Hopefully you will get a reply of some sort. However, my suspicious and sceptical nature thinks that it will be just like the letters page in soldier magazine. They will only publish replies to letters that they can answer with a condescending and patronising speech from some civil servant.
I'll bet my bottom boll0ck the timing of his web chat will coincide with some other important Defence announcement, thereby taking him out of the loop. Only pre-arranged questions will be answered and they can slip in some other piece of bad news while he's on his webcam.
The PM states his argument clearly: that he believes in the need to maintain and apply "hard power" as a foreign policy tool. On face value, this does not seem in the slightest contentious. However, when placed into contemporary and historical real-world context, and combined with his words elsewhere in the lecture, the "application" of "hard power" - warfighting to effect policy - becomes somewhat problematic.
The PM said: There are two types of nations similar to ours today. Those who do war fighting and peacekeeping and those who have, effectively, except in the most exceptional circumstances, retreated to the peacekeeping alone.
The direct implication from this paragraph is that war fighting should be considered as "normal" not an "exceptional" tool of foreign policy.
My first question is thus:
- What is the 'benchmark' for the appropriate use of "hard power"?
[This could be expressed in terms of international legitimacy, legal and moral justification, or the nature and level of inappropriate action that the 'receiving state' is enacting.]
Second, and following on from the first, the PM said, as a justification/excuse in respect of the use of "hard power" in 2003: with Saddam consistently refusing to abide by UN Resolutions and with alarm at the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Iraq was invaded.
With hindsight, we know that Iraq did not posses WMD, was not actively pursuing an advanced or even low-level WMD programme, and at best - as reported by the CIA lead Iraq Survey Group - was only intending or desiring of such a future programme. Contemporary, as well as future history, will record this conflict as being based upon false assumptions. Even the non-adherence to UNSC resolutions is a weak point, since, with no WMD Iraq was indeed abiding the intent - if not the spirit - of the Resolutions; they were simply not allowing the verification demanded by the International Community.
In effect, the invasion was down solely to Saddam not allowing US agents into his palaces - unless you buy into the oil theory!
No, I'm not suggesting, that that was the reason for war. I believe that both the Bush Administration and HMG were duped into believing a false reality. However, and here's the real-world problem to an academic argument: other states may choose to use "hard power" actions justified by tenuous evidence - which may or may not be factual - and point to Iraq 2003 as a precedent. This is not a situation that I feel comfortable with.
The perception of the reasons and justifications for the Iraq war (in particular) in Washington and London are, right or wrong, in complete contrast to the perceptions held elsewhere: Paris, Berlin and Moscow hold one, the Islamic world another, and so on...
So, my second question is thus:
- Who determines which perception is valid prior to the application of violence?
[Historians, of course, generally determine a post conflict verdict.]
And finally, with the 'benchmark' I allude to in my first question appearing to many as having been set rather low, my third question is thus:
- What efforts are being made to codify and obtain international agreement on where this 'benchmark' should be?
[Or, is it deliberately being left unstated so that 'we' can interpret it as we deem fit - thus leaving the door wide open (as we are now) to cries of hypocrisy?]
I don't expect he will. These are just the sort of questions that HMG chooses to dodge, or, if they do respond, head off by going off on a tangent.
However, by sending in the questions, I cannot be accused of either apathy or complacency. By placing the questions in this forum - and I encourage others to do so - a far wider audiance will be able to judge just what sort of issues he and HMG are choosing to dodge.
The Prime Minister has said that the nation's covenant with the military has been broken. The pay and morale of the soldiers I command is poor, and their accomodation is worse than that of most British prisoners. We are fighting two wars which are impossible to win with the current strategy, using vehicles that provide no protection. Soldiers are dying due to lack of basic equipment. Cheap ammunition was sent to the most desperate fighting in Afghanistan, causing crucial weapons to jam. We are spending billions on a nuclear weapons system that we don't need, but little on the military medical service and battlefield helicopters that we need desperately. Dispatches showed a casualty suffering due to lack of helicopters to evacuate him to hospital. My question is: Why should I stay in the Army and risk my life for New Labour?"
On a related note, (and completely coincidental to the article today in the Scum about the cost of keeping the criminally insane in luxury), I called with my son today who is serving in NI. I was completely disgusted at the standard of accommodation the guys had to put up with. (Please believe me, I know how lucky he is compared with you troops currently on operations and the conditions you are enduring along with incoming as well, did 10 years a lifetime ago!!), but if this is typical of the standard of accommodation you guys and girls have to put up with in UK in this day and age, Jesus, how do we ever hope to address morale, retention, and other welfare related issues when we don't even give our troops a decent billet when they return from ops?
I have worked in law enforcement since getting out, and I have to say, we would not be allowed to house prisoners or those in for questioning in the conditions I observed today. Indeed, the bleeding heart brigade would be championing their Human Rights with rules, regulations, and threats of court action within 24 hours.
Aside from the general "housekeeping" issues, (broken windows, leaking sinks / showers / washing machines, etc), there were real H&S issues which in "civvy strasse" would result in disciplinary actions on senior management, if not legal action.
I would like to ask the defence secretary, when have you visited troops in accommodation, really spoke to them about their conditions, (as if you give a toss), and would you or Tony like to have your son live in what I can only describe as institutionalised squalor while you and your cronies feed like the pigs you are at the trough of your own selfish, "lets shaft everyone for our own good" lives.
Make me sick, the lot of them!!!
Mike Alderson: Is the defence budget sufficient given current commitments and general foreign policy?
Des replies: As the Prime Minister said last week, we need to make sure that our armed forces have the funding they need to carry out the vital tasks we have given them. We all accept that our troops are busier than we planned. We have invested heavily in our armed forces over the last ten years - in giving them the equipment and protection they need. We will continue to do so. You should be aware that the extra costs of operations like Iraq and Afghanistan do not come out of the ordinary defence budget. I am satisfied that we get enough money from the reserve to meet our current commitments.
Rachel Simpson: The Prime Minister called in the speech for a "debate" on defence issues. How can people like me, with a vested interest in the Armed Forces becaue of relatives, join this debate? We feel like that our concerns we are not listened to
Des replies: Like you I know how important it is for the public to understand the hard and dangerous work the forces do on our behalf which is why I am glad the PM has called for a wider public debate. I understand why someone like you would want to join this debate - it matters a lot to you. We want to hear from people like you. There are a number of ways you can take part. You can of course write to me. You will have your own member of Parliament, whose job it is to represent your views and interests whatever your politics. In addition, there are many organisations, from expert groups to groups that represent forces families. If you want the detail, go to www.mod.uk and click on 'contact us'.
Adam Jeff: The proposed replacement for Trident would not be independent of the US. The US has and will continue for the foreseeable future to retain a nuclear deterrent which it would presumably use on any state which attacked us with WMD. So why waste so much money on our own deterrent?
Des replies: Our nuclear deterrent is, and will continue to be, independent. We explained in the White Paper why we need a deterrent and why we must fill that need ourselves rather than relying on any other state.