Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Dr Robert Dover

  1.  This memorandum takes a capabilities approach to the question of NATO and European Defence and argues that capabilities—in British and European contexts—pose some serious challenges to the concept of European defence today.

  2.  The reason for a capabilities approach to the question of European defence is straightforward—without a root and branch review of defence capabilities and assets in the EU, and in our localised case, the UK then all the follow-on questions of what the UK, EU and NATO can do with these capabilities become redundant. Without simultaneous reviews of the capabilities enjoyed by the Armed Forces, and the commitments endured by them there is a strong chance that the UK will suffer a strategic defeat in the medium to long term. This memorandum tries, through a discussion about capabilities, to suggest ways in which a new strategic culture can be adopted by the military and defence elites, to avoid being strategically defeated in the main military activities of the day—counterinsurgency.


  3.  Philip Pugh and Norman Augustine are the fathers of the concept of Defence Cost Inflation (DCI). [39]In both their studies they concluded that all military equipment is subject to year on year compound inflation in the region of 8%. The impact of their statistical analysis (which was done in relation to the British Navy) meant that (on the assumption of compound UK defence budget increases of 2-3% per year) the navy would shrink by a compound interest figure of 2-3% a year. If one projects these figures out over 50 years, the navy becomes so diminished that it ceases to have any meaningful utility. The real-life inflationary costs of notable defence procurement projects—like the proposed aircraft carriers, and Eurofighter Typhoon—have come in at higher figures than presented by Pugh and Augustine. If we couple the inflation of these headline projects to the replacement of the nuclear deterrent and to other core costs such as the recruitment and retention of services personnel, fuel, ammunition and the like, then the pressure on the defence budget begins to look daunting. The same is the case across the whole of the European Union; for the disappointing reason that the majority of EU member governments used the Cold War to offset their defence costs against the American security guarantee. The off balance-sheet cost of this upward economic cycle and downward capabilities cycle is to limit the range and scope of activities that EU can prosecute in its own name and its member states can do in support of NATO. The political effects of these trends are therefore large.

  4.  The question of how to break out of inexorable cycle of capability decline is a difficult one. Pugh concluded that the only way to break the cycle was to fundamentally re-conceptualise the tasks to be undertaken by the armed forces and the capabilities they have to do them with. This memorandum modifies this view slightly—it is essential to think beyond high-technology solutions for every military problem. The majority of tasks that are performed by European armed forces, including our own, do not lend themselves to high-technology solutions, indeed the opposite is true.


  5.  The companies who supply the British Armed Forces, the politicians who make the decisions about procurement projects, and the Armed Forces themselves are fixated on high-technology projects and finding operational justifications for them.

  6.  For the companies this makes sense; in a post-industrial society the best way to improve profit yields is to build few, very expensive pieces of equipment with high research and development costs. Politicians seem easily seduced by "high-ticket-price" items like Eurofighter Typhoon and FRES, whilst simple and cheap equipment options (like infantry body armour) get lost in a myriad of committees; whilst the armed forces are instrumentally keen on any piece of equipment that can demonstrate an improvement to their ability to conduct operations.

  7.  My argument is very simple. If the premise that the British military will be fighting in a series of small wars and counterinsurgency campaigns (like Iraq and Afghanistan) is accepted, then the requirement for the most technologically advanced equipment is negated by the operational realities on ground. What the armed forces need is "second best, now", not an Apache helicopter parked in a warehouse. Counterinsurgency doctrine also puts a very high premium on the political content of any campaign. [40]These campaigns demand sympathetic contact between the armed forces and the non-combatant communities they operate within. Necessary moves into highly armoured vehicles are counterproductive for these campaigns, and so planners should think asymmetrically about how to combat the improvised explosive devices and get the infantry out of armoured vehicles and back onto foot and into "snatch landrovers"; which are far more effective at reaching out to indigenous communities. What is required above all, at the moment, is a technology that can bridge the divide between high-altitude airspace and the commander on the ground; to help reconnect all the elements of the battlespace.

  8.  The European way of war-fighting has become wedged at the end of the higher intensity operation and this is where we have pitched our capabilities and procurement requirements. Equipment used for high-intensity war fighting is often poorly suited to the requirements of so called small wars and insurgencies which require a larger focus on "influence operations". British political and military culture has become averse to risk. The average counterinsurgency campaign lasts 15 years—the British and American led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan are trying to neutralise the adversaries and the win the peace in these theatres in two years, and to do so using high-end war-fighting techniques. This demonstrates a failure to understand asymmetry in all of its guises and makes it likely that we will face strategic defeats in both the main theatres of operation in Afghanistan and Iraq. Addressing these failures is not only about a cultural turn in understanding the adversary, it is also about a strategic culture of flexibility within the military and the Ministry of Defence. [41]The dynamism seen in the German military prior to World War II was due to the strategic defeat they had suffered in World War I and the rapid promotion of the middle ranks open to new suggestions, including those of Liddell-Hart on tank warfare. It should be our ambition to try and affect a strategic cultural change without suffering a strategic defeat first. One of the ways of doing this is to improve the immediacy of the lessons learned by individuals returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and also to seek their input into the equipment and innovations they need in the field. This should include modifications to existing equipment—which used to be the sort of task that was performed by DERA. Current procurement programmes rely heavily on computerised scenario planning, rather than the experiences of those rotating out of theatre. A return to the innovation and flexibility that used to be a key element and success of the British military would reduce the lead-in time to innovative solutions in the field and also be one way to echo Pugh's desire to adapt existing equipment rather than procuring bespoke solutions.


  9.  The European dimension of arms procurement is particularly interesting. The European Commission and arms manufacturers are at the forefront of an increasingly Europeanized arms trade. The EU's national governments remain concerned with the protection of national economic interests that are now anything but national because of the internationalization of defence industries through mergers, acquisitions and joint projects. Furthermore, the Commission and manufacturers have used the `homeland security' agenda to force a Europeanization agenda, which has arguably distorted the preferences of national governments away from the stated security goals of the ESDP. The juxtaposition of the deeply insular national trade against an emerging and vibrant pan-European trade is an interesting one to observe.

  10.  On the European stage the European Defence Agency (EDA) provides the EU with an ability to influence the development of technology (through research and development funds) and, by inference, the procurement and sale of these materials. By extension, defence industries should now be considered as a tool of diplomacy at the disposal of the EU. However, the EU's new diplomatic tool has the potential to cause tensions between national arms programmes and national commitments to the NATO alliance. The European Commission can be seen as trying to construct a counter-weight to the global dominance of the American arms manufacturers—this will clearly have an impact on how Britain shapes its defence industries and armed forces in the future. The EDA's and Commission's desire to increase arms sales might also be part of a post-Cold War version of an arms race, the dash for market share, as firms from America, Russia and Europe vie for contracts around the world. The competition for market share is partly a raw economic equation of boosting balances of trade, but it also serves a foreign policy purpose of buying, or more precisely selling, influence into those client countries—particularly as the contracts often contain maintenance clauses that extend the commercial relationship into the medium term. This sort of direct competition with America may well put strains on the NATO alliance. Furthermore, if the EU becomes a "soft-security" actor, and one engaged more fully in homeland security then it will start to put pressure on the MoD and Home Office budgets to invest in expensive technology led solutions to counter-terrorism; potentially dragging funding away from traditional military lines and the sorts of roles NATO expects Britain and its European partners to play.

  11.  However, at the moment, the EDA's primary desire is for technological parity with the US. This is partly driven by economics, but also driven by the consideration of power politics, both nationally and supranationally. The EDA's Programme of Action for 2005-6 demonstrated this point neatly: the priorities were stated as strategic lift, air-to-air refuelling and C4ISTAR. These are all projects that the United States military has been at the forefront of developing. For example, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are technologies that the American and Israeli military forces have used in preparing reconnaissance for tactical bombing or infantry movements—a recent example being the 2006 Israeli action against the Lebanon. The EDA's stated desire is that European built versions of this technology should remain `interoperable' with American built technology, reinforcing the thesis that the European Commission's vision of defence technology is one that supports US-led military actions—a direct echo of the British government's position. But if one accepts the premise from the Saint Malo Accords in 1998 that the French Government seeks a way of eventually decoupling the EU from NATO, then the move to build up similar types of capabilities to the United States, but on a smaller scale, begins to look rather different.


  12.  One often hears about "political interference" in procurement. From the stories about Westland Helicopters, through to how the Joint Strike Fighter came to have VSTOL installed on it, onto the more recent episodes about the Serious Fraud Office, BAE and Saudi Arabia, political involvement in defence procurement and capabilities seems to carry a large quantity of negative baggage. Whether one wants to explore the old military industrial complex explanations or not, it seems quite clear that the UK government has failed to procure the right sorts of military equipment for its personnel on a notable number of occasions. And the elision of government and industry interests appears to be playing a part in this.

  13.  Where this sort of dynamic may begin to affect European capabilities, rather than just our own, is with the development of the EDA. The EDA's role of advancing collaboration between companies and countries on the development of defence equipment appears to have expanded into generating manufacturing contracts. This is not necessarily surprising as defence companies had a large role in the working groups that designed the EDA: high ranking European Commission officials sat with representatives of BAE systems and EADS as well as the President of the European Defence Industries Group to advise on how the new institution should operate, providing a key voice opportunity to manufacturers and providing greater evidence of a fundamental elision of public and private interests.

  14.  The attempt to balance a quasi think-tank role of identifying and plugging gaps in European military capabilities, whilst also acting as an institutional guarantor of EU defence manufacturing interests, has pushed the EU into a potentially contradictory position. Evidence of this tension was seen within days of the agency being established with the largest European defence equipment manufacturers taking out a full page advert in some British newspapers to emphasize their vision for the EDA. The danger for the EDA is that it will lose its strategic overview of how to plug the capabilities gaps that exist within the European military portfolio—based on the sort of operations the EU and its member governments' wish to conduct—as a result of becoming a conduit for the lobbying attentions of the major arms manufacturers. Moreover, its strong links with a European Commission which is determined to promote a high-technology, research-led industrial base, an enhanced internal market and an increasingly neo-liberal industrial policy pushes the EDA down certain avenues of activity, none of which look likely to suggest the sort of defence equipment developments that are necessary for the British military's primary spheres of activities.


  15.  This memorandum has explored, briefly, a capabilities led challenge to the concept of European defence. It has argued that the equipment choices being made by the UK, and now at a European level, are ill-suited to the sorts of conflict the UK and European states are involved with. The reasons given for this range from policy makers ignoring the experiences and recommendations of those coming out of conflict theatres, a fixation amongst the political classes for high-technology solutions, a similar profit driven motivation amongst manufacturers and the European Defence Agency trying to tie its activities to the Lisbon Agenda. The memorandum also explored the possibility that the British government is facing a strategic defeat that would severely undermine the general concept of European defence and the NATO alliance. Lastly, it plotted the development of the European Defence Agency and the potential this institution has to destabilise the trans-Atlantic alliance. The core argument of this piece is, therefore, that whilst procurement is seen as an esoteric part of European defence analysis, it has the potential to fundamentally challenge existing security structures, both through the failure to deal with equipment that is becoming obsolescent and the reduction in equipment stores and the development of expensive and ill-suited bespoke technology.

Lecturer in Defence Studies,

King's College London

11 May 2007

39   Philip Pugh, The Cost of Seapower, Conway Maritime Press, 1986, p 274-280; Norman R Augustine, Augustine's Laws, Sixth Edition, Viking Edition, 1986. Back

40   David Gallula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, 1964; DJ Kilcullen, Countering global insurgency, Journal of Strategic Studies, 28(4) 2005, 597-617. Back

41   Mark Laffey and Tarak Barkawi, The Postcolonial Moment in Security Studies, Review of International Studies, 2006, 32, 329-352. Back

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