On strategic depth and the need to take a blow

As militaries have developed since the end of the Second World War, they have generally displayed a tendency to shrink in size and increase in value, resembling less the forces of the levee en masse championed by Napoleon than the elite forces of the pre-Napoleonic European aristocracy; dazzling equipped and perfectly drilled, but capable of only fighting one or two battles per campaign.

The genie that the French revolution unleashed was that of enormous forces that could not only take a punch, but withstand a fusillade of attacks and keep fighting; it was this ability of state armies to persist in the field that was to lead to the carnage of the Great War. The resilience of the opposing armies was yet to be fully appreciated, leading to attritional warfare until tactics could mature.

The manoeuvre tactics that broke the trench deadlock and were to mature in the Second World War demonstrated that the great powers had learned how to truly maximise the advantages of their forces, and enabled warfighting to an extent never before seen. Central to the successes of the campaigns in this war was the ability of armies and nations to recover from setbacks; the retreat from Dunkirk, the see-sawing of North Africa, and the initial rout of the Red Army were all turned into victory through the resilience of the combatants.

As armed forces have contracted – a process that has accelerated alarmingly since the fall of the Soviet Union – their ability to sustain losses has likewise atrophied. The Continental European armies of today may field equipment far in advance of anything their commanders of a century ago could imagine, but their capacity for sustained combat is crippled by a lack of personnel; the Belgian army of 1914 (whose surprising resistance to the German invasion so galvanised the Entente, given its comparatively small size) numbered something in the region of 220,000 men, today the entire Belgian military consists of around 25,000 personnel.

This piece is not intended to embody Stalin’s famous quip of quantity having a quality all of its own, sheer volume in military terms is not an end in itself and this reality was evidenced by the far more numerous forces of Germany in 1914 being so drastically blooded by the Belgians. However, success in war is most often bought with blood; Belgium was indeed badly beaten by the German ability to continue in spite of such losses, and the Germans in turn were defeated by the means of the Entente to outlast them in both attritional warfare and the large manoeuvre battles of 1918.

Commanders in every war have known the value of staying power; appreciating the advantages of the nation in arms Napoleon famously announced to the Austrian Klemens von Metternich: “You cannot stop me, I can spend 30,000 men a month”, knowing that his opponent could not hope to face so resilient a force. Such callousness doubtless appears distasteful to a modern reader used to low intensity conflicts such as the Gulf Wars, in which the loss of one Western soldier is presented as a national tragedy, but in wars of national survival the ability to face crushing losses and continue is a priceless capability.

The cashing in of the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War saw many European nations slash military budgets to an eye watering degree, dropping many front-line and reserve units and relegating many capabilities to mere rump units or entirely scrapping them. Further rounds of cuts have seen more progressive downsizing, covered by a mantra of improved training making up in skill what is lacked in mass, but such reasoning defies logic.

Try as they might, no military force can be in two places at once, and both machines and men must rest, recuperate, and repair. Even in an ideal campaign where losses were virtually negligible, forces must be rotated to keep them fresh, but this cannot be achieved without adequate personnel. The general rule for shipping is that ‘two equals one’ – whereby two ships must be possessed to keep one on station (as the other is rested and repaired), the same may be said for soldiers: the average British soldier in the Great War only spent one week in four on the front-line in order to spare his nerves, modern deployments could hardly offer such considerations.

When losses begin to be factored in the picture becomes bleak; against a competent opponent even the most elite forces would begin to take casualties. The steady trickle of losses to IEDs and ambushes in the Middle East in recent years would become a flood in the face of a peer opponent, and there are few Western forces that could sustain a campaign beyond a few weeks; this is symptomatic of decades spent failing to invest in munition stockpiles, vehicular reserves, and a pool of skilled manpower with which to replace combat losses.

It is unfortunate that many once mighty institutions have been reduced to mere glass cannon; defence spending across Europe has reached a crippling low, and even within the framework of NATO many European nations would struggle to deploy a brigade, let alone an army. The Cold War peace dividend has been cashed in, and many nations have found that all it has bought is a fragile defence infrastructure that could no longer deploy forces into asymmetric warfare, let alone face a peer opponent.

As tensions escalate in the face of sabre rattling from both Russia and North Korea the possibility of Western forces facing a major conflict becomes more real, making this issue more pressing than it has been since the fall of the USSR. Whilst the nuclear deterrents in NATO are championed as being a flawless shield against any aggression, the actions of states such as Iran and North Korea have easily demonstrated that the last resort cannot also be the first response; conventional forces must also present a viable threat in order to support policy.

Aside from the need for a large front-line force, complete with reserves, a military must also be supported by a robust logistical backing. The logistics chain must have the same resilience and capacity to absorb losses as the front-line; support forces such as tankers present a potent target to a skilled opponent, and overreliance on a few prized units would make them a major Achilles Heel for any force – advanced warships and fighters are only as versatile as the large and cumbersome craft which keep them moving. Over-centralisation of logistics and materiel are likewise a false economy; there are certainly efficiency savings to be made by avoiding duplication, but placing every strategic egg into one basket could well court disaster; whether by design or accident, a military campaign could be quashed at its outset if the entire munition stockpile were to be destroyed.

In peacetime it is easy to forget the confusion and unexpected disasters that can ensue in war, but such thinking should not be allowed to permeate military planning; several decades of peace have allowed many Western militaries to turn their focus to low-intensity conflicts, and structure themselves accordingly. Such planning has, however, justified the formulation of military forces so small and tokenistic as to no longer even present a speed bump to a more organised foe. Without the depth to suffer losses and setbacks, many of these forces could be swiftly brushed aside or rendered entirely combat ineffective by a single surprise blow. With the mounting tensions in the world many Western governments would be well advised to bite the financial bullet and begin a major re-investment in their military manpower.


Combat robotics

After reading this article http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/its-not-terminator-putins-robot-10240379 I couldn’t help but write down a few thoughts on combat robotic systems.

There is no denying that advances in robotics technology has utterly revolutionised warfare in the past decade, from the means of moving munitions aboard a ship, to clearing mines, to delivering precision munition strikes automated systems have enabled a rapidity and flexibility of military action never before imagined. Despite the utility of these systems, however, the ethics and legality of war have never been more open for debate – as human being are ever increasingly cut from the loop of deadly decision making our ability to control the wars we initiate may be incrementally decreased.

Combat drone systems may currently rely on human operators, but as the technology progresses it will be increasingly constrained by the processing power of the human brain – robotic swarms and nanite systems are already being researched that will necessarily require an automated decision making process in order to operate, and from this stage it is only a small step to allowing for a fully automated robot able to make its own decisions on whether to kill.

This may sound like the hysterical protestations of a digital luddite, but it should be remembered how much of the science fiction of the past has become science fact today; people are accustomed to the idea of ‘killer robots’ in films they watch, but seemingly unable to grasp that such technologies are already under development. A prevalent argument is that these dangerous technologies are “still a long way off” and that therefore it is not worth considering potential ramifications just yet, however drone technology already exists and is as yet unfettered by a codified international law; it is better to prepare for the worst now than only begin to plan when things are too far gone to halt.

There is an interesting area of debate surrounding the possibility of deciding whether certain avenues of research should simply not be explored, and I believe that combat robotics should near the top of this list, alongside biological weaponry and certain designs of nuclear weapon that were thankfully discontinued during the Cold War.

Whilst I fully advocate the use of battlefield drones as a vital asset in modern warfare, completing the three-D missions (those which are dull, dirty, and dangerous) to a superb standard, a human being should always be in the loop in terms of their control. There may be certain modest gains to be made from allowing machines the autonomy to decide for themselves when to act, but – at risk of entering into an argumental cliche – this begins a slippery slope whose abyssal bottoms should well remain unplumbed. The downing of Iran Air Flight 655, we should remember, was a result of an automated system telling its human crew that it had spotted a target; such mistakes will invariably occur when human judgement is not involved. The consequences of automated defence systems may run far greater, and the most terrifying example of a malfunction I have listed below. So long as wars are fought for human goals, the participants should also be human; it is not simply that the idea of machines deciding who should live or die is distasteful, but that the inevitable consequence of them being granted such power would be too appalling for the mind to truly comprehend.



Further thoughts on international aid

I recently wrote a piece on here detailing my thoughts on the need to improve the means by which the United Kingdom delivers aid internationally, and recent events seem to be necessitating a drastic overhaul of our approach to crises.

The United Nations recently announced that we are facing the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War, with more than 20 million people in Central Africa and Yemen facing famine and in dire need of support, but this has received far too little attention. When I saw this announced on the BBC, it received but a passing mention, with significantly more air time being granted to allegations of sexism in the British cycling team.

The general lack of focus on military and international affairs in the news is something a pet peeve of mine, and I will refrain from plunging down that rabbit hole here, but I believe that this presents one of the greatest obstacles to decisive action. When coverage of crises such as these is limited to a few clips in the news, the public reaction will likewise be limited, and without pressure from the public democratic governments will be less inclined to make the effort necessary to avert the crisis.

It was telling that in the latest budget announcement, no mention was made of either military spending or foreign aid; in a time of such international unrest and with such a disaster is unfolding it is surprising that the Chancellor should be so quiet, but amidst the furor over National Insurance there has been effectively no scrutiny of what remained unsaid.

Whilst it is unfortunate that the government has, as yet, made no real statement towards addressing the crisis that is unfolding, it is easy to understand why. The regions that have been affected are in a state of turmoil, and any aid programme would require a significant deployment of resources and personnel that are currently lacking. With the British military as stretched as it is, they would be hard pressed to make a significant contribution alone – such a situation would require the aid of the U.N.

Such action should be a united effort, with 20 million lives at stake across four nations the world as a whole should be taking action, but a crisis of this scale should prompt the U.K. to take a look at the tools at our disposal to act in the event of crisis. As I wrote in my last piece, our International Aid budget is sadly hampered by the bureaucratic strings attached to its utility, and it often fails to translate into meaningful action.

The need for dedicated hospital and relief ships was the central point of the previous article, but there is no need to end the process of reevaluating the aid budget with the purchase of platforms. It would be to Britain’s credit to use the budget to fund the creation of a full-time aid organisation; rather than rely on the badly stretched military and volunteer forces, the creation of a permanent force of aid workers would allow for a rapid and decisive response to crises that emerged. By having an asset such as this Britain would be put at the spearhead of many badly needed relief efforts and be a useful asset to the United Nations.

Such a force would not need to be enormous, if one were to compare – Doctors without Borders currently employ some 30,000 with a budget of approximately £616,000, by contrast the British foreign aid budget for 2015 was £12.2 billion. If some of that money were invested in personnel and equipment, a sizable organisation could be funded whilst still allowing large volumes of capital to be left available for the resources needed to support their operation. Rather than relying on local infrastructure, a well funded force of relief workers could be deployed and ensure that aid could be delivered exactly where it was needed.

Naturally, the creation of such a force would be a lengthy process with high initial outlay for training and equipping, but the long-term advantage it would present in terms of employment, value for money in terms of the aid budget, and diplomatic capital would make such a scheme a huge investment for Britain and afford a better chance to help those in need across the globe.

This effort is unlikely to be made, however, without public pressure. These matters will never be addressed if they are not discussed, and we run the risk of the aid budget remaining as little more than a token lip-service to good will. As an internationally minded country the United Kingdom has an obligation to provide assistance to the most vulnerable, and if the government is sincere in its commitment to providing foreign aid then they should be pressed to ensure that the money devoted to it is used to its fullest potential.

[EDIT] Since writing this piece both the British government and people have pledged a huge sum in support of the crisis in question, to their enormous credit, and coverage of events has intensified. Nonetheless, the means of delivery still appear lacking in this observer’ mind. A structured, centrally supplied and directed body with personnel and vehicular resources would be a major asset and allow the next crisis to be met before it hit breaking point.

[NEW EDIT: OCTOBER 2017] In the past few weeks the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary have been deployed to the Caribbean on an enormous aid mission after several devastating hurricanes. In the immediate aftermath came the scandalous (and scandalously under-reported) realisation that the much-acclaimed Foreign Aid budget would not be allowed to be spent to cover the relief effort. Whilst under current regulations aid may be spent to support states like India (which has an active space programme and nuclear arsenal), the funds were not permitted to be spent on the British Virgin Islands (a British Overseas Territory for whose wellbeing the UK is directly responsible, and which suffered damage to 80% of its buildings in the hurricane). If this revelation is not proof that a drastic re-think in how the Foreign Aid Budget is employed, I am not sure what is.

On Arms Control

Arms limitation has been a hope of many states and leaders in the modern world, and indeed it may be seen that efforts at controlling the impact of war have largely mirrored the ability of war to impact upon society at large.

Within the Middle Ages the Catholic Church attempted to control not only the spread of war amongst Christians, but the tools with which it was fought; the use of crossbows, for example, was proscribed by the Church. The power of the crossbow and the ease of its use presented a destabilising threat to the societal order of the day and the Church, as the assumed international guardians of society, were alarmed by its potential. Despite the ban in 1139, the crossbow was too powerful a weapon to be ignored and was widely adopted across Europe for use against both heathens and Christians in the wars of the age.

As enlightenment spread in the centuries to follow, weapons control remained rather low on the agenda of most states, but the development of ever more powerful infantry weapons saw some interesting efforts to limit the destructive potential of war. The Puckle Gun, designed in 1718, saw an interesting effort to vary the brutality of its use depending on the beliefs of its target: the gun was to fire regular ammunition against Christians, but square shot for use against Muslim Turks – the potential for appalling damage presented by such ammunition seeming improper to use in civilised circles.

The limited wars of the late Renaissance and Age of Empire have been described as one of the greatest accomplishments of civilisation – by keeping war as a genteel game, with little impact on civilians, the horror of conflict was naturally diminished. When Louis XIV, in many ways the embodiment of this era, was offered the secrets of chemical weapons by an Italian chemist he not only refused but paid the man a pension for the rest of his life on condition that he never release the information. The enlightened despot could ironically be argued to have done much to contain the horrors of war through approaching conflict as a noble enterprise. This era of civilised militarism was shattered by the French Revolution, the ‘nation in arms’ that evolved in France had brought war onto a new scale; with armies of hundreds of thousands that could rely on the support of millions. The defeat of Napoleon was unable to put this genie back into its bottle, for whilst the crown heads of Europe may have hoped for a return to the past the new ways of war had been unleashed – and those who failed to grasp them would be doomed in future conflict.

In 1899 Tsar Nicholas the Second invited world leaders to join him in The Hague to discuss the commencement of a unified effort to curtail the huge expenditure on weapons across the globe. In the 84 years since the fall of Napoleon there had been a period of uneasy peace, but Europe was embroiled in an arms race that many could already see would end in a more apocalyptic war than any could yet imagine. The Hague Conference was spoken of as a means to avert disaster, ye for all the talk of progress it would be easy to interpret the Tsars actions as shrewd pragmatism; despite its impressive size and resources, Russia was a technological backwater – and the Tsar did not have the means to compete on an even footing with his European rivals; a halt in military development would have served Russia well.

Regardless of motivation, however, the Tsar’s proposals would have done much to prevent developing technologies and many of his prohibitions were indeed ratified. The use of unnecessarily destructive bullets, for example, saw the banning of such munitions as the Dum Dum bullet developed in India for the British. There had been hopes for greater control; such as the prevention of aerial weapons and the development of new propellants, but therein lay the problem: all proposals were voluntary. This was to foreshadow further issues; the ban on unnecessarily cruel bullets was not signed by the United States, whilst at the talks in 1907 British efforts at naval limitations were ignored by Germany, who was rapidly expanding her fleet in a direct provocation to Britain. The efforts of the Tsar may have been no more than an effort to defend his people, but did present a concerted effort to see warfare brought back under some semblance of control.

The Great War of 1914-1919 put efforts at arms control to the test, and revealed their true fragility. Constraints on the use of noxious gases, the bombing of undefended towns, and the shooting of prisoners were all universally disregarded (the last unofficially by all powers, but universally evident), and the unprecedented brutality of the war shocked all involved. The Vatican made particular efforts to curtail the slaughter and argued for both peace and a reduction in arms. The pope’s prescient arguments that the brutality of the weapons and the efforts at territorial gain would both lead to future conflict fell on deaf ears, and the war raged on to the point of exhaustion.

The experience of the Great War shocked much of Europe into greater efforts at arms control; the League of Nations was founded to arbitrate international disputes, and presented a greater sincerity in its efforts than the Hague Conventions might have done. In addition, efforts at arms control continued – the Washington Naval treaty presents the greatest example; as it banned the creation of large warships. It would become apparent, however, that these efforts had a fatal flaw – as with the Hague Conferences no thought was given to the enforcement of measures. Flagrant violations of the treaties were met with words, not action, as well-intentioned states refused to risk the lives of their citizens to combat those who held their efforts in low regard and indeed even persisted in hampering their own means of self defence by following treaty guidelines even as their neighbours rearmed. The disastrous consequences of a failure to take immediate action were writ in the blood of the victims of the next world war.

The irony of each effort at arms control is that it is worthless without powerful military support – this is a paradox that even in the modern world we have yet to surmount. The United Nations demands consensus before action can be taken, and its most decisive action – the Korean War – was only possible as a result of a convenient Soviet abstention. It is easy to blame failures to control the spread of arms on the lack of means of enforcement, but there is a further element of control that receives less attention but is perhaps the more prescient concern – whether or not any of the states involved truly want to reduce their arms.

The moral arguments of the 12th century church of the evils of the crossbow are echoed in the efforts to ban gas and chemical weapons almost 800 years later, and were to ultimately have the same negligible effect on warring nations. When a kingdom found itself in a war for survival, it was only natural to use every weapon available – a military would be failing its people if it refused to use every means at its disposal for victory.

In this idea may be found the greatest barrier to arms control; would a state be willing to face destruction rather than take action to defend itself? This dilemma is easy to face in peacetime, but rather more difficult in war – the only example of such an action being taken that I am aware of is Hitler’s refusal to allow the use of Nazi Germany’s battlefield chemical weapons at the end of the Second World War, for reasons known only to himself the release of these ‘Weapons of Despair’ was never permitted.

The imminent threat of a large-scale war prompted the Hague Conventions, and the shock of the World Wars led to much effort to prevent future conflict in their aftermath, but in the wars themselves, the rules were different. The Vatican, as a neutral state, could well afford to demand peace, but the combatant states were trapped in a life-or-death struggle and bent every fibre of their beings to the annihilation of their enemies in order to attain victory. Efforts to prevent the use of weapons could well be seen as a cunning ploy for a weaker state to hamstring their enemy, and the hopes of good-will at a negotiating table presented a far less attractive means of gaining peace than the obliteration of threatening armies.

In the hot blood of total war, all weapons may be seen as necessary, even those that would assure the deaths of millions. In this is the greatest obstacle to arms control, and one that may yet be insurmountable; rational discussion of the morality of weapons is a luxury only afforded to those in times of peace. When the threat of near-instantaneous obliteration appeared to states after the Second World War, any hopes at learning from that conflict were set aside as states rushed to develop their means to defend themselves.

The Cold War represented this all-too-human trait in microcosm; weapons were developed in every theatre to give even the most infinitesimal of advantage in a war that would have lasted less than a week if developed. Central to planning in most instances was the use of gas, nerve agents, and nuclear weapons of every size. For each of the potential belligerents the possible war was one in which every life of the nation was at risk – so every tool was seen as necessary. The eventual thaw saw weapons such as cluster bombs and mines be banned internationally, to universal acclaim, but it is worthy of note that such a ban was only seen as acceptable once these weapons were no longer necessary tools of national survival.

War between major powers has only been prevented in the last 72 years by the spread of the most powerful weapons mankind has ever developed – the use of nuclear weapons has been debated endlessly since their initial deployment, and threatened on more occasions than might have been prudent. Nonetheless, these weapons have effectively deterred any major conflict and for that we may be grateful. The nuclear arsenals of the major powers contributed to a longer period of arms build-up than had ever been seen before, but in so doing they also ensured that in this instance the posturing would not spill over into war. The nuclear arms race was also to provide the peace enforcement that previous efforts at arms control lacked; the weapons that nuclear states relied upon as a means to defend themselves in case of attack also prevented the chance of such an attack to begin with, and by deterring large-scale war also removed the necessity for the development of the weapons of large-scale war. In the paradoxical fashion of human development, it took the creation and proliferation of the most apocalyptic weapons in human history to finally allow for concrete efforts to enforce arms control.

The Perils of Peace

The end of the Cold War in the late 20th Century brought with it a supposed ‘peace dividend’; without the omnipresent threat of atomic annihilation or a Soviet annexation of Western Europe it was supposed that NATO countries could relax and demobilise many of the forces that had been deployed to counter the Eastern menace.

A steady decline in defence spending across the Western world followed for the subsequent two and a half decades, with budgets being repeatedly slashed to allow for greater domestic expenditure and short-term savings, but the cost of such narrow-sighted outlooks on national defence is far greater than many appreciate.

The Cold War necessitated a degree of military understanding within national government; with nuclear war only a few misjudged comments or provocations away one needed to appreciate the awesome power available to modern states, but this perspective has declined as the threat retreated.

Within Britain, there is a disappointing trend of immediate demobilisation and expectation of lasting peace at the end of a conflict; from the Nine Year’s War to the Great War peace has been met by an immediate reduction in military forces with little regard for the future. The Cold War, coming as it did as an evolution of the Second World War, in fact presents the only instance I can think of of British military expenditure continuing apace to maintain the peace that stemmed from the last conflict.

This perpetual habit of expecting peace to last has been proven time and again to be fallacious, and is a consequence of political attitudes towards the military being based upon profound misconceptions – the most strident being that assumption that capability cuts will be easy to replace.

The 2010 SDSR is perhaps one of the greatest calamities faced by the British military; in which vital capabilities such as fixed-wing carrier aviation and maritime patrol aircraft were removed with no replacement in the immediate future, and is emblematic of the lack of understanding that has accompanied defence policy so profoundly in the post-Cold War world.

When Nimrod and the Harrier fleet were withdrawn from service, some noises were made that replacements would be found when money could be scraped together to pay for them, but little appreciation was shown for how much more such a move would cost. When a capability is removed from the military, and its personnel removed, far more than the mere vehicle is lost. Without continuous training and practice, the service itself will lose the ability to fulfill that role, and will have to train again from scratch. For example, British personnel have been fortunate enough to be able to train for carrier operations embedded within allied fleets, but even with such invaluable experience the relatively few positions available for such training means that when the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers take to the sea there will be far fewer crews with carrier experience available than we could otherwise have enjoyed.

The immediate loss in skill that accompanies short-sighted removals of capability are also accompanied by a less tangible but more far-reaching loss; that of tradition. Britain was the first nation to operate a dedicated aircraft carrier – and carrier operations continued uninterrupted in the Royal Navy until 2010, when all fixed-wing operations were ceased. In the 7 years since, the Royal Navy has been stripped of a tradition that dated almost a century. The disbandment of proud Army regiments carries an equal and powerful emotive loss, and whilst units and abilities may be restored, their removal from duty still presents a void that cannot quite be filled.

A reliance on reserves has accompanied efforts to ‘streamline’ (read: ‘downsize’) the British military, replacing many full-time personnel with part-time volunteers. Whilst the reserves do enjoy extensive training and are required to meet the same stringent standards as regular personnel, a part-time serviceman can never be expected to bring the same level of expertise as a regular, nor replace the experience lost by the removal of a professional. Reserves also take far longer to mobilise – being drawn in from Civvie Street and trained up for the mission at hand takes time, and reserves will not be immediately available in the face of a crisis. The cost benefit of a larger reserve force is obvious, but in times of a crisis frontline regiments will be left with personnel shortfalls as the reserves that have been promised to fill gaps in their formations are still being amassed and trained.

A failure to invest in new equipment will also be accompanied by a collapse in the defence industry in the nation; without large orders the ability to domestically produce such complex machines as warships, tanks, or heavy artillery will be lost. Without the industry to support them, the ability to produce spare parts for those vehicles already in service will likewise be lost, leaving the military in an even greater logistical bind. As the defence industry of a country stagnates, skilled workers will be left without work and may also migrate – further compounding the skill loss and exponentially increasing the difficulty of reversing the trend when the need arises. By failing to invest in defence, governments run the real risk of fundamentally undermining the ability of their nation to not only defend itself actively, but also to retain the capacity to defend itself in the future.

The costs of the ‘Peace Dividend’ that appeared at the end of the Cold War were extensive, particularly as it appears that the world has become less stable. Military forces are in fact seeing at least as much active duty as they were when they were sustained to face the threat of the USSR, but are being expected to do so with a fraction of the economic, political, or public support. Without the danger of an existential threat, there is little public conception of the need for defence, and successive round of cuts have been passed with little to no opposition nor appreciation of the immediate and future dangers that can accompany it.

Even as the British military budget has been promised to be increased, the true cost of the spectre of peace is still not fully appreciated. The Royal Navy has resorted to appealing to sailors dismissed in 2010 to return to the colours to make up for a crippling lack of experienced personnel, whilst the Army faces further cuts in manpower. By failing to take into account the loss of experience and ability that accompanied every cut, the government of today is being forced to reap what those at the end of the Cold War had sown. Two decades of peace were accompanied by an assumption that the military of the future would have little role to play, and it is only now that the true magnitude of the hole such thinking ripped in our ability to defend ourselves that the fallacy of planning for peace is becoming apparent.



A Short Indulgence


I’ve just got back from a short trip away to London, and whilst I’ve been working on a couple of posts to put up on here, today’s offering is a little wander down a path that is rather close to my heart; that of architecture.

Many buildings erected today are not built to last, it seems, and are constructed with little regard to grace. The steel and glass edifices that dot the landscapes of major cities certainly can catch the eye, but one can hardly expect them to stand as a testament to the creativity of our species.

When one contrasts the buildings of today to those of the past, the contrast is striking – the view from the old naval college at Greenwich is a perfect example of this.

I know I cannot really expect to stand, Canute-like, in the face of a tide of technical progress and scream of the unparalleled virtues of the architectural grandiosity of the past but I would hope that in certain circles a glimmer of the aesthetic respect that one can see in more classical buildings could be retained.

When new buildings are commissioned by the Government, for example, I believe they should be constructed with an eye to the future, but an appreciation of the past upon which they are built. It is the duty of government to build for the future, not just the present, and architecture should reflect this. Classical buildings give a sense of permanence which simply does not appear in steel and glass.

Whilst there is a general will amongst modern governmental projects to present an appearance of looking to the future, their choices of buildings (Ipswich or Stafford Borough Council offices being a couple of examples that spring to mind) instead do more to reflect architectural trends and restraints of their moment of conception.

Of course local governments and that of the nation face budgetary constraints, and it would cost more to build more aesthetic structures, but such constructions would be an investment. The brutalist structures of the 60s have already run their life and face demolition, and the lifespan of even modern constructions cannot be measured in centuries.

Classical government buildings, such as the neoclassical offices of Whitehall and the central office of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, look as beautiful today as when they were first constructed and I am of the opinion that the commissioning of new buildings should have as strong an eye to posterity as appears to have been demonstrated when these were first constructed.

When creating something; one should have an eye not only to the present but to the future, and this should ring particularly true for those in government. By creating structures that retain a beauty beyond their immediate purpose there is a real investment in the nation’s future, whilst also demonstrating an intention that the creation itself is worthy of enduring, as well as the transitory forces that move through it.


An in-depth analysis of one victim of architectural faddism: http://manchesterhistory.net/manchester/gone/crescents.html

Hospital Ships and the RFA

In recent years, with the rapid reduction in the number of surface vessels available to the Royal Navy, increasing pressure has fallen upon the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to pick up the slack and fulfil various missions across the globe that would otherwise have been completed by a warship. Despite this increased requirement, however, funding has not been brought up to match and the RFA has been at least as stretched as the RN in its operations despite the skill of its personnel.

Many of the RFA’s new taskings are, naturally, of a less military nature; with migrant patrols and disaster relief appearing high in the order and the ships deployed are acting admirably as symbols of British resolve to meet various crises.

Good will alone, however, will not be enough to sustain Britain’s commitment to taking action in the face of disaster and as more ships are retired the ability to continue these missions will suffer. The RFA has already lost several capabilities, such as at-sea repair, without the provision of any replacement and whilst several fine new ships have been brought in hull numbers continue to decline.

In a time of tight budgets it is understandable that funding should be directed towards the RN surface fleet, but it would be dangerous to suggest that the RN could operate alone without the logistical support provided by the RFA.

Thus, it could be argued that the funding for certain RFA elements could be treated differently; acting as they are as tools of British foreign policy in support of disaster riven areas there is a strong argument that funding for certain ships could be provided from the newly-protected Foreign Aid Budget.

The Foreign Aid Budget has become something of a controversial outlet for government spending; since it gained a protected status there have been numerous allegations of mishandling, and the loss of much of the money spent to bureaucracy at home and corruption abroad. One way to ensure that the money was sent to the right people would be to use it to directly supply aid, rather than to do so through third parties.

Britain can currently deploy one ship, RFA Argus, in a medical support role and as the ship is armed she cannot be classed as a hospital ship. Building a dedicated hospital ship would grant the UK a far fuller capacity to respond to international crises, and be a strong demonstration of our intention to do good on the world stage.

A dedicated hospital ship would free up other naval elements for military taskings, grant a greater capacity for action in the face of emergencies, and also provide useful training for medical staff. It would also ensure that aid was properly delivered to those who needed it, and would essentially be an investment in Foreign Aid spending for the long-term results it could deliver.

This line of thinking need not stop with hospital ships; Royal Navy and RFA ships are often called to disaster relief missions; helping to repair damage done by hurricanes, landslides, and other natural disasters. Building a couple of ships equipped with the machinery and supplies needed to quickly respond to such events would also be an asset, and once again allow such tasks to be conducted by dedicated elements and free-up existing craft for their usual duties. RFA shipping tasked with the heavy machinery needed to clear up disaster sites would also be useful for supporting land-based operations by the Royal Marines, and setting up new operational areas.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary are often the forgotten force in the British military, but it would be folly to forget the importance of such logistical craft, particularly as the reliance placed upon them for patrol duties increases. By using vital support ships to fill support positions, such as using RFA Mounts Bay to counter smuggling, the number of ships readily available to face a military crisis is reduced and the Navy would be harder-pressed to act swiftly. The creation of dedicated ships to meet civilian crises would be a vital asset both to the military and to the world; as disasters of any kind could be better met by the appropriate tool.

Naturally, Save the Royal Navy have published a fine piece on this:http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-case-for-building-a-british-hospital-ship/

ThinkDefence has also written this extended piece on adapting ships for non combat use by the armed forces: http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/a-ship-that-still-isnt-a-frigate/initial-considerations/