Examination of Witnesses (Questions 237-297)|
GCB AFC ADC RAF@HR25
16 SEPTEMBER 2010
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 committeethe
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 Basrathere are no militiasand, 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 thingswe were just not allowed to by the Iraqiswe
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 benefitprogress
towards that strategic enddown 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
resourcesIraqi and coalition core assetsto 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
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 downto 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 Iraqand
I am not talking about the UK here; I am talking about the wider
coalition and the United Statesfrom 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 workit was wrongbut
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 planthis was, I would
argue, the key failing in Iraqand 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 systemquite 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
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
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
Q253 Kevin Brennan: But most of us
thought we had already got this in our national strategy, if you
likewe 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 deterrentand as
far as I understand, that is still absolutely the policyyou
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
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
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 approachesand 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
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
objectivesback 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 initiativewhich does draw in a few civilians,
by the way; it is not entirely military, but it is mostly militarydraw
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
Q264 Chair: But that is with military
and defence policy.
Sir Jock Stirrup: Exactly.
Q265 Chair: I am talking about wider
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 thinkinga common language of thinkingto 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 thinkingnot
only is that not credible, but it would be wrongbut 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
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 pointand this is a criticism as much
of the military as everybody else, but it is not exclusive to
the militaryis 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
organisationof 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 cultureit
has to form and grow. Do you think, though, that just as we have
to deal with day-to-day politics and challengesyou talked
about the economystrategy 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 fireI do understand
thatbut 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
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 believeand
wishthat 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 peopleeconomists and people like thatbut
we tried the wider approach to start with and we were completely
underwhelmed by the response; it was just impossible to get it
Q274 Chair: Response from whom?
Sir Jock Stirrup: From the wider
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
Q278 Robert Halfon: What is that
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 isit is a bit hard to comment
and criticise other people's structures, but from what I can seethere
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
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 fundingas in fact
under Denis Healey there was a very concerted effortchairs
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 countryforgive
me; this is just a personal biasthat 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 anotherfrom
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 capacitynot 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 Councilbut 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 viewsorry to hammer the
nail right through the tableis 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
cultureyou 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
necessaryhe does the strategyand 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
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: Finallywe are
determined to bring you back on to the runway on timeyou
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 disagreementsof
course there willbecause 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 yearsof course that
is when the deficit is going to be reducedin 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 dynamicthings have changed dramatically. The
military is sometimes accused of being stuck in the past. Actually,
if you look at what has happenedif you conduct a coldblooded
analysisthe 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 widelynot 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.