Political desire for Armed Forces operations

Discussion in 'Staff College and Staff Officers' started by alfred_the_great, Oct 10, 2010.

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  1. The Guardian is running extracts from Jonathan Powell's latest book, which has some interesting insights into the politicians view about the use of force:

    Jonathan Powell: general's outburst endangered British forces in Iraq | UK news | The Guardian

    Disregarding the stuff about CGS (it's all be done before), it's interesting that Powell believes the increase in public awareness of the Armed Forces will lead to us being deployed less and less:

    "The sort of surprise attack that Dannatt launched will make political leaders think twice if military action is proposed in future, certainly if the military engagement is likely to be sustained over a year or more. Our armed forces will no longer be deployed so regularly and will lose their cutting edge. We will gradually become more like Germany and other continental countries, unable to put our armed forces in harm's way. That is a choice, but one we should make consciously and not just stumble into it. It would be another step towards losing the ability to control our destiny as a country, a far more important one than sharing our sovereignty in Nato or the EU. Already we have lost the capacity to fight major operations by ourselves. We could no longer muster a taskforce like the one Britain sent to the Falklands."

    This is coming from a man who survived front-line politics for ten years, so like, or dis-like his Political views, his political understanding should not be under-estimated.

    Perhaps we have made a rod for our own backs, and will subsequently look back to Iq and Afg as the highpoint from which we will gradually decline.

    Thoughts? Comments?
  2. History is cyclic... what we are seeing now has all happened before and it will all happen again (Apologies to the Cylons amongst you).

    We weaken our forces until a genuine existencial threat appears which shows the politicians the naivety of their liberal ways. Millions die who may otherwise have lived, the forces are rebuilt at a far greater cost than maintaining a sensible deterent, the threat is eventually defeated once the gloves come off, peace eventually prevails, the forces are seen as not necessary and are in turn weakened again and so the cycle continues.

    If you have to fight a war it should be about defending yourself against an aggressor, you must fight it to win, at whatever cost, all other considerations become secondary. Anything less is a betrayal.
  3. Mmm... where to start? Perhaps with: "The sort of surprise attack that Dannatt launched will make political leaders think twice if military action is proposed in future, certainly if the military engagement is likely to be sustained over a year or more.

    Maybe it would be a good idea to double-check the maths before opting for military action in the future. The Blair government applied force in support of government policy like somebody who had read the summary chapter of "Clausewitz for Dummies", while waiting for Amazon to deliver the next Harry Potter. They understood that the military was a tool of government, but failed to grasp the more intricate details of how to put it to use.

    There is strong support for the argument that in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan we were let out of the bottle without a clear strategic mission to achieve, merely operational and tactical tasks to complete. Without that endstate in sight, there could be no handover of the situation from a military lead, back to the politicians to deliver the 'killing blow'. Instead, extra tasks were continually added to the deployed forces to-do lists, moving the stated desired end-state further to the right. Whether intentional or not, this has the effect of making it look like the troops have yet to achieve the mission, and not that the Government has failed to close the loop and brought the situation to a controlled stop using diplomacy.

    In addition to this, the third side of the triangle (i.e. the people) also needs to see that strategic endstate delivered by the people they voted into power. Powell blithely papers over the lack of support for current operations (as opposed to support for those deployed on operations), ignoring the fact that people don't really understand why we are where we are, how we got there, and when we're getting out, because the government hasn't explained it to them fully. From the start of an operation, the strategic aims need to be delivered like a DIT-approved lesson - "tell them what your going to do; do it; tell them what you did".

    Standing by for comment.

  4. I think Darktan has precisely the right of it. Powell utterly fails to grasp that strategy is the politicians' purview, advised by the military and the best ever summary of strategy I've heard is "what good looks like". A failure to define what is to be achieved leaves the professional military flapping around, performing tasks at the operational and tactical level, in the case of the British Army, with a high degree of competence; but without a clear vision of the desired outcome, it's hard to visualise what effects need to be generated to achieve it - and impossible to assess what resources will be required in order to generate those effects.

    The more I look at the quote above, actually, the more my annoyance increases. How dare he cast the blame for the appalling strategic failure the government of the day created on the courageous intervention in the public debate of a profoundly honourable Chief of the General Staff, at significant cost to himself in career and reputational terms.
  5. Darktan, whilst I appreciate your argument, the corollary to it is that we never deploy: the Colin Powell doctrine writ large. If we demand the level of strategy that includes:

    "why we are where we are, how we got there, and when we're getting out"

    then the easy bit is to do nothing. We all know that there were significant forces within all 3 Armed Services to "get involved" in Day 1 operation in 2003 - Lord Boyce didn't just decide to make his representations on a whim.

    Glad - Dannatt may be a hero to (parts) of the Army, but please don't confuse that with him being liked anywhere else. I put this here to avoid it collapsing into Int Cell Dannatt is awesome/an utter c*ck type debate; rather to discuss the wider points of Pol/Mil interaction, especially via the media.
  6. Alfred,

    You're right - the inevitable end to such a confrontation between the political / military interface would be that we would never deploy... but let's face the truth; when making the decision to engage in armed conflict, politicians are seldom controlled by their logic.

    Can Powell, in all honesty, tell us that the New Labour government could ever be put off flexing its muscles in support of the "Blair Doctrine" - they could never back down to the 'do nothing' posture. Firstly, Tony Blair was consumed by his desire to be a world statesman, and the projection of Britain's power onto the international stage through the continued deployment of the Armed Forces was key to sustaining his inflated sense of ego. Secondly, in Blair's defence (and believe me I never thought I would say that), it was important that the UK was engaged in providing a solution to this kind of international conundrum, as only the largest and most self-sufficient nations can afford isolationist policies.

    And finally, on the issue of Gen Dannatt, while I do have my issues with some of his policies and actions (especially those tied closely to his religion) you cannot deny that he knew he was throwing himself on his sword for the greater good when he piped up. I think that at the very least he practiced what he preached in this instance, and showed an admirable amount of moral courage.

  7. Dannatt's a personal hero to me precisely because he made an informed decision to fall on his sword and scupper a first-class career, accepting all the muck and shite which inevitably came his way (and still coming his way, see Powell et seq) in order to make his point. It's clear that his personal popularity doesn't extend much beyond the Army and some elements of the great and the good; it's equally clear that he's not loved by Her Majesty's Opposition and the hangers-on, parasites and unelected operators like Powell who so infested it when it was, God help us, Her Majesty's Government.

    My point above is not that I expect the politicians to have a finely-crafted, fully detailed design for the end state, more that they have given it at least cursory consideration. Further, I don't think it unreasonable to expect that the nation should stretch at least some sinews, logistically as well as politically, if it proposes to deploy deadly force in support of the national interest. Realistically, there was no way we weren't going along with the US in '03; what was a scandal was that the political advantage was perceived to lie in pretending this not to be the case and thus ensuring that some folk crossed the start line wearing temperate combats with 10 x 5.56mm in their magazines.