Following on from my own commentary piece yesterday in which sought to remind of the independent review produced by a former Minister Defence Procurement, the Rt Hon Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow in 2018 at the behest of then Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson I am this morning with his permission and specifically due to its ongoing importance and continuing relevance, republishing a ‘think piece’ written by Lieutenant General (retired) Sir Simon Mayall in February this year – a month before the Government published its ‘Integrated Review’ strategy paper – that was sent to Michael Gove(Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) and Kwasi Kwartang (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy).
Clearly, the message contained was aimed at all government departments then engaged in formulating the ‘Integrated Review’ strategy process – HM Treasury, Ministry of Defence, Department for International Trade, Foreign and Commonwealth office and Home Office.
This in my humble opinion is an extremely well written ‘note’ and I take the view that just because the ‘Integrated Review’ process is theoretically complete in respect of a now decided forward strategy, it is one that I believe the due to its ongoing relevance the lessons it provides should not be lost.
I have known and respected Sir Simon Mayall for many years. His senior Army military experience combined with his subsequent Defence Senior Advisor Middle East position ensure that the message imparted in a ‘note’ such as this should not be ignored by those to whom it was intended. Suffice to say that within the ‘Integrated Review’ itself there is evidence that some advice has been taken on board by HMG but as many of us know from our own experience of reading IR, not nearly enough.
Lieutenant General (retired) Sir Simon Mayall KBE CB had a long and distinguished Army career including as Deputy Chief of Defence Staff Operations from 2009 to 2011. From 2011 to 2014 he was (the first) Defence Senior Adviser (Middle East) during which time he was responsible for helping establish the new Royal Navy Support Base in Bahrain. In 2014/15 he acted as the PM’s Security Envoy to Iraq. Sir Simon holds an MA in Modern History from the University of Oxford and an MA in International Relations from King’s College London.
His book ‘Soldier in the Sand – A Personal History of the Modern Middle East’ which I have personally read and was published in Autumn 2020 is highly recommended.
‘Global Britain’ should maximise the advantages of its ‘globally-minded’ Armed Forces
BLUF: Britain’s Armed Forces are vital for the UK’s defence and security, but in post-Brexit Britain they should play an increasingly important role in Britain’s prosperity.
In support of ‘Global Britain’ the PM/Chancellor/Business Secretary/Cabinet Minister should seek a briefing from HMT, FCDO, DIT and MOD as to:
- How the UK Armed Forces could be better directed to give more effective support to the UK’s ‘Prosperity agenda and what can be done to make ‘Defence Engagement’ more efficient and effective.
- The United Kingdom is already a ‘global nation’, with global reach and influence. It is evident worldwide, in laws, administrative structures, literature, technology, fashion, culture, architecture, and also in many other nation’s armed forces, whose organization and ethos reflect the continuing admiration and respect for the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. Britain is at the heart of the UN; NATO; the Commonwealth; the ‘Anglosphere’; the Trans-Atlantic partnership. Such linkages enhance our security, help mitigate challenges, but they also enable our prosperity.
- In post-Brexit Britain, securing national advantages from being ‘Global Britain’ is at the heart of this Government’s aspirations. In this ambition it requires the Government and all Ministries to embrace the concept, philosophy, responsibilities, consequences and opportunities this implies, not least the Ministry of Defence, which has always understood its potential to deliver important influence, but has not always had the firm direction to do so. Sadly, an attitude of underplaying the UK’s deep reservoir of influence has pervaded too much of the British establishment for too long, not least in the old FCO, where many senior officials doubted Britain’s capacity to thrive as a sovereign nation. The primary role of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces is clearly to defend the United Kingdom, the British people, and British interests, but there are also significant national economic advantages of investment in the Armed Forces which are not always well-known, and not always well articulated:
- training, education, fitness and ‘up-skilling’;
- youth engagement through the cadet forces;
- support to defence, construction and service industries;
- research and development
- However, in addition, the same Armed Forces also contribute overseas to deterrence and reassurance, to intelligence-gathering and capacity building, and by favoring ‘prevention’ over ‘cure’. This ‘Defence Engagement’ (DE), officially defined as ‘the use of our people and assets to prevent conflict, build stability and gain influence’, has become increasingly important, and the presence and contribution of the British Armed Forces remains widely and enthusiastically welcomed by partners, friends and allies. When you think small, you act small, and when you act small you will be treated as small. The recent ‘settlement’ for Defence is not simply hugely welcome in its own right, but it speaks volumes about how Britain sees its place in the world.
- Britain continues to be militarily engaged across the globe, in a way that actively serves British security interests, but which also supports the vital economic interests of our ‘prosperity agenda’. Last year, alongside our enduring, extensive overseas ‘footprint’ of Defence Attaches and Loan Service officers, the British Army had:
6000 troops deployed on over 30 operations, from Poland and Estonia, to Mali and Afghanistan.
350 Short Term Training Teams, totalling 2000 personnel, helping counter Boko Haram in Nigeria; assisting in the pre-deployment training of African nations going to Somalia; carrying out counter-IED training in Pakistan; and delivered humanitarian training and assistance in the Caribbean and South Asia.
a further 30,000 troops training abroad.
C.100 overseas officer cadets trained at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force could point to similar records of high-tempo overseas activity, and UK-based training.
- Every one of these military engagements gave the British government, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Intelligence Services, British defence industries, our huge world-wide expatriate community, and British interests in-the-round, more influence, more access, and greater regard. In addition, this insatiable global appetite for British military presence, training and expertise led to thousands of officers, soldiers, civil servants, engineers and industrialists from partner countries coming to the United Kingdom, with all the advantages that brings.
- As a former Defence Senior Adviser Middle East, and the officer with responsibility for helping establish our naval base in Bahrain, our first permanent military base ‘East of Suez for over 50 years, I can speak directly to the enthusiasm that this move was greeted across the Gulf states.
- Our armed forces, and the capabilities within them, represent ‘sunk costs’ for the nation. That investment is demanded by the spectrum of real and potential threats and challenges that face us, and by the range of commitments we have made. However, for marginal additional costs, and the proper mindset and political direction, we can routinely use elements of our force structure and harness them to the broader requirements of British national interest, not least our economy and our ‘Prosperity agenda’. Prosperity and security are inextricably interlinked and in his response to the implications of the forthcoming Integrated Security Review, the Chief of the General Staff, professional head of the Army wrote:
‘We will enhance our persistent presence around the world alongside the RAF, Navy, Government departments and private sector, to ensure greater anticipation and to move faster to achieve advantage. These will provide ‘lily pads’ to enable understanding, change narratives, provide reassurance to allies and deterrence for adversaries and to secure economic interests for the promotion of shared prosperity. In short, they will give the UK more strategic choice and influence’.
Our investment in the British armed forces, and the intelligence services, has always been, and will continue to be, a major factor in our national political, diplomatic and economic strength. Among other advantages it underpins the ‘Special Relationship’ with the US and it should be an important factor in securing a future free trade agreement with the US. It also gives us influence among UN and NATO members. And then there is our commitment to the French-led operation in Mali which was rightly ‘leveraged’ by our negotiators during the Brexit debate. Finally there is the new British naval base in Bahrain should help with a GCC free trade agreement committing to a ‘persistent’, if not permanent, military presence in the Far East (several important Commonwealth partners, not least India, and all our Anglosphere colleagues, are in the Indo-Pacific region) would act as a huge incentive when pushing for Britain’s accession to the CPTTP. We would be building on the existing Five Power Defence Agreement (FPDA).
- However, we also make things difficult for ourselves, especially when compared to the US and French approaches to Defence Engagement:
- We do not invest enough in language training, or DE career paths.
- We have very restrictive ‘charging rules’, set by HMT, which hampers our capacity to offer courses and training to friends and allies.
- We do not build enough training ‘spare capacity’ into our force structure to meet the potential training and DE demands.
- We do not have a properly ‘joined up’ relationship between FCDO, MOD, Defence Services Organisation (DSO) and British industry (not simply the defence industries), supported by firmly articulated Government direction.
- We have lacked ambition and energy to exploit opportunities.
- ‘Defence Engagement’ is in our blood, and our servicemen and women thrive on it. ‘Global Britain’ requires, and is well served by, a globally-minded armed forces. We do much of this well, and by instinct, but we could do it even better with a more imaginative and ambitious mindset, and greater political engagement, support and direction.
Brexit and ‘Global Britain’ offer opportunities, and reasons, for this Government to capitalize on the UK’s global position and reputation, including that of our highly capable and credible armed forces. Our ‘soft power’ influence is hugely enhanced by our ‘hard power’ capabilities. This Government should aspire to commit the UK’s Armed Forces to an ambitious global posture, in a manner that inspires those who serve in them, contributes to the confidence and stability of our friends and allies, deters those who threaten our interests, and which will make an important contribution to our vital national prosperity agenda.
Lieutenant General (retired) Sir Simon Mayall was the first Defence Senior Adviser Middle East, and was responsible for helping establish the new Royal Navy Support Base in Bahrain. His book, ‘Soldier in the Sand – A Personal History of the Modern Middle East’, was published in Autumn 2020.
CHW (London – 9th April 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785