Sultan [of Oman]’s Armed Forces Association annual dinner

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Lord Astor of Hever, DL, Under Secretary of State.

Your Excellency, General Achmed, My Lord, members of the Sultan’s Armed Forces Association and honoured guests.

It’s a privilege to say a few words at tonight’s annual dinner.

We meet at a time of great change and great uncertainty.

War in Afghanistan; revolution in north Africa; unrest in Syria.

Bin Laden and Gaddafi are dead; Mladić and Mubarak are on trial.

The world has faced nuclear disaster in Japan.

And it’s confronting financial disaster in Europe.

At times like these, it is only natural to look to one’s allies and friends for support, for reassurance, for solidarity.

Britain and Oman have been tried and trusted friends for many years.

We have shared values, shared interests, and shared history.

This association is a fine example of the links that bind us together.

And I’m proud to have a strong, personal connection to Oman through my late godfather, Colonel David Smiley.

As many of you will know, David was the first Commander of the Sultan’s armed forces.

His stories of British servicemen and Omanis fighting side by side made a deep and lasting impression on me.

It taught me that there is nothing like shared sacrifice to bind people together.

It’s what makes this association so special.

Indeed, the association was formed in 1968 at a time of great difficulty for Oman.

A time when the country was seeking a new unity and a modern identity.

A time when the struggle against the Dhofar rebels and communists was going badly.

A time when Oman needed the support of its friends.

What turned things around?

The enlightenment of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said in the progressive policies he pursued; the transformation of the Sultan’s armed forces; and the support of friends like Britain.

These are the foundations of the modern, peaceful, and prosperous Oman the world sees today.

Of course, the process of reform and modernisation rarely lets up, political stagnation is just as dangerous as social and economic stagnation.

That is why the responsible way that His Majesty is responding to the Arab Spring is so important.

But tonight I want return to that successful struggle in Dhofar, because the lessons of 40 years ago do have strong resonance with the security challenges we face today.

Many factors contributed to that success.

But let me pull out just three.

First, there was an active, reforming, modernising government which recognised it had to earn people’s loyalty, not just expect it.

Second, it was accepted that fighting an insurgency is about people not territory, hearts, minds, and livelihoods were the key to making sure that the Jibalis looked to the Firqat not the Adoo.

Third, it was imperative that the counter-insurgency was progressively led by Omanis for Omanis.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because many elements of the counter-insurgency strategy pursued by the SAF in Dhofar read across to Afghanistan today.

Lord Stirrup made much the same point in his excellent article in the latest SAF Association journal.

From your own experience, you know that a successful counter-insurgency requires mass which can only be provided by an outside force for so long.

So it requires indigenous security forces that are effective and trusted by the people.

It requires a re-integration and reconciliation process that can only be successful if it truly addresses people’s legitimate hopes for the future.

And most of all counter-insurgency requires patience and an ability to keep faith during the difficult periods.

The lessons of the past continue to influence the warfare of today, even as the character of modern warfare evolves.

And just as it was 40 years ago, the requirement for friends, allies and partners remains essential.

That’s why we in Britain value our friendship with Oman as highly as we ever have.

In recent years both sides have acted to boost the already high levels of interaction.

From the Queen’s hugely successful state visit to Oman last year to the delegation we received in London this week and the attendance here tonight of so many friends from Oman, relationships are blossoming.

General Achmed, you know how much my wife and I enjoy visiting the Sultanate and catching up with our friends there, it really is a stunningly beautiful place.

And General, I treasure the COSSAF cuff links and tie that you gave me.

I wear them often and proudly.

Defence co-operation remains the underpinning foundation of our friendship.

Many Omanis attend prestigious courses such as RCDS; Dartmouth; Cranwell; and Sandhurst, as His Majesty the Sultan did before them.

They typify the professionalism of the Omani Armed Forces, well trained and highly motivated.

The Loan Service Personnel in Oman, our largest team deployed anywhere in the world, now advise and discuss issues, rather than instruct or implement.

But this is not just about personnel exchanges.

We train together; we collaborate on equipment; we share views on emerging threats.

The recent successful cyber conference in Muscat is an example of the new thinking for the new security environment that is taking place.

Britain listens with great attention to what Oman has to say.

The situation in Yemen or Iran, security in the straits of Hormuz, and tackling the scourge of modern piracy, to name but a few areas of joint concern.

The recent pirate attacks, almost within hailing distance of the port of Salalah, show what a direct threat this poses.

Both our countries have worked hard to maintain and build on the firm relationship we now enjoy.

Friendships like ours are sustained by renewal each generation, by the constant exchanges of people, ideas, and goods.

And by the personal contacts that make for good business and good relations.

It is only with those face to face relationships that we can share ideas, be honest and open, confront and resolve misunderstandings, and deal with any difficulties that might cloud even the best of friendships.

I want to thank everyone here tonight for your contribution to that process.

In particular I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of the SAF Association, not only for keeping memories alive, but by forging new relationships with new generations and boosting links at government and at a social level.

I hope that the camaraderie born out of service in the Sultan’s armed forces will continue to enrich all your lives and ensure that the unbreakable bonds between our two great nations flourish long into the future.