Thank you, Michael [Professor Michael Clarke, Director, RUSI], for that kind introduction and for inviting me to RUSI. I feel rather flattered as an aviator to be invited to address a Land Warfare conference, although I suppose the timing could not have been more propitious as the Army Air Corps stands ready to deploy its AH-64 apaches on operations in Libya, illustrating the wide role of air power across all three arms.
I am delighted that so many old friends are here at RUSI to exchange ideas at a time of immense change and turmoil in the world, and it’s a pleasure to welcome new friends such as General Enzo, Commander of the Brazilian Army.
I’m particularly pleased that General Hertling [Commanding General, US Army Europe] could join our panel. We have much in common.
Like me, General, you know the joys of living and working in Germany.
Like me, I’m sure you appreciate the wisdom of your 15th President, James Buchanan who repeated Thomas Jefferson’s warning against “entangling alliances”, which may also explain why Buchanan was the only President to remain a life-long bachelor!
Yet, like me, I know you appreciate the enormous benefits of an alliance which has for 6 decades, and counting, been the most successful military alliance the world has ever seen.
And I think NATO does provide us with a useful starting point for any discussion about interagency and international. With most national budgets under severe pressure, we do not have the luxury of engaging in unnecessary duplication, institution building, or spreading resources wide and thin. We have to focus, both in what we do and how we collaborate, on what works.
And NATO works.
NATO prevented the cold war from becoming hot. It proved its continued utility in bringing peace to the Balkans. And after 9/11, NATO took the unprecedented decision to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, this time Europe went to the aid of the United States.
But time doesn’t stand still. While by most measures, Europe is, territorially, more secure than at any point in its history, we must recognise that today our national and collective security is inevitably affected by what happens outside the Euro Atlantic zone.
Recent events should give a timely wake up call to those who have failed to acknowledge that today’s world is a seriously unpredictable place. I’m mindful that General Dempsey [Chief of Staff, US Army] is a fan of Shakespeare which brought to mind a line from Macbeth, “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me.”
Indeed, who here would have thought as they marked the Christmas festivities that within weeks the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt would be swept away on a tide of street uprisings? That the regimes in Libya and Syria would be challenged as never before? Or that a decade after 9/11 the spiritual leader of Al-Qaeda would be clinically taken out on Pakistani soil by US forces; or that, 16 years on, the long arm of international law would catch up with Mladi??
So these events have served to validate the kernel of our ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review’, the SDSR, in terms of our commitment to an adaptable posture and flexible forces. What is happening in Libya in particular is a very different operation from that in Afghanistan and both offer perspectives on the changing character of conflict.
To prepare for that flexible force structure we took the decision to restructure the army into 5 new multi-role brigades which will consist of around 6,500 personnel. These will provide a wide range of capabilities, allowing them to operate across a variety of possible conflicts which we envisage could arise over the next decades.
Crucially, they will also allow greater choice in the size and composition of the force which might be deployed, without having to draw on other elements from the rest of the army as has been the case in recent times.
The multi-role brigades will include: reconnaissance forces to gain information even in high-threat situations; tanks, which continue to provide a unique combination of protection, mobility and firepower; and infantry operating from a range of protected vehicles. The brigades will be self-supporting, having their own artillery, engineer, communications, intelligence, logistic and medical support.
Libya is also further evidence that important as NATO’s article V is, and make no mistake it is the very foundation upon which the organisation is built, European security means much more than sitting at home and waiting to repel attacks. That’s why over 150,000 brave men and women are committed to NATO commanded operations on three continents, as well as many non NATO countries who have come on board of their own volition.
NATO is proving itself as the only practical instrument of choice for internationally agreed operations.
When the UN Security Council swiftly passed resolution 1973 it was to NATO that everyone looked to provide the nuts and bolts of the operation. To its credit, NATO, too, responded incredibly fast and as a result Benghazi was saved from a brutal attack by Ghadaffi’s forces. So when Europe can operate decisively through NATO, why would we need a parallel bureaucratic alternative?
And when we are faced with a global economic squeeze the like of which we have not seen for generations, we need to maximise co-operation. We need action, not posturing. We need capability not tokenism.
NATO has demonstrated in Libya that it can offer all of these, although it is important to remember that Libya is not a NATO operation but a NATO commanded operation.
And there is a very important difference in that.
Of course, more work needs to be done to improve NATO, making it more efficient and cost-effective, a project on which my boss, the Secretary of State, Dr Liam Fox, is playing a forceful role. At the same time, there is evidence that the relationship between NATO and the EU is improving as the recognition increases that duplication is expensive. And as we mark the 40th anniversary of the five power defence arrangements with Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore later this year, I can see merit in discussing how NATO might interact with major powers and regional organisations assuming we’re no longer in a fixed campaign cycle.
But where I see the greatest opportunity for transformation is international partnership.
To some, that’s simply code for spending less. It’s true, of course, that we inherited, as Liam Fox said recently, “a level of debt and economic mismanagement which represents a national economic emergency.” It’s true that our budget deficit is also a threat to our national security. And it’s true that we are seeking better value for money from industry.
Yet even in times of plenty, the case for partnership and collaboration is compelling. As Dr Fox has also said, we increasingly rely on our allies, and we will deepen our multilateral and bilateral defence relationships. Let me use our recent treaty with France as an exemplar.
In Europe, Britain and France are the major defence powers, with armed forces of comparable size and capability. Both are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and nuclear powers. Importantly, we have the political will to use them in pursuit of our national interests, which are increasingly aligned. It is sensible therefore that we have the right means to use our forces together.
I also should point out that one of the most enthusiastic supporters of our closer co-operation with France has been the US. They have long argued that Europe as a whole needs more effective, operationally viable forces, though the quid pro quo has to be improved access to US technology, and research and development.
Most importantly, it is about practical effect. Collaboration is a real force multiplier. And it’s not just about hardware. It’s also about access, understanding, and empathy in parts of the world in which we may find ourselves operating in the future. Our historical, economic, and cultural ties within the Commonwealth epitomise this opportunity.
So collaboration with France is a strategic imperative; as natural as it is necessary.
It doesn’t mean our competitive streak with the French has been completely lost!
And let me scotch a few other misconceptions.
For example, pooling arrangements are often disparaged as meaning “you have fast jets and they have ships.” In fact, we recognise the benefits of pooling and sharing capabilities, while ensuring that sovereign requirements can still be met; there’s no point entering these things with delusions.
Other misconceptions are that the France treaty is Saint Malo mark 2, and a threat to what we plan to do alone if necessary or with other countries. We want a closer bilateral relationship with Norway, which is one of our key strategic partners in the increasingly important High North region. We want to create a NATO framework which makes it easier for Sweden and Finland to have a closer relationship, and as a nuclear power we want to give even greater reassurance to the Baltic states about the reality of Article 5 of the NATO treaty. We also want to create regional structures to make it easier to engage with Russia, where we can, on regional problem solving.
It is also a useful lesson for the UK that in a world in which there is a multi polar power base, we need more different levers to act in the interests of our national security, and regional security, not restricted to the continent of Europe. I have already mentioned the Five Power Defence Arrangements which we hope can take on a new dimension as we move into its fifth decade of existence, but we are also actively developing reinvigorated relationships with countries like India and Brazil with which the UK has unique long-standing historic bonds, bonds which I think no other nation in the world can boast.
The truth is that our treaty with France is a bilateral agreement between sovereign nations to increase collaboration and capability, and is intended to complement NATO and the EU. And it’s an opportunity to allow our armed forces to deploy as a significant and influential part of a coalition which can undertake complex military tasks.
But we need to make this happen at a practical level. Take the ongoing development of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. This will be a high readiness force able to undertake complex and early interventions, and we are working towards full operational capability in 2016. We have already started training together.
So as we adapt to life in a volatile world, so too must our armed forces.
Collaboration and partnership will play a major part.
But we should not forget the principles and values which guide us. They are the same today as those which steered our predecessors through two World Wars, a cold war, and the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
We must show our resolve against tyranny and terrorism. We must support those who seek the freedoms we take for granted. And we must fight to make the world a better place for the next generation.
As President Obama said last week in Westminster Hall, “if we fail to take that responsibility, who would take our place?”