Thursday, 9 February 2012

Mo Money, no fewer problems

The Daily Telegraph, as with many other papers loves to run pieces like this:
The Coalition Government, indisputably influenced by the Liberal Democrats, is particularly to blame [for a weaker military]. There is a serious possibility that military action by Britain will be required in the near future not only to defend the Falkland Islands from the Argentine threat, but also to contain the situation in Iran.

Surely the time has now come at least to call a halt to any further reduction in expenditure on our Armed Forces.
Notice that last line? If we just spend more, everything will be okay, we'll be able to go everywhere, do anything, kill anyone. Hooray. Go UK, go UK! And so forth.

Lets say we double our military spending up to about 5% of GDP. That'd put us at about £110billion. Hell, thats plenty right? Well, it'd be about a 10th of what the US spend, and, to be fair, they're pretty good at most stuff. Ultimately, the fact that they have to point to a rise in civilian deaths as a signal of impending victory in Afghanistan, might point some slight structural weaknesses, but no biggie:
[General] Scaparrotti, who said he accepted the U.N.’s statistics, pointed out that the vast majority of Afghan civilians — 77 percent — die because of insurgent actions. When Danger Room asked if the increase in total civilian deaths indicated that the insurgents still have a free hand to attack, Scaparrotti replied, “I’d say it’s actually reduced. It’s pushed them into a certain [set of tactics] which isn’t ideal.”

Namely: suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. While Scaparrotti conceded there was a “freedom of action that they have, in some places,” he said the “freedom of action [insurgents] show today is increasingly in IEDs and suicide bombing. They don’t have the capability to take us on directly.”

The U.N. concluded that insurgent bombs are now the “single largest killer of Afghan children, women and men in 2011.” Suicide bombings have “dramatically” increased, and are now killing 80 percent more Afghans than in 2010.

Perhaps the Taliban might not be able to take on U.S. forces directly, but they’ve expanded their ability to plant low-level bombs and launch high-profile suicide attacks. “I don’t know that that’s an increased freedom of action,” Scaparrotti said.
Its a nice idea that money magically makes for a better military, but lets face it, its nonsense. If the largest most mobile, most effective, most powerful military on the planet cannot cope in Afghanistan, then simple spending is not enough.

The problem is, that if you're going to spend money, there's got to be a reason for it. To use an example, I recently spent an ungodly amount on a new computer, my reason? I have a strategy. My strategy is to have a single source device for my entertainment needs while at home. See? An articulated strategy enables me to make a choice about how much to spend. Turns out, its a lot. But thats between me and the bank account I used to have.

My point is that without a clearly defined national strategy, ideally for the all for all foreign relations, but even if it is only for the military, we've got no damn idea what we want to spend. In the last decade we've had two large scale long term engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, we've had a number of short term high intensity deployments, Libya being the most significant, and we face a potential conflict with Argentina in the next year or so, even if it never goes hot.

In order to address these challenges we have to have a real national strategy which is able to articulate and encompass our national intent. We need to decide if copying the American doctrine of 2 "concurrent threats" really helps us, or is realistic. I'd argue that isnt a strategy either, its a desire certainly, but its not articulated in the form of a strategy.

If I was going to take a stab at it I would suggest that our strategy should be something like "Ensure that the United Kingdom and its properties overseas are within the reach of protection at all times, with sufficient reserve to pursue aggressive action where it supports this objective". Thats off the top of my head, and there are already holes I can see in it, but at least now I can start scribbling on the back of a napkin, to see what I need to do that.

I can tell I need a fleet, with Carriers, and aircraft for force projection. I'm going to need some boots on the ground, but I might be able to make some savings there, if I'm not going to be putting those boots overseas very often because I'm confident air power and naval force can provide protection in most cases. Special forces and the marines will probably provide a lot of that, if we're going to use the fleet to provide our core mobility.

We have no strategy. We flail. In the absense of strategy we do what we're told, whether actively because America asks nicely, or reactively, because Argentina is being a d*ck or we just can't stand Gadhaffi any more and see an opportunity to facilitate him being shot while on the run. Either way, we're not our own boss in either of those situations.

But even if we had a strategy, we still shouldnt start spending money. We've got to think about the military which we need to achieve that strategy. What training do they need, what sorts of people need to be in it? But thats a whole other blog post. The point is, we've got no damn idea what we want to achieve and how to do it.

Of course developing a Grand Strategy is fraught with peril, as this sage post on Rethinking Security (and Aaron Ellis) reminds us:
Aaron Ellis, writing about British foreign policy thought, dubs this the “internationalisation of the national interest.” And I can do no better than Patrick Porter’s precision demolition of the British National Security Strategy (NSS) for describing the lethal consequences of grand strategy rooted in a set of dangerous hidden policy assumptions:

“It claims the country’s security depends on a liberal, ‘rules based’ world order that upholds its values. This is a potentially bottomless concept. …It describes a world of interdependence and connectivity. Britain is endangered by globe-girding, chaotic processes such as state failure. Broken countries are incubators of extremism, disease, or crime. … According to the document, Britain’s security is directly linked to the type of regime in other states. It cannot tolerate the illiberal. Therefore, London must scan the far horizons and take a forward-leaning posture, watching, engaging and intervening on the periphery to protect its core.

…It asserts that Africa matters wherever there is extremism or violence, not a very discriminating test; Eastern Europe matters because Britain is engaged there; the Middle East matters because it is central to security and ‘totemic’ to extremists, and Afghanistan-Pakistan for its links to domestic terrorism. Central Asia, Eastern Europe, large chunks of Africa and the Middle East: these four spheres would strain a superpower, let alone Britain. Defined this way, the country’s interests have acquired an open-ended, de-territorialised and unbounded character. If British policymakers and their military advisers believe that the nation’s interests are at stake wherever questions of order, values, stability or wealth are involved, all things are Britain’s concern and virtually everything matters. “

I'm going to leave it there, but if I read another article suggesting that with just a bit more money the military will be fixed I won't be held responsible for the consequences.

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