Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
General (rtd) Sir Rupert Smith KCB, DSO, OBE, QGM
18 May 2011
Q302 Chair: We now move
on to General Sir Rupert Smith. You have not been in front of
the Committee for some years, I think, but in any event, welcome
back. As you have already spotted, we have a problem with the
democratic system and we are going to have to vote from time to
time. We did not predict the last vote; we predict one at 4 o'clock,
yet some of us are now saying that that might not happen, so we
will have to see how it goes.
Let us start with a general question. What do
you think of the National Security Council?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I think
the idea of having such a council is good for two reasons. First,
we have not got enough money. Secondly, we can no longer understand
security on a home-and-away basis. For about 100 years, we have
organised ourselves on the basis that we can treat defence and
security in parallel as separate activities, and we have been
able to understand security on the basis of home-and-away. Accordingly,
we had Departments such as the Foreign Office, the Home Office,
the Admiralty and the War Office, which is now the Ministry of
Defence. We carved out the money and so forth that way.
As I say, the situation has changed. First,
we have not got enough money to do it that way. Secondly, you
cannot treat security on a home-and-away basis largely because
of the speed, reach and range of global communications. We, of
all nations, sit in the centre of the inhabited world, if you
see it on a globe, and are utterly dependent in peace and war
on our ability to trade. We cannot feed ourselves and we cannot
heat ourselves in peace or war unless we trade. We cannot withstand
a siege. So it is in our absolute interest to ensure our security
on that continuum and not on the basis of home-and-away, as we
used to be able to do.
But there are consequences of this idea, which
is that we are now understanding defence and security on a linear
basis. We are somewhere on a line between those two activities
and therefore this council or whosoever has to be able to decide
where we are on that line. You cannot allow events to just tell
you. You have got to decide it and anticipate it because you have
got to be able to reapportion priorities, resource and maybe demand
more resource because of the imperative of the moment. I don't
see those necessary consequences of the decision, which I think
is a right one, appearing yet.
Q303 Chair: How would
you improve the National Security Council?
General Sir Rupert Smith: So that
it could do the following things: to decide more frequently than
once every two years where we are on that line between defence
and security; to be able to have the authority and responsibility
for reassigning the priorities as a consequence of that recognition
of where we are; and to allocate resource accordingly. It also
has to be able to state the objective at that time rather than
the more general ones that appear in the National Security Strategyno
doubt you will ask me about them shortly. The objective has to
be rather more concretely stated in the event because one of the
consequences of our modern circumstances is that we don't know
what the threat is. The whole of the construct for the previous
hundred years is that we have had a threat. We have been able
to say that this is the threat. We don't know what it is any more
and so it is even more important that, in our analysis of where
we are between security and defence, we have to identify what
the threat is and what is threatened. It must be able to do that
sufficiently well to allocate resource and priorities accordingly.
Q304 Mr Brazier: That
leads us directly on then. Let's put the question really widely:
what did you think about SDSR in general terms?
General Sir Rupert Smith: In general
terms I thought it was an incoherent nonsense.
Q305 Mr Brazier: And
more specifically, would you like to give us some for instances?
General Sir Rupert Smith: To me,
it was a mishmash of decisions. I would need to have the bit of
paper in front of me to be able to spell it out. But they did
not match anything that I read, if I had properly understood it,
in the National Security Strategy. I don't see how the two match
and if you just took the decisions of the SDSR as a whole, they
were incoherent within themselves.
Q306 Mr Brazier: We have
had some testimony from other witnesses on this but it would be
helpful to know where you see the biggest gaps. You mentioned,
first, that we are not addressing the security sideyou
made that point about wider national security policy. Without
a clear identification of the threat, which is difficult, it is
difficult to match it up. You have also suggested that there is
an internal issue about the way the bits of SDSR hang together.
Would you like to expand on that second point?
General Sir Rupert Smith: Yes.
Perhaps it would help, at least for my answers, for me to say
what I think security and defence mean, because we tend to use
those words as synonyms and I don't think they are. Security,
in my view, is the prevention of a latent threat becoming patent.
You do it in such a way that, should you fail in your prevention
of the latent becoming patent, you fail at sufficient distance
in time and space that you can now do something about it. This
is why your barbed wire fence is that far away: you force the
man to cut it in order to come through it, identify himself in
time for you to put the lights on and for your reaction force
to deal with him. That is security. It is a subjective series
of judgments about risk and reward or gain, and you want to be
able to identify something for what it is, but the moment security
has failed and the threat has appeared you have to defeat it or
deter it. It is now an absolute, an objective set of decisions
of threatened loss or gain: it is binary.
If we are going to treat security and defence
as being along a line, in each case you have to understand where
you arethis is what I mean about being there. At some point
you are going to go back into defence and there is a time for
achieving this. I call this, in my mind, elasticity. If we do
what we are doing, we must have some elasticity in our defensive
arrangements in order to be able to expand again to handle that
particular problem when we have identified it. We have to build
the security arrangementswhich may well involve the Armed
Forces; it is all our capability doing thisand their whole
purpose is to identify the threat in time. That is what I do not
see in any of this construct.
Q307 Mr Brazier: Right.
It would still be helpful if you would follow one strand through,
take us through a particular threat scenario and show us where
you think that incoherence actually falls; where, somewhere between
security and defence, the ball would fall.
General Sir Rupert Smith: This
is as long as a piece of string. We will just imagine something
happening. The question I ask is, have we the built-in elasticity
to be able to expand to reactwhich may not be expansion,
it may be reallocation of resourceto something happening?
I am going to imagine that what is going on at the moment in the
Middle East leads to an outbreak of intercommunal strife in Cyprus,
such that it threatens the sovereign base areas and our interest
in those areas and so forth. Can we react to that today? Have
we got the capacity to do what we did in 1974 when the Turks invaded
and all those refugees arrived, quite apart from whether our sovereign
bases are actually attacked? Could we expand to do that, since
they are part of our territories? They are part of the kingdom,
as opposed to something we can ignore, and it is where we have
interests. They are an outer ring of security, if you like. Could
we go to guard those places, defeat anyone who tries to attack
them or take them over, and so on? I doubt it.
Q308 Bob Stewart: Could
we in 1974?
General Sir Rupert Smith: We did.
Q309 Bob Stewart: But
could we have done it if there was a real, coherent threata
General Sir Rupert Smith: Yes,
we could have done. We went and did it a bit later in the Falklands,
which was an even bigger affair. It is a very long time ago, but
at the time we certainly sent a whole brigade, at least two other
battalions, and so on, and a Headquarters for them.
Q310 Bob Stewart: To
Dhekelia and Akrotiri?
General Sir Rupert Smith: Yes.
Q311 Chair: We have asked
you what you think of the SDSR, and we have asked you what you
think of the National Security Council, but we have not asked
you what you think of the National Security Strategy.
General Sir Rupert Smith: The
bit in the middle, if you like. It is rather more policydeclaratorythan
a strategy that says how you are going to do something, where
your priorities lie, and so on. It states the objectives; you
might say two-and-a-half objectives. We are to secure and protect
the kingdomit is not clear whether that is the people or
the placeand we are to have a safe, secure context in which
to live. Those are very general objectives. It then says that
we are to have no diminution of our influence abroad. In the circumstances
I find it difficult to understand how we achieve that.
Chair: We share your view.
General Sir Rupert Smith: Nevertheless,
the National Security Strategy states some broad aims. It is much
less about how we achieve it, but with what we achieve it. I do
not think it gives a very clear statement, as I have done already,
of our absolute dependence on the ability to trade and, therefore,
to communicate. Whether it is with container traffic or with megabytes
of information, it amounts to the same thing.
I do not think the National Security Strategy
makes enough of our inability to act alone, our need to act in
concert with others and the circumstances in which we can do so.
It says a lot about wanting a rules-based world, and so on. We
do not talk about our paucity of resource, which means that it
is very difficult for us to act alone, if at all. If that is the
case, and our objective is a rules-based world, I would like to
see a bit more about where we are going. If I recall correctly,
there is a paragraph that says we will work closely with allies,
notably NATO, the US, and so on.
Q312 Mr Havard: So we
have the strategy, we have the SDSR, which you say is not terribly
coherent, and we have the NSC. In a sense, you are saying that,
because you cannot play home-and-away, it is all one thing. Didn't
you describe Cabinet government when you described the NSC, because
all the various Departments should be coming together to address
this? So what is the NSC? Is it a war Cabinet? What is its role?
Where is the agent? Is it the NSC that actually says, "Yes,
we need to expand, or whatever. This is our elasticity. We need
to make a decision. All the decision makers are in the room, let's
make a decision."? Is that being done in the NSC, and is
the Treasury committing money to the NSC? Where does that leave
General Sir Rupert Smith: You
must correct me if I have misunderstood something.
In effect it is a Cabinet Committee. Its non-Cabinet
members are not members. I think they are called advisers, if
you look at the piece of paper. Therefore, that is exactly what
it is. That is not what we have said we are doing. We say we are
having a cross-departmental homogenous whole. In which case, it
must be able to do those things I list, which requires some authoritative
body that can alter resource and so forth. At the moment, we seem
to have fallen between enlarging a Cabinet Committee more or less,
and not addressing the institutional structureDepartments'
budgets and so onbeneath that Cabinet. Until we do, I do
not see how you can arrive at the answer, if you like, to the
conundrum you have posed to me.
Q313 Ms Stuart: In the
previous evidence session we asked the three Chiefs of the Services
whether, looking at the current capability and ahead to 2015,
they would still describe our capability as full spectrum. All
three said no. Presumably you would agree with that.
General Sir Rupert Smith: Do we
have a full spectrum capability? No, I don't think we do.
Q314 Ms Stuart: When
would you say we last had that?
General Sir Rupert Smith: Your
spectrum is utterly dependent on your opponent or the threat.
You never know what you've got until you have an enemy. I want
to make the point about capability. This is not an inventory.
A capability is not a list of things we have. A capability is
measured against your opponent on the day, and he is going to
make it difficult for you.
Q315 Ms Stuart: But given
that you were happy to say no, there must have been a moment when
you could say yes. When would you last have said yes?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I would
have thought it could be said that we probably last proved we
had a full capability to operate in the Falklands.
Q316 Ms Stuart: That
is a pretty long time ago.
General Sir Rupert Smith: I say
that as the Commander of the division in the Gulf in 1991. We
could not have done that on our own.
Q317 Chair: So, you didn't
think that we had full spectrum capability in 1991?
General Sir Rupert Smith: No,
we were dependent in some measure or other on our allies.
Q318 Chair: We had to
be, or we chose to be?
General Sir Rupert Smith: We had
to be. We could not have done that on our own.
Q319 Ms Stuart: What
is the likelihood of us ever becoming again a full spectrum capability?
General Sir Rupert Smith: If we
are frightened enough. Also, on the basis on which we are conducting
this debate at this time, there is not a prospect. You would have
to change what we are doing. I am speaking for the Army. In so
far as it is a design, we have designed in the SDSR, in the case
of a full-blown fight, that we will be capable of fielding a brigade
over time, if I remember that correctly. Well, that covers you
in terms of defence of a piece of territory of about the distance
between Aldershot and Fleet, which from my memory is about five
to six kilometres.
Ms Stuart: Right.
General Sir Rupert Smith: I daresay
the Navy and the Air Force could also produce a round figure like
Q320 Mr Havard: So, by
default it is a list of dependencies that we have described then?
General Sir Rupert Smith: We cannot
operate alone. We don't want to operate alone, do we?
Q321 Mr Havard: We have
identified the dependencies as well.
General Sir Rupert Smith: We are
saying that we want a rules-based society. That must mean that
you operate with others.
Q322 Ms Stuart: In a
sense you have answered my point, because I was about to ask you
about something the Chief of the Defence Staff said to us: the
National Security Strategy is not a bad objective in terms of
our ends, but the ways and means are an area of weakness. I think
from what you said earlier that you believe that that only begins
to describe the weaknesses of the document. How would you comment?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I would
have said that we are saying much the same thing. It is a general
statement of policy; it does not tell me how we will strike a
balance. Moving away slightly from just the military, in the document
there is talk of the problems when the fuel depot to the north
of London bursts into flamesI cannot remember the name
of the place. Nobody draws a deduction if it caused a complete
disruption of avgas supply for two years, but perhaps we should
not be dependent on only one. Why is there not the principle in
there that we should have two of everything, and that it should
be dispersed, and not clustered all around London, or wherever?
That seems the sort of thing that we ought to put in our National
Security Strategythat we have dispersion, and that we are
capable of expanding our organisations back into a defensive role.
That is strategic, in my understanding.
Q323 Ms Stuart: There
is much talk of the focus on resilience, but clearly you do not
think it is there in practice.
General Sir Rupert Smith: If we
can barely supply our civil aviation with fuel for two yearsperhaps
we have got away with itthat is hardly resilience, when
it is an accident. What happens if some cove actually works out
one of these threats and thinks, "I might be a terrorist,
but wouldn't it be fun to blow up all their oil?"
Q324 Bob Stewart: I am
not sure whether I still have to call you Sir, but I suppose that
General will do now. It is nice to see you again.
General Sir Rupert Smith: It will
Bob Stewart: I think that Sir would do,
When you talked about full spectrum capability,
you defined it in a rather straightforward way between Aldershot
and Fleet or something. Based on that criterion, the United States
doesn't have full spectrum capability either. You might say that
you could extend that line to Glasgowthey could defend
that sort of area. Under those narrow definitions that you used,
the United States would not have full spectrum capability, or
have I misunderstood?
General Sir Rupert Smith: Oh,
Bob Stewart: Would you change the ground
General Sir Rupert Smith: My description
was merely to say what we could do on a more or less full spectrum
basis. Before you go much further, how many potential opponents
are going to outmatch 5 km as opposed to from here to Glasgow?
I was merely using that as an example of what we have actually
costed and said that, by 2020, this is what we will be able to
sustain. Well, that is not a lot.
Q325 Mr Brazier: Following
your logic through, it seems strange that the National Security
Strategy says so little about maritime security when we are not
only an island, but we have also had the recent example in Mumbai
of a land threat coming from the sea.
General Sir Rupert Smith: I would
like to see a great deal more concentration on the absolute essential
of trade. It says that we require prosperity, and that prosperity
comes through trade.
Mr Brazier: And it has to come through
General Sir Rupert Smith: If that
logic is there and you want a holistic approach, we have to consider
how we do this, who our trading partners are, and so on and so
forth. This might be how you start to categorise where you do
intervene and where you do not, and where you want to pay attention,
because we are certainly not capable of paying attention everywhere.
It starts to tell us where our priorities lie.
Q326 Mr Donaldson: And
paying attention is important, because the National Security Strategy
talks about conflict prevention being one of the key objectives,
and if you haven't got full spectrum capability, preventing conflict
becomes very important. What is your view of our Armed Forces'
capacity to engage in that role at the moment, given our operational
commitments that leave us fairly stretched?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I have
extreme difficulty with the idea that conflict prevention is caused
by fighting. My experience is that if you want to intervene in
someone else's fight, you've got to win it, and you might find
yourself fighting all of them. Just be quite clear what you're
taking on before you start to talk about conflict prevention as
an act of your Armed Forces, because you've got to beat the lot,
albeit potentially, which was what America found once it was in
Q327 Mr Donaldson: But
you can use your Armed Forces before you come to conflict. Conflict
prevention is not conflict resolution. They are two different
General Sir Rupert Smith: Again,
the role of your Armed Forces in preventing that armed conflict
from coming about has to be very carefully thought through and
metered. Are you siding with one side or the other? Are you giving
the threat, "If you start a fight, I'll come and stop it"?
What are you using that force for? Are you saying, "No, I'll
stand between you," in a classic UN way, in which case you
have signed a blank cheque on that manpower until the other two
parties have sorted themselves out?
Q328 Mr Donaldson: It
might actually be training the local forces to deal with a perceived
General Sir Rupert Smith: In which
case, you have joined a side.
Q329 Mr Donaldson: Yes,
but we have done that in many places
General Sir Rupert Smith: Indeed,
and look where it has got us sometimes.
Q330 Mr Donaldson: So
you are better staying out and if it becomes
General Sir Rupert Smith: I am
not saying one is better than the other. You need to enter this
with a rather clear-headed view that the "something that
must be done" is not necessarily the application of armed
force. As others have heard me say, just as you can't be a little
bit pregnant, you can't be a little bit interventionist, as we're
discovering in Libya at the moment.
Q331 Mr Donaldson: So
are you saying that it is really for FCO and DFID to look after
General Sir Rupert Smith: No,
not necessarily. You might well have the military involved, but
be quite clear what you are doing in the mix. Preventing other
people having a fight is a big handful of an idea, and by 2020,
one brigade of soldiersand it will always be soldiers who
do this; not the Navy and not the Air Forceis not going
to go very far.
Q332 Chair: What would
you say about the United Nations resolution 1973, then?
General Sir Rupert Smith: Please
Chair: About Libya.
Mr Havard: The duty to protect.
General Sir Rupert Smith: If I
am walking down the street and I hear "Rape!" in the
house, I have a clear duty to go and do something about it. In
so far as that idea is in the resolution, I would agree with it,
but how you go about doing something about it is another matter
Q333 Mr Havard: I am
just interested in what we were saying earlier when you seemed
to suggest that we described our dependencies rather than our
sovereignty in terms of what we have done so far. What are these
greater risks, then, of having done what we've done in the way
that we've done it? If you had the opportunity to open up this
discussion again, what would be the priority that you would revisit?
General Sir Rupert Smith: When
you talk about risks, are you talking about how we have analysed
risks, or are we talking about the risks of going on down the
track we have set out on?
Q334 Mr Havard: The Government
have said that spending is the priority, so they have come up
with a policy which, certainly up until 2015, is one thingthen
maybe it recovers. They have prioritised that over some other
things: capability and so on. There are risks that come from thatthey
recognise them; that's fair enough. Given that that is the case,
and that there will be a revision anyway before 2015, what is
the most important thing that should be revisited?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I would
like to see the general idea of treating security and defence
as linearas ideas on a line so that you know where you
areproperly developed, as well as the capacity to redirect
and alter how we do things. I would like to do the sorts of things
I have listed already.
Secondly, I would like us to understandthis
is my own word for itthat if we are, because of our circumstances,
going down this road, there is no point breaking the bank to have
a super-insurance policy and then destroying everything else.
I am quite clear that we have not got enough money and that we
have to think this through differently, but we therefore need
to recognise that the structures of how we thought about these
thingswhere we have been able to identify the threat in
advance, prepare against it and so forthare gone. They
are finished, so our thinking should not be to try to have, for
example, all the right kit in advance. Our whole understanding
of what we are doing is to identify the problem or threat coming
at us in time to acquire the kit.
You are actually turning the thought process.
Along with changing from this parallel activity of defence and
security, and an identifiable threat, you follow the logic through
so that you do not go around spending huge amounts of money. What
you do is prepare so that you have what I call "kernel defence"a
play on words; kernel as in nut or seedso that you build
the critical mass into your structures, which I do not find as
a result of the SDSR, and so that you have the capacity to expand
and to react to the particular, which may not be expansionary
but about altering direction into a particular area. That is a
big, big change. It is long on thinking and about having the right
people in the right place, making decisions early and not waiting
until the last minute. There are all sorts of factors that come
into that, but that is where I think, in logic, the decisions
that we have made already are taking us.
Q335 Mr Havard: What
are the capabilities we are losing, or the areas in which we are
seeing diminishing capabilities in terms of intelligence, surveillance
and being able to seein a general sense?
General Sir Rupert Smith: It is
all that, plus our ability to operate in such a way that we learn.
Q336 Mr Havard: So do
you think there is too much change going on, in a sense, and that
what the MoD is being asked, with the organisational restructuring
and all this rearrangement, is too much, too quickly? What do
you say about the pacing and sequencing of these events?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I have
been out of the MoD for so long that I am not sure.
Q337 Mr Havard: But do
you think the pace and the sequencing should be different?
General Sir Rupert Smith: No,
I don't see why we cannot change. If people cannot change in the
Armed Forces, they are not fit for purpose. The whole of battle/war
Q338 Mr Brazier: You
have given us a very clear picture of what, in your view, we should
have been trying to do in SDSR: producing a more flexible structure.
If there were one really major change that you could make in the
outcomes in order to deliver the clear goals that you have set
out for us, what would it be? What really big thing would have
been different in terms of where you would have prioritised?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I am
not only talking about the SDSR. We must not bring this just straight
down to the Armed Forces. If we are doing this all togetheron
the same lineyou have to understand the whole. That said,
this probably lies across a number of things. It does not go into
neat bits of equipmentwhether we have aeroplanes or something
like that. It is to do with the capacity to learn. It is intelligence
in the broadest sense of the word. It is not just the secret stuff,
and it is not just having the right radar. It is the capacity
to operate and learn as a whole, and I do not see that there in
Q339 Penny Mordaunt:
What do you think are the implications for UK security policy
and the next SDSR if the Prime Minister's ambition to have a larger
defence budget by 2015 is not realised?
General Sir Rupert Smith: If the
economy can stand it at the time and we stay on our current course,
I imagine that we will find ourselves scrambling to fill in spaces
that have been left by the current set of decisions. Unless we
build in this capacity of what I have called elasticity, we will
find it extremely difficult to use more money usefully, except
to add a bit here and a bit there. We need a structure that is
coherent and to a purpose on which to spend the extra money to
make it that much better.
Q340 Penny Mordaunt:
You have touched on planning and procurement, but what other big,
fundamental things need to be addressed and changed?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I do
not know that they are, but I hope that the relationships with
defence industries are being addressed. Of course we want value
for moneywe do not want to pay huge sums of moneybut,
in the end, what is on this island is the strategic base from
which we operate. As I have said, we operate in conjunction with
others. Unless we have the basis of something there, and industry
is involved in this construct, we won't have that elasticity.
They cannot do it if the production line or the design is not
there. That does not require a Soviet-style demand for 1,000 tanks
a year just to keep the industry goingthat is not my point.
The research and development, the possibility that this is of
value in time, the concept demonstrators and those sorts of ideas
need to be thought through and banked against the future, so that
when you identify your threat, you have some capacity to deal
Q341 Mr Havard: Do you
see that running also to the structures of the militaryfor
example the balance between reserve forces and standing forcesand
also maybe in the security area as well?
General Sir Rupert Smith:
Yes. We have Armed Forces that are reduced from something that
my grandfather would recognise, in circumstances that my grandfather
would not recognise, so I have no trouble with changing the structures.
Q342 Chair: Let us assume
that we are writing the next SDSR in 2015. What three things would
you say to us to ensure that we got that review right?
General Sir Rupert Smith: Sort
out the top hamper so that you have the decision-making capacity
to recognise a threat for what it is when it appears and in time
to deal with it; alter, or be thoroughly aware of, the way in
which you are judging risk; and build a defence structure that
is capable ofI called this elasticitynot only expansion,
but also moving in another direction. Those would be my three.
We have not discussed the middle one much.
We have arrived at a methodology that is not, in itself, wrong,
but it is a recognition of our vulnerabilitiesit is about
our vulnerabilities within the strategic base as opposed to out
there, where, as you have said, half our objectives are. In the
methodology, it assumes a threat and it assumes a context, but
we do not know what the threats are. We acknowledge in the National
Security Strategy that we have to manage the context, so we cannot
be sure of what that is either. Those two sets of assumptions
are likely to be ignored, particularly if we are going to address
our risk assessment only every two years, which I think is very
dodgy in a volatile world.
Q343 Chair: Is there
anything else you would like to say about this?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I could
go on for a long time.
Chair: Well, you have been utterly fascinating
and we could go on listening to you for a long time, but we ought
to allow you to go. Thank you very much indeed for your evidence;
we are most grateful.