Comments on the “UK nuclear deterrence factsheet”

My comments on this pretty well written factsheet produced by the British Ministry of Defence. (Comments are in dark blue).

UK and nuclear disarmament

  • as a responsible nuclear weapon state and party to the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the UK also remains committed to the long term goal of a world without nuclear weapons
  • we have reduced our own nuclear forces by over half from their Cold War peak in the late 1970s (This is debatable. Yes, the UK has reduced its nuclear stockpile but so have others. What really counts wht effect this had internationally each time the stockpile was reduced)
  • we are the only nuclear weapon State recognised under the NPT which has reduced its deterrent capability to a single nuclear weapon system; We have dismantled our maritime tactical nuclear capability and the RAF’s WE177 free fall bombs (Same argument as above.)
  • as a result of our reassessment of the minimum necessary requirements for credible deterrence, since 2010 we have:
    • reduced the number of warheads onboard each submarine from 48 to 40
    • reduced our requirement for operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120
    • reduced the number of operational missiles on each submarine to not more than 8
    • by the mid-2020s, we will reduce the overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180 warheads, meeting the commitments set out in the 2010 Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) (Yes again, what is the effect on other stockpiles in nuclear weapon states.)
  • of the recognised ‘nuclear weapons states’ (NWS), we possess only approximately 1% of the total global stockpile of nuclear weapons, the smallest of all the NPT nuclear weapon states (That is great but again, has that have or had any effect internationally?)
  • our submarines on patrol are at several days’ notice to fire and, since 1994, we do not target our missiles at any state (Yay, but in the very unlikely case of possible nuclear conflict, how fast can you re-target?)
  • the UK plays a leading role on disarmament verification with the US and Norway (Expand please?)

An independent deterrent

  • since 1969, the Royal Navy has delivered the nuclear deterrent under Operation Relentless, with at least 1 of 4 nuclear armed submarines on patrol at all times (Great to know this, but how does this really deter and what effect does it have or not have on conventional forces, especially with 4×2 crews)
  • our retention of an independent centre of nuclear decision making makes clear to any adversary that the costs of an attack on UK vital interests will outweigh any benefits (Got to convince the wider public that it is really independent since you are the only P5 nation to use the missile or delivery weapon not build by yourself.)
  • decision making and use of the system remains entirely sovereign to the UK; only the Prime Minister can authorise the launch of nuclear weapons, which ensures that political control is maintained at all times
  • the instruction to fire would be transmitted to the submarine using only UK codes and UK equipment; all the command and control procedures are fully independent (But unlike the US or even Russia, you don’t have a Permission Active Link (PAL) or well known two-man rule. How do we know that submarine commanders or people of high authority won’t abuse this system?)
  • Vanguard and Successor submarines can operate readily without the Global Positioning by Satellite (GPS) system and the Trident D5 missile does not use GPS at all (Got to make this known to the public)
  • our procurement relationship with the US regarding the Trident Missile does not compromise the operational independence of our nuclear deterrent

A minimum and credible deterrent

  • we are committed to maintaining the minimum amount of destructive power needed to deter any aggressor. This requires us to ensure that our deterrent is not vulnerable to pre-emptive action by potential adversaries (But how about implementing a no-first use policy like China? Otherwise it still seems like the UK is threatening other states, despite the assurance of no usage against non-nuclear weapons states.)
  • we require a fleet of 4 submarines to maintain 1 continuously on patrol and retaining this posture is essential to assure the invulnerability of the deterrent (Why? Explain. And explain why 2 crews per SSBN?)
  • our preference is for an invulnerable and undetectable system, which allows us to maintain it at a minimum level of scale and readiness, but we believe that it should also be capable of being held at high readiness for extended periods of time
  • invulnerability and security of capability are key components of the credibility of our deterrent and contribute to overall stability (Nothing is really invulnerable. Even stealth aircraft have been detected and shot down.)

Cost

  • the Trident Alternatives Review in 2013 demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable as the current Trident based deterrent, or as cost effective (Or was this too general a review?)
  • as set in the 2015 SDSR we estimate that 4 new Successor submarines will cost £31 billion to build, test and commission, spread over 35 years, with a contingency of £10 billion. On average, that amounts to 0.2% per year of government spending (Yes, but is this figure fixed even with inflation and changes in GDP?)
  • we expect that, once the new fleet of deterrent submarines come into service, the in-service costs of the UK’s nuclear deterrent will be similar to those of today, at around 6% of the defence budget (Again, what ratio will this be to UK conventional forces?)
  • UK and US nuclear defence cooperation is underpinned by the recently renewed 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement and the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement; among other things, these allow the UK to reduce costs by procuring Trident missiles and other components from the US while maintaining full operational independence (Convinces me but is vague and won’t convince the man in the street.)
  • any programme to develop and manufacture a new cruise missile would cost far more than retaining the Trident D5 missile; in terms of both cost and capability, retaining the Trident D5 missile is by far the best approach (You wonder why the French have a nuclear-tipped cruise missile and the US is developing one.)

Threat

  • it is a key responsibility of government to be sure that the UK is properly protected should the future turn out to be less secure than we hope (But how likely is the threat of a nuclear war, with or without a nuclear deterrent? Should there be a threat, should the UK response by “nuking” others back?)
  • in spite of the successes of arms control activities in slowing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the number of states with nuclear capabilities has continued to grow (And is this the constant excuse to retain the deterrent? Why not try hard in bilateral and multilateral nuclear arms reduction agreements?)
  • there are risks that, over the next 20 to 50 years, a major direct nuclear threat to the UK or our NATO Allies might re-emerge; a state’s intent in relation to the use or threat of use of existing capabilities could change relatively quickly: for example, there was little prior warning of the collapse of the Soviet Union (Right again, is the threat of a nuclear war or explosion best to be replied by a similar or larger nuclear retaliation?)
  • when the case for the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent was last presented to Parliament, by the Labour government in 2006-07, it was acknowledged that the old certainties of the Cold War were gone. It was recognised that the UK faced a growing number of diverse and complex threats in an unpredictable world (You were lucky there weren’t many SNP MPs then.)
  • similar key judgements were made in the recent National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence Review. There is a risk that states with nuclear weapons, or those seeking to acquire them, might use their nuclear capabilities to threaten the UK, and attempt to constrain our decision making in a crisis or sponsor nuclear terrorism
  • therefore the government is committed to maintaining the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, now and in the future (And for eternity?)
  • we know that international terrorists are trying to acquire radiological weapons. There are risks that they may try to aquire nuclear weapons; while our nuclear deterrent is not designed to deter non-state actors, it should influence the decision making of any state that might consider transferring nuclear weapons or nuclear technology to terrorists (So in the horrible event a terrorist nukes UK territory, what can the UK’s SLBMs do in response?)

Myths and discussion points

Myth 1. The nuclear deterrent is obsolete as it does not deter terrorism.

The nuclear deterrent wasn’t intended to deter terrorists. The UK has policies and capabilities to deal with the wide range of threats we currently face or might face in the future. Our nuclear deterrent is there to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, which cannot be done by other means. (Yes I’ve heard that before. Trouble is, how intense is the focus on the deterrent vs the focus on anti-terrorism? Is is possible that more reduction in warheads or even the boats could displace more money for conventional arms?)

Myth 2. The money spent maintaining a nuclear deterrent would otherwise be invested in our conventional capabilities.

Nuclear weapons remain a necessary element of the capability we need to deter threats from others possessing nuclear weapons. Conventional forces cannot deliver the same deterrent effect. The investment required to maintain our deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities our armed forces need. (Yes, but again if you are nuked, is is right to nuke the other country back? Think about negative externalities.)

Myth 3. Submarines could become vulnerable to new technological developments such as underwater drones or cyber attack.

We believe it is unlikely there will be any radical technological breakthrough which might diminish the current advantages of the submarine over potential anti-submarine systems. In any event, we judge that a submarine will remain by far the least vulnerable of all the platform options.(Water didn’t stop the Titanic from sinking. Water sunk the Titanic. Or in other words, don’t be so cock-sure.)

Myth 4. Replacing Trident is illegal.

Maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent is fully consistent with all our international legal obligations, including those under the NPT. (Lucky for the NPT to be vague.)

Discussion point 1. The UK does not require a nuclear deterrent as we are already protected by the US nuclear deterrent.

A potential adversary might miscalculate the degree of US commitment to the defence and security of Europe. An independent deterrent provides the assurance that it can be used to deter attacks on our vital interests. An independent centre of nuclear decision making in the UK also reinforces the overall deterrent effect of allied nuclear forces and thus enhances our security and that of NATO allies. (Wait till Donald Trump or a Trump-like President gets into power…)

Discussion point 2. All the UK needs is a dormant nuclear weapons capability, from which we could re-establish a deterrent if and when specific threats emerge.

Any UK decision to give up an active credible nuclear deterrent system would, for political and cost reasons, be extremely difficult to reverse. In practice, the timeframe for re-establishing a credible minimum deterrent would probably be longer than the likely warning of any change in intent of an established nuclear power or any covert programme elsewhere to develop nuclear weapons. Also, any move from a dormant programme towards an active one could be seen as escalatory, and thus potentially destabilising, in a crisis. (Re last sentence, how would it be “escalatory”, that is, how would adversaries know you are re-arming?)

Discussion point 3. We don’t need a continuous deterrent.

If we ceased continuous deterrent patrols, we could be deterred or prevented from deploying an SSBN in a crisis. The submarine is by far the least vulnerable of the platform options.

Discussion point 4. We could make do with an aircraft delivered system.

Short and medium range aircraft operating from the UK or overseas, or short or medium range land based missiles, do not provide an assured deterrent on the grounds that these options lack sufficient range. Even aircraft launched from aircraft carriers would not meet our range criteria. Furthermore, these options would be vulnerable to pre-emptive attacks, or to interception by air defence systems whilst in the air.

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My take on Maria Eagle’s speech at the 2015 Labour Conference

With all the “hope and change” arising from dear beard-man (oops!) I mean Jeremy’s Corbyn’s leadership, I thought I’ll do quick critical review of Maria Eaagle’s speech on defence to the 2015 Labour Party Conference. My comments are in brackets and bold.

Conference,

Politics is changing. Since we lost the General Election, we have increased our membership by 164,000. (Hopefully many are related to the British Armed Forces or Defence. Maybe not.)

Our new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is inspiring a new generation of members of our Party – people who had not thought politics was for them – but who now want to help us to change our society for the better.

I am honoured to have been asked by Jeremy to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and I was proud to accept the job because the defence of our Country and its people is the first duty of any Government. (Sure you are, given your “experience” in the subject matter.)

And it must be taken equally seriously by any Party that seeks to govern.

I want to take this – my first opportunity – to thank and congratulate our magnificent British servicemen and women for the work that they do.

All around the world. Keeping us safe. Putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.

They do this despite the redundancies, the real terms cut to pay, pensions and allowances imposed on them by the Tories since 2010.

They are truly amongst our very finest and most dedicated public servants. (Blah, Blah, Blah, same old lines for years.)

And this Party will always acknowledge that and seek to look after them. After all, most recruits to the armed forces come from our Labour heartlands.(Really? So what did your party do to them from 2003 to 2010?)

I will use my new role as Chair of Labour Friends of the Forces, to help to strengthen and deepen the understanding between the Labour Party and our forces community. (As if your predecessors didn’t or failed to do.)

Just a day or two after my appointment, I had the opportunity to meet some of the 1000 servicemen and women who served in Sierra Leone tackling the Ebola epidemic.

At no small risk to themselves, they helped to defeat that scourge – a fantastic humanitarian achievement.

They also left behind six treatment centres and 4,000 trained local staff. (Actually, it is a combined effort of NHS, DFID and NGOs. Stop saying you did something by clapping for them.)

To help enable that nation to tackle and prevent any further outbreaks of contagious disease.

And the work that they did in West Africa helped keep us safe here at home also by ensuring the epidemic never reached our shores.

They have done a brilliant job.

I would also like to congratulate and thank all those service personnel on HMS Bulwark and HMS Enterprise.

To date, they have saved 5,577 desperate people fleeing persecution and war who would otherwise have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. (Under David Cameron’s/Michael Fallon’s orders, not yours.)

The Royal Navy continues to contribute, with our EU partners to this vital work and we support it fully.

Conference,

Since we last met, our combat troops have left Afghanistan.

454 of them have lost their lives since 2001.

We acknowledge their sacrifice.

The security they have helped to provide has brought social progress to that country.

There are now six million children safely able to attend school in Afghanistan, two million of them girls. They are the future of their country and the more of them who are in education, the better. (As with Operation Gritrock, this was not performed by the British Armed Forces alone.)

Conference,

Our Nation’s defence has never been more important than it is now in an increasingly interconnected, unpredictable and dangerous world.
Where threats, new and re-emerging, come at us thick and fast. (Is that why your leader campaigned to stop wars and get out of NATO?)

Five years ago who would have anticipated the barbarism of ISIL/Daesh? Or the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia? (Certainly not the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn.)

Certainly the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review did not.
It was a rushed, short sighted, Tory, Treasury-led cuts exercise giving us, amongst other things, a plan for aircraft carriers with no aircraft. (I wonder again, would Labour government have performed a better review???)

Our Country and our armed forces cannot afford a similarly poor effort from the Government in 2015.

Anticipating future threats is a difficult job though Conference. (Duh, so why aren’t you giving some ideas instead of swiping at the Tories?)
Who would have anticipated the millions of people fleeing conflict, drought and oppression in the Middle East – reminiscent of scenes we thought belonged to the history books? (Not you, not Jeremy Corbyn.)

It is the job of Government and those who aspire to govern, to ensure that Britain is ready and able to deal with any threat that arises and to be a force for good in the world.

And this fits in with our values as a Party. We believe in International cooperation, social justice and providing humanitarian assistance. (So why the campaign to aggressively remove the nuclear deterrent without spending on conventional weapons, why the hatred of the British Armed Forces, why the hatred of NATO?)

Britain is an outgoing nation fully engaged in the World.

We remain the only country to be a member of NATO, the EU, the UN Security Council, G7, G20 and the Commonwealth. (Great, you dear leader DID NOT like them at all!!!)

We have a unique opportunity and a great responsibility to use our position in the world to help solve problems, not turn our backs on them. (But, I read your fellow frontbencher Diane Abott doesn’t want intervention in Syria!)

We should not spurn that opportunity. We should not shirk that responsibility.

And we must ensure our people are safe here at home.
Our security services have warned that terrorist plotting against Britain is at its most intense for three decades – with six attempts foiled in the past 12 months

The collapse in stability and governance in the Middle East and North Africa has left a vacuum for extremists who seek to attack us at home and abroad.(But your party wants to let “refugees” in.)

The ongoing civil war and chaos in Syria has created space for ISIL/Daesh to unleash horrific atrocities on innocent people.

Britain cannot solve these problems alone. But Britain must not turn its back on the world. (So why did Jeremy Corbyn call to withdraw from NATO?)

This is the context for our deliberations about Britain’s role in the world and the defence capabilities we need, in conjunction with our allies and partners in playing that role.

For decades our policy has been that the UK should have responsive, high-tech armed forces with the capability to respond to emerging threats.

And it has been our position for decades too that Britain needs a credible independent nuclear deterrent while taking a lead internationally to push for a world without nuclear weapons. Labour in Government reduced the numbers of nuclear warheads and gave up our free fall nuclear bomb option – as part of multilateral disarmament efforts. (As Iceman said: Bullshit. Michael Foot didn’t. Jeremy Corbyn then and now did not.)

I know that some people have always disagreed that Britain should have an independent nuclear deterrent. (Right, many in your front bench.)

But we all agree that more must be done to rid the world of nuclear weapons. (Yes, how?)

I recognise and respect the different views in our party on the future of our nuclear deterrent.

Jeremy knew that I disagreed with him about this when he appointed me. And he still asked me to do the job. (Wonderful! Prepare to be kicked out of the role soon.)

At the last election, we were committed to having a much more transparent and public facing debate about our place in the world and how best we should fulfil it. (Really? So whose manifesto are you following? Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn?)

Jeremy Corbyn has asked me to facilitate such a debate. (Really?!)

And I will do that. (With Jeremy pulling string no doubt.)

In sharp contrast to the Government’s SDSR consultation, where responses were limited to 300 words, it will be a debate that all of our members will be able to take part in. (Madame, this has been removed. And again, so far, you HAVE NOT provided any counter ideas.)

It will involve our trades union affiliates as well, some of whom represent:

The 40,000 people who work in the defence industries in Scotland,

The 7,500 who work in our submarine manufacturing industry

The 850 companies in the supply chain for the planned Vanguard successor submarines – all offering highly skilled jobs and apprenticeships.

For they have a legitimate interest in our deliberations also.
And it will be a debate that must also involve the British people – for these issues are amongst the most important that any politician ever has to consider. (Ahem!!! The government is doing just that. You’re quite late in the race!)

There is an appetite out there, in our Party and beyond, for real issues of substance to be discussed openly in politics, rather than be decided just by Ministers in Government, behind closed doors or politicians in Parliament, subject to a Party whip.

We’re seeing it surface in other political parties as well as our own.
Our debate is starting at this Conference.

It is right that Britain’s place in the world should be at the centre of these deliberations.

And Conference, I will make sure that it is. (Sure. So far you have said NOTHING noteworthy or of substance. A speech that won’t pass as an academic essay.)

***
PS: I’m too critical but this is what the people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn get.

Queen’s Speech 2015: The foreign affairs, security and defence parts

Well, not too shabby Brits may put it. The Queen’s Speech 2015, written by a Conservative majority government, did not just focus on Osborne’s cuts, debt and deficit reduction and the European Union (EU) plans or exit. There was a substantial but still not that detailed section on foreign affairs, security and defence. I paste the relevant part of the speech below, with my brief comments in bold:

My Lords and members of the House of Commons

My government will continue to play a leading role in global affairs, using its presence all over the world to re-engage with and tackle the major international security, economic and humanitarian challenges. (This is more a reference to the work and challenge of the Department for International Development (DFID), along with say the Stabilisation unit, the 77th Brigade, the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff.)

My ministers will remain at the forefront of the NATO alliance and of international efforts to degrade and ultimately defeat terrorism in the Middle East. (Note: Ministers, not military leaders.)

The United Kingdom will continue to seek a political settlement in Syria, and will offer further support to the Iraqi government’s programme for political reform and national reconciliation. (FCO work, along say with DFID but FCO first.)

My government will maintain pressure on Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and will insist on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. (FCO, plus maybe, just maybe, military might. No mention whatsover about a committment or some adherence to the NATO 2% target.)

My government looks forward to an enhanced partnership with India and China. (Military? Remember this post I made? There’s conflicting information which brigade is aligned to India. The British Army Journal said 11th Infantry Brigade but now 8th Engineer Brigade says 22 Engineer Regiment, a smaller unit. In any case, the “enhanced partnership” with India will primarily be foreign affairs, economic/commerical and non-aid development. China? No British Army units appear to be aligned with China. Links will China will be diplomatic and economic/commerical. Once in a while, maybe a Royal Navy ship visit or maybe, maybe RAF Typhoons.)

Prince Philip and I look forward to our state visit to Germany next month and to our state visit to Malta in November, alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. We also look forward to welcoming His Excellency the President of The People’s Republic of China and Madame Peng on a state visit in October. (See the linkage with China will be diplomatic.)

My government will seek effective global collaboration to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change, including at the climate change conference in Paris later this year. (Amber Rudd’s purview.)

My government will undertake a full strategic defence and security review, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe. (The famous and dreaded Strategic and Security Defence Review 2015. Cuts? Increases (haha), you name the gloom and doom.)

My government will work to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and terrorism. (Vague, but remember the Joint Cyber Reserve?)

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

Trident an election problem: A reply

The wekk lnown pro-nuclear weapons/pro-“Trident” defence site, recently wrote an article (not their first) titled Trident – An Election Problem. As with many typical “let’s keep the UK nuclear deterrent status quo” article, it is riddled with flaws. I always planned to write a larger article but this one gives me the opportunity to highlight the weakeness.

First:

Who Are We Kidding
We are not a leading world nation, a member of the G8, UN Security Council and NATO.

Oh, hang on, yes we are.

This means we have obligations, expectations and duties.

My Reply: The UN is not about maintaining nuclear weapons, it is more about peace and global/international development. I have not seen a UN resolution that explicitly says “have nuclear weapons, it is great.” Neither is the G8 about nuclear weapons. No G8 communique has ever said to the five or more nuclear weapons states, “arm yourself.”

It also means we are a target and if we actually want to ensure that Blighty never again is invaded, attacked or blackmailed by another nuclear power then the ultimate means of doing so is with the worlds ultimate weapon, nuclear weapons.

My reply: Again the usual sound bite. There is not substantiation about when and how the UK might be a target for a nuclear attack and even so, how does that justify nuclear weapons or Continuous at Sea Deterrence (CASD). Again, when will and when has the UK ever been blackmailed? I havve issued a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) and it says te UK has never been blackmailed.

We Can Downgrade the Posture
We are doing that to some extent anyway, Successor will carry fewer Trident missiles and each will carry fewer warheads from a smaller pool of warheads. The problem with going to non permanently deployed deterrent cuts to the heart of deterrence theory, that deterrent has to be credible.

It has to be on a hair trigger, always lurking, always unseen, always available.

My reply–that again does not give a reason for maintaining nuclear weapons which suck up a huge load of current and future defence spending. It is nice to have trigger-ready weapons, but who are we ready for? None of the current world events have been stopped by trigger ready CASD. Think Defence also gives the analogy of a having a fully armed cupboard of shot guns or simply guns. Yes you maintain a deterrent against your neighbour (who can change his or her views) but guns are not the same as nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons create an adverse fallout if used. Guns simply kill or may kill just the enemy.

here are Cheaper Alternatives
I am ALWAYS interested in looking at cheaper ways of doing things and I don’t buy for one minute the position that says we must have the best or nothing at all.

There are cheaper ways of delivering nuclear weapons.

We could put a Trident warhead on the back of a truck, we could buy a free-fall nuclear bomb or we could buy a nuclear tipped Tomahawk.

Unfortunately, all these suffer from a distinct lack of credibility (see points about credibility above) and either don’t exist or would need to be developed. The funny thing about this whole debate is the missiles already exist, all we are doing is buying a replacement vehicle to launch them from.

No cruise missile exists that is 100% survivable against modern integrated air defence systems and which has the range to enable launch from safe patrol areas against all target possibilities.

My reply: It is not about cheaper alternatives and the Trident Alternatives Paper was a waste anyway. We know all the big stuff you write above. It is about reality and utility.

We Can Invest the Savings in Conventional Capabilities and Deterrence
There is an argument that says Successor will distort the defence budget for several years and so there exists an opportunity to spend it on something else instead. Conventional deterrence is seen as having greater utility against the kind f threats we face. Of course we could buy some decent shiny new baubbles with £3b a year for the next several decades but in reality, would it tip the balance decisively in our favour in any future scenario, I doubt it, would those extra conventional capabilities offer the same kind of political clout that Trident does, I doubt it?

Would an extra carrier, brigade and squadron count for much when an aggressor has nuclear weapons, not in a gazillion years.

And in any case, would that money stay within defence?

My Reply: If the world is uncertain, why is is not uncertain that we can get alternatives from reducing or removing the golden boys–the nuclear deterrent? Can you tell me for certain that the UK or its overseas territories will be nuked the second there isn’t a SSBN and its might weapons around? If you throw the “world is uncertain and unpredictable” argument, I can throw it back at you.

The Morning After
This is one area of the debate that many seem to ignore.

Supposing the UK retires the Vanguard and Trident system next week, the week after there would pretty much be zero impact.

Defence would still be both under funded and wasteful, ISIS would still be exactly the same threat to the UK as they were yesterday (practically zero) and Freddo’s would still cost an extortionate amount of money.

But the months and years after the UK would pay a hefty political price, the world would certainly not suddenly follow the UK’s leadership on disarmament and one day, it would be us looking at someone else’s double barrel shotgun and ruing the day the steaming fetid pile of dogshit that comprises many of our political class traded the one system that guarantees our security to get a few extra votes and 5 years in power.

My Reply: The morning after South Africa removed its nuclear capbility, it’s neighbours didn’t invade. South Africa fought a border war when it had nuclear weapons. Iran risked fighting Iraq which had WMD then in the 1980s and risked having its armed forces gassed.

Finally, TD never addressed the issue of why “Trident” is an election problem–it never touched on the morality of people, the issue of risks and disasters, and the strain on resources, military and non-military.

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.

One Company: The central unit for the British Army’s external engagement

So Army 2020 plans are slightly changing (I’ll blog about that later). But first, a short post on British Army deployments. To the average observer, hey there’s x or y regiment deploying for training or military engagement. People would assume it is a whole brigade/battalion-sized unit deploying for the operation/exercise. Nope. It’s actually (usually) one company-sized unit that deploys. Let’s take a look:

1) This article does clarify that only 1 Squadron (Royal Armoured Corps terminology), D Squadron of the Queen’s Royal Lancers was deployed. Some may it’s the full QRL but it is highly likely just one squadron given the number of vehicles and troops stated.

2) This one explicitly says it’s just one squadron from the 26 Engineer Regiment, namely 30 Armoured Engineer Squadron.

3) Even in the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) area in Canada, it’s just one squadron that’s deployed per regiment. You may say the tweet just shows just D squadron but the whole of the Queen’s Royal Lancers deploy. More often that not, it is one squadron from each unit type–armoured/light infantry, armour, armoured cavalry, Combat Service Support etc that forms a Battlegroup or Lead Armoured Battle Group (see the 2012 Army 2020 leaflet).

4) For overseas exercises like Exercise Silver Arrow, it’s also just a Company that deploys/is deployed. In this case, Chindit Company, 2nd Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. (Same exercise here). For Exercise Rapid Trident, it was not the whole of the Light Dragoons, but just B Company. (See also this tweet, same exercise). In Exercise Jebel Tarik, the Light Dragoons again only deployed B Squadron, while in EX JEBEL SAHARA, C Squadron was sent.

5) Training with the UK’s closest ally, the United States (US), also involved one squadron from the (really) rapid deployment unit, the Parachute Regiment. In this case, B Company, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment “integrated” with a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from the 82nd Airborne Division. One UK Company with one US BCT (US BCTs, even airborne/infantry are larger than normal brigade-sized units).

6) The news and social media has been writing much about Exercise Black Eagle, the British Army’s Lead Armoured Battlegroup’s training with the Polish Army in Poland. Battlegroup is the key term here–in British Armed Forces’ definition, its one unit, plus others. In this case, it’s not even one full brigade. Rather, it’s “an armoured squadron of Challenger 2s, two Warrior armoured infantry squadrons and protected mobility infantry company” (see this link . There’s actually more than that, but it’s not the topic here). The Armour squadron mentioned is C Squadron, the King’s Royal Husssars. (Ok, this link says it’s D Squadron. And for 1 R WELSH it is at least A Company, definitely 1 Platoon)

7) The lead Air Assault Task Force is not made up of all the units of 16 Air Assault Brigade. It’s not even made up on all the units of 2nd or 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. Rather it consists of companies/squadron-sized units from 16 AA, plus one, yes only one parachute-trained Rifle Company from either 2 or 3 PARA. In the latest Salisbury Plain Exercise, this was C Company, 3 PARA. Even the Lead Armoured/Mechanised task force in Exercise WESSEX STORM consists of a company-sized unit leading a battlegroup. In this case, it’s the Left Flank, 1st Battalion the Scots Guards (Left Flank is the name of a Rifle Company within 1 SCOTS).

8) Most recently, G Battery, 7th Royal Horse Artillery Regiment, partnered with the US 82nd Airborne Division’s Artillery to improve inter-operability so that both airborne forces can deploy together. See this link.

So the British Army’s exercises or deployments aren’t about whole Brigades/Regiments/Battalions. They are Company-sized units. What does this mean for the British Army in the future?

1) It obviously mean the onus is on the company. I’m not sure when the British started deploying their units via single companies–it could have been before or after the 2010 SDSR–but this certainly means the British Army and the UK armed forces overseas engagements rest with a company-sized unit.

2) It means that Majors (Major is the basic rank for British Army Company) and Warrant Officer Twos (W02s) (sometimes Warrant Officer One (WO1)) are give great responsibilities–they have to be the read to lead their units/be ready to move (RTM) and have to ready to engage with international partners/allies or even be ready to engage adversaries. Majors, ther 2ICs (Captains most definitely), and their RSMs will have to act as ambassadors during military engagements/training exercises (see example 8). They will have to be ready to talk to British media, foreign media regarding a range of military and non-military topics. As leaders of only a company, they will have to quikcly learn how to work with foreign militaries, especially those with different standard operating procedures (SOPs). I believe in most other militaries, only Lieutenant Colonels and above have the academic and army training to work seamlessly with other armed forces. This is not to say all British Army Majors and senior non-commissioned officers (SNCOs) are not able to work with other armies. However, since companies may or will be the main unit of defence engagement, their OCs and leaders must quickly learn how to engage and related with others

3) It means a hundred plus (depending of the size of the company) soldiers themselves have to learn how to engage with other militaries or citizens (suppose they get deployed for non-combat duties). They have to learn culture, languages, SOPs, even simple manners. Which every company/battery/squadron deployed overseas must train its men to know how to work with other armies/armed forces.

4) It means as a company they will have to present themselves with the image of at least a battalion/regiment to their foreign counterparts. I mean, given the size of British Army/Royal Marine companies/squadrons, they have to show their counterparts/allieds they are still a viable force. Of course as mentioned, this company may travel as part of a larger Battlegroup–they “tailored” unit in British Army’ operations. They may be complemented by HQ staff, support arms and others. Even so, they still need to present themselves as a force. And, should conflict break out, UK companies would be the first to deploy now, especially given the Army 2020 concept of A) the Lead Air Assault Task Force, B) The Lead Armoured Task Force/Battlegroup C) and NATO’s new Very High Readiness Task Force.

More points to be added later