Women in close combat for the British Armed Forces, approved but questions remain

So the Chief of the General Staff (and possible all service chiefs, the vice chief and chief of the defence staff), along with current Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and soon to step down PM David Cameron lifted the ban of women fighting in close combat in the British Armed Forces. Ex-only-Colonel Richard Justin Kemp must be blowing his top right now.

The arguments for and against aside, it is pretty peculiar that the “test bed” for females/women (possibly even transgender ladies) is the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) and then other regiments/units. The actual quote is

This will begin by allowing women to serve in all roles within certain units of the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) from November 2016. This will be reviewed after six months before being expanded to other units of the RAC…n addition to the RAC, the change in rules will eventually apply to roles in the Infantry, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force Regiment which will be opened up to women by the end of 2018.

Exactly which units of the RAC is the missing information. Maybe the new Ajax Regiments (currently operating CVRT Scimitar?) And why the RAC? Are they the most armoured regiment to protect the dear girls?

Questions remain. You can’t just use scientific data.

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The nuclear button–the fallacy, the missing point

Since bearded, love-IRA, hate-NATO, love-Hamas (you get my drift) Corbyn was “elected” leader of the UK Labour Party and thus Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, there has been controversy almost every other day. One of the biggest was that over the UK’s nuclear deterrent, erroneously called “Trident” in British circles. Corbyn, a a certain BBC Today Programme, stated that “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons. I [Corbyn] am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons…” and the report claimed that “Should he get to Number 10, he said simply, he would not press the nuclear button…” (see this news report).

Fast foward to 4 October 2015 where Andrew Marr interviewed David Cameron. Here’s the full transcript (I don’t have access to the BBC today transcript.) Andrew Marr asked:

Marr: You mentioned Jeremy Corbyn just now. He said, with admirable clarity and honesty, that there were no circumstances in which he would press the nuclear button. Would you say the same or would you say yes there are circumstances…

 

Cameron: …No his answer … The problem with his answer is that if you want to have…if you believe, like me, that Britain should keep the ultimate insurance policy of an independent nuclear deterrent, you have to accept there are circumstances in which its use would be justified. And if you give any other answer other than that, you are frankly undermining our national security, undermining our deterrent and making Britain in a dangerous world…

 

Marr: So you would press the button in short?

 

Cameron: I’ve given the answer, which is if you believe in the nuclear deterrent – as I do – you have to accept there are circumstances that justify its use.

My interpretation is that Corbyn would never increase the readiness level of the SSBNs or never issue the order to fire if the UK is under the threat of a state-led nuclear attack or has already been nuked, Corbyn as PM (ugh!) would not fire a Trident D5 missile in retaliation (since if he was PM he would have dismantled the SSBNs and their SLBMS). David Cameron and future possible conservative PMs would do the opposite: should the UK be under nuclear attack or nuked, they would increase the alert level of the deployed SSBN and fire back in retaliation if the UK was nuked.

Corbyn’s “I will never push the button” stated resulted in many media and social media “outrage” that he’s not a leader with any credibility on defence and is undermining defence and the nuclear deterrent. Mark Stout from War on the Rocks wrote pro-nuclear deterrent article attack dear bearded one and saying he should never be Prime Minister.

That’s find, people can be outraged. The fact of the matter is that Andrew Marr and media outlets created a storm with factually incorrect information. First, there is no “nuclear button” in the UK. Yes, it is known that UK command and control over its nuclear weapons in the past and present is not as stringent as in the US. Former WE, 177 bombs were only secured via so-called bicycle locks. Past and possible current SSBNs do not have the US “Permission Active Link” security system PAL as the MOD said, “The number of participants required to act in concert means that the ‘Permissive Action Link’ type safeguards found in other systems are not relevant in the SSBN domain” and “The UK took a decision not to install Trident CCDs or their equivalent on the grounds that an aggressor might be able to wipe out the British chain of command before a launch order had been sent”. (This matter of weak C&C will be discussed in another post.) Instead of having a so-called button, all UK Prime Ministers (possibly) go through a similar “two-man” rule, like the US POTUS does (should they want to start or add to doomsday). As Paul Beaver, a strong military analyst explained, the order (to launch a SLBM) has to go through several protocols I quote the news article:

A sequencing system ensures a printed code, stored in a secret Ministry of Defence location, has to tally with that kept in a safe on board the nuclear submarine. Two officers, extensively tested for their mental stability, sit in separate parts of the submarine and enter the code simultaneously into a computer, allowing the launch. The PM makes the decision, but several other people probably get involved at various points during the process, including the attorney general and the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

The rest of the article talks about the “letters of last resort” which is more well known and written in open access publications. This two-man control has also been confirmed by RUSI analyst and nuclear proliferation expert Andrea Berger, who told yours truly that If PM inputs code in PINDAR he needs [a] second person (CDS I believe) to verify. Formally, order won’t go anywhere without it. (Pindar is the protected bunker under Whitehall–possibly–where the PM and staff would go in nuclear crisis or something of that sort). Beyond the two-man control (especially on board the submarine), former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Lord Guthrie says the Monarch of the day controls the armed forces so that even an irrational or lunatic Prime Minister won’t be able to easily start World War Three. (This claim may sound far-fetched though). The bottom line is that neither anti-nuclear weapons Corbyn no “yes I’ll fire” Cameron or any future (or past) UK Prime Minister can easily press. So end of ruckus please.

The second issue missing from the Marr and BBC question is the time frame that leaders to the decision. In both C and C’s claim, they won’t or will fire due to a threat or an attack to the UK. However, exactly what led up to this threat? Was there a total breakdown in relationships between the UK and a nuclear weapon state? Did negotiations fails? Did conventional war break out or large-scale proxy war? Was the UK acting aggressively or too passively? The whole conventional idea of the nuclear deterrent means that I won’t fire because I know you wold fire back. But about the time frame that may cause State A to still fire? This is the big question that people must ponder over.

 

The all-blue UK National Security Council

Many “defence” bloggers like to think the UK will be safe with gazillions of bullets, fighter jets and nuclear warheads. Many of them forget that defence isn’t my military might or strategy alone, but the collective efforts of different foreign affairs teams. One relatively positive move David Cameron and his Conservative Party made in 2010 was to form a National Security Council (NSC). Not exactly a mirror image of the one from the country across the Atlantic, this “council” drew together all the main foreign affairs ministries and agencies so as to improve (as is the case in bureaucracies) government decision-making/action/reaction to any potential or occurring security threat. Of course there’s the famoous Cabinet Office Annex (COBRA) meetings, but this now not so new UK NSC is all blue, since there’s a single party as the government (last time there were Liberal Democrats on the council). While the actual NSC website has no names, let me help you by stating who is now in the UK’s all blue NSC (drawing names from this and positions from this:

Prime Minister (Chair)–David Cameron,(Our young, Oxford trained, new Thatcherite. He will gain advice from others but use his own believes to decide how to respond to security threats.)

Chancellor of the Exchequer (and also First Secretary of State, definitely Deputy Chair)–George Osborne (Another sharp (neo)-Thatcherite, he is known to reduce the UK’s ability to respond to security threats but cutting funding and thus capabilities to departments like Defence, Home Department, Energy and Climate Change (basically all the non-ringfenced departments) in order to achieve his Conservative/Monetarist goal of an economic surplus and almost non-debt and deficit. He will also likely be the Deputy Chair since he’s the First Secretary of State and there’ no Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) in the new all-blue frontbench and Cabinet.

Leader of the House of Commons–Chris Grayling (I’m not sure if the new all-blue NSC will have the Leader of the House of Commons in the UK NSC, so I’ll skip.)

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Deputy Chair)–Philip Hammond (used to be Defence Secretary, and before that Transport Secretary. Eurosceptic. That’s my main worry about him.

Secretary of State for Defence–Michael Fallon (got his promotion because Philip Hammond was moved to the Foreign Office. Was first Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party, then Minister of State for Business and Enterprise and then Minister of State for Energy. Is he a good Defence Minister? Basically, he’s doing what’s he’s told to do and is constrained by Osborne’s plan for cuts.)

Secretary of State for the Home Department–Theresa May. Looks fierce. I frankly don’t know much about her and her views. As with the others, her department will be constrained by Osborne’s economic plans.

Secretary of State for International Development–Justine Greening. She was there (as was Andrew Mitchell) in the Coalition Government NSC. Basically, she has the responsibility and privilege of using aid to improve global/international development but also to a) effect development by non-aid means and b) use aid to secure the UK’s national (security) interests (without violating Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules). I wonder if George Osborne hates it he has to let her have a ring-fenced department.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change–Amber Rudd. She’ll be new to the NSC, but not the new to DECC. Thatcherite ( or so she claims), but the new Tories aren’t exactly anti-climate change (unlike extreme right wing US Republicans).

Chief Secretary to the Treasury–Greg Hands. Like Rudd, he’ll be a new member to the NSC, but his role won’t be much since George Osborne is the man with the “cuts” plan. Or maybe he’ll do something in the NSC…

(I’ll skip the post of “Minister for Government Policy” since I believe this has been removed).

So all the “Apostles” are listed above. The NSC (when it was formed) although had sub-committees: The Nuclear Deterrence and Security sub-Committee and the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies sub-committee.

The Nuclear Deterrence and Security sub-committee consists of:

Prime Minister (Chair)

Chancellor of the Exchequer (and now First Secretary of State) (Definitely Deputy Chair)–wonder what’s he going to do? Give less money to disarmament negotiations?

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Deputy Chair)–I rather he be the main Deputy Chair.

Secretary of State for Defence

Secretary of State for the Home Department

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change–this person will definitely have a lot to do if there’s a nuclear explosion!!!

The Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies sub-committee

Prime Minister (Chair)

Chancellor of the Exchequer (and now First Secretary of State) (Definitely Deputy Chair)

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Deputy Chair)

Secretary of State for Defence

Secretary of State for the Home Department

Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills–Sajid Javid. He will be yet another new to the NSC. First time in BIS, not first time in Cabinet. We shall see what he brings and what he does during a crisis/for a potential crisis.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Secretary of State for Justice–Michael Gove. The previous SoS for Justice was “blue”. Don’t see much of a change but lots of people (not Conservatives) hate Gove.

Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities–Nicky Mogan. I again don’t know her but her role in this sub-committee is to ensure school kids don’t get radicalised or run away to fight for terrorist groups.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government–Greg Clark. His predecessor was a Tory. I again don’t know his character. SoS Communities and LG basically has to handle communities during times or crisis.

Secretary of State for Transport–Patrick McLoughlin. Again same old “blue” SoS as last time. Transport was a key signatory to the 2014 The UK national strategy for maritime security and should be a key member for any transport-related crisis–air, land or sea.

Secretary of State for Health–Jeremy Hunt. Another hated Tory by many. In any case, health is coming to prominence especially since the Ebola Outbreak.

Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs–Elizabeth Truss. First time in cabinet I believe. I also don’t know her style. It’s quite obvious what this SoS is needed if there’s a crisis or to prevent crises.

Secretary of State for International Development

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport–John Whittingdale. Not sure why the SoS for CMS is needed in this sub-committee. To broadcast news during national emergencies?

Minister for the Cabinet OfficeOliver Letwin and Matt Hancock (maybe Letwin will sit in the sub-committee). Needed for (guess) the British version of continuity of government.

There it is ladies and gentlemen, your all blue (Conservative/Tory/whatever name) UK National Security Council. (Any Clapping?)

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.