Center for Strategic Decision Research


Challenges Ahead: Capabilities, Finances, Intelligence, and Working with International Organizations

The Rt Hon Bruce George
Chair of the Defence Committee,
House of Commons of the United Kingdom


I am going to talk a little bit about equipment, and transformation and increasing and improving capabilities, because this is critically important to the future security of Europe, North America, and much of the world. Because of my experience in the OSCE, I also want to talk about where capabilities can be enhanced through non-military means. I want to speak about this perspective, not because I belong to the peace movement, quite the reverse, but because within the tool box of the international community there is a whole range of tools that are unused or barely used or badly used. And if we can enhance the capabilities of international organizations that are either engaged or will potentially be engaged in the range of conflict prevention or conflict reconstruction, then it will not make defense manufacturers’ lives miserable because there will still be the need to prepare for the worst kinds of war. No one knows what is going to be on the horizon 10 or 15 years from now, but we can’t wallow in self-pity and worry just about terrorism. I do not wish to appear overly pessimistic, but I do feel that we, as a set of institutions and nations, should not judge all organizations because of our misperceptions or because of the inefficiencies of the United Nations, which we hope is improving. 

I speak as a Parliamentarian and, while I know that Americans used to say that nobody is safe while the legislature is in session, it is members of Parliament who legitimize decisions of the executive, who scrutinize decisions of the executive. As Chairman of the Defense Committee for two terms of Parliament, I have had a delightful adversarial but constructive relationship with the British Ministry of Defense. And as one former Permanent Secretary said, the better you are as a committee, the better we have to be. So Parliamentarians do have input, but I hope never a central role in decision-making, because that would be worse than the present system. I sometimes muse over the United States and say that there is only one thing worse than Parliament with too little power on defense and that is a legislature with too much power on defense. My country falls much more into the rather weak legislature side of the equation. 


When John Reid was appointed Defense Minister, I cannot tell you how elated I was, because he knows and likes the subject and he empathizes with military personnel. Maybe one day I will be able to understand what he is actually saying, but he probably thinks my Welsh accent is as difficult to comprehend as his Scottish accent! But since I have been a member of Parliament and on the Defense Committee, I have been able to look at how the British decision-making structure evolved, from the 1890s onward, and how it is an endless revolution of reappraising its strategy, its tactics, its selection of personnel, and its training of personnel. No one is ever secure with a structure that is going to last for more than a few years because along comes another government, another set of people seeking to improve, and that has happened in the sphere of defense procurement. My committee produced a long list of defense initiatives culminating, as we thought, in smart procurement and changes in smart acquisition. But it has produced the same unfortunate consequences of military equipment that arrives late, is much over budget, and in some cases does not work as well as the Ministry of Defense or those who supplied the equipment forecast. Now whether that is the result of the process of procurement or those who are actually procuring is a matter of debate. And when my committee produced the report on procurement, the then minister, a very amiable guy, got very angry, particularly with one word—I appeared to have said the procurement process was “woeful.” I publicly apologized and said the reason the word “woeful” appeared was because the clerk of the committee could not understand my handwriting—I had actually written the word “wonderful.” I am afraid Lord Bach, who is no longer Minister for Procurement, has gone to other areas of work. 

So the government, in the eight years since the Labor government was in office, produced a strategic defense review with a major step forward, then said there was not much threat to the homeland, and then said we have to concentrate on expeditionary warfare. Then along came September 11, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Iraq, and the government decided that though the SDR was only four or five years old, it was out of date and we needed to rethink how we should utilize our forces in the future as well as the equipment we put in their hands. So the Defense Committee came out with a large, generally constructively critical report. 

But in this most recent document—only the British would call it a “White Paper,” but any country that invented cricket and rugby can be excused for calling it that—we said, though I once said that we are a major power of the second rank, that it is up to us to prove that we are capable of defending ourselves and capable of contributing positively to the alliances that we belong to, be it the Atlantic Alliance or the European Union. As a relatively wealthy country, hopefully shored up by the vast amount of money the European Union gives us because we don’t have peasant farmers, we have to show that we are up with the best, up with the United States.  


In the traditional military of earlier times, you used to give the infantry man a rifle and give him a few months training. That world has changed. Now, as the report said, we need to optimize our force structure to support free, concurrent small and medium-size operations, but still exploit the benefits of network-enabled capability. We also made the assumption—the French won’t like this—that the most complex, large-scale operations will be conducted only as part of a U.S-led coalition. British policy, our primary goal, is to maximize our ability to influence at all levels: The planning, execution, and management of the operation and its aftermath in support of our wider security policy objectives. Our large-scale force structure, therefore, focuses on those capabilities that add real weight to the campaign and enhance the U.K.’s ability to influence the outcome. It then goes through the initial important capabilities that the British will be quite good at and assist with: Initial theater entry; shaping operations, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance; precision attack on strategic targets; joint land and air offensive operations; and post-conflict stabilization. It also details what we have in the way of troops, the best available for these tasks: Special forces, amphibious and carrier-strike task groups, an air expeditionary task force, and a land-maneuver division capable of conducting offensive operations. The report then addresses network-enabled capability and looks at the programs we are engaged in for the army, air force, and navy. 


While our committee did not produce the report, we were generally supportive and said that we accepted much of its analysis. However, we have been and continue to be concerned that its vision of the future is too narrowly confined by the expectation and the experience of recent years. We are also rather worried about whether we are going to be able to do all that we wish within the finances available, even with an increase in our defense budget. Not that I said this during the British elections, because there was no interest in defense in general, only in Iraq. But when you look at the Carrier program, if we are lucky we will have Type 45 destroyers in 2009, the Astute Submarine in 2009, the FRES, Typhoon, and Joint Strike Fighter in 2014, and new helicopter capabilities in we do not know when. So though we agree with the objectives, we are worried about the ability to pay for it all and when the equipment will be available to us. A lot of systems are being terminated too early, which could result in a quite substantial gap opening between when ships are pensioned off and when the new equipment will be made available to us. These are our criticisms. 


However, we do not think that strong membership in the European Union and strong commitment to the Atlantic Alliance are in any way incompatible. I think we ought to be more concerned about the bread-and-butter issues. The British Ministry of Defense produced a very good report on the doctrine for peace-support operations, but we don’t want anyone to know that we actually read it. While we very much supported and still do support the coalition war in Iraq—the war itself was brilliant—what happened later was bloody awful and we should have had far better intelligence. Luckily the British were engaged in a nicer part of the country and the Iraqis did not hate us and don’t try to kill us too frequently. The British, generally speaking, are quite good at dealing with insurgents, as you Americans will remember. 

The Americans were pretty damn good and efficient at fighting a war that was incredibly quick. But the moment the war ended, it was clear that no planning had been done, which we were told had been done. Maybe the war ended too quickly, but what happened in the weeks following it was catastrophic and we are now living with the consequences. One of the endless number of reports we produce in Iraq was a critical assessment of post-conflict operations, looking at what we ought to have done, what we ought to be doing, and why we should spend more time looking at things we are not very good at: Peace support operations, conflict prevention, peace making, peace enforcement, peace building. 


But while we are not so good at those missions, there are other organizations that are quite good at them. While I am not going to say who is blocking much of what is happening in NATO, (after all, I am in France and would not want to embarrass our host by so saying), the OSCE has an enormous peacekeeping capability, one that is very good at doing everything other than fighting a war. The OSCE is now involved in many peacekeeping missions abroad, for example, election observation. So I would urge those people who are superb at producing equipment for war to spend a great deal of time trying to assist institutions and governments to deal with terrorism. Hopefully they will provide better equipment and better training for those personnel who are engaged in peacekeeping-type activities, because the equipment you use for warfighting and the equipment you use for peacekeeping is very different. 


Although the Alliance and the European Union appear to be at loggerheads, there is far more that unites us than divides us. And while there is a threat from terrorism, I think we are just about getting on top of it; our intelligence service produced a document for the business community that said the threat from terrorism is lower than we had initially forecast. The enormous international effort, with all its imperfections, is getting strong and NATO is playing an incredible role. The German contribution is also worldwide and enormous, and even the European Union is doing something on defense and security now. So it shows you that things are really on the move. 





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