years ago, we lost the moment by continuing our blind pursuit of the illusion that outright military victory was possible.

The price for these follies has been paid in lives – those of our young soldiers and many, many Afghans. It has also been paid in diminished Western influence and increased instability in what is one of the most instable regions in the world. Iraq and Afghanistan have broken for ever, the myth of Western invincibility.

So, should we never again intervene?

No. In a dangerous and instable world we may have to act to together preserve the wider peace. The right reaction to Afghanistan is not never again, but never again like that.