National and Defence Strategies Research Group
Dear Secretary of State,
DefenceSynergia has long argued, alongside few others, that the UK lacks an articulated Grand Strategy that can inform a subordinate Naval, Military and Air Joint Strategy. The events in Afghanistan, which can only be described as a Strategic and Tactical series of shocks to the USA, UK and NATO allies, has very clearly demonstrated what happens when foreign policy is conducted “on the hoof”.
Despite thousands of words in various documents since SDR 98 – SDSRs 2010, 2015, NSS, and the most recent IR – to cite a few – Her Majesty’s Government has been left floundering following the decision of the US President to withdraw, far too hurriedly, all support to the Afghanistan people and its enormously corrupt government. This is the law of unintended consequences writ large.
However, this is not a time for recriminations but an important moment to implement actions following a swift yet careful analysis.
Although the political vultures are circling, they should remember that this Strategic debacle has its origins in the decisions made by previous, recent governments of several hues. Indeed, when in 2001 the then Prime Minister (PM) rightly agreed to support our ally, the USA, in operations in Afghanistan this was a NATO Article 5 response that since 1947 had been written into UK defence planning – an attack on one is an attack on all. As such it can be argued that it constituted the very essence of UK Strategy in the NATO sphere of operations.
However, the PM of the day, unrestrained by any articulated National Strategy, then committed UK Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – concurrently and long term. This drove a cart and horses through the SDR 98 Defence Planning Assumptions (DPA) against which UK Forces had been funded, sized, sustained and equipped at the turn of the millennium. Since then, successive administrations, including your own, have emasculated HM Armed Forces – reducing personnel, weapons platforms, capability, sustainment, logistics and training in favour of domestic or international social programmes. DS has said, repeatedly, that such emasculation was never properly justified and, indeed, was based on entirely false assumptions as to what was necessary to defend the UK’s interests against escalating threats worldwide.
The lesson is clear. Since the 2010 Coalition administration, the terms ‘UK’s Global Role’ or ‘Global Britain’ have been used to offer a sound bite to underpin the makeup of the UK’s security and defence forces.. The problem is that any overarching Grand Strategy – the substance – has been totally neglected in favour of policy, plans and political pamphlets that can be “sold” as sufficiency in defence and security whilst neglecting to emphasise that they are almost entirely dependent on a membership of NATO, Five Eyes etc., all of which rely, in turn, on the USA.
Is it any wonder then that the UK has been Strategically caught out when its leading ally, the one we and the rest of NATO have become to rely upon too much, suddenly withdraws its support for an operation? Even if the UK could find a few willing allies to remain with us in Afghanistan, what would be the purpose? A noble (perhaps suicidal) gesture perhaps – but to what Strategic purpose?
DefenceSynergia has argued alongside many others over many years now that HM Armed Forces are well below ‘Critical Mass’. The retreat from Afghanistan – where have we heard that before? – is directly a consequence of long term overstretch coupled to a lack of Government resolve to fund our 3 services to meet even the basic requirements of ‘full spectrum’ armed forces. The words ‘full spectrum’ have been in every document HM Government has produced since the fall of the Berlin Wall but, “What does it mean?”. Hubris, as we have seen in Afghanistan, is no substitute for reality.
It is strange that amongst the government departments professional employees the MOD are alone in not allowing contact with politicians, the media or public contact. The irony of this is that there are calls for lessons to be learnt from mistakes made for lack of professional input. Today the Armed Forces are ‘spoken for’ by politicians and rarely are seen to be publicly accountable.
A public debate on Grand Strategy leading to a military strategy that involves those who serve today as well as the retired community would produce better knowledge & understanding of why the Armed Forces need funding, what they do, how they plan to evolve and what resources are required. Such clarity would explain whether the resources & financial allocation are sufficient.
Mr Wallace, Sir, the British Armed Forces must be properly reviewed in the context of existing and developing threats and, then, fully supported against the Strategic case that emerges. The British people must then be honestly persuaded for the substantial extra funding to meet the “Critical Mass” that true National and Government Global Power aspirations demand.