Myths about UK/British Defence spending and Aid/ODA

Myth 1: The UK can only be a major global power through a large/strong military.

Reality: If this was the 17th to early 20th Century, then I would strongly agree with the above statement. This however, is the 21st Century. The projection of power via nation-states, especially large nation states, cannot and has not been via just via military means. The US may be the world’s superpower for decades after World War II, yet it was not just by their military that they projected power. American power was seen by the presence of American investment and economic expansion within the country and globally. Culturally, American power has been seen through American brand names like MacDonald’s. On this topic of culture, aid and the policies that come along side aid is a form of power, known as “soft power”. (See this lecture by Joseph Nye for general understanding of soft power). Soft power can be as influential as military might. Assisting countries in development can help plant the UK flag globally, similar to the case of sailing a Royal Navy task force to that region or deploying a battlegroup. Recent conflicts such as those in the Balkans, Sierra Leone (in the early 2000s), Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan have shown that some degree of development assistance is needed alongside or after military intervention. Even the US has realised that military might or hard power is not the only means to win wars or to project power. Former Defence Secretary Robert Gates in fact was a proponent of using US aid to complement US military power. Simply put, power in today’s world is not projected just by the barrel of the gun.

Myth 2: The UK needs to spend 2% of GDP on defence, no ifs no buts.

Reality: Yes and No. Yes, because that is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s target, supposedly set by NATO member states in 2002. Yes, especially since Prime Minister David Cameron urged other NATO members to meet the target in the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales. Yes because there are threats from Russia, Daesh (the proper name for ISIS/ISIL), Boko Haram, Syria, and many unknown unknowns.

Uh no. It should not be about a fixed target about 2%. You can jolly well “steal” the Department for International Development’s (DFID) budget and create enough for 2%, but that is about meeting targets, not meeting outcomes or addressing the external security environment. You can have your 2% expenditure or even more, but if you spend it say on the music bands of the four different branches or on personnel pay, that doesn’t mean a more secure UK. (Note, I’ve nothing against the Royal Navy’s, the Royal Marine’s, the British Army’s or the Royal Air Force’s military bands.) As Christian Mölling argues in his article, it should be about efficiency and outcomes not (just) about an abstract figure. Of course, the UK, being a “fixed” major power, needs a strong defence budget. But if it spends it unwisely, then its better off channelling that money to more practical uses.

Myth 3: The UK (since 2010) as spent too much on development aid.

Reality: The 0.7% target is of course hated by pro-military groups and individuals but for extreme reasons. First, noo, in terms of volume, the UK is not really channelling alot in aid or what they term as Official Development Assistance (ODA) (I’ll call it aid for in this post). The UK may have recently reached the 0.7% target, but the United States is still the world’s largest donor in terms of volume.

With regards to the itsy-bitsy 0.7% figure, I’ll let you read this post. Yes 0.7% is an outdated aid figure. Yes, it is as symbolic as the NATO target of 2% on GDP. Yes, it could be reduced. But British MPs have a fetish over this oudated and irrelevant figure.

Myth 4: Aid is useless, aid is wasted on corrupt governments/government figures. Stop aid!

Reality: You here is mainly from the Daily Mail, Dambisa Moyo or those who simply never understand the meaning of aid at all. It would take an essay long answer to explain the limited effectiveness of aid but to answer this myth, none of the extreme anti-aid groups have presented strong evidence of aid being wasted or aid being fully ineffective. To the contrary, British aid (only talking about British aid here) is heavily monitored by DFID itself before it is used to fund development projects or assist countries. The current (and soon hopefully gone) Coalition Government has been very keen on ensure UK aid should not be wasted. They initiated a Multilateral Aid Review and Bilateral Aid Review to re-focus where UK aid should be sent. Beyond DFID, there is the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) (formerly the Independent Advisory Committee on Development Impact (IACDI), which monitors the impact of British aid. ICAI has sounded alarms to DFID (and the UK parliament) if UK aid is inefficiently used. Of course, UK aid is not the golden child of global aid and there have been faults and wastage. But by and large, the myth cannot be substantiated.

Aid in fact is a tool for the UK’s national security. If you consider (or not consider) the issue of soft power, aid is a tool to secure conflict or near conflict zones. The Coalition government in fact has listed aid as a means to achieve its Building Stability Oversea Strategy.

Myth 5: Charity begins at home, development sucks defence rocks.

Reality: This again requires an essay long answer but it goes back to points raised above. As stated, conflicts or possible conflicts in the recent past, today and in the future cannot be simply solved by military force alone. Afghanistan is perhaps the clearest example. The US and NATO had a clear military advantage over the Taliban/Al Qaeda (even if you discount the nuclear arsenals of the US, UK and France). Yet, NATO or the West could not or has not beaten this/these adversary/(ies). It may be the case that Afghanistan can’t be easily developed, but external, non-military help has been noted to be another strong factor to stabilise the country.

Pro-military people or citizens might argue that in this era of economic uncertainty or downturn, one should withdraw from aiding others and focus at home (on defence). Nation-States like the UK (or major world powers) simply cannot at like a sick individual or a poor family. In the global arena, states still have to provide engagement and assistance when needed, despite their own troubles.

Myth 6: The UK military (or armed forces in general), knows better on how to deal with post-conflict or development in general. It has been called upon in development or humanitarian situations.

Reality: This is undoubtedly true as seen in the cases of Operation Patwin (UK response to Typhoon Haiyan), Operation Gritrock (response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone) or even the floods back in the UK. Praise must be given to all branches of the armed forces for aiding others in need. However, the armed forces still needed to work with those with the expertise of development or disaster relief in order for a successful mission. In response (to mostly the Afghanistan campaign), the British Army has grouped three (later four) sub-units to form the Security Assistance Group, now known as the 77th Brigade. This brigade/unit will work along side DFID and Foreign Office (FCO) personnel to stabilise or attempt to stabilise regions or countries. (See my entries on the 77th Brigade) So yes, there the British Armed Forces isn’t only “owner” of development expertise but instead should work with those with the knowledge. (Again, see the answer to Myth 4).

Myth 7: There shouldn’t be a DFID. What is DFID? No other country has a DFID.

Reality: To cut a long answer short, yes there should DFID in order to prevent wastage of UK aid. A good history of why DFID was created can be found in this article by Owen Barder. Yes, other countries have similar cabinet-level departments, Germany for example. Other’s have departments resting under their foreign ministries, such USAID. The issue of whether DFID should remain DFID is still debatable, but the usual answer in favour of having a cabinet-level development agency in the UK? The Pergau Dam affair (see the Barder Article or read up on it).

Myth 8: But ok, Defence still is the major duty of any UK government.

Reality: I agree, this can be said to be true for all independent countries. But as noted above, the security of the UK (and that of the world) cannot just depend on military might alone. Armed Forces may appear to be great (to pro-military nuts), but they ultimately cause destruction or create the opposite of development. Or put it this way: Your armed forces simply can’t stop individuals from being radicalised or leaders in other countries to kill their own citizens or neighbouring regions. Defence via military means can’t stop other non-military incidents or events such as climate change, radical militants, or even long term government failure. Defence and security today and tomorrow rests not just with missiles or troops, but with other means.

Myth 9: You can’t have both 2% of GDP on Defence and 0.7% of GDP for aid

Reality: Goes back to Myth 2 to 4. Personally, you can reach both symbolic targets if you sort out the economy properly. Oh yes, you can reduce the 0.7% target (and get cries from the NGO community) and hope that 2% helps secure your country. But again, reaching targets is just reaching targets. Making the most out of the money should always be the issue.

Myth 10: It’s DFID’s fault! Always target DFID!

Reality: I would blame those that caused the economic crises of the world and certainly DFID isn’t the major target to blame.

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The Security Assistance Group, now the 77th Brigade Part 3

This third part of the series goes into simple question-and-answer mode regarding the 77th Brigade/SAG. I could write it in proper prose/essay style, but that would take a longer time and I have other committments.

1) Is the 77th Brigade a unit for Psyops? Will it really be a “Twitter Troops” unit, ie. “attacking” adversaries via social media?

A: A big No and Yes. As explained in the earlier 2 articles, the SAG, now re-titled as the 77th Brigade, was formed under the Army 2020 concept to match the UK government’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS). In simpler terms, it is a formation dedicated towards conflict prevention and (state/regional) stabilisation. Yes, 15 POG, one of its sub-units, and the MOG and the MSSG (to a lesser degree) are (or have been involved) in PSYOPS. Their grouping together DOES NOT mean that is is going to be one big PSYOPS family. Rather, in the course of stabilising areas or preventing large-scale conflict, psychological means might be a good or plausible means to reach objectives. Now, I am a critic of the BSOS concept. But that is a debate for a separate article. What the 77th Brigade’s mission will be is to help to tackle the non-conventional threats of the present and the future (as its units have done in Iraq and Afghanistan). Regarding social media, it is again undoubtedly a domain which the British Army (any other armed forces) will have to address. That does not mean “normal” media channels will be ignored. But yes, in the course of conflict prevention and stabilisation, “attacking” or influencing others via social or normal media can be a means to and end.

2) Even if the 77th Brigade is not a PSYOPS-only unit, is is a form of “Big Brother”?

A: Spare me the extremist anti-monitoring, anti-government control talk. The simple answer is no.

3) Why form the SAG or the 77th Brigade and have a Brigade-sized unit or a Brigadier, in the light of cuts to the armed forces?

A: As noted, several of the sub-units of the SAG/77th Brigade were from pre-Army 2020 units. The MSSG was broadly under the Royal Engineers; the 15 POG was under the 1 or 1st Military Intelligence Brigade. During the course of the Afghanistan campaign (and other simultaneous British Armed Forces operations), these units appeared to be addressing the same problem–non-conventional threats or (post)-conflict work. With the BSOS idea and the existing FCO-DFID-MOD partnership (especially through the Conflict Pool or in the future, the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund), a new unit dedicated towards BSOS objectives would further enhance the MOD’s work in stability and security. Placing it under the land forces/Army is/was a no-brainier, but drawing a talent pool from all three services would be practical.

4) But, this is the British Army which fight wars. Which other armed forces has created such a unit focused on this task?

A: Conflict prevention has been a historical issue, although no army or armed forces or country has solved it effectively. The end of World War II, the Vietnam War, Cold War conflicts, post-Cold War conflicts all drew out the issue of conflict prevention or pre-conflict prevention. The US Army, during or post-Vietnam War, has created several units dedicated towards the topic of conflict/post-conflict work. These are termed as (pretty cutely) “civil affairs units”. Such units reside under the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), not as a separate-brigade sized unit. You can view the Facebook pages of some units such as the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion – Airborne or the 8th Military Information Support Group – Airborne. There’s a U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), the (higher) command which teaches civil affairs units how to conduct their missions. Within the US Army’s Brigade Combat Team structure, there are teams dedicated to civil affairs (see US Army FM 390.6). Civil Affairs may not be as dedicated towards conflict prevention and stabilisation, so perhaps the 77th Brigade has the upper hand (the US armed forces has never been a great agency for development work).

5) If the 77th Brigade is not a PSYOPS unit, why was it said to be so?

A: Blame the media (the social and normal media) for casting in in an inaccurate perspective. Ok, blame the British Army and the Ministry of Defence for not releasing a full and proper media release on their websites (which aren’t very updated). Only if you read back through the articles I posted in the earlier 2 posts can you draw the connection between the SAG and the 77th Brigade.

This will probably not be the last article on the SAG/77th Brigade, but I hope I corrected all misconceptions. Note: As stated on twitter, facebook and here, I am not affiliated with the British Armed Forces, or the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

Thanks.

Update: The Brigade (@77th_Brigade) has blocked me (@ForcesReviewUK) for NO CLEAR REASON. May it never achieve it goals.

The Security Assistance Group, now the 77th Brigade Part 1

Well everybody across the 30th January-1st February 2015 weekend was (on social and normal media) talking about #twittertroops or the 77/77th Brigade, supposedly a “new unit”. So many have been wondering why should the “Chindits” unit be revived, why create a unit under Army 2020 (which was formed in 2013). Why use twitter/social media?

The fact is it is NOT A UNIT ABOUT Psychological Warfare, depsite what idiots on Wikipedia say it is. this is just a re-branding/re-naming of the Security Assistance Group (SAG), which was formed on 1 September 2014 and located under the new Force Troops Command. Below are a series of links related to the SAG/77th Brigade and its sub-units. Anyway, let’s take a look at the 77 Brigade units and I hope to argue its critical importance in UK defence  and security policy here, unlike what Tango Delta and its readers assert.

The 77th Brigade, former the SAG, officially consists of:

Headquarters Element
The Media Operations Group (MOG)
The Security Capacity Building Team (SCBT)
15 Psychological Operations Group (15 POG)
Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG)

Page 4 of the 2012 Army 2020 brochure shows that the SAG then was (and quite correctly) is a “regiment”-sized unit (it is shown with the III NATO symbol).
According to page 8 of this newsletter, it is commanded by a  1 * (Brigadier), with a headquarters (HQ) “41 military personnel (16 Officers, 16 SNCO, and 9 ORs).” The MSSG will have 60 military personnel (20 Officers, 40 ORs). A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by yours truly (yes me!) revealed closer details about each of the sub-units. As of October 2014, there are only 50 personnel in the HQ element (which means it is still understaffed), 50 in the 15 POG, 50 in the MOG, 10 in the SCBT, and 120. The FOIA replied stated these numbers will increase as the sub-units and the entire unit forms up.

The first and probably biggest question is: What is the 77th Brigade/SAG for? The Force Troops Command FTC) website states that:

Building on the recent cross-Whitehall International Defence Engagement and Building Stability Overseas Strategies, the Security Assistance Group (SAG) will have close links with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Stabilisation Unit.

General Role of the 77th Brigade/SAG

The Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) refers to this 2011 policy paper produced by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID). Basically BSOS is a general outline on how the UK will deal with conflict states/failed states or war zones. It is quite obvious that the FCO and DFID would be involved in preventing or solving any conflict state. The MOD, much to the displeasure of warfighting troops, has to be involvement in conflict destabilisation/stabilisation. Conflicts or growing conflicts such as Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq War I and II (yes both Gulf Wars), Afghanistan and even the Israel-Palestinian Conflict have included non-conventional actors. Battles or objectives are no longer just about militaries or armed forces verses each other. Battles are not not won by just hard aggressive force but also through information deception or the loose term of “psychological warfare”. In proper academic circles, it is the usage of “soft power”.

After all, page 27 FTC media release (another possibly fake document) mentioned the term soft power in relation to the then SAG. “[It] will deliver the application of Soft Power at the strategic and operational levels and soft effects at the tactical level…[the] SAG will provide Force elements to Reaction and Adaptable forces, and be the principal Defence partner for the Stabilisation Unit at the tactical level, contributing to the Coalition, Joint, inter-agency, inter-governmental and Multinational Approach.” In this manner the SAG is your MOD/Army tool to help secure, stabilise and rebuild societies, regions and even countries (if you want to use the layman’s terminology). This FTC release also stated at the intelligence-centred Land Intelligence Fusion Centre will be linked to it via a small section, possibly through the HQ element.

If the above paragraph still doesn’t sufficient describe the 77th Brigade, now the SAG, you should read pages 119, 121-122 of the 2014 British Army Journal gives probably the most detailed information on the SAG (then). Page 119 says the unit will be be focal point for levers of soft power (see the term again!) or persistent “engagement”. Pages 121-122 is a article by the CO of the SAG, then Colonel Alastair Aitken (now Brigadier). Aitken stresses how the boundaries between regular, irregular, political, economic and social activities have been blurred. As in the paragraph above, Aitken indicates the Army needs to address the blurred lines in order to gain the upper hand. A unit, and thus the SAG, is needed to deter pre-conflict events and post-conflict actions for the long term. Aitken also notes that the SAG will not operate with just its sub-units but with FTC’s 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade (1 ISR Brigade), especially 21 and 23 SAS Regiments, the new Human, Environment, Reconnaissance and Analysis (HERA) patrols.

These paragraphs thus show that the SAG and now the 77th Brigade is not a unit for psychological warfare, no matter what some on wikipedia or the mainstream or social media claim it to be. Yes, as shown above and below, several of the units are dedicated to psychological warfare, but this is not their only goal nor is it the primary mission of 77th Brigade. The unit is to aid in the mission of stabilisation. To further substantiate this point, the next section delves into the roles and part of the histories of 77th Brigade’s sub-units.

Update 1: A parliamentary written question by MP Jim Shannon finally revealed the role of the 77th Brigade. Minister Mark Francois stated that:

“77th Brigade is the new name for the Security Assistance Group. Its continuing role includes:
Providing support, in conjunction with other Government agencies, to efforts to build stability overseas and to wider defence diplomacy and overseas engagement;
Leading on Special Influence Methods, including providing information on activities, key leader engagement, operations security and media engagement;
Military capacity-building at various stages in the cycle of conflict, through mentoring, support and training, including providing training support to Force Elements to enable delivery of security assistance tasks.
There will be 440 military posts in 77th Brigade.”

Quite simply then, the Brigade is the renaming of the SAG and continues its stated objectives. IT IS NOT A UNIT FOR FACEBOOK WARRIORS OR JUST PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS.

Update 2: MP Kevan Jones asked about the number of reserves in the 77th Brigade. Answer by Julian Brazier:

“As the reorganisation of this formation is taking place, we do not yet have any figures for recruitment but at 1 January 2015, there were 160 members of the Army Reserve (Group A) in the Units that make up the 77th Brigade.
We intend to expand the number of Reservists to 235, some 53% of the total.”

End of Part 1