Written evidence submitted by Admiral
Sir John Woodward GBE KCB
Firstly I present some general views at paragraphs
1, 2 and 3. Then I go on to answer the questions at paragraph
I have attached my original paper Strategy
by Matrix written in 1973 and modified in 2003 since it gets
referred to in what is below. It has been my personal guide to
any strategic thinking that I have needed to do for over 30 years.
1. My views on how to develop strategy within
the MOD arecreate a Central Staff self-managed promotion
structure independent of the Single Services. There is no other
route to "Joint Planning" [and that includes joint strategy
planning]. The existing "system" demands that officers
are only effectively "lent" to the Central Staff and
woe betide their careers if they forget their Single Service "loyalties"
when they're in the Central Staff. Most CDSs should be free of
this constraint since that has to be their last appointmentbut
sadly old habits die hard. Central Staff loyalties must be to
their own [separate from the Single Services] organisation.
2. In my experience of Defence Reviews since
1972, they seldom got round to saying what should actually be
done, much less what with. They were driven primarily by cash
constraints, secondarily by industrial, employment and vote-buying
considerations. The inevitable result is the sort of thing you
see today, a real "buggers" muddle of too frequent gross
mis-management and waste of funds on politically desirable [joint
European, for instance] projects, cherry-picked from military
requirements. This has the added political advantage that when/if
they go wrong, the MOD can be blamed. This will all have been
aggravated by the change [which I did not actually see in my time
there up to 1987] in the ratio of civils to military in the MOD.
Civils will usually and quite naturally tend to see military requirements
and aspirations in purely civil terms. To civils, the wish to
please government is paramount [despite "Yes, Minister"],
after all their careers depend on it. And their judgements are
not professionally based on military knowledge or experience,
not even from National Service now. My old paper Strategy by
Matrix tells you how to consider political, economic and military
options as a whole, while recognising the "boundaries"
between each. Most Reviews largely leave out the military considerations,
once the nuclear deterrent policy is decided. Short of the actual
event, most politicians fail to consider attrition of non-nuclear
forces and the possible consequences of such failure. My conclusion
is to invite the new Central Staff in the MOD to work to several
different assumptions on cash, extended 10 to 20 years aheadLong
Term Costings if you likeand produce options for military
strategies together with their costs. Cost assumptions should
be defined eg figures for peacetime and wartime attrition, for
escalation of costs with time, or delay, or plain error [plus
the penalties for getting them wrong].
3. I suspect the "Defence Planning
Assumptions" were usually too vague, with little idea of
costs, much less allowance for attrition. I confess I never much
liked themthey are usually ignored in the evenwhich
is seldom what you expected anyway.
4. Trying to answer the paper's questions
(a) What do we mean by "strategy"
or "grand strategy"without a stated "aim"
for each main area of future planning, no one can know what the
strategy should beit's like leaving harbour with no destination
decidedwhat course do you steer when you clear the port
approaches, how much fuel do you need, how fast do you want to
go, what do you want to do when/if you get there? At present the
"ship of state" is largely rudderless beyond the vague
suggestions of SDR98.
(b) Who holds the "UK Strategic Concept"?
I was not aware that any such concept existed beyond "We'll
rely on muddling through on the day, it has usually worked in
the pastlike since 1066."
(c) Do different government departments understand
and support any such UK strategic policy they can discern? Probably
not. When I did my briefing rounds before taking on the job of
DCDS [C] in 1985, I made a point of going round the Foreign Office
to ask them what they thought the MOD should be providing in support
of our foreign policy, what were their priorities? No one had
the least ideathe thought of briefing a senior MOD official
just hadn't crossed their mindsor if it had, they hadn't
put together any plan for it.
(d) What capacity exists for cross-departmental
strategic thinking? None that I was aware of beyond the closed
doors of the Civil Service. Should the Government develop and
maintain the capacity for strategic thinking? Obviously it should
retain the capacity for strategic judgement, just like every other
government departmentbut its main function should be to
pull the various departments strategies together, rather than
invent them for themselves from top down.
(e) What frameworks are needed to do this?
I really don't know,but presumably some kind of Parliamentary
Committee specially selected for its non-party political integrityif
(f) How is UK Strategy challenged in the light
of events? Usually by a huge, long-winded and costly Government
Inquiry which, by limiting its terms of reference, seeks to exonerate
the Government from blamepace Bloody Sunday et al. Risk
assessments [on newly discovered threats] are a different matter
because they will usually produce different requirements from
the existing procurement plans, individual Services will usually
disagree, projects will delay, costs will increase and we get
the full "buggers" muddle again. Unless, as in 1982,
everyone knew what the strategic aim was, what was needed, how
long they had to implement it, how they intended to achieve the
aim, what the attrition might be and whether we could manage it.
But above all, the whole course of events was demand-led not cash-constrained.
We happened, despite the best efforts of the then Conservative
Defence Secretary, John Nott, to have sufficient kitwith
several last minute additionsto get away with it largely
because the opposition made more mistakes than we did.
(g) How are strategic thinking skills best
developed and sustained within the Civil Service? I suggest
by avoiding letting them think they know better than the "experts",
the military, MI5 and 6, and the many other junior authorities
involved in ensuring the security of this country.
(h) Should non-government experts be included
in the Government's strategy making process? Inevitably, but
always be fully aware of their hidden agendae. Try to find "elder
statesmen", the grey eminences like Willy Whitelaw, Peter
Carrington, Denis Healey who have no further ambition in their
chosen areas. Use some young ones who have not developed loyalties
to firms or Services.
(i) How should the strategy be communicated
across government? The same way that SDR98 was. Not much wrong
there, the trouble was that no one pursued to conclusion in the
realities of kit, people, costs etc.
(j) How can departments work more collaboratively?
See my answer at (d) above.
(k) How can reduced resources be appropriately
allocated ...? Speaking for the MOD alone, by adopting my
scheme at para 1.
(l) Do other countries do strategy better?
Sometimes but not usually against us, history suggests. Perhaps
"muddling through" is the best policy?! Certainly, when
I once attended a lecture by a retired MOD PUS who had been addressing
a senior military and civil audience on the subject of "The
formulation of Defence Policy", I waited until he was about
to sit down and be thanked by the Chairman and said:"I
have listened carefully to everything said over the last 60 minutes
and believe that our method for the formulation of Defence Policy
can be summarised in two words"muddling through".
He put his head to one side for about two seconds while he thought
about it, then looked me straight in the eye and said:"Exactly
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