Who does UK National Strategy - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 187-236)



  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 chairman.

  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 outset—I think I might just invite you to respond to what I am going to say in a 90-second burst—this 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 it—and I have been doing that for five years—is 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 processes—I 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 two—and 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 means—the military and other resources available to us at the time—were 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 resources—that 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 to fail?

  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 Helmand—and I was intimately involved in this—was 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 this decision?

  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 places—the 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 surprised—either or both of you—that 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 me—it seemed then and it seems now—that 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 question?

  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 in.

  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 process—an 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 key.

  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 we did.

  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 fallacious.

  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 operations—the ground changes from water to land and those sorts of issues—so 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 works—they are pretty effective—and 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. We—the west—then 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 forces—and maybe wider—had 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 citizenship—it 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 making—and I think we should—they need the training to take them through this. We get a bit in the military—probably not enough—but 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 said—and I may have this wrong—that 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 one.

  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-national—so 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 prosperous times.

  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 strategy?

  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 Iraq—leave aside the clarity of the strategic thought that informed it—that, 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 planning—and 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 on—they 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 problem—and we are not just talking about military strategy here, we are talking about the broader national strategy—how 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 well—and strategy is the product of people; it is the product of thinking—I 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 think—as Steve has already said—create 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 place—the actual people to do the strategic thinking?

  Sir Robert Fry: There are lots and lots—you must know this—of 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 proper decisions.

  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 incompatible with—

   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 mentioned—I think it is in your article in Forbes magazine—that 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 no strategy?

  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 past.

  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 conservatives—it is a war of ideas. We have somehow been drawn in on the side of the modernisers.

  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 for once.

  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.

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