What should the UK defence strategy be?

The government is engaged in an important defence review. It is tine indeed that we discussed what threats our nation faces, how we should protect ourselves, and what contribution we should make to NATO and the UN. Listening to many experts in this field I am struck by the extent of muddled and jargon laden thinking that passes for strategy.

Let me this morning suggest three roles for our defence establishment to carry out.

The first overriding requirement is to concentrate sufficient force in the UK so that no power would consider mounting a seaborne or airborne invasion. Whilst there is currently no enemy in sight who would seek to do that, history warns us that is the ultimate danger. France carried out one successful invasion in 1066 and failed in the early nineteenth century. Spain failed in 1588 and Germany failed in 1940. he Dutch succeeded by agreement with the powers that be in GB in 1688.

The second requirement is to make our contribution to NATO, and to work with NATO to act as a credible deterrent to aggression towards any NATO member.

The third requirement is to have an expeditionary ability so that we can contribute to UN tasks around the world, and can help defend our own friends and associated territories.

Much of modern thinking is based on collaboration and mutual dependence with allies. History reminds us that we have not always been able to rely on allies. We needed to have our own forces to recapture the Falklands, as allies did not agree with expelling the invader by force. In 1940 we had to stand alone against Germany. This suggests to me that when it comes to defending these islands we need to have the ships and planes in our own military that could do the job.

I will turn to a more detailed consideration later, along with thoughts on countering cyber attacks and modern asymmetric conflicts with terrorism.

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80 Comments

  1. Brian Taylor
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    At this time of the year we should remember those that have lost there lives in the service to our country, some of those for lack of the correct equipment.
    I hope our Military Budget is spent wisely, with our ability to act independently in mind.
    NATO and the UN cooperation before wasting money on EU fantasy armed forces.

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Isn’t it wrong that UKIP has been banned from laying a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday?

    • Lifelogic
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Indeed.

      Many also have tragically lost their lives fighting totally counter productive wars and even wars entered into on blatant lies.

    • Peter A
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      I think wise spending is key. Big ticket items are all well and good but if they come at the expense of things like Nimrod and AWACs capabilities or even top of the range body armour, boots and night vision then something is wrong. Members of my family and friends who serve never fail to return from operations with superior American personal equipment, including even boots, that they have personally purchased because US standard issue is so superior to our own.

      It’s like the argument over JSF; we have been offered enough F-15s to fill the runways of our new carriers at a far cheaper rate than the tiny complement of JSF we have been able to afford to order.

  2. Rita Webb (Mrs)
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    OK then if the guiding principles of our defence policy should be defending the British Isles and sharing our NATO duties. Why have we just wasted a load of money, that we do not have, building a base for the RN in Bahrain? Whats that for? To impress the locals when our aircraft carriers sail in without any aircraft on them? Everywhere you look, despite the civil service and ministers all having “first class brains”, the government’s activities just look ridiculous.

    Speaking of NATO burden sharing, I heard one proponent of Trident saying we need to waste money on that because our continental allies (ex the French) rely on it as “a protective umbrella”. Well if that is the case why are they not pitching in to cover the cost of its renewal? HMG just loves splashing out money on just about everybody but the British people themselves.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Well, even without fixed wing aircraft a full-sized aircraft carrier is still very useful for humanitarian work. Like rescuing illegal immigrants from the sea and ferrying them into the EU, which it seems is now one of the main purposes of our navy.

    • DaveM
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Rita,

      The King of Bahrain is paying for the base in Bahrain, to our specifications. It allows us to have a permanent presence there rather than lodging on the American base. I am directly involved in operations relating to Bahrain.

      • Rita Webb (Mrs)
        Posted November 7, 2015 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        OK what are we doing in Bahrain? Its hardly in NATO’s traditional theatre of operations.

        • DaveM
          Posted November 7, 2015 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

          A surprising number of operations are ongoing in and around the horn of africa, and to the south and west of there. But the main effort is anti-piracy.

          And it is a perfect staging post and logistic hub for anything east of Suez.

  3. CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Motorways uneconomically bend and curve with crossing bridges also preventing plane and glider landings.The moors have needless stretches of drystone walling except if you’re glider stopping. Sheep in the best of situations here can’t earn a farmer a living. So no excuse for sheep and rabbits nibbling all natural tree and bushes growing, unless it is to create a clear defensible area around our towns and cities. Then there are the needless fences, very small clumps of trees stuck up in large fields or billboards. Well if all this is not defensive then we need an Agricultural and Environment Minister with clout. Ugly poor countryside. with dead rotting sheep and rabbits in streams and tarns.An extremely badly managed countryside in deed.

    Judging by the lack of wherewithal of all countries in western Europe, allowing hundreds of thousands of migrants landing by boat,on foot and walking all over the place then it is the basic attitude of government which needs upgrading. Why give government guns and bullets? It cannot defend its own backyard, its own pantry door. Instead it buys aircraft and drops bombs on people who have no intention of arriving here at all.
    The people and governments of Europe have become Dodoes.

    So.

    1. Define and police our borders effectively.
    2. Decide whether to tolerate modern farming practice any longer.
    3. Grow sufficient food to feed everyone on our island. Failure to do so is the greatest threat to national security.
    4. Stop all the internal propaganda about the niceness of humanity. It’s a good fairy story for toddlers.It’s a civilising influence on idealistic teenagers. It may lead to a less brutalised internal politics. But the outside world smiles at our naivety. Etc ed

    The Church should moderate and balance our realpolitik with timely reminders that each of us has a soul. However the Church has failed us.
    Despite our NATO allies more or less deciding not to bomb Syria, leaders of the Church of England are all for bombing. In fact are aggressive in their promotion in every war even dreamt about. On BOTH sides in Ukraine. Were on BOTH sides in World War Two and World War One, blowing their attack trumpets like the Devil Himself. The Church cannot be our politics and government. It has proved unworthy to be anyone’s religion.It is a threat to the security of our very souls.

  4. Lifelogic
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Indeed but ‘muddled and jargon laden thinking that passes for strategy’ is nearly always present in nearly all areas of government. Did they have a jargon word for “aircraft carriers lacking any aircraft”?

    I assume, given the current governments religious infatuation of the government to renewable drivel,that all the ships, tanks, trucks and planes will all be designed to run off renewable, wind charged, battery power with zero emissions. Troops, one assumes, will be encouraged to take public transport, trains or cycle to any battles. Health and safely rules and working time directives will also doubtless ensure that they will be about as effective as a chocolate tea pot.

    Doubtless, when push comes to shove, vital parts needed to keep most of the weapons and equipment working will be only be available from the enemy.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      EU procurement rules will surely ensure the last point.

    • Stephen Berry
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      “Doubtless, when push comes to shove, vital parts needed to keep most of the weapons and equipment working will only be available from the enemy,” complains Lifelogic.

      This used to be common before we moved into the era of total war. It enabled some people to earn a living whilst the war madness was going on around them.

      The internet site http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/france/moscow.htm has the following on Napoleon’s march to, and retreat from Moscow:

      “A million greatcoats had been bought from the West Riding of Yorkshire, helping the English woollen trade in a time of desperate need. However, Napoleon had sought to cut the cost of these coats by ordering tin buttons instead of brass ones. He did not know that tin undergoes an allotropic transformation at low temperatures and turns to dust. His men discovered this fact the hard way.”

      So the good burghers of Yorkshire struck a double blow. They put food on the table for their families. They also enabled Napoleon to indulge in one of the great military blunders of history whilst his men had extreme difficulty fastening their coats.

  5. Mark B
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Good morning.

    The main threats to the UK comes from within. Not just from terrorism but fromm those whose political and ideological beliefs would destroy this nation. Be it their love for Climate Change and all the destructive legislation that comes from it, or the love of a Supranational State.

    As for military expediture, we need to define what our nations interests are and the lilely threats to them eg the Falkland Islands. The main threat there is not one of invasion, but one of diplomatic manouvering. What concerns me here is the increasing role of the EU’s Foreign Service and the fact that it is it that is likely to ceed the Falklands and not the UK Government.To some in the FO this would be ideal.

    The threat from piracy and human traffiking is very much with us still and we need small cheap and reliable vessals to deal with this, not some bloody great aircraft carrier with no aircraft !!!! We need vessels that can patrol our waters and monitor submarine movements. The Submarine remains a real threat to the UK as it did in the last two wars and this despite the Chunnel.

    But resources are limited and it is far wiser not to provoke people (eg Russia) and make friends than it is to involve ourselves in silly pointless wars to please certain alledged allies.

  6. sm
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I have very recently been re-watching ‘Yes Prime Minister’, which is now over 30 years old. The first three episodes are about UK defence, the potential of a Russian threat to Europe, the state of the Armed Forces and the development of Trident.

    The series remains as brilliantly witty as ever, but the arguments within it deployed by politicians, bureaucrats, scientific advisers and the military strike home with even greater force today – does a democratic society ever resolve the necessary balance between defence, security and the other demands on a modern economy?

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      I agree. Both ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minister’ were and still are brilliant. Nothing much changes in Whitehall and Westminster, apart from some of the faces.

  7. Michael Walzer
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    What about 1688?
    What about Trident?

  8. Barry Sheridan
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I think Spain tried again in 1597 John, the weather rescuing us once again as by then our defences were even more feeble than they were in 1588.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Spain was the superpower and Elizabeth was short of money to fight it. But I don’t think the efforts of the English fleet could be described as “feeble”, it was more like a slightly built man using brain rather than brawn to beat a stronger opponent.

  9. Antisthenes
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I agree with your assessment the key to which is NATO of which some of it’s members are not playing their part properly. Either they are not spending enough on their armed forces and/or are not giving it the full political backing they should be. The number one priority of governments is to keep their citizens safe not welfare and they appear to have forgotten that.

    After the end of the cold war like the end of WWI we dropped our guard drastically cut back on our armed responses. Understandably so but we have perhaps gone too far. One threat neutralised does not mean the end of all threats their are plenty of evil despots and people ready to take advantage of any weaknesses especially in military capability. Apart from which new threats arise all the time mostly from directions that could not be predicted. Who would have predicted that Russia would change from foe to friend and back to foe again.

    Spending on defence although it may appear to be at amounts that most believe should be spent elsewhere is never wasted. It is the only way to secure our future safe from harm. All the other spending elsewhere is not much good if we are dead or enslaved.

  10. Ex-expat Colin
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    The invasion we experience now by head on migration and much more to come. What could be more obvious? Need red flags, big flashing lights?

    Europe once again is useless even though it is allegedly centralised.

    USA has an agenda of its own that infuriates/damages most of the world.

    NATO is out of control and acts as the USA largely.

    Russia can pick and choose despite the rampant wandering of those above. It also suffers sanctions/insults by the above so could never be expected to work with…anybody. Somebody needs to fix this awkward relationship! Trumps says there are no “somebody’s” in the US to do that…so?

    The states of the Middle East have their own agenda which they can hardly be blamed for based on the treatment from those above and add in massive internal corruption. Don’t expect troubles there to go away fast.

    China….just wait for it. Preferably don’t!

    We need our own military without a doubt and I follow Trump on that. However, to support a military the UK needs to clean out its wasteful political system for one. Overseas aid is squandered and needs reigned in. There is much more of course related to the stupid EU. A good clean up of this country is required to remove the weak liberal fools that so easily influence current authority…so called?

    BTW: Owen Paterson was good this morning on R4. Surprisingly we had two sides of the story within 20 mins from the BBC.

  11. alan jutson
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    We also need adequate numbers of personal to secure what bases we have abroad.

    Cyprus being the latest obvious example.

  12. alan jutson
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I certainly agree with your outlines, given the World once again seems to be in turmoil and conflict in so many areas.

    Unfortunately the threat is from far and wide, and comes in many forms, thus we need a comprehensive ability, which is able to nullify or overcome any such threat.

    I suppose one of the areas you have not mentioned, is the threat of terrorism on home soil.

    Should we look again at the divisions/lines of responsibility between the Police and our Armed services for response and monitoring.

  13. Ian wragg
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    As I pointed out a few weeks ago. The Navy is in a dire situation. Frigates lack spares and type 45’s are to be mothballed due to lack of staff. No amount of politicians speak will alter this. We will have 2 carriers with useless planes. Are you aware that the vtol plane we are buying doesn’t have vectored thrust which we pioneered but a stupid horizontal fan which reduces range and is dead weight.
    Only politicians with PPE qualifications could agree to such an abortion.
    If we go to war our steel industry will be non existent so we won’t be able to build ships etc.
    But still we can rely a steady power supply from thousands of stationary windmills

    • fedupsoutherner
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Ian

      ‘But still we can rely a steady power supply from thousands of stationary windmills’

      Agree with this. Look at this link to see how much it is all costing! No wonder we have no money for our armed forces.

    • forthurst
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Only politicians with PPE qualifications could agree to such an abortion [F35].

      …probably not horse fanciers either otherwise they would know that to cross a thoroughbred, steeplechaser and Suffolk Punch would yield a beast that was came last in every race and for which only the French could find a purpose.

    • alan jutson
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Ian

      You only have to visit Portsmouth to see how many of our navy ships are covered in scaffold and tarpaulins.

      Probably amounts to about 25% of our total fleet of warships, which is now tiny even when at full strength.

      Shameful really for an Island Nation.

      Such a shame we sold (gave away in real terms) the Harrier technology.

      Think I heard somewhere that we have 20,000 people employed in the purchasing of equipment for our armed services, Israel by comparison I am informed has 400.

      Given we only have about 120,000 servicemen across all of our armed services, why do we need so many people involved in purchasing for them.

  14. formula57
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Should the UK really be continuing to support NATO? The threat that NATO was created to meet has gone, notwithstanding Russia remains and under the adroit Mr Putin cannot be relied upon to be wholly benign. Yet NATO seems willing to engage in adventurism, led of course by an America that has made many false steps in its foreign policy in recent years. What exactly is NATO’s present purpose and why shoudl the UK commit resources and risk all for the sake of the likes of contemporary Turkey?

    • Tad Davison
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      I take your point about NATO being adventurist, but at whose behest?

      It’s about time people woke up to what is really going on.

      Where Putin is concerned, I am convinced that it’s just a case of standing his ground, not being expansionist. Unlike our own crop of weaklings, Putin will stand up to the incessant push of the NATO alliance that wishes to see crushed, all opposition to its ever-eastwards push. Even if that means using and manipulating the EU to get its way.

      Tad

  15. formula57
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    As for helping out the UN, we should give serious consideration to relinquishing our Security Council seat (before the extent of our decline suggests to others it should be taken away) so we are less obligated to be ready to engage in UN initiates, thereby allowing us to save some money.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      If we relinquished our seat on the Security Council what would happen to it?

      We know the most likely answer to that, don’t we?

      • formula57
        Posted November 7, 2015 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        If the seat were reallocated, I assume the likes of India would have a strong claim – although maybe not strong enough to prevent Nicola Sturgeon grabbing it for Scotland!

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted November 8, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          Hint – the EU currently has observer status but not a seat.

  16. Lifelogic
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I see the government is banning people travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh by air, telling them to take other (probably more dangerous travel methods). Why are they doing this? What role is it of government anyway – they should advise of the risks and let people make there own choices. Each person may have very different reasons for travelling and their risk profile considerations are very different person to person.

    I see that a Professor estimates that 1595 people died after the 9/11 attack from travelling by other means than flying, following the actual attack. We need more numerate & logical politicians and working in government.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/05/september-11-road-deaths

    I wonder how may millions die from the totally misguided greencrap, biofuels & expensive energy agenda.

  17. oldtimer
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    To those three essentials I would add the capability, in co-operation with other states, to combat and defeat piracy on the high seas.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      It seems a bit old-fashioned and unnecessarily aggressive to suggest that we should “combat and defeat piracy on the high seas”. Surely the way forward is by some kind of negotiated peace process to give the pirates their own areas in which they can do their piracy without any outside interference, provided they don’t start operating outside their own sovereign territories? As with Islamic State, eventually there will have be a political rather than a military solution. I think the EU task force off the Horn of Africa has already found that a lot can be achieved just by a quiet and reasonable dialogue with the pirates, there’s no need to go in with guns blazing and threatening to string them from the yardarm, even if you happen to still have any guns and a yardarm on your patrol vessel.

  18. formula57
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    The other important role for our defence establishment that is missing from your list is to aid the civil power in keeping or restoring order at home. Now the UK seems to be host to opposing factions from just about any conflict worldwide, that task may be thought to become more significant in future than hitherto.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Good point, and it could erupt on our streets but without the numbers of police to deal with the trouble.

      Tad

  19. Pete
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    One really good strategy would be to refrain from supporting US led illegal wars and US supported terrorist insurgencies. That would logically lead to not interfering in sovereign nations affairs and not trying to talk up non existent Russian threats.
    Then perhaps a sensible assessment of the actual threats to UK territory and interests could happen. More likely is business as usual that gets us a “defence policy” that promotes violence, instability and mass immigration whilst providing absolutely no real security at all.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      I couldn’t have put it better myself Pete!

      Tad

  20. Alan Wheatley
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    An essential part of the “first overriding requirement”, not mentioned, is a deterrent capability against intercontinental missile attack. In this case the threat is not of invasion but of destruction on such a scale as to force fundament change to what what we do and say.

    Such a deterrent capability would also be very effective at deterring invasion, not just of the British Isles but of all British dependent territories. While this is also what we can contribute to NATO it is even more important that the UK has an independent capability.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      It sure would be nice to have an independent nuclear deterrent, but we don’t. We can’t do a damned thing without someone else’s say-so.

      But in any event, nuclear deterrents won’t work against anyone who wants to be a martyr and welcomes death. That minds are able to be twisted by what boils down to superstition, should be a cause of concern for all of us. I suggest though, that the traditional ‘bogeymen’ created by the west’s propaganda machine, aren’t really the ones to worry about in the first instance. I wonder if ISIL will ever commit an atrocity against Israel? (now there’s one to conjure with!)

      Tad

      • Alan Wheatley
        Posted November 7, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        Re “We can’t do a damned thing without someone else’s say-so.”

        The other week I and all the others in the room were told by someone in a position to know, from having been on the inside, that the popular myth of not having an independent capability is not true.

  21. A.Sedgwick
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Our nuclear deterrent is paramount.
    Elite forces e.g. Marines, SAS,SBS should have few budget constraints and increased numbers.

  22. The Prangwizard
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    We must first and above all else, and now, protect our own shores, waters and airspace. We are in urgent need of numerous force of fast armed coastal patrol boats and aircraft to cover the entire south and east coasts of England to intercept and return to continental shores from whence they came any and all craft carrying fake ‘asylum seekers’ and fake refugees. On no account should any boats or people be brought to our land.

    The Internationalists who are supporting and encouraging mass movements of people today wish to undermine the continent of Europe and its nations, and they must be confronted, challenged and exposed. We could usefully follow certain Eastern European leaders, who still believe in national identity and are vigorously doing this and defending their nations, thus their people and their cultural heritage.

    In this respect we should immediately cancel the orders to our naval in the Mediterranean currently there helping the very same immigrant groups to get to Europe. I have no doubt many they have helped are planning the means now to get to England. They are wise to our present weaknesses and will ruthlessly exploit them.

    We cannot and should not get any more involved, as we are, in any EU military force. In the longer term we must rebuild our Navy, to operate entirely under our orders, which is so weak now as to be barely able to defend itself, and close ‘the Atlantic air gap’, to pick a phrase from the past.

    Through our folly in the belief in false gods in recent years we have lost the virtue of self-reliance. We must start be believe again in our nation, and here I am speaking about and for England. Others may wish to speak for themselves. We must also now look at the fact that Russia is filling a vacuum – she retains and wishes to further develop a belief in itself and is determined to play a more important role in world affairs.

    The geography of the globe has not changed and so this involves their naval and air power in the North Atlantic, our Navy and Air Force must be enlarged to deter. China is also growing in influence and power which it intends to project. The US is politically and thus militarily in decline.

    In a wider world we must regain the power to defend and protect our overseas territories. We know what happened last time when we indicated that we decided to cut back on their defence, particularly of the Falkland Islands.

  23. JJE
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I agree totally. Let’s get back to basics. We lack key capability – being an island we really should have some aircraft capable of detecting submarines for example.

    You don’t mention the nuclear deterrent – what should we do about that?

    Reply Keep it

  24. agricola
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    At home, our area of most neglected defence, we need a total re-think. Part of that re-think needs to be leaving the EU because they are the greatest threat to our borders and security with their free movement muddled thinking.

    We then need to remove all illegals. Deport convicted criminals after the serving of their sentence. Make the UK a very much more difficult place to enter except for legitimate reasons such as students, tourists, and defined employment. All of which should be done via a visa or work permit system.

    I would drastically slow down further Islamic immigrants until such time that the existing Islamic population of the UK is deemed to be fully integrated. Something it is patently not at the moment. This can be done without denying genuine political refugees, in fear of their lives, sanctuary as we have always done in the past.

    Looking further afield, NATO is important for two reasons. First for the mutual defence of any threatened member and second to be seen as a formidable force to deter aggression from any other major power.

    The nature of conflict is constantly changing. At present it is religious based fanaticism , largely in the Middle East. I feel that this, if we so choose should be dealt with at two levels. Terrorise the terrorists for which special forces are an ideal tool when combined with airpower. We also need a wholly mobile force we can deploy on the ground for specific larger scale operations clearing up problem areas.

    Aircraft carriers with limited naval support are only of use if they can be deployed within striking distance of the enemy and if that enemy has no means of dealing with them. The knife edge our carrier lived on in the Falklands should have been a lesson in this respect. If you plan to deploy them as does the USA then it is a different ballgame.

    Apart from the RAF needing more aircraft , the weakness in conflict is historically a lack of highly trained pilots. Maybe this could be solved with a reintroduction of the Auxiliary Air Force until such time as it can be done remotely and minus pilots.

    Quite rightly you ask the questions, because at present we appear to be floundering about in a very piecemeal fashion. I hope those tasked with our future defence come up with a more coherent strategy backed by the necessary political and financial support.

  25. John S
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    In addition to the events in 1066, 1588 & 1940 it is worth mentioning the Dutch destruction of most of our fleet in the Medway Raid of 1667 after they captured the town of Sheerness.. This followed “expenditure restrictions”.

    • Bob
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      @John S
      “expenditure restrictions” aka disarmament encourages would be aggressors.

      Mr Cameron’s actions on UK defence are the diametric opposite of the common sense policies expressed by our sagacious host.

      Who needs the Lib Dems when we have people like Mr Chamberlain Cameron leading the Tory Party.

  26. David Cockburn
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    211years ago we had a world-wide trading business to defend so we needed to the best navy in the world and that capability also protected us from French invasion. By a 1914 that trading empire was declining but we still had the navy and we were still able to defend our islands. In the 1940’s it was a much closer run thing and we lost our empire but the Germans still didn’t dare to invade.
    Now we no longer need to protect our far flung possessions and trade ships but we are even more dependent on global peace for our survival and we still need to discourage invaders. Those then should be the focus for our defense expenditure; strong close-in naval and air defense of Britain and a contribution to global peace by working with others to calm hot-spots and discourage aggressors around the globe.

  27. MikeP
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Much has been made over our 2% of GDP contribution to NATO, with nowhere near as much news time spent pointing out how few countries actually meet that commitment. Amazingly even Greece does but many large near neighbours don’t. We may have finessed our figure by including intelligence resources but we should be comfortable with that given the present threats.
    But how long have other NATO members got to reach our 2% GDP contribution ? If NATO is all about co-operation why do only a small subset of its members (seemingly) get involved in overseas campaigns ?
    Our forces in WW2 were boosted by tens of thousands of volunteer reservists. Subject to the training some key roles require these days, isn’t this still the most cost-effective model for future defences too, in all of the armed forces ?

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Our forces in WW2 were boosted by hundreds of thousands, in fact millions, of troops drawn from across the Empire/Commonwealth.

  28. David
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Fourthly the US is not really our friend and helping them in Afghanistan when they don’t help us with the Falklands etc is like buying drinks for someone who never buys a round.
    Fifthly we should be careful about who our soldiers die for. When Afghanistan threatened to kill someone for leaving Islam our soldiers should have left straight away – it would have saved a lot of British lives.

    • JJE
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      The US politicians at the State Dept. certainly weren’t much help in the Falklands. Haig tried to betray us. But the US military helped massively. They opened their stores and told us to take whatever we needed. They taught us how to shoot down the Argentinian planes. Given it was a close run thing we may well have failed without the support.
      There was a reason we awarded Caspar Weinberger an honorary knighthood and Margaret Thatcher spoke at the dinner in his honour.

    • S Matthews
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      I think the Yanks did help with the Falklands. Casper Weinburger even offered us an aircraft carrier if we needed it.

  29. bac
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    We shouldn’t have an expeditionary capability. If it exists, some twit will want to use it. As to the UN, it is not a force for good, just the opposite.

  30. Bert Young
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    2% of GDP is the starting point together with the isolation of the Armed Forces from current politics . The world is a much smaller place today ; co-operation with key allies is the only way to keep abreast of current and future threats . Maintaining the quality of the Armed Forces is very much in the hands of its Chiefs ; they determine the morale and effectiveness in the ranks and they must always be of the highest calibre .

    The industry that supports and develops for the Armed Forces has to be vibrant and motivated ; it has to be capable of thinking beyond the obvious and producing leading edge material and products .As such it too has to take a longer term stance and has to be protected from short term politics .

  31. English Pensioner
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    My reaction is that we spend far too much money on the latest high-tech equipment with a result that we can afford far to little of it.
    Such equipment assumes that if we get into a war we will be fighting a similarly equipped enemy, but we need to ask whether that is likely to be the case Do we really need the new generation of military aircraft at many millions of pounds each or would it be better to go for something less sophisticated and have more of them? The same with the navy. To some extent, quantity counts more than quality. Do we dispatch our one ship to the Gulf or to the Falklands?
    How are we going to fight a low-tech enemy? A few of the latest aircraft with bombs at about £100K a throw aren’t going to be much use against a swarm of armed pick-up trucks being used by insurgents in places like Syria and Libya if ever we had to get involved.
    Possibly drones are the way forward, but I suspect that by the time the MoD has specified what they want, we won’t be able to afford them!

  32. Denis Cooper
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    It was money which gave Britain the edge over Napoleon. Saying that is not to belittle the courage or competence of those who served the King at sea and on land in any way, just to say that in the end the deciding factor was money.

    Britain could just about afford a sufficiently powerful navy, but with problems finding enough men for the ships, on top of constantly subsidising its allies in the successive coalitions formed against Napoleon across the continent; in the Peninsula the rule was that the British would pay for all its supplies, and in gold, which it was able to do, and Wellington’s punishments for soldiers who plundered the locals were severe, while the French were usually forced to live off the country, the consequence being that the Spanish hated the French and started the “guerilla” war which cumulatively did at least as much harm to the French as the formal fighting; and at the end Bernard Cornwell writes in his recent book about Waterloo that after Napoleon had escaped from Elba:

    “Four countries, Russia, Prussia, Austria and Great Britain, each agreed to raise an army of 150,000 men. Those armies would converge on France. Great Britain was unable to raise such a large army, so she agreed to pay subsidies to the other three instead.”

    Of course the Russians and the Austrians didn’t get to Waterloo in time, they were still a very long way off, because Napoleon hoped that by moving quickly he could defeat each of those four armies separately in its turn, or alternatively that once he had dealt with the British the coalition would have lost its paymaster and would have fallen apart.

    Well, I think we can safely say that those days are long gone, and unless in some strange way Britain regains the technological, therefore economic, therefore financial, lead that it enjoyed at that time they will never return.

  33. DaveM
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    One of the EU defence strategies (supported by the UK in some instances) seems to be to ignore all rules on migration between countries, then collect illegal immigrants (using defence assets at cost to the taxpayer, obviously) and bring them to Europe, thus creating economic instability, civil unrest, quasi-war on the streets of Sweden, ultra-high demands on energy, infrastructure, and natural resources. This list is precisely what was forecast as the greatest risk to national and international security over the next 30 years.

    The govt seems to have tired of expeditionary warfare, and has opted instead to bring potential enemies of the state to the UK (and house them and give them free cash), whilst at the same time cutting Defence and Security budgets.

    The enemy is truly within.

    The biggest threat to the UK’s security (home and abroad) is the lack of solid direction on Foreign policy and domestic security policy due to the fact that the govt is full of do-gooding PPE graduates who have no idea what to do, and think that being submissive and nice to people is the best strategy.

    But still, as long as the defecit gets reduced, eh?

    JR: “Listening to many experts in this field I am struck by the extent of muddled and jargon laden thinking that passes for strategy.”

    You’re quite right – I work with these people. However, most of that comes from the fact that the Service Chiefs have abandoned the idea of working together and now spend most of their time finding ways to secure the lions share of the crumbs that are left when the Chancellor has finished lashing up the welfare budget and the overseas aid budget. They’re just trying to protect their own interests and ensure that, when the UK govt finally decides on some sort of foreign policy, that they can deliver when called upon to do so.

  34. DaveM
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    What needs to be concentrated on more, I think, is the Border Force and other internal security agencies. Apart from the fact that they are insufficiently manned and funded, they are frequently hamstrung by the same PC-led rules which created such a mess in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they lack sufficient support from the body which sponsors them – the UK govt.

    The greatest threat to national security right now is lawyers. No change since Roman times, then.

  35. NickW
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Defence against attack from the air, whether by ballistic , cruise missile or aircraft is woefully inadequate, given that this is the most likely form of attack.

    Given that Scotland is governed by a party which makes no secret about hating the English; looking into the future, our Scottish nuclear bases need to be hardened against attack.

    We should immediately stop the crass stupidity of bombing Sovereign nations whilst allowing the residents of those nations freedom to enter our country and establish residence; the reasons are obvious.

    We are totally dependent on imports for food, strategically important commodities and goods, and we need to be able to protect our ports and supply lines.

    NATO and the US are both being provocatively belligerent towards Russia, leaving Putin to see their actions as an existential threat. Russia is not openly trying to destroy the USA, but the USA is openly trying to destroy Russia. I cannot help feeling that the US ambition is to provoke war in Europe so that they can sell everybody weapons, and lend everybody money whilst their country remains far away from conflict and bloodshed.

    NATO has failed to adapt to the end of the cold war and is being led by military dinosaurs. There needs to be agreement and discussion between NATO and Russia to ensure that the border is demilitarised. I don’t see Russia’s actions in the Crimea and the East of Ukraine as indicative of belligerence; they were an entirely predictable response to US and EU interference in Ukraine.

    Our foreign policy needs to change to reflect the fact that a changing world might require us to distance ourselves from allies whose policies put us in danger, and move closer to those which don’t.

    Gibraltar is strategically important to us and our allies because it guards the Mediterranean; that needs to be recognised in the defence review. Given the turmoil which is engulfing Countries which border the Mediterranean the world might have cause to be grateful that Gibraltar is in the safe hands of a non belligerent.

    A defence review has to go hand in hand with a strategic Foreign policy review, so we need to have early and close communication with the new US Presidency to ensure that our policies recognise current realities.

  36. majorfrustration
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Agree – but we are all talking from the sidelines. When it comes – stand up or shut up-we will as usual be unprepared and from the politicos we will get the usual “not me Guv” despite their and the civil service brain power they will have failed to look over the horizon but have wasted our money on silly little projects.

  37. Mike Stallard
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Good – totally agree, Mr Redwood.
    We need to remember that in 1945, we were broke, defeated in the Far East and Indo China and that Europe was no longer the centre of the world. We sometimes behave as though it was still 1850.
    In the 1950s, I saw two very long rows of American tanks lined up in Germany opposite three British ones. My uncle (a Major) was very scathing about “the Yanks”. I learned the unpleasant lesson then: our days of glory are long gone. Basra? Helmand? Total humiliation.
    Now even American power is rotting away and Russia’s went ages ago. The world is changing and we have got to change as well in the way you show above.
    PS Too many Generals, too many Admirals and too many Air Marshals for about five aeroplanes, two useless unbuilt aircraft carriers and an army “boots on the ground”(156,940 Regulars and lots of amateurs) which is numerically only five times as big as the NYPD (34,526).
    We have to agree, over the next 50 years with the French for our “Defence Capability”. We have Federica Mogherini handling our foreign policy.

  38. Daisy
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have the specialist knowledge of many who comment here, but I would rather see the government spending more on our own armed forces, the police and the security services than throwing away money on most of its overseas initiatives.

  39. CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt and the previous attack at Port El Kantaoui in Tunisia show a profound, unutterably naive and reckless abandonment of commonsense by those responsible for Security in the UK that it should not be necessary to explain why. Horrifically and terrifically it is in fact absolutely necessary. But obviously they are too thick to take it in.

    So. Tunisia… indicated Islamic State with tiny usage of its own resources would pinprick attack tourism of non-complying or non-acquiescent countries to its project as this would make massive economic destruction, terror and headline propaganda worldwide. So our Security Forces did not guess Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt could very well be next. Nor was advice given to the 20,000 of our citizens stranded there right now before they embarked on such a perilous “holiday” .
    If I were to type here the three most likely next targets,GCHQ instead of taking the names seriously would merely by some computer internet logarithm store my mention of those names. And, when the attack is made, punch up my name, as the most possible mastermind behind the attack. Dummkopfs.

  40. cosmic
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Surely you have to define foreign policy before you can define defence policy as defence policy is largely to support foreign policy.

    At present, foreign policy seems to be gradually slipping into an EU competency, and notice that there are moves to create EU armed forces.

  41. formula57
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Whatever our defence policy should be, it ought to ignore today’s call by Michael Fallon to bomb IS in Syria since “it’s not right morally to rely on French or Australian or American aircraft to keep our streets safe”.

    Recall Messrs Blair then Brown told us that British troops were in Iraq to make the streets here safe. Some might have believed them then but surely no-one does now (not even Chilcot probably).

    Michael Fallon should be reminded that some of us do not forget his own “not right morally” failure to reply to your letter to him about energy policy when he was a minister in the relevant department. Accordingly, we will not be lectured by him on morals!

  42. CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    “The third requirement is to have an expeditionary ability…” like ISIL? Like the Vietcong? Like North Korea? Like Iraq into Kuwait? Like Nazi Germany? Like the British in India? If all these forces had not and did not have in their own terms ” an expeditionary ability ” the world would have been and would be peaceful and happy indeed. Pity the UK is not a boring stop-at- home but keeps knocking its ball into other people’s gardens.

    • formula57
      Posted November 7, 2015 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      like that sent to the Falklands you would have added?

  43. peter davies
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I agree with all of the 3 key principles you outline.

    We are supposed to be one of the most influential countries in the world contributed in hard power so need to make sure those Aircraft carriers get planes on them and re look at the size of the army and what it can do. Any force below 100,000 cannot by rights call itself an army, we are down to something like 83k when you exclude the reserve element – I think they need to seriously re consider how effective we can really be with such as small number of troops.

    I would add that in no way should UK defence in any way be subjugated to any form of EU Control whatsoever. I don’t know the details but as I understand it there is a provision in the Lisbon Treaty for some sort of common defence policy/command structures so politicians need to be honest about what that means and whats coming down the road if our forces find themselves under the command of the EU.

    The more I hear about the EU and their propaganda tricks the more I conclude that we need that referendum ASAP and we need to pull out. Contrary to what the Obama administration says Jeb Bush has said the complete opposite on US UK trade links….

  44. Kevin Dabson
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    A quick question, why is there a strategic defence review (all the incumbent Tory government can do is cut it, giving our deficit – just like the first one) when we are going to have a EU referendum I hear ?

  45. Denis Cooper
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Off-topic, but for the interest of those who are interested in such recondite but nonetheless very important matters, there is an article here:

    http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/media-centre/blogs/category/item/ministers-international-law-and-the-rule-of-law

    supporting the recent change to the Ministerial Code.

    “Using a formula introduced in 1997, the 2010 Ministerial Code asserted an “overarching duty of Ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations”. This was an assertion at odds with the fundamentals of British constitutional law. The statement that replaces it in the October 2015 revision of the Code simply affirms the overarching duty of Ministers “to comply with the law”. That is constitutionally sound, and removes the threat that the earlier assertion posed to the Rule of Law.

    The most fundamental principle of our constitutional law, and so of the Rule of Law in this country, is that Ministers can neither claim any immunity, by virtue simply of their office, from the rules of common law, nor by any decree or order impose a legal duty (or relieve anyone of a legal duty), except to the extent that an Act of Parliament authorizes them to do so.”

  46. Iain Gill
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Still think we should act to protect Brits abroad far more than we do.

  47. Jon
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Some issues are brought to the fore because of timing such as the £500m to upgrade the Clyde to house the national submarine defence base.

    That money and the ongoing Trident money is UK taxpayers money. Holyrood and no doubt the Scottish MP’s have made it clear that whilst they want NATO and nuclear first strike defence coverage, they definitely don’t want it in Scotland.

    As a taxpayer I have an issue with the seemingly automatic investment in Glasgow of our defence and the £500m initial investment when they would rather it was in say Wales.

    As an investor, a share holder, it looks a very bad investment decision to place it in Glasgow. I understand north Wales could accommodate and are more receptive. I think a review is needed before this investment is made.

    It would be good if someone prompted that in the House, doesn’t have to be you but someone.

    If north Wales is an option and they are happy for the base to be there then we need a review. For all we know the Clyde could be in a different separate country in a few years.

  48. Jon
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Holyrood voted 96 to 17 in favour of ditching Trident.

    Surely someone in Parliament needs to table a debate to place Trident elsewhere in the UK.

    Nop investor would invest in a product if the consumer voted 96 to 17 to remove that product. I resent my taxes being invested in such a place automatically.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted November 8, 2015 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Being a reserved matter it’s not Holyrood’s business, and it won’t be unless Scotland reverts to being an independent sovereign state.

  49. ChrisS
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    I agree with everything you have said – as far as it goes.

    The Falklands taught us that certainly need the capability to protect our interests round the world without being dependent of any other nation.

    However, we have insufficient surface ships and submarines to make up a task force capable of protecting even one of our new carriers in the face of hostile forces. They will therefore only be able to act as part of and under the protection of a NATO task force.

    We therefore have to do something about this. I would suggest that as the Falklands is probably the only area in which we might have to act alone, we ensure that sufficient revenue from the new Falklands oil fields is handed over to protect the islands.

    There are huge savings that could be made by reorganising our armed forces. The total annual expenditure, the equipment in place and total manpower of the UK military combined is less than the US spends just on its Marine Corp.

    Although our forces have many proud traditions of which I am most respectful, In the
    21st century the time has surely come to do away with our three separate armed services and reorganise the entire lot along US Marine Corp lines.

    Every military operation now requires the active involvement of all three services so this would make the forces more effective. The savings would be enormous, not least in the salaries of superfluous Admirals, Generals and Air Vice Marshals.

    Finally, Trident. We must maintain a Nuclear Strike Force that is both credible and independent. Whether this really needs to be submarine based, I am not sure.

  50. Atlas
    Posted November 7, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Whilst it is true what you say, I look forward to reading in your follow-ups how you get the ultimate decider (the politicians) to have the necessary backbone.

  51. sm
    Posted November 10, 2015 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Concentration on UK interests, commensurate with our policy and resource.

    We should force our politicians to declare war if that is what they seek to impose and as a consequence be legally responsible for treasonous acts under wartime rules.

    Attention to illegal immigration, border security and the return of absolute supremacy of UK courts and parliament over all matters. ( e.g deportations etc)

    Reduction in migration consistent with a stable population, which is consistent with ability to sustain in a crisis situation lasting years.

    As an island we should base our strategy on geography and be clear on the dangers imposed by uncontrollable diversity, mass migration and population growth.

    We can’t do this as part of the EU/ECHR etc. The EU has incompatible objectives, including ill thought out expansions. These are a direct threat to our national security and social cohesion.

    Etc ed

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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