Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
James Blitz, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Professor
Michael Clarke and Professor Strachan
16 February 2011
Q1 Chair: Sorry to have
kept you waiting, but welcome to our first session on the National
Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Unusually, today we are taking evidence from Professor Michael
Clarke, who is one of our specialist advisers, but I have checked
beforehand that you have not been involved, Professor Clarke,
in drafting questions to yourself.
Professor Clarke: I have not.
Q2 Chair: Welcome to
this inquiry. Please would you be kind enough to introduce yourselves
for the record?
Professor Chalmers: I am Professor
Malcolm Chalmers from the Royal United Services Institute.
Professor Clarke: I am Professor
Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute.
Professor Strachan: I am Hew Strachan,
Professor of the History of War at Oxford.
James Blitz: I am James Blitz,
Financial Times defence and diplomatic editor.
Q3 Chair: Thank you,
and thank you all very much for coming to give evidence. We are
expecting a vote at 4 pm. After that, there will be a debate in
the Chamber on the military covenant, and several members of this
Committee would like to take part in it. That means that we will
finish by 4 o'clock, so we have a lot of material to get through.
Please do not feel that you each have to answer every question;
you do not. Please make your answers as pithy and snappy as you
possibly can. To the Committee, please make your questions as
pithy as you can.
Can we start with the National Security Council?
Its creation has been pretty much welcomed. What impact, though,
do you think it had on the National Security Strategy, and on
the Strategic Defence and Security Review? Who would like to begin?
Professor Clarke: I will happily
start on that, very briefly. Remember that the NSC came about,
in a sense, because of the NSS. The NSS goes back to 2008, and
it was the attempt to think more holistically about security that
popularised an idea, which had been around for a long time, that
we should also have a National Security Council. So one predicts
the other. If you are talking directly about the NSC, I would
say that that encapsulated quite a lot of good thinking in the
NSS. It certainly was relevant to the SDSR, but the SDSR itself
had to be handled in such a truncated way because of the time
problem that I am not convinced that the NSC had the sort of input
to the SDSR that it would have wanted, or that certainly the Ministry
of Defence would have wanted it to have. The NSC and the NSS are
very closely connected, but the NSC and the Defence Review are
less connected than they should have been.
James Blitz: My view of the NSC,
having covered it as a journalist since its inception in June
last year, is that in a number of areas it has had a very important
impact. It has, first, given the Government a far more holistic
and co-ordinated approach in Afghanistan, moving away from a lot
of the divisions you saw between the Service Chiefs and the Executive
under the Brown Government. I think it has also had a very important
impact in resolving some difficult cross-departmental issues.
Most notably, one of its big successes is getting the package
of compensation for Guantanamo detainees last year and the setting
up of the Gibson inquiry.
On the NSS, I think it played an important role
last June and July in agreeing the adaptability concept and moving
away from the possibility, in some people's minds, of moving towards
vigilant Britainthe more defensive crouch. I agree with
Professor Clarke on the SDSR that it was basically a body that
gave an imprimatur to decisions that were taken, given the circumstances
that we were in last October and November, by a smaller coterie
of senior Ministersthe Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign
Secretary and Defence Secretary.
Professor Strachan: I would agree
with everything that the previous two witnesses said. All I would
add is that, because the Defence Review process began so much
more in advance of the creation of the NSC and the NSS, at one
level what was extraordinary was the convergence between the two,
which was better than you might possibly have hoped for in the
circumstances. On another level, I am, in a way, struck by the
amount of misplaced effort that occurred because the NSC was not
able to produce a National Security Strategy in enough time to
co-ordinate what was happening in the defence review process.
As the defence review process had begun so much earlier, it was
driven from the bottom up by a series of independent studies.
Professor Chalmers: One thing
I would add to what the previous witnesses have said is that I
think the jury is still out as to whether what we have seen here
is more a structural change than a political change. Clearly,
there have been NSC meetings on a very regular basis and the relevant
Ministers have been very engaged in discussion of security issues
collectively in a way that did not occur under the previous Government.
I am not entirely convinced that that is because this particular
committee was set up; it is more the way in which it has been
organised, and I think that has been very helpful.
It will be interesting, now that we are past
the honeymoon period of the Government and people are getting
really stuck into their ministerial briefs, to see whether there
continues to be that engagement across departmental boundaries.
I hope that will be the case. The footnote to that is that it
is an interesting question as to whether that greater ministerial
engagement across the piece is in part a result of coalition government
and whether having two parties in a Governmentunusually
in our countryhas forced them to engage in wider discussion
than the rather smaller groups that decided these things in the
Q4 Chair: The Ministry
of Defence said that "the new NSC provides high-level strategic
guidance to Departments, co-ordinates responses to the dangers
we face, and identifies priorities." Does it? Do the outcomes
of the NSS and the SDSR support that? Would you say that it was
a more strategic and coherent outcome than we have seen in previous
Professor Clarke: I think the
framework of thinking was more coherent than in previous defence
reviews, but I don't think the outcome was necessarily more coherent,
because there was this mismatch between the security strategy
and the SDSR, the defence part of it. Undoubtedly, the NSC and
the NSS provided a coherent framework, but it is not yet clear
whether that has enough traction within Whitehall, because it's
quite radical. What the NSS says is a pretty radical re-thinking
of the way we should discuss security for a country like Britain
in the 21st century. That is easy to say for a group of clever
people writing a good essay on it, but it's much harder to push
through Whitehall, which is stovepiped for a different sort of
security environment. In the next few years, I think we in the
analytical community will be looking at how far the NSC and the
NSS are able to gain real traction within Whitehall.
The NSC has provided a customer for a lot of
inputsit is the customer for the Joint Intelligence Committee's
material and a lot of what Whitehall doeswhich is good.
That's a benefit, but it is undecided whether the conception of
national security that the NSC has helped to create through the
NSS is really our strategic framework for the future.
Professor Strachan: I would not
stray from anything that's been said, but I would go further and
say that the NSS very clearly sets out the need for priorities
in the way a national security strategy might be put together,
but it doesn't move on to what that strategy might be and how
it might be shaped. It seems stronger on the processes, which
in itself is a massive step forward, and rather less secure about
what that strategy might be and how it might be shaped. In the
end, it lacks the willingness to make choices and prioritise,
despite the determination to use that sort of phraseology throughout
Q5 Mr Hancock: On that
point, it is not a very pretty picture that you paint, it is?
We get halfway there, but not one of you suggested a way forward.
What needs to be done to combine the coherence of putting the
thing together with the coherence within Government to implement
it properly, effectively and to cost?
Professor Strachan: If I may answer
that, you need to realise that this is work in progress. We are
almost going from a standing start, given where we were. As successive
Chiefs of the Defence Staff have said, there isn'tand hasn't
beenmuch strategic thinking in this country, so there hasn't
been a bottom to support the top.
You can think about the composition of the NSC,
but I think the crucial question is the composition of the Secretariat
and how you wish to put it together. Professor Clarke has just
spoken about the inputs and the way the Secretariat can draw things
together, but we should think about how it can generate its own
inputs if there are areas it feels it should look at, rather than
be reactive to things that have been put into it. How far can
it create a demand? How far can it generate its own demands? We've
got to wait and see. You're getting an optimistic mood from the
group here because, as the Chairman says, we see it as a step
forward, but that doesn't mean we've got there.
Professor Chalmers: It is very
important to make the point that there wasn't a direct read-on
from the NSS to the force structure decisions we're taking for
defence and the SDSR. You cannot trace the particular decisions
taken within that, or even the budgeting priorities, back to the
NSS, except in the critical respect that the Government committed
itself to an adaptable approach, which was essentially a compromise
between the polar extremes of focusing on stabilisation or on
intervention. That was a critical discussion at the NSC, but even
that was pre-packagedit would have been very surprising
had the Government made a decision to focus on one particular
sort of capability or another.
In the general terms in which we are looking
at an uncertain world with many threats and the difficulties of
balancing the long and short termsand therefore you need
adaptable forcesthe NSS clearly had a critical role. In
cyber, there is a case to be made that the NSS changed priorities
across Government, but in relation to defence I am less clear.
Q6 Chair: I think we
will go into this in the course of the afternoon. Do any of you
have any concerns about the transparency of the National Security
Council? There is a Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons that
can hold it to account, but do you have concerns about that?
James Blitz: I have two things
to say on that point. First, I have one concern about transparency
in the whole process. The key meeting that set out the adaptability
approach took place in June or July of last year, and the NSS
was being forged around that time. It wasn't actually until the
very eve of the SDSR that the "Age of Uncertainty" document
was finally published. From the Government's point of view, that
was very unfortunate. They had some kind of strategic approach,
but because they published it right on the eve of the SDSR, they
lost the opportunity, so they were unable to fend off constant
criticism in that whole period that this was a cuts and Treasury-driven
approach. I also think that there was a lost opportunity for Parliament
and the wider public to have a debate about the NSS.
At the same time, however, I don't basically
have concerns about the transparency of the NSC as a body. I think
it is an ad hoc enabling body that brings together the main pillars
of Government. It is the individual Cabinet Ministers who are
responsible for what they do. In that sense, it is a little bit
like, although it is obviously different, the United Nations Security
Council, as that is a body that brings together the major countries
and the P5. You look at those. To understand how that body works,
you have to understand the individual representation. It meets
on an ad hoc basis and therefore has a smaller Secretariat, so
I don't think there is a transparency issue about the way it operates.
Q7 Chair: But do you
think that the document was published so late because of last-minute
horse-trading, rather than the strategic overview?
James Blitz: I don't know why
the NSS document was published so late. I certainly think it would
have benefited Government and the wider process if it had been
published a few weeks or months before it was.
Professor Clarke: The story of
the two documents, as I understand it, is that it was intended
that there would be only one document, and that the SDSR would
encompass the framework of the NSS. However, quite late on, for
reasons that we can speculate about, it was decided to separate
one document into two and publish them a day apart, so I think
what James said is very interesting. If they had decided to publish
the strategy some time before, that would have given some time
for reflection before the defence part of it, but it was one document
split into two at quite a late stage.
Q8 John Glen: Is it not
reasonable to infer that, given the lack of the clear relationship
between the two documents, bigger pressuresTreasury pressures
on the SDSR, as we have discussedmade that relationship
far less clear, and that it was not desirable to have scrutiny?
Professor Chalmers, I think you just said that the correlation
between what the NSS document says and the SDSR is difficult to
surmise. I mean
Chair: That's the question.
Professor Chalmers: To be fair,
it would be hard to write an NSS document that then produced a
clear read-across to specific defence capabilities, because all
sorts of other things come into the picture. That is important
in a sense. We will no doubt come later to defence planning assumptions,
but even there it is often difficult to see the relationship in
relation to force structures.
Where I think more work needs to be done on
the NSS is thinking through what it has already said on prioritisation
and how this relates to the link between short, medium and long-term
concerns. That, I think, would provide more clarity for force
structure decisions later on. One example is that, in the discussion
of the aircraft carrier decision, there was an explicit difference
drawn out between the threat environment that we face in the next
10 years, which doesn't require carrier-based aircraft, and what
we anticipate after that, which does. But that isn't related back
to the analysis in the NSS.
Q9 Mr Havard: On the
NSC as a body, the Foreign Office declaimed
that they are demonstrating "FCO leadership in the NSC through
strong FCO representation and input into all its decisions".
They have written over half the documents,
they "advised" the Departments before they submitted
their documents and they had a Foreign Office Pravda brief
before they had written them. Is this a Foreign Office-dominated
body and what does that say about the position of the Ministry
of Defence in any discussions?
Professor Strachan: Before answering
that question, can I raise an issue the Chairman raised in relation
to your questionthat of transparency? I realise it is our
job as witnesses to try to give answers rather than raise questions,
but one of the issues in my mind in relation to transparency is
the constitutional status of the NSC.
James Blitz described the NSC as ad hoc, and
there are elements of it that seem to be very ad hoc. Is it a
Cabinet Committee? I assume it is, in which case, does the Cabinet
have a controlling function in relation to the NSC? Is it an executive
Committee of the Cabinet, which would explain why the professional
heads of the intelligence services and the CDS are there as advisers,
rather than as full members?
If the NSC is all those things, that probably
helps to answer some of my concerns about transparency. It also
clarifies how it is working and how it should work, which still
assumes that, in the event of a major national crisis, although
the NSC might function as "a war cabinet", it would
normally act in a subordinate fashion to the Cabinet. In reality,
however, the processes we have just been talking about in the
NSS and SDSR eventually came straight out from the NSC itself,
and I am not sure they were referred to the Cabinet at all. I
may be corrected on that point.
Q10 Chair: You should
read the transcript of the interview of the Prime Minister in
December, or maybe late November, by the Liaison Committee. The
answer is it is a work in progress.
Professor Strachan: Right, so
it is part of the same agenda. Forgive me for that preamble when
you asked me to be precise, but the reason I raise all those issues
is that we are unclear as to the relative weights of the inputting
Ministries. It is also interesting that we flag up the Foreign
Office when one of the great strengths of the NSC was meant to
be the incorporation of domestic security and international security.
In other words, you would expect the domestic agencies to be as
important in this relationship as the Foreign Office itself.
Personally, I would have no objection to the
Foreign Office being the lead, but the issue is one of clarification.
I know one of the issues you want to raise later is whether there
is a role for a Cabinet Minister responsible for national security.
Is the Foreign Secretary that figure and, if so, does that help
explain why the Foreign Office should have a predominant role?
Is that going to be difficult for the Foreign Office if it is
not accustomed to thinking strategically, to go back to the phrase
of fashion at the moment, in the way that the Ministry of Defence
perhaps feels it ought to be?
Mr Havard: You have anticipated a couple
of my supplementary questions, but I will come to that in a minute.
James Blitz: In answer to Mr.
Havard's question on the weight of the Foreign Office, I do not
think that thus far in the workings of the NSC, the Foreign Office
has had significant extra weight. Two things have been important
in shifting balances. First, the Department for International
Development is now much more incorporated into the wider thinking
about security. That is seen in a lot of the policies coming out
of DFID. Secondly, the intelligence services have had far greater
weight in thinking than was the case in the past.
The heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ attend in an
advisory role but you can see areas where their additional weight
is coming through, such as the decision on the extra £650
million for cyber and also the current urgency on Afghanistan
policy. That reflects to some degree the sense that there are
new agencies but the external threats facing the United Kingdom
are shifting away to a certain extent away from the Af-Pak region
towards other areasSomalia, Yemen, the Maghreband
there needs to be a greater emphasis in policy to look at that.
That is where interdepartmental shifts have been important over
the last six months.
Professor Clarke: The Foreign
Office always has a big influence in these sorts of Committees,
but if anything, the Home Office has a lot of influence. The Home
Secretary sits on the Committee, as does the Minister of Security,
who is in the Home Office, and as do the intelligence agencies.
The Secretary of State for Defence sits on that Committee, along
with the CDS. So there are two representatives from the MoD, and
three or four representatives from the Home Office. Only the Foreign
Secretary directly represents the Foreign Office, and there is
now a group of Permanent Secretaries who have started to meet
regularly. The Permanent Secretaries of all the ministries involved
have started weekly meetings, but that is at a lower level. In
terms of membership, it is hard to believe that the Foreign Office
could somehow dominate this body, even if it feeds in quite a
lot of policy papers.
Q11 Mr Havard: One of
the criticisms made about the SD and SR is that there should have
been a clearer Foreign Office declaration as to what you want
everyone to do in the first place, and what is in Britain's interest,
from which the document is written. Is that the NSS? Is that the
security strategy? It has the word "security" in it,
and that is what I want to get to. Where is the security bit?
If it is the defence and security review, clearly the security
bit is missing from the current description of defence and security.
That seems to have been an MoD-led defence reform document, rather
than incorporating security. In all the different initials and
declarations, where is the overarching policy process that leads
to a framework for a proper SD and SR that delivers your strategic
Professor Chalmers: If you compare
it with the 1997-98 defence review
Q12 Mr Havard: It might
be better than it was, but is it good enough and where are we
Professor Chalmers: That had a
foreign policy baseline, which then fed into the defence review.
This time there is a security policy baseline in the NSS that
covers issues that cross the domestic foreign boundary, such as
terrorism, cybercrime and national disasters. Those are the priority
risks in the NSS. The SDSR is not only a defence review but also
talks about what is happening in wider security, development and
diplomacy with counter-terrorism and natural disasters and so
on. There is a congruence between the coverage of issue areas
in the NSS on the one hand, and the SDSR on the other. Those are
the issues covered in the NSC.
Q13 Mr Havard: So, is
the NSC the body that should be incorporating all of these things.
Effectively, the SD and SR should be coming out of that. Are they
able to co-ordinate that process?
Professor Chalmers: That indeed
is what happened.
Chair: Professor Clarke and Professor
Strachan, you have nodded, which is a perfect answer and it is
Q14 Mr Hancock: Following
on from that, the NSS has said that as far as it is concerned,
the National Security Council has reached a clear conclusion that
the national interest requires us to reject any notion of shrinking
our persona around the world. Isn't that overambitious? Where
will that lead us and who is going to take responsibility for
the direction? Do you agree with the assumption that the NSS has
made, that this now gives us a clear image of what we can't and
Professor Clarke: A very quick
answer. The thrust of your question is one I entirely agree with.
That is why there is a mismatch between the defence review that
talks about cuts and the NSS that continues to sustain a global
aspiration. There is no congruence there. I entirely agree.
Q15 Mr Hancock: But why
is it that nobody is getting to grips with that? How can you have
an agreed, supposedly clear policy that takes no account of what
you are doing with your other hand in reducing your capabilities?
Professor Clarke: Because the
NSS and, if I may say so, the Foreign Secretary in his speeches
last summer when he was taking over the job, gave a useful series
of shopping lists saying that we should do lots of things, and
do everything better in a more co-ordinated, efficient way. Those
things are easy to say, but the bottom line is about where the
resources are to make those things happen. What we have at the
moment is an NSS of no strategic shrinkage which, I have to say,
is fairly aspirational. Some part of those aspirations can be
met, but probably not all of them. What we are engaged in, I guess,
between now and 2014-15, is having to make some pretty hard choices
as to which of those aspirations we are prepared to fund. At the
moment, the NSS would have us do a little bit more of everything
with rather less resource.
Professor Strachan: Crucial to
this is the SDSR's point, which is essentially that any decision
that potentially affects that global aspiration has been postponed
as far into the future as possible. I have overstated the argument
to make the point, which is that, of course, there had to be some
hard decisions in relation to the SDSR, but not as many as one
would have anticipated. There is essentially a reasonable range
of core capabilities seen to be left intact, thus encouraging
the aspirationto pick up Mike Clarke's wordthat
at some point they might be restored. There is a never-never world
there fed by the hope that it might all come back into shape again.
Q16 Mr Hancock: You have
stated, professor, on more than one occasion that there is a hole
in the heart of this organisation. How do we deal with that? What
needs to happen?
Professor Strachan: Are you asking
that question of me? Hole in the heart? I am not a medical man.
Q17 Mr Hancock: You did
actually use that word.
Professor Strachan: Did I? It
is obviously essential, and I come back to the point that the
function of the Secretariat at the NSC seems to be to bring together
the inputs in relation to the potential output. How the different
Government Departments create inputswe have already touched
on this, and you raised the issue of Foreign Office inputand
how those things are put together seems to be an essential part
of how this is done. There is also a recognition that if you are
developing a strategy it is not simply a top-down process that
says, "This is what we aspire to do." It is also something
that reflects what your means are, so that your means are adapted
to your ends. We don't seem to be very good at it.
Q18 Mr Hancock: But it
also leads you to believe that you need to know when and how you
are going to use your armed forces. It does not tell us that,
Professor Strachan: No, it doesn't.
That is also part of it. You can defend the silence on grounds
of national securityon the grounds that if you are too
specific about your scenarios, you offend those you do not wish
to offend immediately, or you tie up resources in a conflict or
crisis that may never occur. In that case, I think you have quoted
back at me a phrase that I used. What I meant to convey by that
goes to the heart of your point about global commitmentglobal
aspirationas opposed to thinking, maybe, regionally.
The structure of the alliances we are now pursuing
is very interesting: the relationships with France and with the
Scandinavian countries make entirely coherent regional sense,
but we haven't articulated that as policy in quite those words.
It seems in that respect that we are thinking about the "where"
a bit more. We are thinking about which patch of the world we
are in and which patch we are interested in. The "how"
is in part the strategy question, which we have just been talking
about. How do we have a concept in relation to the use of armed
force that matches our capabilities and our realistic aspirations,
as opposed to our unrealistic aspirations, in a credible way?
I don't think we have got our heads round that one.
Chair: I want to move on.
Professor Strachan: Can I finish
the last point? You asked about how, where and when. The other
issuetimingis also very ambiguous, for entirely
understandable reasons, because we don't know whether this process
is predicated above all on the immediate assumption of Afghanistan
and current commitments, or beyond.
Q19 Mr Hancock: The classic
example is what has happened recently. The documents talk about
our commitment to fighting drugs and terrorism around the world,
yet at the same time we are saying that we are taking the drug-busting
ship out of the Caribbean, which has been one of the most effective
vehicles that this nation has had to demonstrate its commitment
to that. How do you square the circle on that?
Professor Clarke: The strategic
answer to that is that you find other ways of fighting drugs and
Q20 Mr Hancock: Once
they have come here?
Professor Clarke: Maybe you could
fight them through border policing or financial mechanisms and
so on. There are usually alternatives to doing things the military
way. I am not arguing that that is right or wrong. When you say
as a matter of national strategy, "We want to fight narcotics
and international crime around the world," that does not
automatically mean that we have to do it through military means.
Q21 John Glen: I would
like to ask Professor Clarke about something you said about the
NSS, which was published. You said, "It is an honest attempt
to think afresh about British security
The problem with it,
as it presently exists, is that it is not really a strategy as
such, but a methodology for a strategy. It does not make hard
choices between real thingswhich is what strategists have
to do". Would you care to clarify what you meant by that?
In particular, what hard choices do you think the NSC will have
to make now and going forward?
Professor Clarke: One thing that
was assumed in the NSS and not really tested was that because
we are a globalised player, we have to play a global role in a
fairly tangible way. But Japan is a globalised player, yet doesn't
play in the globalised way that we do. It answered the question
Our relationship with the US is taken as a given,
which may be a perfectly sensible thing to do. But our relationship
with the US in the world has been predicated on our ability to
project force as much as anything else. The SDSR seems to run
the risk of having us fall below what I would call the threshold
of strategic significance, whereby our forces can be perfectly
global and well respected for what they do, but not large enough
to make a strategically significant difference to the operations
in which they become involved. We haven't taken on those questions
or questions of transformative forces.
If we want to keep as much alive as possible
in our force structure, it must be able to transform itself. That
probably means far fewer platforms and much greater investment
in C4ISTAR and in personnel issues, training and exercising. You
need the command and control at the top end and the skills of
people at the bottom end to be able to adapt quicklywithin
a three or four-year time scaleto do something perhaps
completely different. Those are the sort of questions that we
probably face. A lot of answers were implicit in the NSS and the
SDSR, but no one yet wants to spell them out, because they are
very difficult questions.
Q22 John Glen: Given
how central they are to the country's security interest, and given
that they are not things that should be put offthey are
real decisions that are relevant today, given what is happening
in US foreign policyare you not surprised that they weren't
grasped more fully within the NSS this time round?
Professor Clarke: I have been
hanging around the bazaars of Whitehall long enough not to be
surprised that they haven't been grasped fully. I think it is
reasonable to assume that in the next few years, those questions
will recur, and they'll be coded in different ways; they will
arise around different issues and there will be code words for
them. I suspect that we will be discussing those sorts of questions
continuously between now and probably 2020, as we react to the
sort of changes in the world that we're seeing. So no, I am not
surprised, and we will have to face them and lots of others.
Q23 John Glen: Thank
you. Could I turn to Professor Chalmers? What is your assessment
of the creation of the first-ever National Security Risk Assessment?
In the written evidence, you call for a 2012 update to that assessment,
for it to apply methodologies to take account of longer-term risks.
How would you recommend this to happen? It seems to be one of
the things where lots of variables happen. What would be your
practical assessment of how that process would be implemented
in a way that would be useful?
Professor Chalmers: At present,
the risk assessment looks at a whole range of risks. People throw
lots of things into the pot, have a discussion about it within
government and assess the likelihood and the possible impact of
those risks coming to fruition and the time scale in which they
might come to fruition. What the Government has done quite bravely
in the document is to identify four of those risks as being tier
1 or higher priority, and they say explicitly that that informs
resource allocation in the SDSR.
My concern in the current strategic environment
is that we are in an era where the level of risk is relatively
low, but we have considerable uncertainty about where the world
is going to be in years to comeuncertainty about what is
going to happen in Libya tomorrow. Therefore, the Government are
quite right to emphasise adaptability. There is a danger that
if you don't think in a clear way about the long-term risks, you
end up prioritising the shorter-term risks, which is indeed what
the NSS says it is doing. It is prioritising those tier 1 risks
because, although they may not be the most serious risks, they
are the ones we are facing right now. A methodology for doing
that would think through and put on paper how we deal with risks
that may not arise for a long time. It may mean dividing them
into those that may not arise for a long time but then might arise
very quickly; and those that are more likely to emerge over time.
Some of the more serious long-term risks are ones that we will
see coming, and we need to think about being able to keep up with
those threats, rather than prepare for them right now. That is
the sort of issue.
Q24 Ms Stuart: Which
serious risks in the past 10 years have we seen coming and been
prepared for? It occurred to me that this sounds very good, but
which serious risks have we seen coming in the recent past?
Professor Clarke: Kosovo in 1999.
The circumstances in which Kosovo occurred in 1999 were impossible
to predict, but that Kosovo would be a crisis was predicted eight
Professor Chalmers: Iraq. We had
been dealing with Iraq since 1990.
Chair: We will come back to that in a
Q25 Ms Stuart: Professor
Strachan, you have already in a sense started to answer the question.
I wonder what the others have to contribute. The CDS told the
Committee: "The National Security Strategy document is not
a bad objective in terms of our ends, but I would say that the
ways and means are an area of weakness." If I understood
you rightly, Professor Strachan, you agree with that, but you
said certain kinds of actions, such as strategic co-operation
with some countries, start to hint at how we could implement that.
What would the other witnesses say to that, about matching ends
with means? We are bad at the means.
Professor Chalmers: This was emphasised
in the Green Paper before the SDSR, and in the SDSR. There was
a very strong emphasis on partnership. The Anglo-French treaty
is a significant political signal that partnership with others
is going to be very importantand not only the partnership
with the US. The statement in the Anglo-French treaty about the
congruence of our strategic interests was important. One of the
implications, which perhaps was not made explicit, is that in
a world in which UK relative weight and European relative weight
are declining, compared with emerging economies, partnership will
be more important, if we want to be able to achieve our objectives.
James Blitz: I agree. In terms
of strategic shrinkage and all that, if you look at this from
the perspective of the US, the view is that we have done enough
not to go down below the top tier of the UK and France. In other
words, we have retained commitments to 2% of GDP on spending;
to the deterrent; to special forces; and we have not reduced the
lay-down in Afghanistan. At the same time, there is deep concern
in the US. I think the US see the UK increasingly within the wider
European perspective. As they look towards strategic challenges
from China and pressures on their own defence spending in the
US, their increasing concern is that Europe as a whole does not
play its part.
The speech made at the Munich security conference
by the NATO Secretary-General was important in that regard. He
was not looking at the UK and what happened here; he was looking
more widely at the fact that we have reduced as a whole in Europe
to such a degree in terms of defence spending, that we have lost
the equivalent of the size of the German defence budget in recent
years. It is in that sense that I would answer your question.
Q26 Ms Stuart: I heard
the speech. It is interesting that we are the only onesother
than the USstill sticking to the 2% target. All the others
are falling below. If the only indication of direction of travel
is greater partnership to provide the means to our ends, given
that all our other partners, rather than stepping up to the plate
are actually doing less, that is not a very credible long-term
strategy, is it?
James Blitz: No. I think it is
an increasingly important issue. If you look at the speech that
was made by the NATO Secretary-General, one of the big questions
after the Franco-British agreement in November last year is where
we now go in terms of deepening those bilateral relations with
One of the key issues that is coming up now
is what can be done with Germany. There is some speculation that
the UK might try to develop bilateral relations with Germany in
defence. We had at the Munich security conference the most high-level
representation that we have had from the UK ever, I think. We
had the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Foreign
Secretary there, although the Prime Minister made a speech on
multiculturalism; we didn't actually approach the bilateral relationship.
One of the key questions to look for is where the UK-German relationship
can go now. Some thinking is happening about that, and I think
there is some interest in this country about what can be done
between our two countries on cyber, for instance. That is something
worth looking for in terms of increasing ways and means to improve
a strategic overview.
Ms Stuart: I think one of my colleagues
will come back to that.
Q27 Sandra Osborne: Professor
Clarke, the Chief of the Defence Staff also told the Committee
that he had agreed with the Prime Minister and others "to
start constructing a mechanism to deliver a grand strategy"
looking at the world as it will be in 2030 or 2040, and that "this
will take two or three years
and then we need to get on and
do the actual planning." Do you think that is adequate? Do
you agree with that, and do you think it will happen?
Professor Clarke: I very much
agree with the fact that the Chief of the Defence Staff is taking
that line, because I think he is living up to the promises of
his predecessor, who said that we have got to be better at strategic
thinking in this country. That is a matter not of trying to predict
the future but of drawing sensible assumptions about the future.
It goes back to what we were saying in the last answer in relation
to, say, Kosovo or Iraq, that we should not be strategically surprised
by many things that happen. We may be surprised by the contingencies
which happen, and we are always surprised by the circumstances
that may bring about a problem, but it should be no surprise to
us, for instance, that societies with youth populations who are
into social networking sites will create problems for autocratic
Governments in the world, as they are doing at the moment. That
doesn't lead us to be able to predict where these Twitter revolutions,
if that's what they become, will arise next, but the strategic
nature of the problem shouldn't be a surprise to us.
I think what the CDS is speaking about is a
process whereby we co-ordinate much more clearly in the way we
arrive at our assumptions, and then we create much greater clarity
about what we are talking about. The problem is that the word
"strategy" is used at all levels, and we use it as a
common word. There is grand strategy, if you like, in the Churchillian
sense of what sort of nation we want to be. Do we want to be a
globalised nation? Do we want to be close to the United States?
Do we want to be a big trading nation? Those are grand strategic
questions. Below that, however, there is the question of policy,
which is what the politicians and political leaders should present,
and below that is the strategy that the machinery has got to devise
to deliver policy. Below that is the operational level and the
tactical level. Getting clarity even on those things is easier
said than done, and that's something that would have to go on
When the CDS said that this might take two to
three years, I take it that he is referring to the issue of vocabulary
and understanding what we are trying to do within Whitehall. I
take it that he means we should then throw out this intellectual
net 20 or 30 years ahead, not to predict what the world would
look like but to make sensible assumptions about the trends that
will allow us not to be strategically surprised, and therefore
create a better framework in which we can react to the contingent
things that will surprise usthe Kosovos and the Iraqsin
the way that they actually happen.
Chair: Madeleine, does that pretty much
answer your question?
Q28 Mrs Moon: It does.
I would just like to make the point that as the Select Committee
on Defence we are taking particular delight, having got three
academics and a journalist, at throwing your own words back at
you, given that that happens to us all the time. We appreciate
the way it's going.
Professor Clarke: I only wish
we could remember saying those things.
Professor Strachan: Can I say
this on grand strategy, and on the 2030 or 2040 issue, that not
becoming a prisoner of your own prediction is a very important
part of this process? There is a danger of reverse engineering,
because of what you do. In CDS's defenceI am in danger
of putting words in his mouth, which I have no intention of doingwe
are surely talking about the process by which strategy is done
and the way in which contingency is thought about, rather than
about an attempt to pluck a number of highly questionable futuristic
scenarios and to try to think through what our possible solutions
Grand strategy is essentially pragmatic. It
responds to what is happening, as much as predicting in advance
what is about to happen. It seems that in many ways we have assumed
that the capacity to predict is necessarily the same as having
a lot of what we have already spent this afternoon talking aboutthe
mechanisms for dealing with current and imminent crises, being
sensible about how we do those, and mechanisms within Government
that enable us to do that. I'm not saying you don't try to predict
or think through the future, but we need to realise that producing
something that says what the world might look like in 2030 or
2040 is not quite the same as doing grand strategy.
Q29 Mr Donaldson: In
forward planning, one of the key elements in both the security
strategy and the SDSR has been conflict prevention. To what extent
do you think that is translated into what is contained in the
SDSR? I see very little of it. I know that DFID has had its budget
ring-fenced, but where is the strategic approach to conflict prevention
in either document?
Professor Strachan: There is greater
emphasis in both documents on deterrence than there has been in
perhaps the previous four or five years. I entirely accept that
that is not the same thing as conflict prevention as understood
by DFID or within the security community. Of course, one of the
points about thinking through to 2030 and 2040 is imagining scenarios
that might generate conflict that we might want to prevent. That
is precisely where the shift comes from what you might see as
MoD business to the wider areas of Government responsibility.
Part of the problem is that conflict prevention
has the word "conflict" in front of it. That is something
that the MoD has been trying to get its head round. For the MoD,
that means deterrence. It can be anticipatory intervention, pre-emptive
or preventive actionall the things that have got us into
rather a muddle over the past 10 yearsbut that doesn't
seem to be quite where we want to be going.
I also think that there is an illusion that
this sort of preventive thinking is in itself cost-effective.
If it is done through military agency, the argument that deterrence,
as it was carried out during the Cold War, was cost-effectiveit
may well have been cost-effective, and if we averted the third
world war, it certainly wasis not quite the same as saying
that it was cheap. We need to recognise that, if we are thinking
about prevention in a more military sense than I suspect you are
expecting me to address, we may be chasing a false target.
Professor Chalmers: Perhaps I
could add to that. One good example of conflict prevention that
has not involved large-scale forcible intervention, or indeed
deterrence in the way that Professor Strachan is talking about,
is what we have been doing in Darfur and Southern Sudan. One can
be cautiously optimistic that we have moved the process forward
in recent months. That has taken a significant investment of resourcessome
of them military, some UN peacekeeping and some economic assistance.
A lot of work was done by the UK in building capacity of security
forces in Southern Sudan, which also plays a role. Of course,
there has been a conflict there. There are not many examples of
conflict prevention in places that have never had a conflict,
but it is certainly a lot cheaper than the alternative of large-scale
The heading of what I would call capacity building
is absolutely critical in preventing internal conflicts. The reason
why most civil wars happen in low-income countries is that they
typically have much less Government capacity, or any sort of capacity,
to prevent conflict. That doesn't happen in the same way in middle-income
or high-income countries. So, building that capacitywhich
is partly about security capacity, but also about general governmental
capacityis important. The fact that more money is being
spent on conflict prevention, a lot of which goes into security
sector reform, is a welcome step in that direction. I hope that,
as we transition out of Afghanistan, some of the things that our
forces have learnt about developing effective and accountable
security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan can be used elsewhere.
Professor Clarke: There aren't
many examples of acknowledged successful conflict preventions
in the world, but there are more than people think. Macedonia
would be a good example of a militarily-led conflict prevention
operation, which avoided a civil war in Macedonia. The Baltic
states at the end of the Cold War would be an example of a potential
series of inter-ethnic conflicts that was avoided by political
means, so there are recent accepted examples. There ought to be
more, but there are someit is not a complete pipe dream.
On the other hand, the commitment to conflict
prevention in the SDSR is potentially a huge change and a huge
commitment. If we argued that through, it would suggest that we
might use the armed forces much more in terms of the soft power
that they can deliver; the armed forces are not only concerned
with hard power. It suggests that we might use them in different
ways and it also implies that we should think of conflict prevention
in places that matter to us strategicallynot necessarily
where conflicts are at their nastiest, but in places that make
a strategic difference to the United Kingdom, such as the Gulf
or the Indian subcontinent.
Q30 Mr Hancock: Can I
turn to where we go with shared capabilities, bilateral relations
and how that is going to work? How do you see it working and were
you rather surprised by the comment in the FT that suggested
that we were reluctant to do a deal with Germany until we assessed
what was happening about a deal with France?
Chair: Did you write that, Mr Blitz?
James Blitz: I can't remember.
Mr Hancock: So what's your view?
Professor Chalmers: For a country
of the size of Britain or France, it is hard to go down a route
where we will become significantly more dependent on others for
front-line capability. We may have to in some instances, but it
will be difficult. There is a lot of discussion about pooling
capabilities and pools from which countries can draw. There is
some potential there, but I am at the sceptical end of the spectrum
for the UK getting a lot of extra military value out of pooling
capabilities in a way that means we cannot use them nationally.
What we can do a lot more ofperhaps particularly
in relation to France, but maybe, in time, to others as wellis
get much more into the mindset of Europeans normally working together
when there are threats that we face together and helping each
other when one of us perhaps has a particular concern and the
other helps them out on a reciprocal basis. That is where we can
have a force multiplier for national efforts in those scenarios
where the United States is less likely to be involved.
Q31 Mr Hancock: The last
Secretary of State is a great believer in bilateral arrangementshe
is a convert to the idea that this can best be done by bilateral
arrangementsbut if you look at the high north, for example,
the Nordic countries are very concerned about the implications
of energy extraction and of conflict arising there. It would be
better if we were locked into a relationship with a group of countriesNorway,
Sweden and Finland, for example. The Secretary of State seemed
not to want to engage there and that cannot be right.
Professor Clarke: It may not be
wrong in the sense that we are moving into an era of intensive
bilateralism and trilateralism, so the alliance structures and
organisational structures will still exist, but the dynamism within
those institutional relationships will come from cross-cutting
bilateral and trilateral initiatives. In that respect, he may
be chiming in with the times, but that also allows any Secretary
of State quite a lot of elbow room.
James Blitz: I agree with that.
It is not just that the Secretary of State is committed to bilateralism
as a way of bypassing a kind of federal European approach to military
co-operation. What is also happening is that multilateralism,
especially on the procurement side, has got itself a bad name
in the last few years. This is one of the reasons why you are
seeing much more attention to this sort of bilateral process.
One of the big questions ahead is about the
Germans, who are going through a defence reform, which is very
much appreciated in the MoD. They are doing a lot on conscription
and so on, and there is a good relationship between the Defence
Secretary and his German counterpart, Karl Guttenberg. The question
is whether Germany can now be moved towards thinking in those
terms as well, because the Germans, as the third biggest defence
player in Europe, are just not as keen on this kind of co-operation
as the French and British have been. I think the Germans are still
very much looking inwards. For example, they have been a bit stung,
not only by some of the multilateral problems they've had on procurement,
but they also haven't seen the Franco-German battle group being
deployed in an effective way and that has put them off the idea.
So there are a lot of hurdles to overcome on that if we are to
have another big step towards bilateralism in the next few years.
Q32 Mr Brazier: Nevertheless,
on Thursday we saw a very striking example of a small-scale collaboration.
The Germans have a submarine more or less permanently lent to
Plymouth, which plays a critical role in the training of our warships,
for which we train theirs for free in exchange.
Chair: You nod, Professor Chalmers and
Mr Blitz, so we will move on.
Q33 Mrs Moon: As well
as being a member of the Defence Committee, I am a Member of the
NATO Parliamentary Assembly, so I pick up concerns about our loss
of capabilities and strategic influence. The SDSR has brought
numerous losses of capability, and what particularly concerned
meon a permanent basiswas the loss of the Nimrod.
For 10 years we will lose carrier strike capability. What is your
assessment of the capability gaps, the methodologies used to make
those decisions, and the risks associated with the decisions that
have been made? Starter for 10.
Professor Clarke: For what it's
worth, I don't think very much of the methodology used to arrive
at some of those decisions, because we know that when it came
to it, the process had to reach for those amounts of money that
they could realistically control. A lot of the budget was simply
beyond control. They had to find money to save, so the first requirement
was to ask where you could save money, and the second was to ask
what sort of capability gap this would open and whether we could
live with it. That was driven by the financial situation we're
in and the political timetablethat's the way it was. Is
that disastrous? That depends on one's view, but for what it's
worth my own take is that the national security risk is not particularly
great between now and 2020. That's in a national security sense.
However, in a foreign policy sense the risk
is quite great. We have interests that we will not be able to
defend so well by military means, but I don't think our national
security will be threatened in a significant way, to the extent
that we will not be able to cope, in the next 10 years. It's a
question of the sort of risks you are prepared to run in pursuit
of balancing the books, prosperity, and maintaining our triple
A rating as a country.
Professor Chalmers: I agree with
that, and I'd add that this relates to what I said earlier about
short-term and long-term risks. The decision was taken to prioritise
Afghanistanthe short-termand essentially ring-fence
those capabilities associated with it. Given that on the one hand,
and on the other the difficulty of cancelling things at short
notice and the 8% reduction in the budget, the discussion of where
capabilities could be cut inevitably focused on a subset of what
the MoD is doing. There were choices to make within that subset,
but it was relatively narrow to start with. Risks have been taken
in relation to the long-term, but the view is that those are manageable
over the next 10 yearswe'll worry about where we go after
that in 2015.
Q34 Bob Stewart: I am
concerned about the Fleet Air Arm. I can't see how, with the gap,
the Royal Navy will be able to maintain their expertise in flying
off carriers until 2020 minimum. I know the answer is that we'll
use the Americans or the French, but it seems to me that for that
level of expertise it's not good enough, and frankly our pilots
will go down. They used to be the best in the world in the first
Gulf waryou could identify our aircraft because of the
dust trails as they flew across the desert. In the second Gulf
war they couldn't do that because they didn't have any training.
Now where have we got to? What chances do you think we have of
maintaining sufficient competence in the Fleet Air Arm?
James Blitz: It will depend a
lot on having some kind of agreement between the Navy and the
RAF on how you are going to maintain the training capability of
your pilots in the Fleet Air Arm using RAF facilities. That is
one of the issues that needs to be looked at very closely. As
you say, you cannot just rely on the Americans and the French,
although there will be some arrangements with the French
Q35 Bob Stewart: That
really worries me, when you talk about an agreement between the
RAF and the Navy.
James Blitz: But that is what
Q36 Sandra Osborne: The
Chief of the Defence Staff used the term "acceptable risk"
as the criteria for the Nimrod decision. What is your understanding
of "acceptable risk"?
Professor Clarke: As I mentioned
before, my understanding is that the risk to our national security
of the Nimrod decision is manageable because we are not likely
to have to defend the Trident submarines as vigorously in the
next 10 years as we used to in the Cold War and as we may have
to in the next 40 years.
Q37 Chair: How do you
Professor Clarke: I said we are
not likely to. It is an acceptable risk, looking forward from
now to 2020, that the Trident submarines could be covered by other
meansnot as good, but they are an alternative. That risk
is acceptable, but our inability to use the MRA4 capability for
counter-piracy, deep-sea air sea rescue and some of the other
things it might have done will undoubtedly have a profound policy
Professor Strachan: Malcolm Chalmers
has already made the point about the decision to prioritise Afghanistan.
In all these issues we are looking at the consequence of that
and the presumption that after Afghanistan there will be a recovery
of these capabilities. I realise that is in itself a questionable
assumption in relation to the economic position. Coming back to
the question about the Fleet Air Arm, there is also the question
of whether you will retain the capacity to regenerate the capabilities
because of the loss of expertise, which is a personnel question.
What has struck me through this whole process,
and particularly through the SDSR, is that the capability question
has been addressed almost solely in terms of equipment, rather
than of the motivation and retention of personnel. Shortly, you
are going to a debate on the military covenant, which is related
in part to these questions: 30% and rising of the defence budget
is devoted to personnel issues. That is a core part of the capability,
yet in the SDSR processto go back to an issue we have already
coveredthat was not dealt with at the same time. It was
seen as a follow-on issue and the implications are still being
So the real risk lies in the issues of not just
whether this is an acceptable national security risk, and I would
agree that it probably is, in the circumstances; whether there
is a foreign policy cost, which there is; or whether there is
a recoverable capability, which is an internal domestic question
for the services; but whether they can hold on to the people,
even if they get the money for the kit at some point in the future.
Q38 Sandra Osborne: On
personnel, are the decisions that are being taken in relation
to large numbers of redundancies and closure of bases, for example,
being taken in a coherent fashion or is it just ad hoc?
Professor Strachan: It has not
been ad hoc because the process has been going on for some time
in the Ministry of Defence. It has not been wonderfully managed,
given what has happened in the last couple of days. The unfortunate
thing, going back to the SDSR process, is that the coherence of
the relationship between what was happening in what we have defined
as military capabilities and what that meant for personnel has
not been thought through.
In part, this relates to the fact that the Government
are running several lines of defence development, defence reform
and defence change simultaneously, each with overlapping consequences,
so the sequencing has not been sensible. "You wouldn't start
from here," may be a classic answer to any problem in Government.
You would not have the Defence Reform Unit proceeding after many
of the cuts had been done. You would presumably have finished
the DRU's work and then thought about how you would implement
cuts in the light of the recommendations that followed. There
are many examples of that. If you had had that degree of coherence,
rather than doing everything simultaneously, we might have seen
a more coherent personnel policy.
Part of the issue here is that, if you look
at the structure of the Defence Board, which, of course, is one
of the issues that the Defence Reform Unit is looking at, you
see that what in many companies would be deemed to be a high priorityhuman
resources and personnel-related issuesis not treated as
a high priority in terms of representation.
Chair: That's very helpful, thank you.
I have been told that we may have a slight reprieve until about
10 past 4 due to voting, but that doesn't mean that we can let
up the pressure.
Q39 John Glen: Can I
ask you all about the timing of the next iteration of the SDSR
and the NSS? When should it be? Should it be away from the nextas
far as we can tellgeneral election? In terms of the process,
how should it work? It seems to me that one of the issues we have
covered today is the interaction between the SDSR and the NSS,
and how they come together. As we become aware of missing capabilities,
what processes need to be implemented to make the dialogue and
outcome of one affecting the other work optimally?
Professor Chalmers: I think that
the next SDSR should be after the next general election, and should
coincide with another NSS and another spending review. Politically,
it would make no sense to have a major review before an election
because it could be the subject of dispute between the parties
in that election.
Q40 John Glen: Hasn't
one of the assessments been that that is the problem this time?
The proximity to the spending review has meant that the spending
review has driven the SDSR, rather than everything being done
dispassionately away from it.
Professor Chalmers: The nature
of strategy is deciding on your objectives and what you want within
the resources available. There has to be an iterative process
between them. My view on this process is that if we had delayed
the SDSR until after the spending review was complete, the budgetary
settlement for defence in particular would probably have been
significantly worse. What happenedthis is particularly
true with a new Government coming inwas the fact that the
two processes were in parallel meant that senior Ministers had
to grapple with all the issues of what more severe cuts would
have meant for the armed forces. That resulted in a budgetary
settlement for defence that was more generous compared with other
Departments than many of us would have anticipated. Therefore,
no, I think that they should coincide. You will remember that
the first NSS back in 2008 was not related to a spending review
cycle, and it was a very worthy piece of paper, but how far it
really had purchase on Government priorities, because it wasn't
linked to spending reviews, is open to question.
The other issue I would raise is the importance
of the annual process that we are going through nowthe
planning round. Some of the most difficult decisions in defence
will be taken over the next couple of months, filling in details
from the SDSR. One thing that we have learnt, very painfully,
is the cost of delaying decisions on defence until the very last
minutescrapping weapons we have just acquired, such as
Nimrod and so on. It is really quite criminal in many respects.
If we want to avoid that in future, I think we must have an annual
process, so that when we get to 2015, we're not faced with another
£30 billion overhang because we have kept it under control
each year. That means an annual review of budgetary disciplineensuring
that it is maintained every yearbut it also means that
if things change in the geopolitical or technological environment,
we do not wait until 2015 to make appropriate adjustments, but
make them as we go along. Revolutionary changes are happening
right now in the Middle East, and if they lead to changes that
affect our strategic interests, then, of course, we should change
in 2012 or 2013, not wait until 2015.
Professor Clarke: I also think
that we are almost committed to a rolling process of review, as
a result of the SDSR, which left so many things unspecified and
unsettled. There are processes that are ongoing in the Defence
Reform Unit, reviewing stabilisation operations in the defence
industrial strategy, and all that creates an imperative to keep
on going. As Professor Chalmers says, in effect, we're in the
middle of a continuing process. Perhaps there will be a natural
tidying up in 2013 or 2014, which will look like a review. That
would be rather like the 1990s, when nobody dared to talk about
a defence review, but there were actually three or four rolling
reviews as people got used to the implications of the end of the
Cold War. In effect, we are out of the cycle now where we have
a review only when we absolutely can't avoid it, and this is a
process of continued rethinking.
Professor Strachan: Can I make
two quick observations? First, there is a presumption that the
NSS and the SDSR should be virtually coincident, if you were to
do it in 2015. We've just been hearing about the pitfalls of making
them virtually coincident, and about the argument for space between
the two so that there is time for debate and reflection. I would
have thought that was a "lesson learned"that,
ideally, they shouldn't be coincident; they should be separated.
Secondly, 2015 may be an election year, five
years on from this defence review. Therefore, when, putatively,
we are due for another defence reviewbut recognising that
it is already in process, because of what we have already heardthe
other issue to throw in will be the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
That will be a moment for review and reflection and it will raise
fundamental questions, which we have hedged so far, to do with
the balance of capabilities. There is the very vexed and much
debated question: is Afghanistan in any sense a model for application
elsewhere, or is it something that needs to be avoided at all
costs next time round? Or, is it a model for a balanced capability
because of the need to retain flexibility and to think long-term,
as we don't know where the threat is coming from? In 2015, such
issues will be clearer and starker, perhapsor perhaps notthan
they are now, so, I think that there are external pressures that
make it important.
James Blitz: The general election
in the UK is a movable feast, at the end of the day. It could
come at any time. I don't think that we can afford to go back
to a situation such as the one where there was no review between
1998 and 2010. It is essential to fix the review in 2015. I also
think that 2015, as Professor Strachan was indicating, will be
a good time to have one. You will have had the 2014 CSR, so you
will have a financial perspective, which can inform strategic
decisions. It will come before the 2016 Main Gate decision on
Trident, so you will be able to lock it into that process, too.
It is also at the end of the Afghanistan engagement, so, in that
sense, it seems a good moment for a review. I don't see why we
would want to move away from that idea.
Chair: We have lots of questions still
Q41 Mrs Moon: There seem
to be lots of figures thrown around about what the deficit is
in the Ministry of Defence. There was £35 billion from the
National Audit Office and £38 billion from Dr Fox. The Committee
took evidence from a group of experts who said that the deficit
was £1 billion or £2 billion, and the difference was
between money that had been committed to be spent and aspirational
spend. One of the witnesses said, "Well, aspirationally,
I am several hundred thousand pounds overspent because I would
love a Maserati. I haven't actually ordered one, and that's the
big difference." What actually is the overspend? What is
your assessment of the black hole? How big is it in terms of concrete
commitments, as opposed to aspirational commitmentsnot
just, "These are the toys the boys would like to have."?
What's your estimate of the level of the gap and the reasons for
That's a straightforward question, isn't it?
Mrs Moon: I always like to be.
Q42 Chair: What's the
gap and why?
Professor Chalmers: Right, that's
where we are. I think the key thing here is that it really does
depend on the assumptions you are making which, indeed, your question
makes very clear. Even in a space of a few months, if the oil
price goes up by $30 or $40 a barrel and everything else is left
unchanged in your assumptions then you will probably have several
billion pounds extra in your gap over the next 10 years.
My plea would be that we need a lot more transparency
on the assumptions being made in these numbers if we are to understand
what they mean. The Government, when they came in last year, ordered
a fresh look at our forward commitments and introduced what they
felt to be more realistic assumptions in that forum. They came
up with this £38 billion figure. It will be interesting to
see what the figure is today, after a defence review, on the same
Clearly, the assumptions will change, as we
have more information, so my assessmentI have published
thisis that if you take the same assumptions that underlay
the £38 billion then we probably reduce that overhang over
the next decade to something of the order of £15 billion.
But, of course, some of those assumptions might changeservice
pay or equipment costs might rise less rapidly than we anticipatedso
it does depend on that.
James Blitz: There is no question
but there is a gap. There are two issues, in terms of financial
pressures, that need to be looked at. I think you are aware of
them, because you were asking the Permanent Under-Secretary about
them last week.
First of all, there is a gap that exists in
terms of the discrepancy between now and 2014-15, and there is
an assumption that there is a further gap. As you know, the front-line
decisions on SDSR accounted for around half of the money that
needs to be taken out in 2014-15, and then there is an assumption
that the next wave of announcements on personnel cuts and so on
will help meet that gap. Even when all that is taken into account,
there is a gap of about £1 billion to £2 billion in
2014-15. That is a very real issue, which is occupying the minds
of people in the Department.
There is a second issue, which is that, as you
know, defence will need a real-terms increase after 2015 if it
is to meet the projections which are set out in SDSR for 2020that
is a separate issue which one could discuss. But the first issue
clearly needs to be focused on at the moment. I think there are
different voices within the Department saying different things
about how this gap is going to be met.
On the one hand, there are people saying that
the gap is sufficiently bigand growingthat it will
require a revisiting of SDSR and front-line commitments. Some
people talk about the need perhaps to come down in frigate numbers,
while others say that is not true, or to revisit Army numbers
and so on. Other people say, however, that they are hoping that
the Defence Reform Unit process, which is now under way, will
create enough head room to meet that gap, when it comes out in
June or July.
My own view is that, although that is being
said quite strongly and there is discussion about the possibility
of reducing headquarters numbers in the Army, shall we say, I
simply don't see how that will yield the kinds of hundreds of
millions of pounds needed to fill that gap. That, if you like,
is the area of debate at the moment. It is a question of whether
you will end up having to revisit the front line, doing things
on operations or, though I don't think it is a route we can go
down, going back to the Treasury and asking for a lighter settlement.
I don't think that that will happen because there is a perception
that defence did reasonably well compared with other Departments.
Then there is the question of whether the Defence Reform Unit
process will yield enough to fill the headroom.
Chair: We have about six more minutes
and about three more questions.
Bob Stewart: James Blitz has just answered
Chair: Okay, then we have fewer questions.
Q43 Mr Brazier: Could
I ask, especially Professor Chalmers and Mr Blitz, about the Prime
Minister's statement? This Committee clearly has a long history
of defending defence spending against the Treasury and a variety
of other forces, but do you think that it will be very challenging
to deliver on the Prime Minister's aspiration of real-terms increases
in the defence budget from 2015? After all, that is the point
at which the engagement in Afghanistanat least, the sharp-end
Professor Chalmers: The first
point that I would make in relation to that commitment, which
was made in the SDSR debate by the Prime Minister, is that it
is very close to the wording the Government used for the national
health service. The Government are committed to real-terms, year-on-year
increases for the NHS which, in practice, in the spending review,
is translated into real growth of about 0.2% per annum. So I think
that we can take from the Prime Minister's commitment a clear
statement that there will not be a real-terms reduction after
2014, but I don't think we can read anything from it about how
big the real-terms growth that he is committing to is. For the
MoD to be able to afford its current plans up to 2020 would, as
far as I understand it, require real-terms growth after 2014 of
the order of 2% per annum. I think it will be pretty difficult
to reach that level of real-terms growth, but it depends on the
broader geopolitical climate and on the country's economic prospects.
James Blitz: With respect, I don't
see the Prime Minister's commitment with the statement on the
SDSR as a bankable commitment in any way. With respect, it is,
first of all, completely dependent on the Prime Minister being
there in 2015, which may or may not be the case. It is also completely
dependent on the economic environment. We may well be in a more
benign economic environment, but we may well not be. As Professor
Chalmers has said, a real-terms increase of 1% or 2% of GDP would,
historicallygoing back to the early 1980sbe very
considerable for Defence.
The question that I think arises, given this
uncertainty, is how will Defence be able to press ahead with programming
in the next year or two? That is the concern of the chiefs, because
what they are saying is, "We have to know where we're going
to be in 2016-17". My own view is that they are just going
to have to muddle through, because I cannot imagine a situation
in which the Treasury will turn around and say to Defence, "We
will guarantee you a number and not do that for any other Government
I also think that there is a feeling around
Whitehall that, while they understand this issue, Defence has
to now get on with proving, in the first instance, that it can
manage the reform process and get a handle on the equipment programme.
I think that a lot of that is happening, but it needs to be proved.
Until that happens, I don't think anybody within the Whitehall
framework is really going to debate or discuss this issue.
Professor Clarke: In the 10 years
after the SDR in 1998, defence expenditure rose in real terms
by an average of about 1% a year, which was inadequate to deliver
the programme. We are now talking about twice that amount after
Q44 Chair: A sobering
thought. The supplementary, which Mr Blitz has already hinted
at, is, which programmes do the panel think are most at risk?
James Blitz: I bow to Professor
Chalmers on this, because he has done a lot more work on it than
me, but if you do not see a real-terms increase from 2015, I think
that the single operational carrier decision will have to be defended
in the 2015 SDSR. I think that that is a possibility. It would
be a huge sunk cost, but there would also be the significant cost
of having JSF on board. That is the claim of issue that may still
be live if absolutely nothing happens in terms of real-terms increases.
Q45 Chair: Professor
Chalmers, is that right?
Professor Chalmers: I think that's
right. If you look at what the Government have said on the carrier,
you will see that it is very lukewarm support in terms of the
strategic case for the next decade. There is an assumption that
the case for the carrier will be stronger after 2020, but not
much explanation of why they think that that is the case. Things
may look rather different in 2015. So yes, I think that is very
much open for discussion, so it will be on the table in 2015.
The other issue is Army personnel numbers. Because
of the focus on Afghanistan, the Army has got off relatively lightly
in terms of resource allocation in this review. If, at some stage
over the next few years, we get out of Afghanistanand provided
that we do not take on a similar sort of stabilisation operationI
think there will be a lot of pressure to reduce Army numbers quite
considerably in order to make a contribution to balancing the
books. If that doesn't occur, we will have a very land-centric
force structure, which it would be hard to make compatible with
the commitment to an adaptable force posture.
Professor Strachan: Can I add
a rider to that? The thing that seems to me most undeliverable
by 2020, if this uplift doesn't happen, is the commitment to bring
the Army back from Germany, because the accommodation simply won't
be there to enable it to return. That in itself has knock-on effects
on some of the issues that I raised earlier in relation to personnel
retention and so on, because many of the issues that surround
the military covenant are above all issues of stability versus
mobility. The notion that there is a target out there of 2020
as a date by which the forces will be predominantly back home,
unless they're deployed on unaccompanied service overseas, is
central to many of the other things that are happening or that
might happen in relation to allowances and so on. So although
this is not a big-ticket item in the way the carrier is, or as
politically loaded in some ways as the carrier is, actually it
has significant long-term effects.
Chair: What's your final question, Vice-Chairman?
Q46 Mr Havard: It's not
the least question, but it is the last question. It's about the
reformation of the civil part of the Ministry of Defence. Essentially,
it's a question that ends up by asking you what the risks are
in this. It has split it into three pillars; we've had that description.
We've had a written statement today, in terms of the estates division
there is a plan being announced to save 2,500 jobs by 2014 through
rationalisation, saving £1.2 billion over the first four
years. There is a question about whether this reform can provide
for other things. An implementation plan was described in September
after a report in Julyall to end up, again, in 2014. Are
we going to prepare the Ministry of Defence and reform it in response
to where we are or have been in the past, or is it going to be
for the future? What are the risks?
Professor Strachan: Sorry, but
may I go first on this? It relates to the point I've just been
making in relation to uniformed personnel in the armed forces.
The presumption in much of the rhetoric is that the cut will take
place in Main Building, when in reality most of the cuts will
take place outside Main Building. The people who will be going
will be the people who are doing the jobs that, say, 20 years
ago were being done by people in uniform. How you're going to
support your armed forces in bases round the UKlet alone
outside the UKseems to me very unclear if this is implemented.
James Blitz: That's the point
I was going to make. That is one of the key questions that arise.
You're getting rid of 25,000 civilian staff and roughly 17,000
service personnel, and the net effect of that is that you're going
to end up having service personnel who are generally better paid
than your civilian staff doing the jobs that were done by the
civilians. So one of the key questions that arise is whether actually
it is a cost-effective reform programme when viewed in the round.
Q47 Chair: You saw the
Permanent Under-Secretary's answer to that question last week.
She said she was in the business of saving money and wouldn't
do it if it resulted in more military staff doing these things
more expensively. Did you believe her?
James Blitz: Difficult to know.
I think Professor Chalmers probably has a view.
Professor Chalmers: The final
bit of that jigsaw I would add is that, in so far as you reduce
the number of civilians by contracting out, the saving is much
less than if you take the task out altogether and therefore the
contribution to resolving the budget problem is less.
Professor Clarke: The challenge
that all this poses for the Ministry of Defence ultimately is
that it has to be a Department of State and a strategic military
headquarters. I think there is general agreement in the MoD that
it has not been a particularly effective strategic military headquarters
during Iraq and Afghanistan, so there is some opportunity here,
but it will require much more radical rethinking than the SDSR
has indicated to date.
Q48 Mr Havard: But in
terms of the indications about looking at things from the point
of view of acquisition and procurement, which has been the big
debate so far, and the lack of an industrial strategy as yetapparently,
there will be one sometime this spring, whatever the spring isis
that not an important risk?
Professor Clarke: That is a very
important part of a wholesale restructuring of the defence business.
We'll have to see how it works out. It's a neat trick if you can
Chair: Thank you very much indeed. We've
packed an enormous amount into this evidence session. I would
like to thank all of you for giving such comprehensive, interesting
and helpful answers to our questions. I would also like to thank
the Committee, particularly those members who refrained from asking
questions that had already been answered so well.