A guest post from IXION
This is part 1 of 4 (I think). In which I pose some questions and propose some views on the defence of the UK.
- What are we defending?
- Who are we defending against?
- How can we defend it?
- What are our defence forces for?
Without wishing to start my own SDR I would suggest that questions like what are we defending, against whom and why are simply not being asked enough. I am not trying to find answers for all the immediate crises and threats, merely trying to look into the middle distance to try and thing beyond current equipment limitations, without getting into nuclear powered hover ships territory, and not limited to addressing the threat from Iran because the threat may come from Brazil or Bohemia in 10 years time.
There is huge inertia within the defence community.
Equipment wise: – On a par with the Army officers who argued in the 1930’s that there was still a place on the battlefield for the ’well bred cavalry horse’. The navy sticking with sail long after the practical marine steam engine was in use.
Strategy Tactics and force structure: – There is an assumption by many commentators both professional and amateur, that; we have always had a policy / presence, because it has always been done this way, with this type of kit, then that is how it should be done.
The concept of defence itself; against whom? – Witness almost the requirement for bereavement counselling, for our armed forces when the Russians went home. Some middling/senior members of our armed forces simply refused to accept it for some years.
The IMHO quite ridiculous clinging to some sort post colonial role.
We must lose the historical baggage, the technical baggage, and the top heavy nature of our armed forces to be much much lighter on our feet, as the world changes.
Question 1- What are we defending?
What follows is ‘stating the bleedin obvious’
I take it that we are defending the following:-
Within UK itself
- The territorial integrity of the UK (including the Islands that shall not be named); from foreign state control / invasion.
- The freedom of action within the territories of the UK for the Democratically elected govt of UK from foreign influence.
- The safety and security of the citizens of the UK whilst in it’s territories from foreign state attack.
- The safety and security of the citizens of the UK whilst in it’s territories from foreign none state actors- Terrorists in other words.
- UK based non state actors home grown terrorists.
- The fellow travellers of the above serious organised crime
Outside the UK
- Protection of UK citizens abroad from physical attack.
- Protection of UK economic interests from physical attack, be it by actual action or status or presence.
- Promotion of status of UK both economically and politically.
- ‘Keeping the British end up’ in Nato/UN with the US etc
Some of those are sweeping statements and enclose several concepts you can perhaps add some more.
‘Inside the UK’
Lets start with the first 3 points together.
“We are an Island you know”
Eschewing all the Dark blue shaded historical bullshit what does it (if anything) mean?
It means unlike all the other western nations (excluding places like Ireland and Iceland), We simply have (since the Act of union) only faced only 2 realistic existential threats of invasion, each lead by Napoleon and Hitler. To this day we simply do not have a realistic short or medium term threat of state power lead, cross border invasion. No one is going to role up at Calais at the head of 20 armoured divisions for the foreseeable future. The Third shock Army has gone and it aint coming back, no matter how fondly the Armoured fighting vehicle crowd remember the time when it was.
The only state threat to the HMG ‘s writ and the safety of it’s citizens is Chinese electronic attack. We need to defend against this. (Leaving aside the idea mooted on the radio this week that the US elects some religious nutter as president who wants to Nuke the UK because Harry Potter’s Wizardry offends his Christian beliefs).
The forth point is a real threat that the various state and non state sponsored terrorist organisations can launch Mumbai or other style attacks these are accounted by almost all serious analysts as the most likely threat of actual attack. We need to defend against this.
The last to threats are for the security services and the police to deal with.
‘Outside the UK’
We need to defend against / promote all of these to the best of our ability.
Question 2 – Who are we defending against?
Really this is a good question, and it is one that is simply not asked enough.
Lets ignore the 20 divisions at Calais scenario.
Lets concentrate on the foreign threats to our foreign interests.
I do not intend to detail the lists of potential threats but they are obvious and out there.
Various countries / people who are in charge of big parts of some countries are really not very nice, and are pissed off at us, for various reasons both real and imagined.
They have very different capabilities and aims, these change so have to be flexibly dealt with. But these capabilities should not be underestimated.
Question 3 How can we defend against attack?
We can defend against it by: -
1) Maintaining Financially successful economic policy to support economic stability
2) Maintaining a successful economic policy to pay for armed forces
3) Maintaining armed forces operating by land sea and air appropriate to our real status in the world, and our real economic interests and, foreign commitments.
Let’s address the first two, I invite those who obsess about F35 CVF and FRES, to ponder this: The Euro crises could finish European defence spending for a generation, in effect driving the whole continent’s military equipment into the 2nd rate category, cutting manpower and capabilities, without a shot being fired.
Point three is what the next three posts will address in a force specific way.
Question 4 – What are our defence forces for?
Within living memory, (just) We have been not just a world power but THE world power. For a hundred years no one challenged in a serious way the Pax Britannica. An empire whose military power was built in part on:-
‘Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim Gun and they have not’.
Or as the great Military Philosopher Capt E Blackadder said:-
‘If you saw someone in a skirt you shot him and took his country’
This power has gone, Gone, GONE.
I have said it before on this site and I will say it again.
There is amongst some of the posters on this site a layer of post colonialist, almost racist self delusion that somehow:-
1) Much of the world gives a stuff about what we think
2) We have some capability plus button that allows us to ‘ Punch above our weight’ etc etc, simply because we are British and Johnny foreigner ‘don’t like it up em’; or will run at the first whiff of grapeshot’.
3) Johnny Foreigner cant buy / use good kit and won’t fight when he gets it.
4) ‘We are a world power you know.’
We have just had / are still having 2 disastrous elective foreign adventureistic wars (more on Libya later); based in part on attempting at being as TD put it ’All fur coat and no Knickers’ world power . These wars have been/ are going to be disastrous for UK defence.
We have to stop doing this!
We have UK govt policies on everything going on everywhere this means we have to have people in the foreign office working on everything going on everywhere. Like wise some power point warrior will no doubt be shining his arse on a seat working out the military options for say UK intervention in Somalia / North Korea etc.
We once gained a world wide power and a world wide set of commitments as a result. However Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
Some of those commitments remain even though the world is no longer pink. Unfortunately so do some of the attitudes. But But But! Cry the rosy colonial glow crowd (and I quote):-
“We are not bloody Belgium you know!”
Well IMHO its about time we got our heads round the fact that we sort of are.
Future far away foreign adventures (insofar as we should get involved in any) will be as part of alliances and not just Nato US etc. TD’s forward presence ideas rely on local alliances just as much.
Questions to be asked:
Why do we have to have a policy on North Korea? They do not give a stuff what we think and we will not be intervening there?
Why do we have a policy on Palestine.? I am sure the leaders of the middle east are all very polite and all that but save as we are part of the EC, or mate of the US they really don’t care. The Israeli’s in particular have an attitude of -
‘We are better mates with the US than you are, so jog on pal’.
These are two examples there are many more.
Also the technological cat is out of the bag.
Modern civilian technology is advancing at an ever increasing rate. There is an old joke amongst Astro – Physicists is that what with the advances in technology, and the time dilating effects of relativity, there is no point in attempting a manned mission to Alpha Centuri; as it will be passed on the way there by the first scheduled passenger services!
A lot of modern civilian technologies are frankly superior than what would have been regarded as super secret high tech only a decade ago, and they are changing the world. Kenyan tribal cattle herders now carry satellite phones. Such countries are never going to bother with national land line systems or terrestrial TV systems they are old technology.
The idea that the west can embargo / control high-tech weapons technology over anything but a short period is fantasy, it’s done a bang up job stopping the Iranians Nuclear program!
Look at what the rebels did with Google earth in Libya. Check out your local Maplins Just think:-
- GPS Blue Tooth Phone, so you know where you are and what direction you are heading. Check
- Decent high resolution digital camera to ID target. Check
- £200 model helicopter check
£1000 or so plus a few hundred computer nerd hours getting it all to talk to one another, = A serious over the horizon targeting capability for an anti ship missile, Fire control drone or recon RPV
Could T45 spot it? Could it even target it? Who cares! Blow £70 grand an send 70 of them and wait for the T45 to run out of missiles. It is just one example (ok I know it will not be quite as simple as that), but technologically tricks like this will only get easier and cheaper and the results more capable. A real example is the IED arms race in Afghan and attempts to jam RPV control signals by the Taliban.
So the west can embargo from BAE, Ericsson, etc.
Who cares clever nasty people will buy it from Argos!
From the point of view of conventional weapons suppliers they are increasingly out of the loop anyway. There has been talk of a global frigate or even a Colonial sloop. Something for sending to ‘strange sounding places with far away names‘. When I banged on about the possible threats to a CVF battle group from so called third world countries I got derided, I would refer those heavy on derision to the recent news from Syria….
When and if we venture in defence of our interests out of the North Atlantic and the Med we had better go mob handed and loaded for bear or very carefully and cleverly and with the permission of the local big wigs.
In other word TD’s forward presence ideas.
IMHO these are a real attempt to deal with declining military and economic power and to maintain ‘bang per buck’ (not in the technical equipment sense more in the influence sense), and whilst TD may not agree with everything I say I tend to find myself agree with most of what he writes…
Pt 2, 3, and 4 to follow.