Examination of Witnesses (Questions 187-236)|
FRY KCB (RTD)
16 SEPTEMBER 2010
Q187 Chair: Thank you very much indeed
for joining us for this evidence session on Grand Strategy and
how strategy is made. I wonder if you could very kindly at the
outset just introduce yourselves for the record?
Sir Robert Fry: Robert Fry, formerly
Director of Operations in the Ministry of Defence and now a company
Steven Jermy: Steve Jermy, formerly
Principal Staff Officer to the Chief of Defence Staff and Strategy
Director in Kabul in Afghanistan, and now a writer on strategy.
Q188 Chair: Thank you both for joining
us. If I could just say at the outsetI think I might just
invite you to respond to what I am going to say in a 90-second
burstthis inquiry is not just about military strategy or
even the pure Clausewitzian military-civil interface. We are looking
at Grand Strategy in its widest and perhaps most modern term:
about how a government should meld all the instruments of statecraft
in the modern world to develop, sustain and constantly adapt strategic
thinking that underpins policy and actions across the whole spectrum
of government. We are not concentrating so much on domestic policy
in that respect, although science, industrial policy and economic
policy are obviously very relevant. In a 90-second burst, would
you like to give an overview of your feelings about how we do
this in the United Kingdom?
Sir Robert Fry: Poorly. In fact,
not poorly; I think historically really rather well. We have had
traditional organs like the Committee of Imperial Defence, which
ran through to the beginning of the second world war from the
late nineteenth century. Its stewardship of Grand Strategy was
probably better than most things that have happened since. If
you read the diaries of Alan Brooke, you get a sense of what happened
then. So I actually think we have a genuine strategic birthright
in this country about bringing together all the instruments of
national power in pursuit of strategic objectives. We did not
defeat Napoleon on the battlefield; we did not beat the Germans
twice in the 20th century by fighting them, except for a brief
period between 1916 and 1918. What we did was to create far better
alliances, use indirect power, insular position and maritime power,
and we were far better at industrial production, at least latterly.
So I think we traditionally have been good at this. At the very
time that we create something called the "comprehensive approach",
we seem to lose our talent to be able to do it. I think there
is an explanation for that, but if I sum up what I think, we have
a national tradition of being good at Grand Strategy, but we have
not illustrated that recently.
Q189 Chair: It is interesting that
the Foreign Secretary cited Napoleon as an example of a man who
did not have any strategic unit or strategic thinkers and yet
he is also the supreme example of the general who was very successful
on the battlefield but failed to turn that military success into
political success. Steven Jermy?
Steven Jermy: I think Napoleon
contrasts very interestingly with Frederick the Great, who was
a great strategist as well as a great general. I would focus on
three things. I think there is the lack now of a body of knowledge
on strategy and what is very interesting when you research into
itand I have been doing that for five yearsis that
there is very little modern writing. The best book on modern strategy
was written by a French general called André Beaufre in
1963 and there has been nothing really good since then. I think
within this country the two areas that we are weak on are processesI
think our processes have become splurged; they have become very
messy and we have misunderstood what policy strategy and planning
means and the distinctions between the twoand people. We
have been quite good at selecting people who are operationally
successful but we have been rather poor at identifying those people
who are able to operate and think at the strategic level. Indeed,
our problems are partly because of that.
Q190 Chair: Thank you very much.
I wonder if I could just jump in rather brutally to look at lessons
learned from recent history. Sir Robert, you were ACDS Operational
Commitments at the time we first deployed to Helmand with Op Herrick.
We deployed on a campaign plan with, if I remember correctly,
3,150 troops and a budget of £1.5 billion for three years,
during which period we were meant to lead the reconstruction of
Helmand. I think we would all agree that, by any standards, that
initial plan was not a success. I am not seeking to cast any blame;
I am simply asking about process. How did you feel? What were
you being asked to do when you were asked to come up with a campaign
plan for this operation?
Sir Robert Fry: I need to make
clear the various responsibilities here. I was not the author
of the campaign plan. That was done by the Permanent Joint Headquarters,
and that is the way that the interface between military strategy,
which is the business of the Ministry of Defence, and operational
design works. I was heavily involved in the ideas behind it about
resuscitating the campaign in Afghanistan, which seemed completely
moribund at the time, by trying to take us from somewhere where
the mission that we had previously in Mazar-i-Sharif was complete
by any criteria we could use, and using our forces to greater
effect elsewhere and in some ways kick-starting and providing
leadership to NATO in that process. There was also an aim to try
to revivify interest in Afghanistan, which had been completely
lost because of the distraction of Iraq at the time. Those were
the sorts of things that I was involved in. My responsibilities
were squaring that away with other departments of State, and with
major allies and the NATO alliance. The design of the campaign
was then conducted under the auspices of the Chief of Joint Operations.
Q191 Chair: But you were constrained
by very limited resources because we were heavily committed in
Iraq at the time.
Sir Robert Fry: Yes. Let me answer
your question more directly than I have so far. In so far as I
believe that strategy is the reconciliation of ends and means
moderated by the ways that you employ, I was acutely aware that
our meansthe military and other resources available to
us at the timewere limited and heavily engaged in Iraq.
Therefore the judgment about how much could be transferred from
Iraq to Afghanistan and the timing of that transfer became very,
very important. To that extent, I felt that I was using the criteria
that I understand characterise military strategy.
Q192 Chair: Did you feel that the
people you were making these recommendations to understood: a)
what the limitations on resources implied for what you could achieve
in Helmand; and b) that you were purely providing military resourcesthat
there was very limited scope for either understanding or affecting
the political complexion in Kabul and Afghanistan as a whole,
which of course has been the foundation of our difficulties?
Sir Robert Fry: I do think
people understood the limitations that were involved in this thing.
I seldom briefed this in other parts of government by myself purely
along the line of the military contribution. It was more frequently
done in committees where I would be there giving the military
bit, and others would be giving the international bit, the Foreign
Office bit and so on. If hidden in your question is, "Did
I think that all of this was informed by Grand Strategy?",
the answer is no.
Q193 Chair: Do you think that underlies
why basically the early iterations of Op Herrick were destined
Sir Robert Fry: I think that is
a complex question. I think that that may be contributory, but
it is certainly not the whole explanation.
Q194 Chair: Admiral Jermy?
Steven Jermy: I think we need
to sit back. The one thing we got wrong when we looked at Helmandand
I was intimately involved in thiswas that we did not really
understand the political context properly, and we did not understand
that when we were moving from Mez down to Helmand, we were moving
from the Northern Alliance areas down into the Pashtun areas,
and I think that was a NATO failure.
Q195 Chair: So is this just a failure
of intelligence or is it a failure of strategic thinking?
Steven Jermy: I think it is a
failure of properly trying to understand the political context.
I think that is the first thing.
Q196 Chair: But do you think the
politicians understood that deploying the military in that situation
had very complex political ramifications? Did they have all the
instruments of strategy at their disposal when they were making
Steven Jermy: No, in one
respect they did not. I don't think any of us did, because I don't
think we had the body of knowledge that would have allowed us
to have done that analysis. The second point is that we have to
be careful in this to think that the UK can somehow make a difference
in Helmand or could have made a difference in Helmand. We comprise
about 4% of the force overall and I think what was much more important,
and the other thing we failed to understand, was that NATO did
not have a clear campaign plan. When I was in Afghanistan in 2007,
I went to Regional Centre East and Regional Centre West and I
talked to the planners in both of those two placesthe Americans
in the East and the Italians and the Spanish in the West. I asked
them all the same question: what campaign plan are you using;
what strategy are you using to design this campaign in your areas?
I got the same answer from both of them: "There's no plan,
Sir. We're just getting on with it." So what I knew and what
I could deduce at that stage was that NATO did not have a coherent
strategy. When you look at it, you can actually see evidence for
that, because if you think about the South, Kandahar is by far
the most important province there, and it had 1,200 Canadian troops.
Helmand is not the most important but it had 5,500 British troops.
That does not make sense.
Q197 Chair: So were you surprisedeither
or both of youthat this proposal was so easily approved
in the Cabinet?
Sir Robert Fry: No. This was not
just an idea that emanated from the Ministry of Defence; it was
something that sort of picked up on a general mood within Whitehall
at the time. So when these discussions happened, I think a number
of departments felt pretty comfortable with the general idea of
shifting the main national effort from Iraq to Afghanistan. I
think the development agencies saw this as a much more natural
arena within which to play than Iraq, which they regarded as a
middle-income country. I think that the Foreign Office saw an
opportunity to take on a leadership role within the NATO alliance
to reconcentrate American attention on Afghanistan and so on.
This was not simply a smart military idea; it was catching several
strands of thought around Whitehall at the time.
Q198 Chair: But Admiral Jermy, this
was a deployment of military and other resource into something
of a strategic vacuum because there was no NATO plan. Should not
the Government have recognised that? Where was the failure of
the Government to recognise that at the time?
Steven Jermy: I think the failure
was in the subject that your committee is addressing, which is
a national understanding of strategy. I don't think we had the
intellectual tools to really think this through. The thing that
I am most optimistic about now is the fact that we are actually
discussing this here and now. It is the first time we have been
really looking at it for probably 50 years. I had great concern
when we were shifting main effort from Iraq to Afghanistan, which
was that we did it, as far as I could see, for military reasons
and not on the basis of any broader foreign policy analysis. When
you look at these two campaigns, it seems to meit seemed
then and it seems nowthat in a broader foreign policy analysis,
you would probably think that somewhere at the north of the Gulf
would be more important than a small country to the east of us,
notwithstanding the AQ issues. So I was disappointed that we didn't
do any broader foreign policy analysis and that we moved purely
for military reasons.
Q199 Chair: And there was no one
generating thinking and challenging from within the Ministry of
Defence or from within other parts of Whitehall on this?
Sir Robert Fry: From within the
Ministry of Defence there was a lot of debate about size and shape
of the force, but that was very, very much
Q200 Chair: Not on this broader strategic
Sir Robert Fry: No.
Q201 Chair: And elsewhere in Whitehall?
Sir Robert Fry: Not of which I
was conscious. I think there was some pushback from the SIS, but
that was generally reflecting the absence of intelligence that
Steve has already mentioned.
Q202 Robert Halfon: Just a very quick
question. Are you defining strategy purely in terms of foreign
affairs? From what you are saying, it is just that, but we are
also looking at the wider issue of how domestic strategy fits
Steven Jermy: I define strategy
as a course of action and, if you like, the relationship I see
between strategy and policy is pretty much as Clausewitz. Clausewitz
says that nobody starts a war, and indeed that nobody in his right
senses should start a war, without first knowing what he intends
to achieve by that war and how he intends to do it. For me, policy
is what and strategy is how. I call that political military strategy.
I think it exists at two levels: campaign level, which is something
like Afghanistan; and Grand Strategy, which ties the whole lot
of campaigns together.
Q203 Chair: But I think the view
we are developing is that strategy is an ongoing processan
iterative thinking process.
Steven Jermy: Strategy lives;
it is organic. It is a collection of ideas, judgments and decisions,
and it lives. So yes, it is absolutely ongoing; indeed, that is
Q204 Robert Halfon: Just to finish,
it has to incorporate domestic policy; it cannot just be about
foreign affairs or defence?
Steven Jermy: I think, in answer
to your question, it should incorporate domestic policy but I
am not sure it always does. The classic question is whether or
not we thought through the implications of our operations abroad
in Iraq and Afghanistan on the domestic situation. Having listened
to Eliza Manningham-Buller at the Chilcot inquiry, I am not sure
Sir Robert Fry: I think there
is a different take on this as well, which is the fact that it
must involve the domestic domain just as much as it involves the
foreign policy domain. It is possible to have a strategy which
is all about exemplary performance in one's own nation and using
that as an example to influence the world elsewhere. We happen
to have pursued over the past decade or so a military interventionist
strategy, although I don't think we did that by any sentient process
governed by Grand Strategy; it is simply the conflation of events
as time went along. So to think that there is something separate
between the domestic base and what happens abroad is completely
Chair: We must move on. We have 28 minutes
to complete your session, so very short questions and snappy answers
please. Charlie Elphicke.
Q205 Charlie Elphicke: Sir Robert,
you are, as I understand it, a marine.
Chair: Royal Marine.
Charlie Elphicke: Royal Marine, indeed.
And they are much celebrated in my constituency of Deal and it
is one of the most thoughtful and free-thinking services because
of the nature of the operationsthe ground changes from
water to land and those sorts of issuesso it is naturally
one of the more strategic and thoughtful services. You have said
in past times that you have studied Sun Tzu in detail and one
of the key principles is "know thine enemy, know thyself".
One thing I cannot understand is that we have a history of three
Anglo-Afghan wars between the 1830s and I think 1919. Did no one
open the history books to understand how the place worksthey
are pretty effectiveand draw the lessons from previous
conflicts in our planning and exit strategy for this one?
Sir Robert Fry: Yes, I think lots
of people did that, sometimes privately, and there was a certain
amount of work that was done on a public basis as well. But you
have to remember, why we went into Afghanistan in the first instance.
Was this a long-considered policy? No, it was an almost instantaneous
response to 9/11. We actually first went into Afghanistan in December
2001 and I would say that I think that that was a non-discretionary
response; we really had to do something. So it wasn't a matter
of combing the history of Afghanistan and trying to derive lessons
from Elphinstone's retreat; it was much more saying, "We've
got to do something about this; let's get out there and do it."
Q206 Charlie Elphicke: In that theatre,
did anyone think through, as you were saying, Admiral, the whole
Clausewitz idea of what do you want to achieve from it and how
you get out of a place once you have gone in? Did anyone think
through the whole exit strategy at all?
Sir Robert Fry: No, what I think
happened was that the first part of the campaign in Afghanistan
was probably highly successful in military terms but created a
long-term political problem. It was highly successful in military
terms because the application of Special Forces, lots of money,
and indirect bombing and missile attack completely shattered the
opposition. The political problem it created was putting in place
a hegemony around the Northern Alliance and giving them a far
greater primacy than they had enjoyed historically and balance
between the north and south of Afghanistan. Wethe westthen
collectively stopped paying attention to Afghanistan and started
paying attention to Iraq. By the time we started paying attention
back to Afghanistan, so much had happened and so many things that
were inimical to the campaign's success had occurred that we then
spent our time trying to recover lost ground.
Steven Jermy: I think there were
two things as well that probably fixed us. First is that at the
time, as you recall, things were going very badly in Iraq and
we were all concentrating a lot on Iraq. I think the second thing
was that what was really in the minds of the planners, as far
as I can see, in Afghanistan was not really the enemy, if there
is such a thing, but rather the unification of the NATO mission.
So there was a lot of focus on joining up what were essentially
two separate operations: ISAF and the American operation. We were
thinking a lot about how that integration would happen. I think
with those two things we probably had our eye off the ball. There
was also, I think, a sense of job done. I remember going to Mez
in about 2005 and being briefed by a British Army general there
who said, "This is no worse than the Badena in Northern Ireland."
I think we just had not really spotted what it would be like in
the Pashtun south.
Q207 Charlie Elphicke: One last question.
In a lecture last December, the CDS said that the armed forcesand
maybe widerhad lost the ability to have an institutional
strategic culture and strategic thought. In your careers, how
much training and education did you have, or was there a culture
of having, strategic thought in our armed forces, and do you think
CDS has a point?
Sir Robert Fry: I think he has
a real point. This goes beyond the military. If you compare us
to the French or maybe even, in military terms, the Germans, there
is an a-intellectualism in this country. Most of the things we
do, we do on the basis of pragmatic experience and that is precisely
the way we go about designing our military campaigns. Such formal
instruction as I have had in the creation of strategy rather than
the creation of campaigns has been primarily self-taught.
Steven Jermy: I have written a
book on this subject, so it is one that is close to my heart and
it was interesting for me that when I lectured at the RCDS at
its invitation in 2008, they were the first lectures that had
ever been given on the creation of strategy. There is quite a
bit in our training about strategy, but the on issue about how
you sit down and create it and then execute it, there is very,
very little indeed, and there is very little on the processes
that should do that. So I am reluctant to blame at all because
we are in an area where there has been very little academic or
professional thinking for the last 50 years.
Sir Robert Fry: Can I add something?
Chair: Very briefly, yes.
Sir Robert Fry: Strategy sometimes
looks like a deeply mysterious thing and it is also a word that
is used very promiscuously. Any airport bookshop has strategies
on where you put the coffee machine. Actually, it is far less
complicated than sometimes people think. It has to start with
a sense of national interest, it has to look at ends that are
defined across a complete range of national interests and it then
needs to be reconciled with the means that we have available to
satisfy those ends. It is not fundamentally a complex affair.
Q208 Chair: But it is self-evident,
isn't it, that planning for the Iraq war and the aftermath, the
deployment to Helmand in particular and indeed backing the wrong
tribes at the outset in Afghanistan, all lacked strategic thinking?
Sir Robert Fry: Yes, it certainly
shows an absence of Grand Strategy. The other thing that is missing
in this is a sense of national interest.
Chair: We will come on to that and how
we can improve things. Nick de Bois.
Q209 Nick de Bois: Thank you. Sir
Robert, I enjoyed your interview with the Wall Street Journal
Europe in which you talk about the same military thinking
being applied to business thinking, which I get. What about its
application to be more widely applied, should I say, in the Civil
Service and how could that be done? Is it more widely applied?
Should it be more widely applied? If so, how can it be done?
Sir Robert Fry: I think this is
about governing elites in the first instance. You are never going
to get something which is going to completely trickle down through
the body politic unless there is an organisation and individuals
at the highest level of the Executive who actually pay this some
attention. Personally, I am encouraged by the creation of the
National Security Council, because something like the comprehensive
approach cannot possibly work unless all of the levers that connect
with all the instruments of national power are pulled at the highest
level. If that does not happen, things tend not to occur. The
creation of a National Security Council and a National Security
Strategy are, I think, good things. What neither of them has yet
made any attempt to define is what national interest is, and the
first draft of the National Security Strategy seemed to me to
be a liberal manifesto for good world citizenshipit had
nothing to do with this country.
Steven Jermy: You talked about
the Civil Service. I think there is an issue that at the moment
in the Civil Service, as far as I can see, diplomats get surprisingly
little training in this subject. Diplomats get hardly anything
and most civil servants even less. It seems to me that if we are
going to expect civil servants and diplomats to engage in strategy
makingand I think we shouldthey need the training
to take them through this. We get a bit in the militaryprobably
not enoughbut what we get is a huge amount more than our
compatriots in the civil sector.
Q210 Nick de Bois: In fact, it brings
me very nicely to the point that I think you saidand I
may have this wrongthat your book is about the first in
85 years on strategic thinking.
Steven Jermy: I joke among my
friends that it is the best book written on strategy by a British
officer for 85 years, and that is simply because it is the only
Q211 Nick de Bois: That's very good.
But is that actually a reflection of a lack of ability to do it,
or lack of culture to do it?
Steven Jermy: I think it is a
lack of consciousness. I think we as a nation are not being conscious
that we were very good at this, and this is why I am delighted
to be before this committee, because I think this is the start
of an emerging consciousness that actually this is an area of
weakness in government.
Q212 Chair: Professor Peter Hennessy
refers to the culture of muddling through. Do you recognise that?
Steven Jermy: Yes.
Sir Robert Fry: It is also to
do with moving away from the height of our imperium. When you
are at the top of your imperial game, as the Americans have been
recently, you tend to think in these terms. As you go on the back
slope, you tend to give it less attention.
Q213 Nick de Bois: I think you pick
up in the same article that the Americans have the clarity of
thinking of where they are going that they then transfer to the
political and the economic stage as well.
Sir Robert Fry: Yes.
Q214 Nick de Bois: To get back to
the point, are you really saying that we don't have that clarity
of thinking for whatever reason?
Sir Robert Fry: I do not think
we have it in the same way that the Americans do. I think there
are a series of reasons for that: first, they are at the height
of their imperial power; and, secondly, they actually institutionalise
strategy by law and have done from when the National Security
Act was passed in the 1950s or 1960s.
Q215 Chair: Can I just chip in with
a question that would be asked by one of my absent colleagues,
Paul Flynn? He would say that because we are now a much lesser
global power, having a Grand Strategy is hubris, vanity and bound
to end in failure, because we no longer have the instruments and
power at our disposal for a Grand Strategy?
Sir Robert Fry: I disagree with
that completely. I think that you fall out of the habit of Grand
Strategy, and I think that is what happened to us in the second
part of the 20th century. Also larger strategies that were extra-nationalso
NATO, the cold war took over and really took the place
of any Grand Strategy. I think that when you have to husband your
resources and really define the ends that you want to pursue,
Grand Strategy is much more important than when you are in more
Steven Jermy: I agree. I think
that just because we do not have the power to execute strategy
in a global sense does not mean to say that we must not understand
it. I think the position in Afghanistan is the classic example.
The fact that we were not concerned that there was not a coalition
strategy in Afghanistan is a demonstration to me that we must
be more concerned. We are not going to win this campaign if there
is not an overall strategy, and I do hope that Petraeus is the
man to take that forward.
Q216 Chair: Forgive me, but would
you agree that actually British policy in the Balkans is an example
of successful Grand Strategy, where a British strategy became
a NATO strategy, became an American strategy, and became the winning
Steven Jermy: Yes, I think that
is a good example. But to come back to the Americans, I don't
think the Americans are perfect at strategy, but they do give
it time. I was reassured when the Obama Administration sat down
and talked for a long time about Afghanistan with a lot of political
engagement. It seems to me that one of the most important things
in strategy is that politicians must engage early and continually.
Q217 Chair: But just because they
are doing it, does that mean it is really otiose for us to do
it, because we have to do what the Americans are doing?
Sir Robert Fry: That is a choice
we make, which may or may not be in our national interest, but
unless you define national interest, you do not know whether that
is right or wrong.
Q218 Kevin Brennan: Sir Robert, you
have said you are an admirer of the clarity of American strategic
thinking. Do you think that the invasion of Iraq was the product
of clear strategic thinking?
Sir Robert Fry: No, I don't. Let
me give a little bit of additional clarity about what I have just
said. I think that you saw a remarkable transition in American
forces between 2003 and where we are today. In 2003 there was
an invasion of Iraqleave aside the clarity of the strategic
thought that informed itthat, as a military act, was almost
flawless. You then had a transition from the combat phase to the
post-combat phase, which was utterly chaotic. You then had a period
of time when the Americans really did not know how to operate.
They began to think their way through it and, from 2005 and 2006
onward, they began to take on the intellectual leadership that
we had previously had in the conduct of counter-insurgency operations.
What I think the Americans show in this is the same thing that
they showed in 1862, in 1917 and in 1943. They take one army to
war, they find out it is the wrong army, and then they invent
another one and invent the doctrine that goes with it. What I
really admire is the clarity of thought that allows them to get
through that process.
Q219 Kevin Brennan: We know Americans
have a can-do flexible attitude to solving problems, but what
has that got to do with clarity of strategic thought that gets
you into a disastrous invasion such as the Iraq project?
Sir Robert Fry: What I wanted
to do was to explain the exact position I have on American clarity.
I do not think that historically it would be looked at as a very
smart strategic move. I can see why it happened. I can see why
the neo-con lobbies that were pre-eminent in Washington at that
time came to the fore and had their way. But I cannot claim that
it is a particularly good illustration of the application of strategic
thought to operational outcome.
Steven Jermy: I had a colleague
in the Pentagon who said that as they started to do the phase
4 planningand they started to do some very intelligent
phase 4 planning: they went back to Germany, looked at records
in Germany, looked at whether or not you should deconstruct the
army and so onthey were told to stop doing that by the
Office of the Secretary of Defense. So I think the issue really
in Iraq is very much to do with Rumsfeld and neo-cons, and their
clear view that they knew what they were doing.
Q220 Kevin Brennan: So a political
tide being sufficient to overcome that clarity of strategic thought
there otherwise might be. Finally, because we are being very brief,
if you identify a lack of clear strategic thinking as a problemand
we are not just talking about military strategy here, we are talking
about the broader national strategyhow would you rectify
a lack of clarity of strategic thinking in the UK system?
Sir Robert Fry: First, I
would put the creation of a Grand Strategy as a key task for government.
Implicitly, I think that has been done by the creation of a National
Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, so this
idea of something operating at the highest level of the Executive
is at least in place. Then I would write a National Security Strategy
that was less a wish list for goodwill in the world and something
that was much more about the definition of national interest and
the correlation between our aims and our capacity to fulfil them.
Then I would set on certain lines of strategic operation that
would try to bring those things about. But I think that I would
try to institutionalise it within the Government and the major
bureaucratic bodies in this country. That clearly does not exist
in the way that I have just described.
Steven Jermy: I would do two things.
I think that, firstly, I would have a very good look at my processes.
You are starting to do that in this committee, but what you really
need to be able to do is to get in and through Whitehall. You
need to be able to sit on the National Security Council and see
how it is working, sit in on the Chiefs of Staff, look at Cabinet
and watch how all these things are working. I would not want to
start from scratch. I would want to have a very, very good look
at the processes and I would want to test them against the criteria
of what is good strategy and are these systems likely to produce
good strategy? That is the first thing; it is probably a six-month
project, I imagine. Having done that, I would also want to have
a look at people, because ultimately, without the right people,
the processes will be as nothing. I want to make sure that I am
both training my people but all the time selecting the right people
to make the strategy. I want to be quite hardnosed as well, because
if I had people up at the senior level who were not doing it very
welland strategy is the product of people; it is the product
of thinkingI would want to have a system where I could
get rid of them in the same way that the Americans do. I think
we have to be a little bit hardnosed on that.
Q221 Kevin Brennan: A very brief
last question: had we had that sort of system in place 10 years
ago, would we have been involved in fewer wars than we have been?
Sir Robert Fry: We don't know,
because we don't know what the national interest would have been
defined as at the time. My guess is no. I think we would have
been far more rigorous about our relationship with America and
whether we truly derive strategic advantage from that or not.
If that did receive real intellectual scrutiny at the time, we
may well not have done what we did.
Q222 Kevin Brennan: It is taken as
received wisdom, isn't it?
Steven Jermy: I think we would
have been engaged in Afghanistan like it or not. I think the circumstances
of 9/11 were such that we would. I would like to think that with
those sorts of processes and people who were trained strategically,
we would have had a very good think about whether or not it was
in Britain's national interest to be in Iraq.
Chair: Moving on to Robert Halfon. We
have five minutes left.
Q223 Robert Halfon: You talked a
moment ago about if we had had the right strategy, things might
have been quite different. What kind of people do we need to make
this strategy? How would they be selected? How would they fit
in to the National Security Council?
Sir Robert Fry: I think there
are two sorts of people whom you need. First of all you need elected
representatives, because it is only through the process of government
that this can actually work. So we need people like you to take
an interest in this in the first instance. You need
Q224 Chair: You say politicians are
less qualified to make strategic decisions. That's one of the
things you have written down.
Sir Robert Fry: But you are necessarily
implicated in the process. I think you need to be supported by
a secretariat that has a genuine depth of understanding, practice
and training in this area. Stick those two things together and
I thinkas Steve has already saidcreate the processes
and instruments at the heart of government to do this, and you
begin to institutionalise it into national life.
Q225 Robert Halfon: Who selects the
people to do this? How are they selected in the first placethe
actual people to do the strategic thinking?
Sir Robert Fry: There are lots
and lotsyou must know thisof very bright people
in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and elsewhere.
They do not lack the native intelligence to be able to grasp these
things. What they need is some more institutionalised training
in the actual practice. The National Security Strategy is something
that just needs to get much better than it is at the present time,
but at least we now have one.
Q226 Chair: But the Foreign Secretary
said that he wants the whole Foreign Office to do this. He wants
the ambassador in Washington to do it; he wants the ambassador
in Moscow to do it; he wants his private secretary to do it; he
wants the directors of the department to do it. Can the people
in the line management do this and provide the challenge function,
or does it need to be something that is separate?
Steven Jermy: Challenge function
can be provided by other people. This is red teaming. But in terms
of making strategy, by far the best people to do it are the strategic
leaders. If strategic leaders are well trained, they are by far
the best people to do it because once they have made the strategy
and once they own it, they are much more likely to take it forward.
That is political, military and diplomatic.
Sir Robert Fry: Could I just make
a very brief comment on the dissonance between ends and means
at the present time? The Foreign Secretary over the summer made,
I think, four speeches on a broad manifesto for foreign policy
for the future as ambitious as it has ever been. We are about
to embark upon sets of reviews and government cuts that are actually
going to disassociate completely the means of supporting those
ends, and I cannot think of a better example of the vacuum in
strategic thinking than that.
Chair: Robert, have the last word.
Q227 Robert Halfon: Do you feel that
there needs to be a formal agency with a dedicated secretariat
to do this strategic thinking?
Sir Robert Fry: I think the NSC
is the start of that, but it seems to me to be something that
sits alone at the present time with no depth in the Cabinet Office
around it. It seems to me vital that you create some secretariat
depth to support the decisions that the NSC makes. If it does
not have that, it is not going to have the capacity to make the
Steven Jermy: I agree, but I do
think that it is about getting the key strategic leaders engaged.
If key strategic leaders are not engaged, having strategy which
is made theoretically by secretariats which are sat to the side
will not be as good as having key strategic leaders engaged in
the strategy making.
Q228 Chair: Are you saying it is
Steven Jermy: Not incompatible;
they can inform. But if we think back to the second world war,
the Chiefs of Staff and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic
met at 17 different conferences, each over 10 days. They spent
a long time talking through strategy.
Q229 Chair: But that was in total
war. We are talking about a peacetime structure.
Steven Jermy: It was, but in the
period in which I was the CDS's Principal Staff Officer, I cannot
remember a single occasion when the politicians and the senior
military sat down at length and talked through what was UK strategy.
That seems to me to be shortfall.
Q230 Chair: But they do need staff
work to support that process, don't they?
Steven Jermy: Staff work
and the odd half-hour discussion at Cabinet is different from
actually sitting down and really working through these problems.
Q231 Robert Halfon: Very quickly,
you mentionedI think it is in your article in Forbes
magazinethat there have been a number of strategic shocks:
9/11, financial services and so on. What do you mean by that?
Do you mean that there have been these shocks because there was
Sir Robert Fry: No. What I mean
is that in this century we have had two, maybe three, strategic
shocks. By strategic shock, I mean something that happens that
makes us think entirely differently: privately about our lives;
if you are in business about the way you run your business; and
if you are in government about the way in which you govern. 9/11
was one of those and then the financial collapse was another.
It seems to me that the world in which we live, which is globalised,
networked and increasingly anarchistic, is likely to have more
rather than fewer strategic shocks, so at best we create a mechanism
which allows us to absorb them as and when they happen.
Steven Jermy: The key to this
is to recognise that once you have developed a strategy or created
it, it almost certainly will not work as you planned, because
the world is just different. So I think you have to make sure
that within the process you have the flexibility to adapt and
if there is one key issue for me, it is the ability to learn.
I do not think this country has been very good at learning strategic
thinking. If we can do that within our processes, we have a chance.
Q232 Robert Halfon: What do you mean
when so say the world is anarchistic?
Sir Robert Fry: I think about
the interplay of state and non-state actors, international crime
and population movements. None of these things are governed, either
by national entities or transnational entities. I think the incidence
of those things is far greater now than it has been in the immediate
Chair: We have three more minutes.
Q233 Charlie Elphicke: One thing
that has occurred to me in terms of strategy, particularly when
we look at the Middle East, is it was foreseeable and well understood
that there was a balance of power between Iraq and Iran. They
had fought themselves effectively to a standstill, rather like
the wider balance of power between the west and the former Soviet
Union. One thing that occurs to me is it could be said that it
was, in one way, a strategic disaster to undertake the operations
there, because in disrupting that balance of power, we have arguably
created what the tabloids would describe as "mad mullahs
with nukes" as a regional superpower in the Middle East.
Is that fair, or is that unfair?
Sir Robert Fry: No, I think it
is fair but I think it is actually worse than you have just said.
I think that that is probably true, but you have also created
now a radical Shi'ite axis which starts in Iran, goes through
Syria and goes into Hezbollah, which even on a day-to-day basis
has far more implications for the balance of power in the Middle
East and the whole of the debate around Israel and Palestine than
Iran's possession of nuclear weapons.
Q234 Robert Halfon: Would that not
have happened anyway because 9/11 happened before the Iraq war?
Sir Robert Fry: Almost certainly
not. I think what has happened as a result of the invasion of
Iraq is the counter-balance that Mr Elphicke has just referred
to between Iraq and Iran has been lost. It is conceivable that
at some point in the future we might have to offer a nuclear guarantee
to Iraq because of the threat from Iran. Based on the reasons
that we went into Iraq in the first instance, that seems to me
to be the most exquisite historical irony.
Q235 Chair: Commodore Jermy, a last
word about where the process has failed here.
Steven Jermy: I am just going
to come back, because I think one of the key processes that has
failed is political context. To answer both those questions, I
think we would do very well to try to understand the political
context in which Iraq and Afghanistan have happened. It seems
to me that what we have not recognised is that we are in the middle
of a civil war in Islam between the modernisers and the conservativesit
is a war of ideas. We have somehow been drawn in on the side of
Q236 Chair: Do you think that is
because the politicians relied too easily on military action as
a solution rather than as a means to some political end?
Steven Jermy: Yes. I think it
is also a lack of Grand Strategy. I can forgive us in the early
days when we were reacting to AQ, because you are moving quickly.
But I think we have probably over the last five years not really
thought enough about the broad political context in which we are
operating and whether, for example, it makes good sense to have
large bodies of western troops marching about the lands of Islam.
It might feel right tactically, but strategically I am quite nervous
about it. As Eliza Manningham-Buller said, this is a recruiting
sergeant and we have really got to try to think about this strategically
Chair: General Sir Robert Fry, Commodore
Steven Jermy, thank you very much for your evidence. We are sorry
it is a slightly compressed session, but it has been extremely
valuable to us. Thank you very much indeed.