The Paradigm of Intervention
In the immediate aftermath of publishing its much-maligned Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) the United Kingdom’s coalition government became embroiled in a military adventure in Libya. Somewhat unexpectedly this would shine an intense spotlight on the outcome of the SDSR. It would also provide an immediate opportunity to conduct a detailed assessment of its impact on the United Kingdom’s ability to project military power onto the world stage using the outcome from the campaign to validate the decision-making that took place in the SDSR.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, perhaps tiring of all the criticism of the SDSR, seemed really keen to prove his doubters wrong. At the time of writing, as aircraft from many of the coalition partners involved in the Libyan campaign return home and the newly-recognised National Transitional Council (NTC) gets down to work to create a new Libya, the final outcome is far from certain.
For many commentators the outcome of the military campaign in Libya creates an opportunity to redefine the paradigm of intervention that has arisen since the events in America on 11 September 2001. Upstream activities in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hugely expensive, very complicated and difficult for member states with governments created from electoral mosaics across the political spectrum. As military campaigns they have had to learn whilst ‘in contact’ with our adversaries rather than lay out the doctrine of how to fight a war and then execute that approach.
For David Cameron this was not an approach that was sustainable. It is always difficult during wartime for a political leader to overtly criticize his armed forces. The ongoing military commitment of the United Kingdom provided a huge constraint on the Prime Minister’s freedom of manoeuvre. The general public would not wear any challenge to the military in the open. Cameron has insisted on at least one occasion that he has ‘robust’ discussions with the UK CDS – Sir David Richards.
What the nature of these discussions are one can only speculate, but it is not difficult to imagine that the Prime Minister has a specific set of views on the degree of overlap that exists between some areas of military capability. It is not hard to believe that one of the principles of David Cameron’s approach to defence matters is to imagine that the United Kingdom’s armed forces did have excess capacity that could be taken out. The question was how to do it?
Any leader who tried to place any blame for failure on the armed forces would pay a heavy political price. Cameron has instead not chosen to provide an audible criticism. He has chosen to be far more subtle. Through the mechanism of the SDSR he chose to take out capability that was felt to be redundant for the kind of balanced forms of warfare that he envisaged, with the ODA, the FCO and the MoD playing specific roles within an overall strategy by which the military instrument of power would be applied in the future.
It the heat of the SDSR, and given the speed with which is was undertaken, it is not difficult to imagine that the implications of the some of the decisions taken around the table were not discussed in any great depth. It was an assumed outcome that the force levels would be cut, the only issue was by how much.
Cameron’s doctrine for the United Kingdom’s armed forces has therefore been based on a covert recognition by some close members of the Cabinet that there was a little too much overlap built into the United Kingdom’s military capability. To state that view would have to receive the opprobrium of the press and the British public at large. To hold it covertly, only for its stealthy hand to be revealed in the wake of the SDSR, is a very different matter.
For David Cameron the outcome of the initial phase of the war in Libya will have reinforced his view that it’s now time for NATO to take similar ‘difficult decisions’ and to stop fielding equipment that sustains industries in countries that frankly cannot possibly get value for money out of the investment in equipment. What is needed is bulk buys of equipment from seasoned and expert suppliers. This will be at the heart of the next stage of the reformation on which David Cameron has embarked. It will prove a most difficult challenge. Resolving overlaps in the capabilities of the United Kingdom’s armed forces is one thing. Addressing the wider issues at a European and then NATO level is a very different matter.
AAC Army Air Corps
AAG Air-to-air Gun
APC Armoured Personnel Carrier
AQIM Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
ASaC Airborne Surveillance and Control
AWACS Airborne Early Warning and Control System
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
CJEF Combined Joint Expeditionary Force
COMUKTG Commander United Kingdom Task Group
COIN Counter Insurgency
CSAT Supreme Council of National Defence
FAC Fast Attack Craft
FATA Federally Administered Tribal Area
FEBA Forward Edge of the Battle Area
GAINS Global Positioning System Aided International Navigation System
GPS Global Positioning System
IED Improvised Explosive Device
ICC International Criminal Court
IMINT Image Intelligence
ISAF International Security Assistance Force
ISTAR Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Recognition
JFHQ Joint Force Headquarters
JSF Joint Strike Fighter
JSTARS Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System
MBT Main Battle Tank
MANPAD Man Portable Air Defence
MRLS Multi-Rocket Launch System
MoD Ministry of Defence
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
NEOCC Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation Coordination Cell
NSC National Security Council
NTC National Transitional Council
OAV Other Armoured Vehicles
ODA Overseas Development Aid
OV Other Vehicles
ORBAT Order of Battle
PUT Pick-up Trucks
RAPTOR Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado
RFTG Response Force Task Group
RAF Royal Air Force
RN Royal Navy
SAS Special Air Service
SDSR Strategic Defence and Security Review
SDR Strategic Defence Review
SDT Social Dominance Theory
SIS Secret Intelligence Service
SPG Self-Propelled Guns
TARDIS Tactical Air Reconnaissance Deployable Intelligence System
TIW Tactical IMINT Wing
TLAM Tactical Land Attack Missile
TLC Toyota Land Cruiser
UAE United Arab Emirates
UN United Nations
UNITAR United Nations Institute for Training and Research
UNOSAT UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme
UNSCR United Nations Security Council Resolution