Avoiding a ‘Munich moment’

 

In October of 2010, the coalition government published its Strategic Defence Review into the future of the UK’s armed forces. It spoke of the need to counter the threat from an enemy which fought an asymmetric campaign, citing the growth of Al Qaeda and the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In doing so it ignored the writings of David Kilcullen, perhaps the foremost expert in asymmetric warfare and the hard won experience of our Armed Forces fighting a 30 year conflict in Northern Ireland. Instead it advocated reducing its greatest asset for fighting an asymmetric war, the army, down to 80,000 from its then establishment of 102,000. This loss of 20% of its fighting force was supposed to be offset by raising the countries reserve forces up to 30,0000. Needless to say the MoD is having great difficulty in recruiting reservists.

In implementing this realignment of the army the coalition effectively reduced the capability of the armed forces to fight either the kind of war envisioned by the Strategic Defence Review or a more conventional war. In the eyes of many in all three services this review was short sighted and was instigated much more with a view of saving money than placing our forces onto a secure footing with which to face future conflicts.

In five short years the type of conflict facing our Armed Forces swung back from fighting a terrorist war to a threat from more conventional forces. We drew down our forces from both Iraq and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda was eclipsed by a more vicious terrorist organisation and the security of much of Eastern Europe was once again under threat from the Russian Bear.

Whilst maintaining a threat of terrorism Daesh is still embroiled in a much more conventional war fighting in both Syria and Northern Iraq and, despite its haphazard logistics and reliance on captured weaponry, has proved adept at doing so. Despite the intervention of the Iranians IS is  holding its own and has even managed to advance, taking Ramadi and in the last week once again threatening Kobani. Even with the Iranian forces and a Shi-ite militia the northern front in Iraq is static whilst to the North West the situation is dire. The UK must play its part and as a coalition of countries get teeth arms back into play, taking ground from Daesh in Iraq and holding that ground.

At the same time, in Eastern Europe Putin is intent on drawing back former soviet satellites into the Russian bear hug and is doing so in the same old soviet way. Ratcheting up the rhetoric, using Russian immigrants and 5th columnists as well as using its military to take a threatening posture. The only way to counter this Russian imperialism is to place NATO troops throughout the Baltic States in the same way as we did throughout Germany.

To facilitate this change in strategy Liberal Democrats must advocate that the government puts forward a Strategic Defence Review which returns the army to a state where it can fight two medium sized wars, where the Navy can put two aircraft carriers to sea with a protective fleet around it and an airforce which can sustain itself in those conflicts.

* Steve Walpole is a veteran of HM Armed Forces and is currently Vice Chair of Skipton and Ripon Lib Dems

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

33 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Aug '15 - 1:40pm

    I would like to know what the numbers recruited for the reservists are. At last check it was abysmal and if it doesn’t improve then the scheme needs to be scrapped, which is a great shame considering regular service people were made redundant for it.

    I began the application to join myself a while ago, but had last minute doubts and cancelled. It’s easy to say “it’s only one day a week”, but not if you get sent on a 6-9 month tour.

  • It is probably do-able on a NATO 2% budget, for Britain to have a 100,000-strong conventional army, two carrier battle groups and an air force of appropriate size. But, it would cost the whole 2%. In simplified cartoon form, we need to choose now whether we want to be an independent nuclear weapons state that largely hunkers down on this island and relies on soft power to engage with the world, or whether we want to be an active expeditionary-capable state that relies on its NATO and European alliances for nuclear deterrent. There is the third option of doing both and spending 3 to 4% of GDP on the military, but I don’t think there’s much chance of that level of spending being agreed politically in the present age of austerity.

  • I am not sure there is much appetite amongst the Liberal Democrats for fighting one medium sized war let alone two simultaneously. There should be no appetite at all for fighting wars in the Middle East until we have learned what went wrong in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

    The final paragraph sounds expensive. Should not a Strategic Defence Review start with an analysis of the threats and then work up to what is needed to ward them off rather than specify what is required at the outset?

    The two threats specifically set out in the article – Daesh and Putin’s postulated threat to our Baltic State NATO allies would not be met by a unilateral UK response and so the contributions of our partners should be considered in calculating our needs.

    Trident is not mentioned in the paragraph of assets we need to meet these threats. I am sure this is correct.

    I wonder if there is a possibility of the Liberal Democrats coalescing around a policy that involves rejecting an independent air defence penetrating nuclear weapons system [that would never be independently used to penetrate an advanced air defence system] but committing ourselves to meet NATO’s estimate that 2% of GDP should be spent on defence.

  • Oh, dear. I thought old fashioned Liberal Imperialism had died out with Lord Rosebery in 1900 – and more recently, with the discredited Blair. I for one have had enough of foreign adventures and folie de grandeur in Iraq and Afghanistan trailing in the wake of the Americans.

    No more body bags please. We have enough on our plate dealing with inequality, poverty and austerity at home without sticking our noses into world wide wasps nests to stir up more terrorism.. It would have been more apposite to examine the current absurd three quarters of a policy on Trident.

  • A Social Liberal 4th Aug '15 - 2:27pm

    Richard

    First – I deliberately left the nuclear capability out of the remit for the article. It is a complex issue which, whilst pertinent given Putins hungry stares at his western neighbours, I do not want to interfere with the premise of the article which is to do with conventional forces.

    Second – No-one wants to fight one conventional war never mind two, not even the military. However, there are at least five areas of tension in the world where British interests are involved and the country quite simply has to be prepared.

    Third – SDR (SDSR if you want to take security into the mix which I think is a conflation of issues) is all about judging both the present defence threat and possible future threats. So whilst the last SDR was right to draw cyber warfare into the mix it failed miserably to accurately assess the responses needed to threats from asymmetric warfare.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Aug '15 - 2:38pm

    The last para looks like a solution looking for a problem, rather than any kind of strategic review. The UK is a medium sized European nation. The sea lanes are held by the US navy, and if they weren’t, 2 aircraft carriers wouldn’t do it.
    They are quite small aircraft carriers (half the size of the US Nimitz class) and oil fuelled – need refuelling every 3 or 4 days.
    They look like great big targets, which we can’t afford. We don’t seem to be able to afford the planes to go on them, not surprising as the proposed planes look like serious mistakes.
    Let’s sell them, once they are completed. Another helicopter / assault vessel like HMS Ocean would be far more useful; air power is probably best delivered via drones.

    I think it’s needless to say “needless to say”. I don’t see that there’s a prima facie reason why it should be difficult to recruit reservists; and it’s of interest that it has been.

  • A Social Liberal 4th Aug '15 - 2:46pm

    Eddie

    The current numbers for the reserve forces (as of January) are up 930 to just 23,920 trained servicemen and women. Do not make the mistake of assuming these are all infanteers or even teeth arm, they include all the logistics, mechanical engineering and service people the forces need to be effective.

    Of course, trained is something of a misnomer. It takes around 6 months to get a reserve soldier up to the fitness level of a regular infanteer. To maintain a reserve unit at the level of a regular one for one year in three (as the government expects) will eat into a reservists time to what I believe to be an unsustainable degree. Note, I am not talking about battle fitness here but the level at which a unit can be asked to deal with an emergency without spending more than a month getting ready.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Aug '15 - 3:23pm

    After the 1997 general election New Labour had a defence review based, they said, on defence needs. They included two aircraft carriers but did not hurry to build them, so that they looked like Potemkin villages. They were constrained by their promise to stick to the spending plans of the previous Tory government.

    Tim Farron is right to look again at the Uk’s commitment to Trident in a modern setting, which is any time after 1989.

  • A Social Liberal 4th Aug '15 - 3:23pm

    Jennie

    I’m afraid you misunderstand what an aircraft carrier group is all about. It is all about the ability to project power beyond our shore both as support of an expeditionary force and as a force on its own. This doesn’t just mean keeping sea lanes open but being a floating island we can stick near a country and use to support a ground war.

    You are quite right about carriers being large targets but that is why we should be demanding adequate protection for them. In the last few operational carrier tours we had to have French ships in the carrier groups in order to have a half decent protection. As for the aircraft, we did have some aircraft to place on the carriers until the delivery of our F35 fleet but the coalition government scrapped them.

    With your drones comment you show your lack of understanding of the role aircraft in the ground attack role play. Yes, Predator can place a missile with a small warhead onto a target with precision but it can’t take out command and control bunkers. It can’t carry out denial of airfields or attack military columns – indeed the missiles it carries are designed for killing tanks and it only carries two of them.

    But there are many more roles aircraft in a warzone (something else the coalition government royally screwed up on). for instance our new Nimrod MRA4 would have continued the fantastic work of previous marks not only in the world of Search and Rescue of downed airmen, but the target aquisition systems (on land and sea), its ELectronic INTelligence equiment and it’s ability to loiter for 16 hours made it a formidable intellligence platform. It also would have performed airborne control of close air support liaising between the troops on the ground with their limited radios and the airfield and aircraft.

    I could go on (and on and on and on) about this but you get the picture I hope

  • A Social Liberal 4th Aug '15 - 3:25pm

    Richard Underhill

    The 1998 SDR is quite well thought of in military circles.

  • @Richard “The final paragraph sounds expensive. Should not a Strategic Defence Review start with an analysis of the threats and then work up to what is needed to ward them off rather than specify what is required at the outset?”

    Yes, up to a point, but there are also the “unknown unknowns” which come along. The best defence posture is to “tool up” for as many contingencies as possible with what can be afforded.

    @David Raw “Oh, dear. I thought old fashioned Liberal Imperialism had died out with Lord Rosebery in 1900 – and more recently, with the discredited Blair. I for one have had enough of foreign adventures and folie de grandeur in Iraq and Afghanistan trailing in the wake of the Americans. ”

    We can try and bury our heads in the sand, but unfortunately the world has a habit of biting you in the posterior.

    @Jenny Barnes ” I don’t see that there’s a prima facie reason why it should be difficult to recruit reservists; and it’s of interest that it has been.”

    This is a very complex question and probably lies in the massively changed nature of reserve forces over the last 20-30 years.

    In the days of the Cold War, the TA was (largely) a paid club for the military-minded. Since the advent of Afghanistan and Iraq, large numbers of reservists have served on the front line. This changes the expectations of potential recruits from “oh that sounds like fun, and I get paid too” to “Ah … this is serious stuff and there is a potential likelihood that I might get killed or injured”. Consequently, those who are committed to joining the forces and taking on board that risk would, I suggest, be more motivated to join as a regular, and the pool of part-timers is concomitantly smaller given the increased risk.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Aug '15 - 4:56pm

    Jedi: I found the report, which admittedly I only skimmed, as it is 56 pages long, to be waffly and unfocussed. I’m sure it supports more or less the existing set up, as it’s written by the usual suspects. Sure, current drones can’t do everything, but taking the human out of the cockpit gives the option of much higher g- loadings, endurance etc.
    The F35b seems to be a very expensive platform for what it does, in the articles that say it’s any good, while there are others that say it’s short range, low payload, and poor dog-fighting ability make it extremely poor value for money. No doubt the UK will buy lots.

  • John Tilley 4th Aug '15 - 5:00pm

    TCO
    Not often I agree with you but you are absolutely right to say —
    “…the TA was (largely) a paid club for the military-minded..”

    My father, who was a professional and spent 22 years in the army, would have been slightly less polite.
    If he was feeling particularly generous and diplomatic he might have used the words –
    [email protected]@dy Toy soldiers, getting in the way as usual”

    Stephen Walpole, I am glad you refer to “the Daesh”as such and not some inaccurate religious title. Thank you for that. Your article pulls together a lot of things much of which I feel instinctively uncomfortable with. I think you are correct to point up terrorist threats from the Daesh but wrong in your proposed solution. It is not a war forthe armies of “Western Crusader Nations” to get drawn into. It is playing into the hands of the enemy when we do.

    As for “The Russian Bear” and all that stuff – you should have left such language in the history books. Putin’s ultra-corrupt plutocracy (or should that be kleptocracy?) is a very different creature from Imperial Russia of the 19th Century.

    Coping with Putin is essentially a European diplomatic problem not an exclusively UK or NATO military problem.

    As for stationing NATO troops on Putin’s orders – what would it ahcieve other than fuelling the paranoia that he feeds off?

    We had UK troops permanently stationed in German for 70 years (even for the 25 years since the collapse of the Societ Union). Why? What good did they do? If the argument of the Cold Warriers was correct that it was Nuclear Bombs stopped the Soviets marching across Europe in the Cold War then the £ Billions spent of stationing UK troops across Germany for generations seems to have been completely wasted.

    It may have been fun for those who benefitted from being stationed in a friendly European country with a higher standard of living than ours and no “enemy” for thousands of miles but it was a huge waste of money and not a good template for the Baltic States in 2015 and the future.

  • @Jenny Barnes “The F35b seems to be a very expensive platform for what it does, in the articles that say it’s any good, while there are others that say it’s short range, low payload, and poor dog-fighting ability make it extremely poor value for money. No doubt the UK will buy lots.”

    This is down to Labour and Conservative cock-ups. Labour ordered the F35b (requiring a ski-jump). When the Conservatives came in they wanted the F35c which addresses those issues, but requires cat-and-trap technology. Unfortunately the carriers were designed without the steam technology to provide steam cats, so electro-magnetic cats were required. This unproven technology was found to be escalating costs so they went back to ski-jump and F35b.

  • @John Tilley “My father, who was a professional and spent 22 years in the army, would have been slightly less polite.
    If he was feeling particularly generous and diplomatic he might have used the words –
    [email protected]@dy Toy soldiers, getting in the way as usual””

    Current military parlance is STABs, I believe. However the modern reserve forces have served (as replacements in regular formations, and following intensive pre-deployment regimes) with distinction in Afghanistan and Iraq. The last GC awarded was won by a reservist.

  • TCO
    ” burying your head in the sand, the world has a habit of biting you in the posterior”.

    Yep, it sure does if you go looking for trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan to indulge the fantasies of a world genius such as George Bush.

    Just to avoid any misunderstanding………… my Dad was right to fly his Typhoon in Europe in 1944/45….. and my daughter was just as right to get up at 4.00 am (heroic for an 18 year old student) to get the bus from Manchester to take part in the great Hyde Park march and rally addressed by Charlie Kennedy on 15th February, 2003.

    All a matter of appropriateness and judgement, TCO.

  • A Social LIberal 4th Aug '15 - 5:44pm

    Sorry Jenny but you still don’t understand how all present drones work. They are not used for air to air combat for which is where g loading and endurance come in. What they do is stooge around high up, flying in circles and when called upon to strike or when they see something they release one of their two missiles. After firing both missiles they have to go home to reload. Normal aircraft can loiter just as long (albeit with in flight refueling) whilst carrying a much greater payload. Indeed, conventional aircraft are prefered by most of the Forward Air Controllers I have talked to given that they can talk the pilot through the strike.

  • John Tilley 4th Aug '15 - 6:26pm

    Apologies –
    That should have said —
    “As for stationing NATO troops on Putin’s borders …”

    Dropping the ‘b’ made something of a difference to the meaning of the sentence! 🙂

  • Simon McGrath 4th Aug '15 - 7:35pm

    @john tilley “Coping with Putin is essentially a European diplomatic problem not an exclusively UK or NATO military problem.”

    I wonder i the people of the Ukraine would agree with you ?

  • Simon,

    I imagine that depends which “people of the Ukraine” you ask! (of course we always ask one set, and the Russians always ask the other – that is the problem!

    But you know if the SNP had taken over various buildings in Edinburgh and Glasgow and we had responded by shelling lots of residential areas (even if they contained SNP fighters) and encouraging militias made of neo-Nazis, we would probably have got a bit of criticism… In my view there is not a right side and a wrong side in the Ukrainian civil war, just two wrong sides and some more powerful countries fuelling the situation…

  • Andrew, ” if the SNP had taken over various buildings in Edinburgh and Glasgow and we had responded by shelling lots of residential areas (even if they contained SNP fighters)”….

    Sounds somewhat similar to what happened in Ireland when LLG was PM !!

  • Richard Underhill 4th Aug '15 - 8:33pm

    A Social Liberal 4th Aug ’15 – 3:25pm “Richard Underhill The 1998 SDR is quite well thought of in military circles.”
    I know, but my point is mainly about money. The military offered to name a ship after the Defence Secretary, which he immediately refused saying “The Gordon Brown”. A person from the Treasury was present at all times.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Aug '15 - 8:37pm

    David Raw 4th Aug ’15 – 5:43pm
    Just for clarity, deduced from context, you mean George W Bush and not Georg H W Bush?

  • I’m sure you can deduce for yourself it was the author of ‘A Portrait Of My Father’ – available in all good bookshops ? – or if you don’t mind a bit of tax dodging, on Amazon.

  • David Evans 5th Aug '15 - 9:41am

    An interesting article. Steve clearly is much more aware of the issues than most of us. His proposals look to be sensible given the scale of threats and the response expected within the SDR. Of course there will always be debate about the necessity for and the scale of any response, but in the current climate I see a need for a clear plan and resourcing it properly. It is clear that whatever one’s thoughts on the matter, the current position is that successive governments have totally failed to make available what they say is required, and as a result responses to events are too often ad hoc and based on what can be done rather than what needs to be done.

  • @David Evans I agree, and I hope Tim will come out clearly and unequivocally in support of a thorough-going defence review and ensuring the necessary funds are made available to meet the recommendations.

    That would give us some clear electoral benefit.

  • Jenny Barnes 6th Aug '15 - 4:58pm

    Surprisingly I did realise that current (ie Predator and Reaper) drones were not particularly air combat capable. However, it still seems to me that the human in the cockpit is a constraint that is now removable, and that has the potential to increase g- loadings, loiter time, and lower the weight, or increase the payload of the aircraft. On the AEW/JSTars type mission, see this: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/divine-eagle-how-much-of-a-threat-is-chinas-new-highflying-drone-to-us-air-superiority-10441385.html (tl:dr Lots)

    TCO “Labour ordered the F35b (requiring a ski-jump). When the Conservatives came in they wanted the F35c which addresses those issues, but requires cat-and-trap technology. Unfortunately the carriers were designed without the steam technology to provide steam cats, so electro-magnetic cats were required. This unproven technology was found to be escalating costs so they went back to ski-jump and F35b.”
    Nice analysis, but the end result is a very expensive carrier platform combined with a very expensive aeroplane with low capability. Why didn’t we, in government as we were, put the screws on BAe systems? Fit steam catapults at no extra cost or we’re cancelling this order, and you won’t get any more. With the £100 billion trident order in the offing, combined with the Astute class – that’s a big loss if you say you’ll stick to the contract.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Roland
    It will be interesting to see whether there is any LibDem comment in the media about today's announcement: ...
  • Roland
    I bet the "Golden Valley Development" isn't zero carbon and thus is just adding to the climate and environmental mess we're in.... Played correctly, it could'v...
  • Kit
    Thank God for Trident....
  • Peter
    It is so reassuring to read the common sense approach of Yeovil Yokel. Thank goodness for people who understand what they are talking about and this is typical ...
  • John Marriott
    I’ve no idea who Mr Cole-Hamilton is. However he must surely have been on the political scene long enough to know that any error he makes, however trivial, ev...