Who does UK National Strategy - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 237-297)



  Q237 Chair: Chief of Defence Staff, welcome to our session and thank you very much for giving up some time at an extremely busy moment for you. Our inquiry is not just about what you describe in your lecture as the classic Clausewitzian definition of Grand Strategy, because in the modern world we have more instruments at our disposal for pursuing the national interest than we had in those days, and we need to deploy them and we wish to use the military rather less than we would have wished in those days. We are primarily interested in process, so if the questions we ask go near some raw nerves, I

hope that we can explore where the process has been successful or less successful, rather than trying to find individuals to blame for particular decisions. If I may jump in right at the outset about Basra, I returned there for the first time after a while in 2007, I think, when General Jonathan Shaw was the General Officer Commanding, and it was really quite shocking to see how the substantial British military effort had become very locked down and somewhat beleaguered. I think it was General Shaw himself who described this operation as having become almost a self-licking lollipop. What we had on the ground was barely sufficient to do more than sustain itself and protect itself, and there was lots of talk at that time that we were facing grand strategic failure in Iraq on the wider coalition basis, but it felt like that in Basra. How had we reached such a pass?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Chair, first of all thank you very much indeed for the invitation. I am delighted to be here. I am delighted that you are actually conducting this particular investigation, as you might imagine from what I have said in the past. On the issue of Basra and Iraq, I think this is a pretty classic case study. First of all, I would say that the developments in Basra, however they went, were never on the critical path of grand strategic failure in Iraq. The events around Baghdad and particularly the Sunni-Shi'a divide were.

  Q238  Chair: I am going to stop you there, Sir, if I may, because I agree with that, but the point is that from the UK point of view this was not a strategic success, and that is the bit I want to concentrate on.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I disagree fundamentally.

  Q239  Chair: I think it has turned out much better.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: If I may, I will now come on to that. One of the difficulties in discussing strategy is that there is no clear accepted definition of it, as you have no doubt covered endlessly in this committee—the dictionary does not help at all. But the real problem is that since it is essentially about sensible ends that are constructed so that the ways and the means are available and commensurate with those ends, and then letting other people to get on and put all that together in a detailed plan, as it were, so that you eventually get to the end, you can of course have strategy at almost any level. It is a bit like a fractal diagram; the further down you focus, it looks exactly the same. So somebody in command of a small unit can have his strategy for that unit; businesses have their corporate strategies for varying sizes of business. You, of course, are talking about Grand Strategy, which is right at the top at the national level, but strategy itself appears in many guises. That was why I made the point about Grand Strategy in Iraq. In Basra though, from the UK perspective, our particular part of that task was to deliver the same end as it was throughout Iraq. That end was not to fix Iraq, but to get intersection between the state of conditions on the ground and the ability of the indigenous structures and forces to deal with those conditions. I think we pretty much always were clear that only the Iraqis could fix Iraq, and the same is true in Afghanistan, by the way. So you had to deal with the conditions and you had to try to get the conditions to a suitable level where the increasing capacity of the Iraqi state and its instruments could deal with those conditions. That is not Iraq fixed, but it is us done. So in other words, our job was to get the Iraqis to the start line in a decent state, not to run the race for them. So if I take that proposition as the broad strategic end state for foreign forces and foreign governments in Iraq, we faced that particular problem in Basra. We attempted to deal with it in a two-pronged approach. One, of course, was to train our elements of the Iraqi army; first of all 10 Division, and then later on 14 Division and also the Iraqi police. The second was to try to contain and if possible reduce the challenges on the ground so that you had intersection earlier. The problem that we faced with the latter task, which was the conditions on the ground, was that we were seeking to adopt a fairly hard-edged military approach in the city of Basra and we were prevented from executing that. It is conveniently forgotten that when we planned our operation at the end of 2006, it was not Operation Sinbad; it was Operation Salamanca. It was a hard-edged operation against the militias and the rug was pulled from beneath it completely by Prime Minister Maliki, who at that stage was dependent upon Muqtada al-Sadr for political support and the sustainment of his power base. He actually said, in terms, "There is no militia problem in Basra—there are no militias—and, by the way, you should release all your detainees." This was in the autumn of 2006. At the same time, of course, the Americans were planning a very similar approach to Sadr City. I think it is interesting to draw the contrast between the two: two areas of about 2 million people, nearly all Shi'a. The Americans faced exactly the same conundrum in Sadr City as we did in Basra and they were not able to deal with Sadr City until after Basra.

  Q240  Chair: But I think the question I am asking, Sir, is what lessons do we learn from strategy and strategy making about where we got to at that point?

   Sir Jock Stirrup: I am sorry this is taking a bit of a long time, but it is important to set the context, because since we were unable to do the hard-edged military things—we were just not allowed to by the Iraqis—we had to ask ourselves, "How are we going to deliver this strategic end?" The problem in Basra, of course, was not between Shi'a and Sunni; the problem in Basra was intra-Shi'a struggle for power: economic, political, criminal and all sorts of other kinds. We had people sitting in locations in Basra city unable to execute an aggressive military function but being shelled, with resupply convoys being attacked on a daily basis and people dying for no strategic benefit and no prospect for strategic benefit—progress towards that strategic end—down the track. So what was to be done? Given the fact that the problem in Basra was essentially political and that given the right Iraqi political framework and leadership, the Iraqi security forces could deal with the conditions in Basra, but that without that, nobody could, the question was how did we leverage Iraqi political outcomes within Basra? The decision we took was that we would say that once we have got the Iraqi army to a certain state, we will hand over the centre of Basra city to them. It is not as if we were able to do anything there ourselves, given the Iraqi political constraints. We would then be saying to the Iraqi Government, "Okay, you won't let us do it. You do it. We'll support you, but you do it or admit that you cannot control your second largest city." It was a risky approach, but there were no risk-free approaches. The consequence was Operation Charge of the Knights, which was not exactly how we had envisaged that operation being conducted, but we were of course planning for such an operation under the overall command of General Mohan and pushing hard in Baghdad for the necessary resources—Iraqi and coalition core assets—to ensure its success. For a variety of political reasons to do with the shifting dynamics with Muqtada al-Sadr and to do with the dynamics between Prime Minister Maliki and Governor Waili in Basra, the Prime Minister decided that he was going to head off south and launch this operation all on his own. So it was not how we were choosing to do it, and we made some tactical mistakes along the way: we were slow to mentor 14 Div of the Iraqi army in the way that we were not with the previous 10 Div, which meant we lost some situational awareness in the city, but the strategic outcome was what we needed, what the end state we had defined was, and what we had been working for over 18 months. My point is that a lot of the talk about Basra is due to a frustration at being unable to scratch tactical itches. I understand the urge to scratch tactical itches, but when they actually result in strategic failure, it is not a good idea. The misunderstandings about Basra are essentially down to a misunderstanding of what the strategic objective and end state was.

  Q241  Chair: So you are saying that there really was no moment in all this when you felt that the strategy had been lacking or there was a shortage of strategic thinking about how this should be conducted? It was a rolling success?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: There was a shortage of strategic thinking more widely, which led to the misperceptions and misapprehensions. One of my points is that it has been a tradition in the British military that you need to understand two up and two down—to understand the context of what you are doing two ranks higher and two ranks below. That is no longer adequate. A corporal or a sergeant on the ground in Basra or indeed somewhere in Afghanistan has to have a clear idea in his mind of the strategic objectives if he is to make any sense at all of what he is being asked to do. For example, people were very frustrated in Basra because they felt they were not protecting the Iraqi population.

  Q242  Chair: My last question on this before we move on is do you honestly believe that the politicians appreciated what they were taking on when we all agreed that British forces should go into southern Iraq?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: No.

  Q243  Chair: Isn't that a failure of strategic thinking?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: It certainly is, but it is a failure of strategic thinking much more widely.

  Q244  Chair: But I think that is what we are asking about; that is what this inquiry is about.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Indeed, but it was not a failure to think about the strategic issues; it was getting them wrong. If you go back to the strategic underpinning of the invasion of Iraq, the proposition was that freeing Iraq—and I am not talking about the UK here; I am talking about the wider coalition and the United States—from Saddam Hussein and establishing a proper democratic government would be a beacon for other countries throughout the region and that other oppressed people would say, "Here is a model other than the extremist one, which gives us hope and prospects for the future and we want some of this." It didn't work—it was wrong—but that was the strategy. So I think you must draw a distinction between incorrect and failing strategy, and no strategy at all.

  Q245  Chair: As we move forward to the present, do you feel the Treasury, as it conducts the spending round, has as keen an appreciation of Britain's strategic place in the world and the role the armed forces play in that as you do, for example?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: As I understand it at the moment, the strategy is to eliminate the deficit over the course of the Parliament.

  Q246  Chair: That is of course part of the strategy, but it would be rather unfortunate if, in dealing with a short-term or medium-term deficit, we permanently relegate the UK in the world by, for example, sending out very mixed signals by delaying and possibly cancelling the Trident missile system, which is the latest news this morning.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I absolutely agree with the wider point about seeking to eliminate the deficit. I am not totally economically illiterate and I see absolutely the importance of doing that and sustaining Britain's credit rating. Of course, the absolute fundamental prerequisite for a sound defence is always a sound economy, so we have a big stake in that, but it is a very difficult balance to strike. Coming back to your central point about Grand Strategy, there are two points I would make. Grand Strategy is always going to be complex because you are dealing with Britain's aspirations and place in the world, and its aspirations for itself and its people, which of course have to do with security but also have to do with prosperity, health and all of those other things. They have all got to be balanced in your approach, so it is very complex. The second point is it is dynamic. You cannot set up a plan—this was, I would argue, the key failing in Iraq—and then not worry whether it is going to bear fruit or whether it is going to be the right one in the context of changing circumstances. So I am not saying you change your strategy every five minutes, but strategy has to evolve in the face of reality.

  Q247  Chair: A last question on Trident. The upgrade of Trident would comprise about 5% of the defence budget over the lifetime of the system—quite cheap; very good value. Would it not it be spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar to take that cut now and either spend more in the future or have to cancel the system?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think it is, of course, a political decision whether or not this country has a strategic nuclear deterrent. My own view, though, is that if you are going to have one, you have to have a credible deterrent. Our policy has been to maintain the minimum credible nuclear deterrent. You can argue about where exactly on the scale of things the minimum credibility lies, but if you accept that as a policy, the only reduction you can make on that sensibly is to zero.

  Q248  Chair: Do you think delaying the system would itself send a mixed signal about its credibility?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think there are two significant issues. The first is the issue of building submarines. You need to keep a submarine building capacity and to keep that capacity, you need to have work going through the submarine building yards. You cannot just stop; they cannot put all those facilities and capacity in cold storage. So you have the nuclear submarine building drumbeat that has to be attended to. The second issue is the life of the current submarines. This is a difficult argument to have, because there is no absolute cliff edge beyond which you do not have those submarines available, but we all know that an ageing nuclear steam generating plant gets harder and harder to sustain as the years go by.

  Q249  Chair: And more expensive.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: And more expensive.

  Q250  Robert Halfon: You mentioned that for a sound defence you need a sound economy. How far in your view do you think that a domestic strategy informs the national Grand Strategy, and what is the relationship between the two?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think they are inextricably linked. You cannot have a foreign policy that is delinked from your economy or from the willingness of your population to support that foreign policy and from the resources that are available to support that policy. So I think that they have to be inextricably linked, just as purely in the field of security itself you cannot delink the home and away games, if I can put it that way. Counter-terrorism here within the UK and activities designed to counter terrorism abroad have to be complementary and synergistic. So I think that it is a false distinction to make.

  Q251  Robert Halfon: But has it been linked over the past 10 years and is it being linked at the moment?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think that it has been linked at different periods. I come back to this point: my proposition has never been that we have not had strategy. My proposition is that strategy is complex and dynamic and that you have to keep on top of it all the time, and that therefore you have to have strategic thinking, which means you have to have strategic thinkers who address evolving issues and emerging challenges always in the context of the wider strategic picture. That is something that I would contend that we have not done well. We have actually set strategy as, if you like, a detailed road map that we then have not been able to follow, but about which we have not really worried too much.

  Q252  Kevin Brennan: Our esteemed Chair, on the radio this morning, described any decision to delay Trident as "madness". Do you agree with him?

  Chair: I was speaking for myself, not the committee.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I don't think that is a term that I would find myself using. I would just go back to the answer I gave a few moments ago: there are two critical issues here, which are the ageing boats that we have at the moment, and the necessity to keep the submarine building industry to a minimum drumbeat.

  Q253  Kevin Brennan: But most of us thought we had already got this in our national strategy, if you like—we took the decision a few years ago under the previous Government. We had a long debate about it. We had lots of people who build submarines in to talk to Members of Parliament about the strategic industrial importance of it, and we had the military in to talk about the military importance and so on. We therefore thought that the decision had been taken. Is not this morning's floating of this idea by the Government a classic example of what you described as "scratching a tactical itch", as opposed to having any kind of Grand Strategy?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I am not aware that any decision has been taken along these lines.

  Q254  Kevin Brennan: Where you do think this is coming from?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I have seen and heard a lot of reporting in the media over the past few weeks about the defence review and various things that might or might not be done. Although there are elements of fact in some of them, mostly they have been fairly wild speculation. So there has been no decision. I come back to my point, which is that if the political decision is to have a strategic nuclear deterrent—and as far as I understand, that is still absolutely the policy—you have to have the minimum credible deterrent. If you are not going to have that, it is not worth having any; you would be better off having zero. Spending money on a less than minimum credible deterrent to me makes no strategic sense whatsoever.

  Q255  Kevin Brennan: So are you worried about these reports this morning or do you just think they are some kind of Aunt Sally that is being generated from somewhere within the Government?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I would be worried about any proposition that was untenable in the context of maintaining a minimum credible nuclear deterrent, which to me is continuous at-sea deterrence by our submarines.

  Q256  Kevin Brennan: Can I just ask about something you said earlier in relation to the strategy that took us into Iraq? Would you agree with the proposition that basically, in recent years, UK so-called Grand Strategy has effectively been tethered to the mast of American Grand Strategy, and that that meant being tethered to a group of neo-con nutters who thought that by invading Iraq and trying to impose a democratic government there, there would be a domino effect across the rest of the Middle East?

  Chair: He means some people we might not necessarily agree with.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think, first of all, that the proposition that tying our approach to that of the United States is new is not really tenable. Our strategy in the second world war, certainly from the time that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, was to hang on until the Americans got in. Of course, once the Americans got in, we had influence and held discussions with them, but we were pretty tied to the approach that the Americans were going to decide, given the preponderance of weight that they were going to put into the campaigns. So I think that if you take a step back, it is this country's strategy to leverage our relationship with the United States to our strategic security benefit.

  Q257  Kevin Brennan: Do you think that that, in recent years, got confused with the notion that we should never have, if you like, a cigarette paper between us and the United States in relation to our strategic thinking?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think the notion that there should never be a cigarette paper between us is flawed. You can have a strategic partnership and you can seek to leverage that partnership to your strategic benefit and still have disagreements about approaches—and indeed we do. We have very serious debates with the Americans and other partners about the way that strategy should be evolving. We have to accept that there is a limit to the influence that we can bring to bear, particularly on the United States, but we do seek to exercise that influence.

  Q258  Kevin Brennan: We have taken a lot of evidence about this term "Grand Strategy" that we are looking into during our inquiry. Professor Strachan from Oxford said that the term was facing an existential crisis. Do you agree with that? Has it been a term that is too loose to have any real value or meaning?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: No. I take the opposite view. I take the view that it is something that we have not paid nearly enough attention to. We in the military, for example, sought at one stage to differentiate between Grand Strategy, which is the national level with political objectives, and military strategy. I don't see that you can separate the two. The strategic realm, for me, is where the military art and politics intersect. Most, if not all, military campaigns are about achieving political objectives—back to Clausewitz. The political objectives, since we are fighting conflicts and campaigns in distant places, are often as much about the politics of those places as they are about the politics of our own country. So for me you cannot separate the two. I think the grand strategic approach, which is at that level a reflection of what lower down we have come to describe as the comprehensive approach, is the only sensible way to proceed.

  Kevin Brennan: Thank you, Chair.

  Q259  Chair: Thank you very much. Do you think, CDS, that the Government have become over reliant on military people for this kind of strategic thinking?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think that the governments of the past have not always thought enough about the politics and have not always thought enough about the fact that it is political objectives we are seeking to achieve. As I say, since they are in other people's sovereign countries, the politics of all of that is not just a fundamental element of the campaign but, in the campaigns in which we are and have been engaged, is actually the supported element. One of the reasons we were so keen to set up the civil-military mission in Helmand was that it was certainly my view that if our military in Helmand was not working in support of a political plan for Helmand, what were we doing there?

  Q260  Chair: Do you think that military officers get enough education on strategic thinking?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I do not, and I have sought to do something about that. I think that there are two elements to it. One is the formal education element, but the other one is just the practice of strategic thinking. As you will know, I have set up the CDS's Strategic Forum, which draws together people from Half Colonel up to One Star level who have been identified from across the three services as good candidates for this. They engage in a virtual forum in debate on key strategic issues that are put to them.

  Q261  Chair: What about integrated thinking with civil servants and that education? Are civil servants educated enough in strategic thinking?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I would like to see this initiative—which does draw in a few civilians, by the way; it is not entirely military, but it is mostly military—draw in civil servants some no-longer-party-related senior political figures as well so that we start to get this broader approach to Grand Strategy. I am afraid, though, that the Permanent Secretary and myself had a go at setting up something along these lines about two and a half or three years ago across Whitehall and it did not really garner much support. As a consequence, I decided that the way to do it was to start something off our own bat and make it such a success that everybody wanted to pile into it, so we hope to expand that over the next two, three or four years.

  Q262  Chair: When Alan Clark was writing his memorandum, looking 20 years hence, he asked himself, "Am I the only person who does this?" Do you share that surprise that so few people do this kind of thinking?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Are you asking me about politicians or people in general?

  Q263  Chair: I am talking about your experience as a senior military officer. Are you surprised so few people do this 20-year horizon scanning? We know it happens in bits: DCDC do threats and all that stuff, but they do not do what we should do. Who does what we should be doing and where we want to be in 20 years' time?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: We do horizon scanning.

  Q264  Chair: But that is with military and defence policy.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Exactly.

  Q265  Chair: I am talking about wider government policy.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: More widely, I could not say how much horizon scanning goes on, for example, in the Treasury or in the Home Office or in other departments.

  Q266  Chair: I know that you don't answer for them, but you often have to deal with the consequences of the lack of that thinking.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think, of the people with whom we deal on a frequent basis, that the Foreign Office certainly do this. I think the Department for International Development is now doing it as well. But the other departments—

  Q267  Chair: Is the new National Security Council not an opportunity to draw this together and to create a single cadre of free-thinking people who share the same idiom of thinking—a common language of thinking—to provide this challenge function?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: It is absolutely, and I think that the National Security Council is a very good start. I think one of the things that distinguishes it from bodies that preceded it is the appointment of a National Security Adviser, not because this is the person who does all the strategic thinking—not only is that not credible, but it would be wrong—but because you do need somebody who can actually marshal the business, organise it and drive through implementation of decisions.

  Q268  Chair: But it is only a good start?

   Sir Jock Stirrup: It is a good start, but the reason it is only a good start is because the National Security Council by itself is insufficient. It needs to be supported across the board by people who are thinking strategically. I come back to my fundamental point: all the people in various departments who are briefing their ministers and people in the Cabinet Office, are they all thinking strategically? I would contend that some are, but by no means enough of them.

  Chair: This is very helpful, thank you.

  Q269  Nick de Bois: You do seem to be suggesting from your lecture that one of the reasons for the deficiency in capacity for strategic thinking is that, essentially, compared with earlier times, we are in a much more complex and dynamic security environment. As a result, do we have to ditch all the old assumptions? Are all our old assumptions in flux? If so, how should we be reviewing those old certainties?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think what we have to do is to draw a distinction between underlying principles and the way those have been applied in the past. Methods of waging warfare have changed dramatically over the centuries. People talk about horse versus tank moments and all the rest of it, and yet we all still go round quoting Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and people like this. So there are principles that do not change, but the way in which you give effect to those principles changes dramatically. I think that is the key point. It is not an easy thing to do; it is easy to say, but it is not easy to do. How do you distil out the essence of the principles? This can be done in fundamentally different ways. In some areas it is very difficult to implement because of the circumstances, but then suddenly new ways spring up of giving effect to those principles. That is the kind of flexibility and rapid evolutionary approach you have to have. So it is not a question of throwing out all the things you thought about before. Jacob Bronowski had a marvellous way of putting this. He said that in every age there comes a fundamental moment: "a new way of seeing and asserting the coherence of the world". In other words, the fundamental underlying facts have not changed, but they way you put them together and what they mean to you and the consequences of them change from year to year.

  Q270  Nick de Bois: Do you think we have to capacity to do that, though, given some of the reservations that you have expressed?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I do not think we have nearly sufficient capacity at the moment, no. Again, because, as I say, I do not think we have inculcated the art of strategic thinking. My starting point—and this is a criticism as much of the military as everybody else, but it is not exclusive to the military—is that the default mode of thinking is tactical. There is nothing people in London like more than sitting round a table drawing lines on maps of Helmand, but it is not what people in London are for. So the default mode of thinking should be strategic. You should have to force yourself out of that to the tactical; it is the other way round at the moment.

  Q271  Nick de Bois: A lot of people have suggested that if you were to formalise a strategic thinking agency this could be the panacea to sorting out the problem.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I fundamentally disagree because of my proposition that you must have the right organisation—of course having the right focus or these activities, like the NSC and the National Security Adviser, is important. If you do not have the strategic thinking to underpin it, however, it will not be a success. That strategic thinking must be widespread. It is a culture.

  Q272  Nick de Bois: I am glad you said the word "culture" because the culture is, in my opinion, what is not there and you cannot just teach a culture—it has to form and grow. Do you think, though, that just as we have to deal with day-to-day politics and challenges—you talked about the economy—strategy is always going to play second place to the scratching moment when we have to deal with the immediate, or can you balance the two?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I clearly would contend you can balance the two. I recognise that if the house is on fire, you need to put out the fire—I do understand that—but you then need to return to the bigger issues. You are right. Clearly, culture change is one of the most difficult things to do and you do not do it by setting up a training course or setting up an organisation or a structure; you have to address it on a more fundamental basis. That is why my approach within the military has been to get people doing it on real-world issues. We give them the issues, they debate these things, we take the output that comes from them and we feed it into the wider considerations, but the main point of the exercise is to get them doing it on a continuing basis. It is only a core of people at the moment but, as I said, we intend to grow this and what we want to see is a shift where everybody wants to do this and everybody wants to be a part of this because this is clearly one of the driving forces of our organisation. That, I think, is what we need to do more widely. It will take time; you cannot achieve a cultural shift overnight.

  Q273  Chair: But this is just happening in the Ministry of Defence. We have had evidence from members of your Strategic Advisory Group who clearly believe—and wish—that the United Kingdom Government need a much wider capacity than perhaps what you are developing.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I couldn't agree more. The Strategic Advisory Group, of course, is a different body. They are people from outside the military who I draw on to discuss, in a free flowing way, these difficult strategic issues. It is a think tank; it is a brainstorming session. The Strategic Forum is for, as I say, Half Colonels to One Stars to engage in this virtual forum so that they practice the art of strategic thinking while dealing with real world issues too. I come back to the point I made earlier, Chair: of course the ideal is to get this sort of forum that involves civil servants and, as I say, people from the political field, although not current party political people—economists and people like that—but we tried the wider approach to start with and we were completely underwhelmed by the response; it was just impossible to get it going.

  Q274  Chair: Response from whom?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: From the wider field.

  Q275  Chair: When you say the wider field, do you mean other government departments?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Across Whitehall and from national non-government agencies as well.

  Q276  Chair: Isn't that the problem?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes, absolutely. So what is the response to the problem? My response was to create something that was hopefully going to be so successful that everybody would want to be a part of it.

  Q277  Chair: But doesn't that underline the need for the Government purposefully to set up some kind of central organisation, perhaps under the National Security Council, with some perhaps more active Parliamentary oversight on what national strategy is and how it is developed?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I wouldn't disagree with that at all, Chair, but my point is that that by itself will not effect a culture change. You need some mechanism to drive through the longer-term cultural change, which is going to take several years.

  Q278  Robert Halfon: What is that mechanism?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: As I say, for me, it is a mechanism that gets people engaged in doing it at an early stage in their careers, wherever they happen to be, so that as they get to more senior positions, this has become their default mode of thinking.

  Q279  Mr Walker: Just out of interest, you would have toured NATO countries and seen how they operate. Would you say that, for example, France has a better developed idea of national strategy than the United Kingdom?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: No.

  Q280  Chair: But do they have a better institutional capacity for it?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes.

  Q281  Chair: And we are at a disadvantage because we do not have this capacity?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes. But of course one of the problems is—it is a bit hard to comment and criticise other people's structures, but from what I can see—there are even more tensions within the French structure than there are within ours.

  Q282  Chair: But isn't tension an inevitable part of strategy making because you need to consider conflicting scenarios and conflicting interests within the organisation?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: It is not tension between different strategic views; it is tension between power centres.

  Q283  Chair: But we see that in the United States, for example.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes you do, and that is a disadvantage in the United States. I think one of the powerful things that the United States has going for it is this ease of movement between government and think tanks, academic institutions and all the rest of it.

  Q284  Chair: So would you favour the Government promoting or perhaps even funding—as in fact under Denis Healey there was a very concerted effort—chairs of defence and security studies, chairs of national strategy in universities and think tanks?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I would, but the key is that we have a problem in this country—forgive me; this is just a personal bias—that if it is useful, it cannot be educational. That is training. I would not favour setting up a purely academic approach to this that is separate from government. My point about the United States is that people flow between these, so the ideas and the thinking flows into and out of government and between these different organisations in a way that it does not here. The thinking goes on here, but it goes on in compartments and it is very hard to get it shifted from one field into another—from the academic to government and vice versa.

  Q285  Chair: I just want to be absolutely clear about what you are advising. With your enormous experience and as you reach that moment when you will be taking off your uniform or wearing it less frequently, you are saying that we need more institutional capacity and that the National Security Council could be the focus of that capacity—not necessarily having it located there, but with it drawing together and processing it, and maybe with a sort of national strategic assessment staff under the National Security Council—but that it must not become a rival power base; another government department.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Exactly so, and that might be the arena in which you could get people flowing into and out of the private and academic sector.

  Q286  Chair: Do you feel the JIC or MI5 or MI6 or GCHQ are rival power bases?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: No, I don't.

  Q287  Chair: So it could be an organisation of that nature?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes. But even so, the key to all of this in my view—sorry to hammer the nail right through the table—is the culture change.

  Q288  Chair: The culture change. So it is an educational problem?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: It is education by doing at an early stage.

  Q289  Nick de Bois: Can I just clarify that point? It is very much about the application to develop a culture—you prove it by doing it and it grows further. Can that happen in institutions in a short period? My belief is that you are really talking quite long term here, aren't you?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I don't think you can effect that kind of culture change in any walk of life quickly. It does take a long time, because first of all you start with a core of people at a relatively early stage in their careers, but then they move through their careers and this expands as they go on. So yes, you are probably talking about at least a 10-year project, but if you are thinking strategically, that is nothing.

  Q290  Chair: But you would envisage our recommendations perhaps aiming high in the long term, but making some practical suggestions in the shorter term to build up that capacity?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Absolutely, but sustained over time.

  Q291  Chair: The Foreign Secretary rather said that he did not feel that that sort of capacity was necessary—he does the strategy—and Sir Peter Ricketts told us that the Cabinet does the strategy. Do you think Foreign Secretaries and Cabinet Ministers have that capacity to develop, sustain and adapt strategy on an ongoing basis without that kind of support?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Again, I come back to my central proposition, which is not that there are not people doing strategy, but that strategy is a complex and dynamic process and that therefore everyone involved in the enterprise, or a large proportion of them, particularly at a more senior level, needs to be thinking strategically so that they support the strategic goals that have been set. Of course the Foreign Secretary decides strategy, but he cannot spend every minute of his day checking how it is going and all the implications of that and whether those implications are being dealt with in accordance with the broader and evolving strategic context. Only the enterprise can do it. This is rather like saying, if I may, that the general at the head of the Army makes all the decisions and everyone else just does as they are told. We have a fundamental principle of mission command that has to be applied to strategic thinking.

  Q292  Chair: Finally—we are determined to bring you back on to the runway on time—you have identified a breakdown in the habit of strategic thinking across Whitehall. How is this affecting SDSR? Is this going to have a knock-on effect on SDSR, particularly as the financial pressures are, we know, very acute and, as you say, the deficit is the main effort at the moment?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Clearly, given the targets that we have been set by the Treasury, which are pretty difficult, we are trying to evolve a vision for 2020 that is strategically coherent, militarily coherent and within the resource envelope that has been indicated to us. I think we can do that; in fact, I am sure we can do that. There will be disagreements—of course there will—because people will take different views about things. My concern will be how we get from here to there and how we get through the next few years—of course that is when the deficit is going to be reduced—in a way that enables us to sustain the very difficult effort that our people are making in Afghanistan and that leaves us in a position to grow into the strategically coherent position by 2020. That is the key challenge.

  Q293  Chair: The House Of Commons Defence Committee has described the timeframe for this review as "startlingly short". Is that a concern you share?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: In part. What I think we would have done much more of had we had more time is broader public consultation. I am not sure that it would have changed the results at all, because the results are driven by some very severe financial pressures, but it would have helped develop the thinking and perhaps a broader consensus for what was being proposed.

  Q294  Chair: But by hanging the timetable on the spending round, you are confident it hasn't become the "Financial Defence and Security Review"?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Of course it is driven by resource, but then everybody over the past few days has been lauding the last defence review. That is all well and good but there was a lot of very sensible thinking that went into it and then it was not funded.

  Chair: Quite right.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Ideas that do not have the adequate resource put into them are not a strategy; they are a fantasy.

  Chair: Two last questions: one from Charlie Elphicke and then I will come to you, Kevin.

  Q295  Charlie Elphicke: Air Chief Marshal, my understanding is that your tour of duty as CDS is now drawing to a close. You have served this nation with distinction for more years than I have even been alive, with a career starting in 1970, and you have a huge amount of experience, having seen so many events. Can I ask you, if you were in the Foreign Office doing that valedictory statement thing they do, what would be the key points of your valedictory statement?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: I think I would say first of all that the military has adapted extraordinarily well to enormous change. That is easy to overlook. In the first half of my career, we evolved, but it was all the cold war, so the world looked pretty much the same, with rather different knobs on. But since then, of course, the world has become much more complex and dynamic—things have changed dramatically. The military is sometimes accused of being stuck in the past. Actually, if you look at what has happened—if you conduct a coldblooded analysis—the amount of change that has gone on has been absolutely fundamental and the military has, in my view, done it superbly all the while, certainly over most of the last 20 years in contact with the enemy. That is the first thing to say. The second thing I would say is that the one thing that this nation should be inordinately proud of is the fact that it has young men and women who are still prepared to step forward and serve, not all of whom come from the most advantaged or best educated parts of society, and who, given the challenge and given the training, go out there and do some astonishing things. They concede nothing to their predecessors in terms of commitment, courage and performance. This nation really should be proud of that. I think the third thing I would say, though, is that we have been in a period of almost continuous declining investment in defence and perhaps in security more widely—not always in real cash terms, but the cost of our business does not go up in line with inflation. After all, people do not expect throughout their careers their pay rises to be limited to inflation; they expect, if GDP grows, to have a part of that reward in terms of their pay. Our people do, too. So our people costs are a large element of our costs; those costs go up at a higher rate than inflation and, of course as we know, there is defence equipment. I am not going to defend all of our acquisition processes or stories in the past by any means; there are some pretty bad ones there. There have also been some very good ones, by the way, which tend to get overlooked. But it is a fact that no one around the world does it any better and it is a fact that when you are operating at the high end of technology, the cost of these things, again, does not go up in line with inflation.

  Q296  Kevin Brennan: My question requires only a one word answer. When you do stand down, following on from Mr Elphicke's question, are you planning to emulate any of your military colleagues by pursuing a career in party politics?

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Certainly not.

  Q297  Chair: Chief of Defence Staff, thank you very much indeed for your time this morning. We are exceptionally grateful to you and it has been a very valuable session for us.

  Sir Jock Stirrup: Thank you. Can I say I have enjoyed it, but thank you again for doing this, because as you know, this is a subject very dear to my heart.

  Chair: Thank you very much.

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