No longer trimming the fat.. more hacking out vital organs – 6 July 2012

Well, the East of Suez debate is finally resolved.

And the waving of the arms and the gnashing of the teeth about Blair’s doctrine of military interventionism? That’s probably history too, and not quite in the way we’d all have imagined, and a lot quicker to boot.

Still, we have a commitment to the nuclear deterrent, which is certainly very important when all the institutional, equipment and personnel rungs required to provide a ladder of escalation have been consecutively snapped… oh, wait.. that can’t be right? But, regardless, we’re still at the top table. Hoorah! It’s a great day for Britain.

Several quick points:

We need a new strategic articulation. Be it within a new NSS or something equivalent. This needs to be clearer about exactly what are our priorities, and why. That should have been the starting point, not that backfill after the armed forces were dragged through the abattoir.  Those involved in the Public Administration Select Committee have continually revisited this point in the press since October 2010.

General Sir Peter Wall made is clear in his announcement this week that the UK was now only capable of doing things in coalitions. That’s worthy of a new strategic articulation on its own. It has been true since the mid-1980s and it is considerably more true now. But it sounds like bad news for those islands in the South Atlantic to me.

The cuts to the army mean we could only be involved in Afghanistan OR Iraq. That’s not mid-sized military power stuff. That’s a serious diminution of the ability to project power and influence in both absolute terms (kinetic) but in soft-power terms.. why would the US (aside from intelligence liaison) be interested in the British view?

The new plans seem to be premised on the idea that personnel being made redundant will want to stay on as active reservists. There is some compulsion to remain a reservist now, but the plan to rely very heavily on the TA (to the tune of well over 25,000 men) will require a long-term step change in culture. As John Gearson, Jack McDonald and I suggested inour review of the Defence Estates last year there are ways of doing this, including by engaging private industry in ways that allow for some ‘sharing’ and ‘fluidity’ between industry and armed forces: essentially by creating a new compact.  My concerns would be that the lead-in time for this size of reserve force are long (leaving the UK exposed) and that there is unlikely to be sufficient good will amongst those who are wielding their redundancy notices to do so. (What consideration given to the support services required to help people coming out of the military with late coming PTSD or who find redundancy as traumatic as those in civvy street do?)

I do have a bee in my bonnet about the deterrent. Not because I have any peacenik sympathies, but because my reading of strategic studies suggests that mutually assured destruction only works if there is a ladder of escalation or everyone is sat on hair-triggers. So, it must surely be a sensible time to properly debate the wisdom of the deterrent as our conventional forces are shrinking into irrelevance.

Nearly two years on from the publication of the NSS and SDSR (and to continual howls of protest ever since) it really might be the time to revisit the first, and then – logically – the SDSR itself.

The fight between the Tories and Labour over the LIBOR scandal was raging in Parliament yesterday, it can only be a matter of time before the two parties turn their attentions on whose fault this defence debacle is .. the 2015 election (if it goes full term) promises to be an angst ridden affair.


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