The prime responsibility government is to defend the nation against threats from any would-be enemy and to ensure that we have adequate defence capability and trained personnel to support our chosen objectives. The prime responsibility of any military is to act on the decisions made by government and to defend the nation and its national interests.
Whether strong defence is achieved through the deterrent threat of force or its ultimate use, in the age that we live in today it remains pivotal and no country can afford to allow shortcomings in defence capability.
As has been the case for many years past we rightly place Air Power and the role of the Royal Air Force as being the most immediate response when we or any of our NATO allies are threatened. We look to the Royal Navy to deal with threats at range, to protect trade routes, infrastructure at sea, to provide the nuclear deterrent capability and to protect our remaining dependent territories. In the immediate future, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy will together provide the all-important elements of rebuilt Carrier Strike capability. Protecting our assets against the threats of cyber-attack and our playing a far more active role in space and defending our own assets are necessary requirements.
The UK Government recognises all of this and we earnestly hope that it also recognises that for too long priorities of strong defence have been allowed to slip down the agenda. Of course, it is right that defence and security are subjects of a five yearly review process but let us hope that as we move into SDSR 2020 we do not close our eyes to the increased level of threats that we now all face. While it is perfectly true that defence procurement is riddled with past mistakes it is equally true that defence has for too long been underfunded.
Between them, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy provide a diverse range constant deterrent capability and our combat aircraft capability not only provides this but also lies at the at the heart of UK hard power, something that remains fundamental to our national security. Protecting the capability and assets that we have wherever these are deployed remains as important today as it ever was and the loss of the remotely piloted US surveillance aircraft to by Iran last year and the ground attack that killed three Americans at a US military base in Kenya yesterday are potent reminders of the risk to military assets and personnel and of why the UK has rightly long placed strong emphasis on RAF Regiment ‘Force Protection’ capability.
As UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace fires the opening salvo’s of yet another five-year Defence and Security Review process events over the past few days are a timely reminder that the world is once again facing up to the possible implications of another major geo-political crisis.
Rightly or wrongly the US has made a very significant move through the air attack at Bagdad Airport that killed Iranian military leader General Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds military force. That this single move is a serious blow to the Iranian leadership is without question and how the Iranian Government chooses to respond will set the scene for a either a potentially serious escalation of tension across the Middle East region or lead to an intense round of international diplomacy in order to defuse events. We will of course support our US allies and make no mistake, although we are unlikely to be directly drawn into the Iran crisis outside of providing protection for shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, Iran sees us in no different light to how they see the US.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson along with other world leaders are absolutely right to call for restraint and de-scalation one fears that neither side in this long running ‘cold war’ between Iran and the US is about to listen.
In the meantime, the world has little choice but to await whatever Iran chooses to do in respect of promised retaliation.
The same is true in Washington DC although somehow, I imagine that many senior officials are running around the White House trying to calm and de-escalate a situation that, without internal and external political pressure, could yet seriously worsen.
This is of course an election year in the US and Donald Trump who for the majority of the past near four years has taken a more cautionary stance in respect of Middle East involvement to the point of reducing military personnel numbers may well be gambling that by taking a more belligerent and decisive role increasing the pressure on Iran will not only play to his benefit in the November election but might also play a part in defusing the impending Impeachment trial. That is not to suggest that I believe Trump was wrong and that the Americans have far more intelligence of what Iran has been planning in regard or Iraq but it is nonetheless unfortunate in respect of timing.
Iraq which has found itself at the centre of a proxy war between Iran and the US for so long remains a tinder box in the affairs of the Middle East. Iraq as a nation and its economy will likely remain in a mess and I doubt that whatever evolves over the next year will decide the future course of this long troubled Middle East state.
Israel must also be vigilant in respect of the view that Iran takes from her and remains under constant threat. None of this is where we would like to be and our belief and hope that a democratic system of government will remain the prime focus in Iraq and that somehow, the broken economy can and will be rebuilt on a the back of this and on a basis of trust in government remains but that said, only the bravest amongst us could believe that a positive outcome will be the end result.
Syria too remains an obstacle to Middle East progress and somehow I doubt that we have seen the last of Islamic State, ISIS or if you please, ISIL Yemen is another all but forgotten crisis and Sub-Saharan Africa, states for instance such as Somalia where the US also has troops on the ground supporting African Union troops is another ‘war’ that has long term implications for world peace. For now, Russia and China have chosen to remain on the side-lines in respect of recent events in the Middle East Gulf Region.
So, one hopes that our Secretary of State for Defence, our Prime Minister and his advisors really recognise that although defence rarely wins votes it remains the primary responsibility of Government and must be properly funded not only on the basis of ability to meet our ambitions and commitments but in order to face a level of threat that is unlikely to decrease.
CHW (London – 6th January 2020)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785