Jeremy Black: The ‘culture wars’ aren’t a distraction from confrontation with Russia, they are part of it

24 Mar

Jeremy Black is Emeritus Professor of History at Exeter University.

One of the comments on my last piece for ConservativeHome suggested that I was playing the ‘reds under the bed’ card with reference to the Ukraine crisis. The implication was that subversion, let alone treason, or even a milder version of ‘culture wars’ during the Cold War, were imaginary; indeed, a creation of paranoid sensibilities.

Would that that was true, but the historian scarcely has to point out that the Cold War saw from the outset a significant engagement with espionage and subversion.

Both were part of the playbook for the major powers, and certainly an aspect of the Communist commitment to total war. To neglect them would be to fail to understand the history of these years.

That failure indeed was an aspect both of the standard journalism during the Cold War and of the equivalent historical work. Each was inclined to underrate, or simply ignore, the role of espionage or subversion. And yet both were very important and their significance was underlined by any treatment of the period that puts an emphasis on the politics of the moment and the contingency, whether in terms of the Miners’ Strike or the Provisional IRA.

Linked to this, but separate, came the commitment to the Soviet camp of those who were not involved in subversion or worse. This was an aspect of the ‘soft power’ dimension of the Cold War, but one that was significant both politically and militarily.

Thus, those who opposed the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Britain and West Germany directly contributed to Soviet military intentions. So also more generally did those who sapped confidence in Western institutions and intentions, not least by sowing anti-Americanism in Western Europe.

Thus, the Left was to be more vocal in Britain and West Germany in 1983 against the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles than on behalf of the Poles oppressed in 1981 when martial law was declared and Solidarity suppressed with scores killed. This martial law remained in place until 1983, but the British Left preferred to focus on Greenham Common.

In some respects, the crisis prefigured the present one with Ronald Reagan introducing sanctions, providing covert aid to Solidarity, and pressing West Germany against the Yamal oil-gas pipeline from Siberia.

That was the past, but there are direct links to the present. This is a matter of individuals, the Jeremy Corbyns of the world, but also of broader climates of opinion and the relevant institutions. Indeed, ‘culture wars’ take on meaning precisely in these terms namely as part of a deliberate assault on the context and continuity of British civilisation.

That much of this assault comes from those who have gained influencer in, if not control over, so many British institutions makes the situation not only more troubling but also harder to resist successfully. The use of a critique of the British empire in order to compromise any positive presentation of national values is well-entrenched in much of the modish world of opinion.

Books and syllabi continue to appear accordingly, as with Caroline Elkins’ Legacy of Violence. A History of the British Empire published this month by Penguin Random House and damning Britain past and present. As a sample, Brexit is presented as racism: “The British government’s configuration of white power clearly jettisons prospects for a federation of Western states.”

Such nonsense will receive undeserved praise and the accompanying panoply of awards and fellowships with which the academic elite award each other. That those who do so increasingly decry liberalism and deplore what they term privilege is part of the bleak comedy of the modern university.

The Cold War saw the same tendency, and doubtless there will be similar attempts to ‘contextualise’ Russian aggression and brutality by attacking the past and present of the West.

Allan Mallinson: What if Putin opts to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine?

22 Mar

Allan Mallinson is a former soldier, and a novelist and writer. His The Making of the British Army is published by Penguin Random House.

Ben Wallace wrote on this site last week that Vladiir Putin should be in no doubt that escalation will meet a robust response. A day earlier, Garvan Walshe described the need for “escalation dominance”.

They’re right, of course. And unthinkable though it may seem, we need therefore to talk about tactical nuclear weapons. We’ve almost forgotten what they were.

The only thing that ever bothered me in the 1980s, when the Cold War was at a dangerous fork in the road and I was commanding a squadron in Germany, was the periodic guard duty at the nuclear ammunition storage site near Paderborn.

It wasn’t the thought of a nuclear accident – where else to be in that event but at ground zero? – or attack by Spetsnaz or terrorist gangs, for we could have dealt with that. Rather was it the military police battalion of the 59th (US) Ordnance Brigade (Special Ammunition Support).

The MPs’ job was security, and they took it hyper-seriously. (If not, why not?). A Lance Corporal that stumbled when interrogated about his precise orders could bring a career-stopping rebuke from the Commander-in-Chief for the officer in command.

The ammunition was nothing to do with the strategic nuclear deterrent (Polaris), technically. These were low-yield shells for the Royal Artillery’s eight-inch calibre howitzer (range about 12 miles), and warheads for the Lance ballistic missile (range, 50 miles or so): they were tactical – “battlefield” – nuclear weapons (TNW).

Each national contingent on NATO’s Central Front — the US, British, Canadian, German, Dutch and Belgian — fielded the same delivery systems, but the warheads were American, to be out-loaded during a crisis, and fiercely guarded for the rest of the time.

The Royal Air Force (Germany), along with the other national air contingents, had sub-strategic nuclear bombs and missiles of their own. The targets of RAF(G)’s TNWs were troop concentrations to the east of the River Weser, in the event of Soviet spearheads breaching the so-called Weser Line on the western side of the Upper Weser valley. The Lances and howitzers of the Royal Artillery’s 39th Heavy and 50th Missile regiments would have joined in the interdiction.

That, however, was the purely military view of TNW, and there were indeed some who regarded nuclear artillery as “just a bigger bang.”

The other view was that of the policy staff in Whitehall. I remember during my first week in the directorate of military operations being told by a senior mandarin that the General Staff did not understand deterrence.

In essence, the policy staff’s view was that of Sir Humphrey Appleby when he explained Deterrence to the Jim Hacker in Yes, Prime Minister.  Hacker thought he probably wouldn’t use Trident in the event of a nuclear attack on Britain, and that they, the Soviets, probably knew it – so buying Trident was pointless.

Sir Humphrey agreed, up to a point: “Yes, they probably know that you probably wouldn’t. But they can’t certainly know.”

Hacker doubted this. “They probably certainly know that I probably wouldn’t.”

Sir Humphrey was then at pains to explain the essential element of uncertainty in deterrence theory: “Yes, but though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn’t, they don’t certainly know that, although you probably wouldn’t, there is no probability that you certainly would.”

Which is why when in 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, pressed by Sarah Montague, the Today presenter, on whether there were any circumstances in which he would use the nuclear option, said “No”, he effectively cancelled deterrence and made himself unelectable as Prime Minister.

Sir Humphrey didn’t explain to Jim Hacker the role of TNW in deterrence theory. It was comedy, after all, and the joke was better delivered quickly. But the purpose of TNW, said the real Sir Humphreys in the 1980s, was to provide a plausible ladder of escalation: graduated response, rather than the erstwhile and rather less plausible doctrine of massive retaliation, with its notion of mutually assured destruction.

What those eight-inch nuclear shells did was provide multiple threads in the seamless cloak of escalatory deterrence logic – from the first rifle shots as Soviet troops set foot across the Inner German Border, to the release of multiple warheads over Russian cities.

TNWs weren’t meant to be used; they were meant to demonstrate that the cloak of deterrence was indeed seamless, and that there was therefore real peril for the Soviets in any offensive. Strategic and tactical nuclear weapons were inseparable in deterring both conventional and nuclear attack, which was why NATO could never sign up to “no first use.”

The Soviets had to be convinced of the real peril, of course – and so the soldiers and airmen had to plan for the actual use of TNW, practise their firing, and store the warheads and missiles well forward. And indeed the policy staff tended to view calls for any substantial strengthening of conventional defence, as the soldiers were always urging, as potentially diminishing deterrence, since it might increase the threshold of tactical nuclear release and therefore tempt a Soviet conventional attack with limited objectives.

Some soldiers thought this was all nonsense. Several chiefs of the general staff in the 1980s, notably two of the most cerebral – Dwin Bramall and Nigel Bagnall – would happily have scrapped all nuclear weapons, strategic and tactical.

They supposed the Soviets acted with the same rationality as they themselves, and were probably right to, although we’ll never know because the Soviet leadership was never put to the ultimate test. The arguments ceased with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when TNW were withdrawn from Europe and, in effect, scrapped. The Russians, on the other hand, did not scrap theirs.

Putin quite evidently acts with a different rationality, his logic based on different premises. What if, therefore, in contemplating using TNW, he becomes sufficiently certain that NATO, unable to respond with other than strategic nuclear weapons, will never gain the authority of its members to escalate?

In the public imagination, his crude but tellingly vague nuclear threats over Ukraine suggest intercontinental strikes. But what if he were contemplating a TNW strike against a “legitimate military target”? And how, in any future confrontation with NATO, would the alliance deter that same threat — or if deterrence fails, would restore deterrence?

To win Cold War Two, we must get real again about deterrence. NATO rearmament must address the seam that has been inserted in the previously seamless cloak.

Jeremy Black: This crisis will require a Prime Minister able to devote sustained attention

1 Mar

Jeremy Black is Emeritus Professor of History at Exeter University.

Real people fear, suffer and die. That is the nature of war. Conflict is also intensely political, not just because war is waged in order to enforce policies and determine decisions, but also because observers recalibrate their world, its hopes, fears, opportunities and nightmares. What yesterday appeared of great consequence is rendered redundant and new contexts provide the basis for judgment.

The Ukraine conflict will not end las the Falklands invasion did with the fall of the aggressive government and a situation that can be readily policed. Instead, whatever the short-term outcome and resulting position, this situation will fester, which will pose major challenges for statecraft, and for the stability both of Ukraine and of surrounding areas.

Russia has taken on a huge task, one that ultimately depends on installing a pliant government. Ukraine (233,031 square miles) compares to such previous areas of intervention as the Korean Peninsula’s 85,232, Vietnam’s 128,066 and Czechoslovakia’s 78,871.

Moreover, whereas the Soviets invaded Manchuria (390,625) in 1945 with two million troops, Vladimir Putin, who cannot draw on the same land forces as Stalin, has deployed fewer than 200,000.

Moreover, Russia cannot draw on the support of the Warsaw Pact allies as the Soviet Union did when invading Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, modern missiles offer little for the control of over 40 million people, and you cannot have a secret policeman at everyone’s elbow.

So, due to arrogance and stupidity, Putin, with his unprovoked, illegal, and totally unnecessary aggression, has put Russia in a very difficult position. Yet, however badly it goes, it is hard to see any Russian government letting Ukraine become a member of NATO because, although neither is a threat to Russia, that is not how they are considered by the paranoid Russian leadership.

On the mega-strategic level, this Russian attitude to Ukraine is made more difficult because of the range of other crises in which Russia could play a more or less hostile role, from East to South-West Asia and the Balkans to the Caribbean. A hostile Russia could make such issues as Iranian aggression, Chinese expansionism, and North Korean volatility far more difficult, and could further empower dictatorial allies or would-be allies, a list by no means limited to Belarus, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, none of which offer a pleasant prospect for Ukraine.

Western policymakers are going to have to consider the knock-on impact of the specific crisis, and the need to recalibrate tripwires elsewhere, both diplomatic and military.

The ability of the West to act with unity in this crisis will require continual care which means the need for real skill on the part of the Foreign Office and its ministers, and a Prime Minister able to devote sustained attention.

There is also the political wake within Britain. Covid costs and attention hit hard at this government, forcing the jettisoning of projects, such as the Yorkshire spur of HS2, and, more seriously, weakening its attention and energy. Differently, the same is the case with the Ukraine crisis, which, with Putin’s talk about nuclear alert, makes the relative inconsequence of the Covid pandemic more apparent.

Domestic governance will be harder as projects are cancelled and hopes brought low, and, aside from resulting problems, it would be unrealistic not to assume that Russia will meddle in domestic politics, not least by continuing to support separatist movements.

This situation ensures a need for maturity and judgment in the short term, but also consideration of the degree to which our democratic system is undermined from within by anti-democratic forces. The Soviet Union did so with some success during the Cold War, not least through providing assistance via allies to the Provisional IRA and the National Union of Miners, and it is naïve to expect that the same will not recur. This provides a particular need for government to consider how best to monitor, assess and, if necessary, counter dangerous, if not treasonable, domestic opposition.

As with the Cold War, this is a task that ranges widely, to include intellectual division. Indeed, there is a clear context in terms of culture wars, which the Left repeatedly appears to be winning, not least in the universities. Many who denounce a long past of the British empire and of the Atlantic slave trade appear all-too-oblivious about Russian imperialism and about the enslavement of the Ukrainians. What might appear a troubling absence of values is in fact a commitment against our country.

Mark Francois: Now the Government must tear up the Integrated Review, start again – and boost the army

28 Feb

Mark Francois is the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, a member of the Defence Select Committee and a former Armed Forces Minister.

As the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine only began five days ago, it may be too early to draw long-term conclusions, not least as we do not yet know how this war – for that is what is now palpably is – will play out. Nevertheless, there are at least four things which are already very clear.

First, this is a gigantic wake-up call for NATO, and indeed the free world more generally. I have written on this site before about how the reluctance of European NATO nations to meet the NATO target to spend at least 2 per cent of their GDP on defence was making the world a more dangerous place. Moreover, NATO’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer can only have encouraged adventurism in Russia.

We must also appreciate who we are dealing with. Vladimir Putin and most of his closest associates were senior officers in the Soviet KGB. These are utterly ruthless men, who are unlikely to be deterred by economic measures alone.

Their ultimate benchmark will be hard power, both nuclear and conventional, rather than sanctions, which they will have already priced in. The Russian psyche despises weakness, and so we need to react accordingly.

It is encouraging to note that NATO is beginning to close ranks and agree on sanctions and military aid to Ukraine. But we need to enhance our efforts and quickly, if we are to persuade Putin to abandon any idea, however fanciful, of attacking the Baltic States or Poland. Our response must includes not just deploying more troops on NATO’s borders. but also increasing our operational readiness to rapidly respond to any incursion.

Second, within the U.K itself, we need to “Review the Review.” The conventional war on the Central European landmass unfolding before us, is a massive international event – comparable in security terms to a 9/11.

It is likely to be a game-changer, which means that the much-vaunted Integrated Review of Foreign, Defence and Security Policy published only last year, has already been overtaken by events.

The Review, which was intellectually incoherent from the outset, self-evidently failed to anticipate the near-term likelihood of massive Russian aggression.

Its defence aspects were particularly flawed, since it envisaged further deep cuts in U.K. conventional forces, including reducing the British Army by a further 10,000 regular soldiers down to just over 73,000, its smallest size since the post-Napoleonic age.

Worse still, it purported to bolster our Armed Forces in five to ten years time by taking excessive risks in the next few years to finance the later improvements. Under the Review, critical capabilities – such as our already inadequate force of frigates, airborne early warning aircraft and armoured fighting vehicles – were to be retired or sold off, years before their replacements were due to come into service.

In particular, the British Army’s armoured and infantry forces were to be pared back, so that we could field a fully-fledged “war fighting division” – around a decade from now. What good is all that to us this spring?

The intellectual fig-leaf for this self-imposed disarmament, which mercifully has not yet been fully implemented, is called the “Integrated Operating Concept” (IOC). When you strip away all the Whitehall techno-babble, the essence of the IOC is that we can get away with fewer tanks, armoured vehicles etc, because the remainder will be better able to communicate and interact, thus producing a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The fundamental problem with this approach, as Captain Blackadder famously said to Private Baldrick about a previous military plan in the last ever episode of Blackadder, “is that it’s Bollocks.”

To begin with, the IOC largely relies on equipment which either doesn’t work (such as “Ajax”, the £4 billion light-tank, which has been delayed for years because it injures its own crew) or kit that doesn’t even exist yet, like “LeTacsis/Morpheus” (an all-singing all-dancing communications system, which hasn’t even been designed yet, is years away from service and is presently bogged down in endless disputes with contractors).

Moreover, the emphasis on high-tech solutions to everything ignores the brutal truth that, for all it’s technology, NATO was eventually run out of Afghanistan by what some commentators have described as “a bunch of country boys”, with light weapons and not an aircraft, satellite or submarine between them.

For the Russians, such theorising is unlikely to deter the 8th St. Petersburg Girl Guide Troop (Motorised), let alone the First Guards Tank Army. As Stalin famously said: “quantity has a quality all of its own.” The whole IOC, which is at the heart of the Review, and which provides the rationale for reducing our Army even further, is fatally flawed. We will likely need to go back to the drawing board and think again.

Third, it seems likely that U.K. defence spending will have to increase from its current level of around 2.3 per cent of GDP. The House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC), on which I have now served for five years, has consistently called for U.K. defence spending to reach at least three per cent of GDP, even before Russia invaded the Crimea and deployed a chemical weapon on U.K. soil in Salisbury in 2014.

Indeed, during the Cold War, it stood at around five per cent but was then slashed, by Government’s of both colours, as they extracted a “peace dividend” after the Wall came down. Well, following a major break-in, it looks as if our “insurance premium” is about to go up again, lest we allow the highly aggressive burglar to run riot.

However, as Conservatives, we instinctively believe that public spending is not just about how much you spend but, crucially, how effectively you spend it. The all-party Public Accounts Committee declared just a few months ago that MoD’s defence procurement system is “broken.”

Of the Department’s 36 largest procurement programmes, which were independently audited by the Government’s Infrastructure Projects Authority, not a single one -was on track to enter service both on time and on cost.

The Blob (which in this case takes the form of Defence Equipment and Support, or DE&S) is hopelessly inefficient. The Russian invasion of Ukraine should have finally persuaded us that we need radical reform in this procurement area, which employs over 10,000 people to do what the Israelis do better with barely 2,500.

Fourth, we need to materially increase our operational readiness. During the Cold War, our Armed Forces were held at high states of readiness, ready to respond to any incursion across the then inner-German border within a matter of hours.

Today, with a few exceptions (such as the RAF’s Quick Reaction Alert aircraft to intercept Russian bombers) our forces are held at much longer notice, especially with regard to a general conflagration.

As just one example, of our six, £1 billion each, Type 45 destroyers, only one was operationally available last July, due to a persistent problem with their propulsion systems, which the MoD is not scheduled to fully rectify until 2028.

Given what has just happened in Ukraine, we should now look critically at our readiness states across the board, and encourage our allies to do likewise. We should fix the kit that doesn’t work as a matter of urgency. As such, we should be prepared to issue a number of Urgent Operational Requirements ( MoD speak for drop all the bureaucracy and get the job done as soon as possible) to bring our kit up to scratch, of which the Type 45s could be but the first example.

In summary, we are now living in a different world from a week ago. Russia has invaded a peaceful, democratic, sovereign state. All those yards of newsprint and tweets from commentators who said this could never happen have been shown to be utterly wrong.

If you believe, as I do, that the first job of our Armed Forces is actually to deter war, by showing any potential aggressor that we are both morally willing and technically ready to defend ourselves and defeat them, then we need to change our whole mindset in Whitehall and indeed in Parliament too – and we had best do it quickly. The Romans had a powerful saying: “Si vis pacem parra bellum” – he who desires peace should prepare for war.

So should we. Not next year – or in ten years time – but now.

William Atkinson: P.J. O’Rourke – the last person to make conservatism cool

16 Feb

William Atkinson is a history teacher.

Despite my immense respect for Charles Moore, I cannot ever imagine him ever entitling a piece “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink”. Not only because British conservatives naturally represent all that is sensible and respectable about politics and the press, but because putting your name to an article like that requires a particular outlook. An irreverence, a silliness, a partiality for various questionable substances – whatever it is, the late P.J.O’Rourke had in spades.

O’Rourke passed away yesterday aged 74. The satirist’s work included time as Editor-in-Chief at National Lampoon (of Animal House fame), as the foreign correspondent (and token Republican) at Rolling Stone, articles for Playboy, and 19 books. Admittedly, most this side of the Atlantic probably know him for complaining about “cow juice” in a 90s’ British Airways ad. Nevertheless, his writing was so ubiquitous you may well have stumbled across him The Spectator or the Daily Mail and never realised he was that same Johnny Foreigner.

What made O’Rourke so notable? His air miles, for one thing. He estimated that Rolling Stone had sent him to over 40 countries. No war, intifada, or coup is seen better than through his habitual lens of the bottom of a glass. His reports were usually as complimentary about those he encountered as his notorious article on ‘Foreigners Around the World’, and his description of the Bosnian Genocide as the “unspellables killing the unpronouncables” naturally garnered criticism. But pieces such as ‘Ship of Fools’, an early 80s effort describing a cruise through the decaying and drunk late U.S.S.R amongst a party of American peaceniks, show him at his hilarious best, as damning of the iniquities of Communism as it is the delusions of his liberal fellow-travellers.

But it wasn’t just O’Rourke’s foreign reporting or driving advice that made him so enjoyable. Having been a student during the late 1960s, O’Rourke indulged in every fad of the Summer of Love: converting to Maoism, experimenting with LSD, and dodging the draft for Vietnam. He was excused thanks to a four-and-a-half-page doctor’s letter, “three and a half pages devoted to the drugs [he’d] abused.” The preface to his collection Give War a Chance is an apology to the poor schmuck who took his place.

Fortunately, O’Rourke grew up, became a registered Republican, and came to consider “socialism a violation of the American principle that you shouldn’t stick your nose in other people’s business except to make a buck.” He embodied the best elements of the American right – the libertarianism, the love of freedom, the ability to look good on television – whilst ditching that terrifying element which carries a Bible in one hand and an assault rifle in the other.

It was in castigating the Parliament of Whores – his name for the U.S. Government – that O’Rourke produced many of the lines that made him the living man with the most entries in The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations.

“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

Or:

“One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.”

Useful advice.

Unfortunately for an icon of ‘Gonzo’ journalism, over the last decade, America has become too crazy even for O’Rourke. Despite having once described Hillary Clinton as ‘America’s ex-wife’, “the particular woman who taught the 4th grade class that every man in America wished he were dead in”, O’Rourke endorsed her in 2016. He told listeners on National Public Radio, where he was the resident grouchy right-winger, that Clinton was “wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” His last books How the Hell Did This Happen? and A Cry from the Far Middle were attempts to explain Trump’s America to a sceptical world.

In a sense, modern America suffers from the success of humourists like O’Rourke. The world of William F. Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal was over-taken by Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and Stephen Colbert – satirists became the new sages. And when all politics seems a joke, when “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys”, it’s unsurprising if your politicians end up being a joke too. Such is the price O’Rourke paid for five decades’ sterling work at trying to get conservatives to not take themselves too seriously.

Nevertheless, despite his wit, O’Rourke’s finest moment came when describing the fall of the Berlin wall. His description of the moment he saw an East German border guard asking for a piece of that crumbling edifice of totalitarianism deserves quoting in full.

“I looked at that and I began to cry.

I really didn’t understand before that moment, I didn’t realize until just then – we won. The Free World won the Cold War. The fight against life-hating, soul-denying, slavish communism – which had shaped the world’s politics this whole wretched century – was over.

And the best thing about our victory was the way we did it – not just with ICBMs and Green Berets and aid to the contras. Those things were important, but in the end we beat them with Levi 501 jeans. Seventy-two years of communist indoctrination and propaganda was drowned out by a three-ounce Sony Walkman. A huge totalitarian system with all its tanks and guns, gulag camps and secret police had been brought to its knees because nobody wants to wear Bulgarian shoes.”

We sometimes forget, thirty years on, that the Cold War wasn’t just a dispute between two economic systems, but a fight between freedom and tyranny, liberation and repression, good and evil – and good ultimately triumphed. In his writing, P. J. O’Rourke showed why it deserved to.

Sarah Ingham: With our closest NATO ally leaving us high and dry, it’s time to re-assess the pieties about Britain’s role in the world

3 Sep

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

“America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home”.

In June 2011, announcing a cut in troop numbers of 10,000 personnel, President Barack Obama anticipated Joe Biden’s speech in Pittsburgh which marked the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

A decade ago, the 44th President’s enthusiasm for a continuing military presence in Afghanistan was lukewarm at best. Back then, a mere $1 trillion had been spent. Given America’s crumbling infrastructure and rising social problems in the wake of the global financial crash, Obama wanted more homeland bangs for his huge number of bucks.

Another $1 trillion later, on Tuesday the 46th President gave the speech that Obama probably wishes he had made back in 2011. Alluding to the country’s “corruption and malfeasance”, Biden was clear: “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.”

For a man allegedly in his dotage, Sleepy Joe delivered an admirably clear-sighted statement of future American national security policy based on vital national interest. As well as ending the forever war, the President pulled the trigger on 20 years of meddling in the affairs of other sovereign states – also known as nation-building.

If American policy is now also about “ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries”, exactly where does this leave Britain and our Armed Forces? After all, ever since the end of the Cold War, successive governments have sent Britain’s Service personnel overseas on all manner of Operations Other Than War, as our people in khaki with the SA80 A3s like to call them.

The impulse to save lives was used to justify a number of military interventions since the beginning of the 1990s, including policing Iraq’s safe havens and in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya. The Rwandan genocide – about which the outside world did too little far too late – is a permanent reproach to those who consider state sovereignty paramount.

The successful humanitarian-based military operations in Kosovo and Sierra Leone appeared to vindicate the Blair government’s much-mocked pursuit of an “ethical” foreign policy, together with the Prime Minister’s Doctrine for the International Community.

Set out in Chicago in April 1999, it suggested five guidelines for intervention. They chimed with the Strategic Defence Review of the previous year which had declared that Britain would not stand idly by and watch humanitarian disasters or the aggression of dictators go unchecked. “We want to give a lead; we want to be a force for good.”

Ever since, subsequent Defence Reviews have all been the heirs to the Blairite sentiment that the British military are an instrument for global wellbeing, just as Britain should get stuck in and tackle the world’s problems.

As the Coalition’s 2010 Review stated, “Our country has always had global responsibilities and global ambitions.” Similarly, in 2015, Britain was “strong, influential, global”. In setting out his vision for Britain in 2030 in the recent Integrated Review, Boris Johnson foresaw “a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective”.

The unforeseen American withdrawal pulled the rug out from under not only Afghanistan but also from assumptions about Britain’s defence and security posture that were made in the Integrated Review less than six months ago.

With our closest NATO ally leaving us high and dry, it is now time to re-assess the pieties about Britain’s place and role in the world that, mantra-like, are repeated and have gone unchallenged in all of 21st century Reviews of the country’s defence and security.

The Blairite approach to foreign policy – “which should reflect our values” according to the 1998 Review – should have been shattered in Iraq. A war of questionable legality and zero legitimacy made a nonsense about ethical lodestars.

Equally, Labour’s view of the role of British soldiers in Afghanistan as globe-trotting, nation-building do-gooders – armed Mrs Jellybys – has surely had its day. The Coalition’s disastrous intervention in Libya in 2011 was nothing if not Blair-lite. Thankfully, the same itch to intervene was thwarted when it came to Syria.

For all policymakers’ non-stop talking up of Britain’s continuing interventionist global role, the public might well be sceptical. Over the past decade we have become ever-more culturally heterogenous and less happy with the concept of “white saviours” parachuting themselves into the world’s benighted regions and bossing the locals about.

In 2001, the UK’s Muslim population was 1.6 million; by 2018 it had reached 3.4 million: do these voters back Britain’s instinct for involvement in the problems of, say, the Middle East? Equally, the issue of this country’s colonial past is surely the most toxic on any syllabus – and very much at odds with any present-day neo-colonial nation-building.

Almost 30 years ago, another Foreign Secretary was in hot water. Sceptical about intervention in the civil war in former Yugoslavia, Douglas Hurd dubbed those who demanded action after the media spotlight fell on any particular trouble-spot as members of the “Something Must Be Done Club”. He could have observed that Pen Farthing’s dogs would bark, but before too long the media would move on.

Like its predecessors, the Integrated Review invokes the values of liberal democracy. After almost 18 months of government by ministerial fiat in the name of public health, with Parliament side-lined, the media suborned and Police over-reach, we should perhaps be focusing on renewing those values here at home. The defence of the West begins in Britain.

Mark Francois: Why, following the crisis in Afghanistan, Johnson must avoid a Love Actually moment with Biden

25 Aug

Mark Francois is the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, a former Armed Forces Minister and a Member of the House of Commons Defence Committee.

There is an old saying that hindsight makes geniuses of all of us. However, the events of the last fortnight in Afghanistan have certainly demonstrated a lack of foresight, especially in the Biden White House.

When Parliament was recalled to discuss what went gone wrong, I was one of those who was highly critical of the Biden Administration for withdrawing so hastily, which has led to a strategic defeat for NATO, for the first time in its 72-year history.

Whole libraries have been written about the so-called “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States. The term itself was first coined by Winston Churchill, whose very close relationship with US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was fundamental to the allied victory in World War Two.

Similarly, the very strong partnership between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan was undoubtedly essential to winning the Cold War. Although it is often overlooked, a young Senator Joe Biden even supported the UK’s position during the Falklands Crisis in 1982.

Nevertheless, 39 years on, Biden’s address to the American people on August 16 2021 was inherently isolationist. It put US domestic political interests way above foreign policy considerations and America’s relations with its allies, including us.

So, what should we do now? Does our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, need to create a “Love Actually moment” of his own and start making Johnsonian wisecracks about Americans invoking the 25th Amendment? Probably not. But some are now asking can we credibly create a European defence, sufficient to deter a revanchist Russia, without the active involvement of the United States?

NATO now has 30 member nations, a third of which now meet the recommended alliance minimum of spending at least two per cent of their GDP on Defence. According to NATO’s own latest figures, (which helpfully compare apples with apples), Greece is now the highest spender in proportional terms, at an estimated 3.82 per cent in 2021, compared to 3.52 per cent for the United States.

The UK is now fourth at 2.29 per cent; with all three Baltic States a bit over 2.0 per cent. France sits almost exactly on 2.0 per cent, with Italy on 1.41 per cent and Spain, at barely one per cent at all. Still, in most cases this actually represents an increase, since Russia invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014.

France, which maintains Armed Forces broadly comparable to Britain’s, including its own strategic nuclear deterrent, has increased its defence spending over the last seven years, has bilateral Defence ties with the UK under the auspices of the Lancaster House Agreement and is involved in a number of Anglo-French equipment programmes.

However, the calls by President Macron of France for the creation of a “European Army” have not been met by a sizeable increase in the French Defence budget to help facilitate such a concept which, for a number of NATO nations, including the U.K. is politically unrealistic anyway. Still, the French do maintain professional and operationally credible armed forces, which exercise regularly with our own.

But the great drag anchor in terms of any increased European defence capability is Germany. Although Germany recently signed a low-key bilateral defence declaration with the UK (described by one colleague of mine as, “a poor man’s Lancaster House”) even now the German defence budget has been only creeping upwards, to 1.53 per cent of GDP this year and is not due to achieve the two per cent target for several years yet – much to the repeated annoyance of former President Trump.

Moreover, the German Armed Forces are now a shadow of their former, highly operationally focused, Cold War selves. Much of Germany’s military equipment is in poor repair, with depressingly low levels of operational availability in everything from submarines to fighter aircraft. They are also a risky industrial partner, because of increasingly hostile attitudes to defence exports within the Bundestag.

Similarly, Germany’s close relationship with Russia, for instance in advocating the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, may suit Germany’s peacetime energy needs but does not help bolster NATO security, especially among its Eastern European members.

Much now hinges on the forthcoming German Federal Elections, with the era of the Merkel ascendency coming to an end and the race for her successor seemingly wide open.

Whether the largest party emerging from the elections is the CDP/CSU or the SPD, any subsequent coalition Government which meaningfully involves either Der Linke or the Greens is unlikely to be keen on the sort of very significant increase in German defence spending – and hardening of the line on Russia – that would likely be required to give a meaningful edge to a European Defence identity. Pious declarations are all very well but, as Stalin brutally put it: “How many divisions has the Pope?”

So, where does all this leave us? First, it means that we should look to strengthen defence ties with our European allies – but with a clear-eyed realism about the limits of what this is likely to achieve. For the foreseeable future, the idea that NATO’s European partners could credibly deter Russia entirely on their own is completely fanciful; they just aren’t prepared to pay for it – and even the most junior analyst in Moscow knows it.

That means that we need to try and repair the damage caused to NATO by the disastrous events of the past fortnight. In that context, the Anglo-American link is absolutely crucial. Historically, whoever has been in the White House or Downing Street, Anglo-American links at the diplomatic, military and intelligence (Five Eyes) have remained strong, and we now need to bolster them again. As one example, the previous US Ambassador, Woody Johnson, was a high-profile and popular Anglophile and we need to see someone equally charismatic appointed without delay.

Hard left opponents in Britain have sometimes railed about the “Anglo-American deep State”; well, if such a thing exists, now is surely the time to use all of these contacts to best advantage to bolster Western security.

To those in the American security establishment who have become obsessed with China, we need to remind them that Russia possesses thousands of nuclear weapons too, has invaded neighbouring countries on the European landmass within the last decade.

Russian spokesmen have even boasted about new nuclear torpedoes, which could cause an irradiated tsunami against cities on the eastern seaboard of the United States (and NATO believes these weapons actually exist). Finally, Taiwan, while an important Western ally, is not a member of NATO – but Estonia most certainly is.

The Atlantic Charter, which led, in turn, to the creation of the United Nations, was originally an Anglo-American construct. The American Eagle and the British Lion have stood side by side in defence of the free world for many decades now and we cannot allow any one individual, no matter how senior, to get in the way of that.

Sarah Ingham: The success of Taliban 2.0 has left Britain, and its semi-detached MPs, bereft of answers

20 Aug

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

“General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.”

Reviewing Barack Obama’s first term in office, Joe Biden, then Vice President, provided a pithy summary in 2012.

Almost a decade after al-Qaeda’s world-changing 9/11 attack on America, in May 2011 US Special Forces finally got their man. He had been hiding out in Abbottabad, which could be twinned with Aldershot, on the other side of Afghanistan’s often conveniently porous border with Pakistan.

Up there with other great political comebacks are now the Taliban. Ten years after the unlamented passing of bin Laden, history’s most troublesome paying guest, 20 years after being ousted by NATO forces and the local Northern Alliance, the regime is now in power. Or, as the lawyer for ISIS-groupie Shamima Begum tweeted to accompany the image of gun-carrying fighters with their feet under the Presidential desk in Kabul, “The boys are back in town”.

The success of Taliban 2.0 in the past two weeks has made us question the worth of Britain’s mission in Afghanistan over the past two decades. Or should that be missions?

In his memoirs Tony Blair reflects on his choices after the first Taliban regime was overthrown: “Like it or not, from then on, we were in the business of nation-building.” A Journey was published in 2010 with the benefit of hindsight. Britain joined American military action in Afghanistan in late 2001 under our Article 5 NATO treaty obligations. Back then, there was no plan to set up a liberal democracy or to educate girls.

Keen to keep busy after the end of the Cold War – “Go out of area or go out of business” – in June 2004 NATO members committed to an expanded operation in Afghanistan. Like a bust Monopoly player’s properties, the country’s provinces were divvied up. Outlining the scope of the British military mission in Helmand, in January 2006, John Reid, the Defence Secretary, talked the talk about “a fully integrated package addressing governance, security and political and social change” and “finding real alternatives to the harvesting of opium”. He added “waging war is not our aim”.

With British forces under heavy fire from the Taliban almost as soon as their boots were on the ground, the current doubts about the quality of Afghan-related intelligence are hardly new. After all, Secretary Reid stated “we would be perfectly happy to leave in three years’ time without firing one shot”.

Stabilisation? Protecting reconstruction? Nation-building? Counter-terrorism? Counter-insurgency? Counter-poppy? Combat? With the Blair-Brown government unsure of its objective in Afghanistan, it is unsurprising the public was baffled about the British role. In October 2006, 64 per cent reported there was no clear strategy. Three years later, 42 per cent did not understand the purpose of the British mission and more than 60 per cent believed the war was unwinnable and all troops should be withdrawn.

Conversely, Service personnel had never been held in higher esteem, approval ratings which continue today. Soldiers’ service and sacrifice – including the preparedness to make the ultimate sacrifice – became especially apparent on the final melancholy journeys through Wootton Bassett. The changes in Afghanistan in the last 20 years have come about not least because of the professionalism and commitment of Britain’s Servicemen and women.

Combat operations ended in 2015. To paraphrase Keir Starmer, in the context of Afghanistan most of us in Britain seem to have been on the beach ever since. How many were aware of Operation Toral, the UK’s mission to train local Afghan Forces, not least at Sandhurst-in-the-Sand? Who raised concerns about the Trump-Taliban deal in Doha?

MPs’ semi-detached attitude towards Afghanistan was underlined by the almost complete absence of statesmanship in Wednesday’s Emergency Debate. Of course, given that most of our representatives have not actually bothered to show up for work for 15 months, they are out of practice, but that is no excuse for sanctimony at levels rivalling the peaks of the Hindu Kush. Apart from Tom Tugendhat, Dan Jarvis and a handful of others, most MPs should have stayed at home.

Regime change, which many MPs were in favour of in Iraq, usually involves chaos, bloodshed and a humanitarian crisis. Has the Stop the War movement become Continue the Military Intervention?

Perhaps Washington’s critics should tell us just how much they would like to take from the NHS budget to pay for an increase in defence to cover a unilateral British mission to Afghanistan. For the past half century this country has chosen welfare over warfare, sheltering under an American defence umbrella. US taxpayers have spent $2 trillion; more than 20,000 US Service personnel have been injured and 2,400 killed. With so much American blood and treasure spent in Afghanistan, evincing some gratitude toward our chief NATO ally would have been fitting.

What of the bigger strategic picture? The silence from MPs on this was deafening. The Prime Minister was correct to point out that deploying tens of thousands of British troops to fight the Taliban is not an option.

In the rush to judgment over the past week, few have stopped to ask why the Taliban could seize power so easily. So far, the handover has been comparatively orderly. Just as London is not Britain, cosmopolitan Kabul might not be Afghanistan.

And who are the Taliban 2.0? How do they fit into this tribal multi-ethnic country, where mobile phone ownership has gone from about 30,000 to 22.5 million in the past 20 years. Supposing they are less medieval executioners-in-football-stadia and more 21st century smartphone-savvy operators, mindful of optics seen globally and instantly?

If Britain has a problem doing business with an Islamic regime with dubious attitudes towards women and civil rights, there goes most of the Middle East. As yet there are no evacuation helicopters hovering over the embassies of China and Russia in Kabul: perhaps staff are too busy drawing up deals over mineral rights and infrastructure.

This week President Biden declared that “we” could not provide “them” with the will to fight. A young British Army officer might well have disagreed. The Malakand Field Force describes a short military campaign in 1897 in a tribal area near the Durand Line, the newly-drawn border between British India and Afghanistan, specifically designed to protect Britain’s imperial interests.

The author, Second Lieutenant Winston Churchill, admired the enemy Pashtu tribesmen: “To the ferocity of the Zulu are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer… Every man’s hand is against the other, and all against the stranger.”

Jeremy Quin: The Government’s defence investment ensures a modern, persistent and effective approach to future threats

31 Mar

Jeremy Quin is the MP for Horsham and Minister for Defence Procurement.

It has been an important two weeks for the UK’s foreign, defence and security policy. The Prime Minister set out through the Integrated Review the most significant reappraisal of UK foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, including a commitment to sustaining our strategic advantage through science and technology.

Last week’s Defence in a Competitive Age backs this up, signalling the biggest shift in defence policy in a generation. The Government’s vital investment in defence, amounting to an extra £24 billion over four years from today’s levels, ensures we will equip our Armed Forces to be modern, persistent and effective in deterring the threats of the future.

The following day through DSIS (the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy) we announced further reforms to ensure that this investment supports not just the Armed Forces, to which we owe so much, but invests in those who support them. The £85 billion we are investing in defence equipment and support over the next four years will drive not only the success of our Armed Forces but opportunity, capability and prosperity throughout the UK. 

Our defence sector is already world-renowned. Directly and indirectly it employs more than 200,000 across the UK. It is the world’s second largest global exporter of defence goods and services, helping support our allies and partners overseas. It generates valuable skills and technology, and is one of the many binding forces of our successful Union. Frigates are made in Scotland, satellites in Belfast, our next generation Ajax armoured vehicles in Wales and fighter aircraft in the north of England.

But we must do more to unlock the vast potential of this sector and drive the research, the skills and investment that will enhance prosperity, keep us secure and help us thrive as a science superpower.

To do so we have ended the policy of “global competition by default’ to better deliver our strategic goals. Of course competition has an important role to play, as will international collaboration. There will also be occasions when, to meet critical needs, purchases will be made from our friends and allies.

However we will be adopting a nuanced and sophisticated approach to procurement with a focus on on-shore capabilities and asking key questions. What more can we secure from this investment? How will this contribute to our science superpower status, level up the whole UK and deliver on skills, capability and export success? We will continue to welcome companies based overseas who are prepared to invest in maintaining the industrial capability we need onshore.

In the future you can expect greater integration between government, industry and academia. Our approach to combat air shows what this can achieve. A £2 billion investment, leveraging further industrial contributions, driving world-leading research and capabilities – and creating 2,500 apprenticeships – will deliver the future of combat air

We are investing £6.6 billion into R&D to support next-generation capabilities, from space satellites and automation to artificial intelligence and novel weapons. A clear signal to our industrial partners.

We will be more focussed on exports. For the first time in a generation we are working with our close friends in Australia and Canada on highly sophisticated UK warships. Our multipurpose Type 31 frigate has been designed with export in mind. We are determined to spark a renaissance in British shipbuilding, underpinned by UK orders but focussed on the huge export potential in maritime. Similar export opportunities across the waterfront of defence.

Lastly, DSIS will make procurement more agile, pulling through technology fast to the frontline. By driving improvements inside MOD and reforming our approach to suppliers, we will shift the dial. We are introducing “social value” to our procurements and will be doing more to help our imaginative SMEs – the lifeblood of defence – to continue their record of securing more of our defence spend.

So DSIS will make a huge difference to our country. It will ensure our people continue to have the right kit. It will contribute to the advanced skills and capabilities our nation requires as a science superpower. And it will fire up the engines of prosperity in every corner of our United Kingdom.

The Armed Forces always deliver for our country. DSIS will ensure that our investment not only secures our peace and security; its benefits will also be felt in our industrial heartlands, building greater prosperity in every part of the Union.

Gareth Davies: A new British Development Bank could drive our national recovery

2 Oct

Gareth Davies is the Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford.

Much has rightly been said about the perilous economic situation facing our country as a result of this dreadful Coronavirus. But talk to people in our towns and cities across the regions and they will tell you the pandemic has merely amplified economic problems that were there already. For decades our regions have been hampered by systematic underinvestment in businesses, infrastructure and transport links that have held back opportunity for large parts of the electorate. Last December, those voters demanded change.

They are right to do so. The UK faces an infrastructure gap of £8 billion a year, according to McKinsey, and a lack of infrastructure investment is one of the reasons we suffer poor productivity relative to our global competitors. Productivity issues are even worse internally – regional disparities in investment have led to disparities in productivity with average gross value added per hour worked in the UK 35 per cent below that of London and the South East.

We need a long-term strategy to boost infrastructure investment, stimulate regional development and leverage much greater levels of private capital in the process. Today I have published a plan to restructure our investments to target the regions and help mobilise billions of new private savings and investment to reduce the burden on the Treasury and the taxpayer at a time of great challenge.

Together with the think tank Onward, I am proposing the creation of a new British Development Bank with a specific mandate to invest billions in the regions. The UK has never had such an independent institution despite the model being a tremendous success in other countries around the world.

Germany pioneered the use of development banks with their own organisation called KFW. After the Cold War it was critical for “levelling up” the previously occupied East Germany. Since 1991 one out of every ten euros invested in East Germany has come from KFW and the inequality gap between East and West reduced significantly – this is in contrast to the widening inequality between England’s North and South.

We have long needed to rethink how and what we build in this country. We all know the history of PFI schemes which failed to demonstrate value for money for the taxpayer. Now is our opportunity to put in place a dedicated institution of genuine finance experts to drive and mobilise funding.

Infrastructure helps an economy to grow. The investment and construction of new assets creates additional jobs and supports supply chains. The eventual infrastructure supports productivity by connecting people whether it is a new train line, better broadband or more energy. Infrastructure makes our country a more attractive place to live and do business, and by reducing transaction costs makes Britain a more competitive player in the global economy.

Therefore, our pervasively poor quality, low stock infrastructure is a serious issue if we are going to level up and boost economic growth.

However, I entirely sympathise with the dilemma our Treasury faces, infrastructure is the one thing we need to grow our way out of the crisis and truly level up and yet it becomes more and more difficult to pay for as every day passes. This is why we must mobilise private capital to supplement public spending.

A British Development Bank will do three critical things. First, it will provide long-term targeted financing by project, business or region to ensure that investment is ring-fenced to where it is most needed. Second, it will mobilise private savings and investments by a multiple of four, meaning that for every £1 of government spend, £4 of private capital spend will be unlocked. Thirdly, it will provide “counter-cyclical” investment so that in times of economic downturn when mainstream banks’ risk appetite dries up, required funding flows will be maintained.

This new institution would be modelled on Germany’s KFW. To do this, we would move the existing British Business Bank (BBB) and the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) under the one umbrella organisation of the British Development Bank to bring about huge efficiencies, but critically, the combined assets of these two organisations (which is several billion pounds) would enable the Development Bank to issue its own targeted infrastructure bonds. The domestic work of BBB financing SMEs would be bolstered by an increase in assets, as would the reach of our overseas schemes under CDC.

Backed by the Treasury, a Development Bank could borrow at very low rates to fund and encourage infrastructure investment the private sector would not otherwise build. The bank could also issue “guarantees” or could buy shares in infrastructure projects, taking the risks of infrastructure construction the private sector is unwilling to take.

This Government has an opportunity to not only set out a long term plan for levelling up in the upcoming National Infrastructure Strategy, it has the chance to put in place a financial institution that will serve the needs of our regions for decades to come regardless of who holds the keys to Number 10.