Defence - Minutes of EvidenceHC 197

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Tuesday 4 June 2013

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Thomas Docherty

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson

Mr Dai Havard

Mr Adam Holloway

Penny Mordaunt

Sandra Osborne

Sir Bob Russell

Bob Stewart

Ms Gisela Stuart


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Paul Cornish, Commodore Steven Jermy and Frank Ledwidge gave evidence.

Q24 Chair: Welcome to this part of our inquiry entitled "Towards the next Defence and Security Review". I welcome all three of you. This is our second evidence session, and I dare say that you have already had sight of the evidence that was given at our previous session. This is one of those unusual sessions when we hope that discussion and conversation will flow pretty freely. You are expected, if this is okay, to comment on each other’s comments, as well as to engage in a discussion and conversation with the Committee, rather than being pinned to the floor to answer lots of questions. For the record, will you please introduce yourselves? Mr Ledwidge, would you like to begin?

Frank Ledwidge: My name is Frank Ledwidge. I am a former barrister. I served military tours in Bosnia, in Kosovo and in Iraq, as part of the Iraq Survey Group, and subsequent to that, I was justice adviser to the PRT in Helmand and a stabilisation officer in Libya. I also wrote a couple of books.

Professor Cornish: I am Paul Cornish, professor of strategic studies at the university of Exeter. Formerly, I was at Chatham House, at King’s College London, in the Foreign Office, in the British Army, at Cambridge university and at Bath university.

Commodore Jermy: I am Steve Jermy. I was a naval officer. I served in the Falklands war and in Bosnia and Kosovo, did tours to Iraq and then finally was in Afghanistan. I was the PSO to the Chief of the Defence Staff and wrote a book on strategy.

Q25 Chair: You have seen our terms of reference and the evidence that we have had so far. You know what we want to do. Is there anything that you would like to begin by saying-any of you? Who would like to begin? Mr Ledwidge?

Frank Ledwidge: I don’t mind kicking off, Chair. Concerning the last session-needless to say, it was a very interesting and distinguished discussion-a few matters arose out of it that are worth commenting on. The first was raised by General Melvin concerning the importance of being aware of the environments in which we work-specifically, the historical environments. The second matter, intimately connected with that, is that I think one has to say that the session went by without reference, except in passing-I think it is likely we will correct that today, at least initially-to the recent and, I would contend, disastrous decade of military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would suggest that those points are intimately connected: a failure to appreciate the environments in which we work-the importance of doing so-and the results of not doing so.

Q26 Chair: Would you add Libya to that?

Frank Ledwidge: Yes.

Q27 Chair: In your book, Losing Small Wars, on the things that we ought to do, you concentrated fairly heavily on the issue of the education of senior officers.

Frank Ledwidge: Indeed. We have, I think, the potential now, over the next two decades, of a golden generation of young and middle-ranking officers with combat experience coming up the ranks. These are intensely aware people. These young men and women, some of whom have now gone through four wars, in the most intense circumstances, are people who are ripe for the kind of treatment that certainly I would suggest, and I am not alone in that, which is the kind of education that the US army invests in for its very senior officers. I am talking about education outside the wire, as it were, in the kind of place that Professor Cornish works in, for example, conducting research, and not necessarily in military matters. Possibly the greatest advocate of this is General Petraeus, who has spoken and written very powerfully about the effect that his graduate education-his time at Princeton-had on him and the impact it had on such successes that he achieved in Iraq and, I would suggest to a lesser extent, but none the less, in Afghanistan over the past few years. It is very much a lesson we need to pick up if we are to exploit what I would call the potential golden generation of military officers.

Q28 Mr Holloway: Off the back of that, do you think that there is a problem in the existing cohort of very senior officers who have talked up these wars over the past decade?

Frank Ledwidge: In their defence, or perhaps mitigation, these senior officers had their upbringing in the cold war, when perhaps awareness of the environments-historical, cultural and other environments-in which we work was not as critically important. Most of these guys-they are all men-have spent their entire careers inside what General Petraeus calls the cloister. As a result of that, I would suggest, and have suggested, that their parameters-their left and right of arc-are perhaps a little bit narrower than yours or those of many of the other people sitting in this room. We see the results of that.

There is also what I argue is a key factor: being trammelled by traditional British military culture, particularly and specifically the "cracking on" culture, which suggests that if we carry on, just press on and make one more push, everything will be all right. That is simply not good enough and does not work.

Chair: This is a rich seam that we can mine this afternoon.

Commodore Jermy: Could I add to that? I think we ought not to limit it to military minds. We need civil service, diplomat and political minds to be educated in exactly the same way, with the strategic-level strategies made not just by military people, but by broad teams. Looking back, I realised, probably in the middle of Afghanistan, that we were not doing it very well. Indeed, that was why I wrote the book.

I think there are two parts to it as well. I think there is an educative process to be done on strategic thinking and the formulation of strategy. You can get better at it; there is no doubt. The second is culture-understanding the culture of the places that we are operating in. I think we have failed as a nation, and as a military and as diplomats, really to understand these nations that we have been operating in. That is part and parcel of why we have been unsuccessful.

Q29 Sir Bob Russell: Would your group of experts and knowledgeable people include those engaged in humanitarian work, peacekeeping and so on?

Commodore Jermy: Absolutely. In Kabul, we had diplomats, civil servants and DFID personnel. Wartime operations now are multidimensional. The idea that somehow we can solve this by just educating the military mind is wrong. All the minds need to be educated, and they need to be able to operate and think strategically at this level.

Q30 Chair: May I pick up on that as well? What you are saying is so evidently true that there must be some very major reason why it has not been happening. What would you say that reason is? In my experience, the difficulty of persuading politicians to devote the time to take part in a military exercise, for example, or any form of training exercise, is huge. What can we do to change that?

Commodore Jermy: I think Bernard Jenkin is on the same track in the Public Administration Committee. I have stood in front of them as well and made the same point. I think the only thing we can do is just to keep pressing on it. It seems to me obvious that the failures of the past 10 years have been failures of strategic thinking, not just failures of the military, although we do bear part of the responsibility for failure. I think that we just need to keep pressing on at this. I must say it is extremely frustrating, having been pressing on it at least since 2010, not to have seen much progress.

Q31 Ms Stuart: Is not all this due to the fact that not just the British nation, but a large number of nations since 1989, no longer have a clear sense of what this is all about? Therefore they get terribly confused in their role in the world and what their function is, and they end up doing a bit of everything, but not very much of anything, and become terribly reactive.

Commodore Jermy: Do you mean in terms of a coalition operation or in terms of Britain and how we operate?

Q32 Ms Stuart: In terms of what you or Mr Ledwidge say. What is this nation going to do with this golden generation? How does UK plc use the strategic thinking? You go to Afghanistan and you have three different foreign policies, depending on whether you talk to the MOD or DFID. All have been terribly busy, but are they nation-building? Are they dealing with women’s rights? Are they dealing with drugs? There is a confusion of purpose of what the nation stands for and therefore what its defence would look like. Is that at the core?

Commodore Jermy: Perhaps I can answer the question in a slightly strange way. I think it is a failure of structural thinking, by which I mean a failure to go through a process where the objective that you have embarked upon is made clear, where the amount of resources you need to pursue that objective is made clear and where the political framework in which you should operate is made clear. Because we have not done that at the start, we have set off hoping for the best.

Values are probably more your area than mine, although I feel strongly about them. If we are embarking on military operations, it is having that early thinking done, and done well, that will make the difference. It is quite a straightforward thing to do.

Q33 Ms Stuart: To turn it on its head, who does it right? Give me a country you would say we should look to because it is doing it right.

Commodore Jermy: I think Australia does pretty well. People talk about us punching above our weight; the Australians think we punch below our weight. They think the amount of effort we put in does not actually get the results we probably ought to achieve. I see them as quite focused-they are probably more focused than we are.

Chair: And Mr Ledwidge says that punching above your weight is a stupid thing to do.

I now have Bob Stewart, then Adam Holloway, Julian Brazier and Thomas Docherty. We will eventually get to you, Professor Cornish, I promise.

Q34 Bob Stewart: My question follows the Chairman’s point. I am gobsmacked if you say that people have not been given sufficient background and training in the environment in which they are operating. What the hell have we been doing? Why is that the case? We have all these staff colleges; we have great men sitting in these places. Why has this happened?

The collective view of all of us seems to be that something has gone wrong and that we have not really understood the environment in which we have thrown our armed forces. I think that is bloody disgraceful, frankly. What I can’t understand is why people such as yourselves and ourselves, and people such as generals, admirals and air marshals, haven’t made a damn sight more of it, because we have been sending our young men and women into operational theatres totally unprotected, based on what we are discussing at the moment. That is a disgrace. Why has that happened? I am putting a bit of passion into what the Chairman said, because he is much more measured than I am. I don’t understand why that is happening. You are the academics now, so why have we not got this right?

Commodore Jermy: I think it would have been forgivable when we started off in Afghanistan. I can’t see that we would not have got engaged in Afghanistan; it was almost impossible politically not to do so. It started to go wrong after Iraq, and then it is much less forgivable from about 2005 onwards. What we did not do was learn the lessons, and we all have that on our consciences today. I include myself in that. We did not learn the lessons and we need to learn them now. I take the strong view that we should not engage in more military operations in such circumstances until we have learned those lessons.

Frank Ledwidge: And until we have set up the structures to apply those lessons. Just over 100 years ago, we had the Haldane reforms, which as everyone knows were occasioned by the Boer war and the disasters therein. There was a real set-to to discuss the mistakes made in the Boer war, which were considerable, to set those behind us, and to move on and do something about it. Kipling wrote a poem about it, which some of you may have heard. It talks about being a business nation and understanding that we learned something of a lesson and that we should apply that. Now is the time to do that, as Steve says. It is nice and very gratifying to hear your passion about this, Colonel Stewart. One hopes that it translates now into some form of recommendation that can be actioned by our strategic community.

Q35 Bob Stewart: But isn’t this strategy all to do with the higher command staff colleges, such as RCDS? What the hell have they been doing? That is their job, isn’t it?

Frank Ledwidge: They are closed. I think it was you, Ms Stuart, on the last occasion, or perhaps Mrs Moon, who mentioned that staff college-the whole constellation of staff education-is a closed environment. It is a bit like a theological college: you go in and are given the answers, and then you are told what the questions are. That is no way to educate senior leaders, in whatever environment. It is not how you educate business leaders-it is not how you educate academics, even-but it is unfortunately how we educate senior military officers.

Q36 Mr Holloway: Isn’t there a wider cultural problem? I remember when the Committee was on a trip to Helmand, and a guy in the Foreign Office briefed us, and then I was in Kabul independently a few weeks later and that guy came up to me in a bar and said, "Adam, I’m really sorry about that briefing I gave you a few weeks ago. The problem is you just don’t get promoted if you tell the truth." That is terrifying. We have lost 444 kids and killed tens of thousands of Afghans.

Frank Ledwidge: I wonder if I might be forgiven for offering a small vignette. I was talking to a junior infantry officer last week, whose platoon had lost half their number to serious injury or death. I asked him what he felt it was all about, and he gave a robust two-word answer. So I said, "Did you achieve anything?" The answer was, "No." I asked him how that account translated into, "We are making constant progress, and if we press on, the insurgency is at a tipping point," and all that. He said the message gets progressively diluted as it moves up the chain. At company level, it is, "We are taking a lot of damage but we are moving on." The damage is removed at battalion level. When you get up to brigade everything is fine. By the time it is up to ISAF-well, I was told by a very recent ISAF chief of staff that we are winning the war. The lack of institutional honesty and moral courage on the part of our senior military officers is a sight and a hearing to behold.

Q37 Mr Holloway: But how are they being promoted?

Chair: I think that this is unfair, and that Professor Cornish should be allowed to join in. I will call on Julian Brazier and Thomas Docherty after we have heard a little bit from Professor Cornish.

Professor Cornish: Thank you, Chair. I rather think we are beginning to confuse the first discussion, which seemed to me to be a little bit about education, training and so on, with what you might call strategic communications. I would have to disagree with my colleague Frank Ledwidge as far as the moral courage of our senior officers is concerned.

A point on education and training: let us not despair. There is actually quite a lot of it going on. As someone who taught in the Defence Academy some years ago, I would not necessarily accept that it is a closed shop, or a cult, or something of that sort. There was in fact an extremely good discussion at a conference at Wilton Park two weeks ago, I think-I am sure the papers will be available and will be of very great use to you-looking at the education and the training, and the balance between those two ideas of NATO armed forces. A lot of very useful material was discussed at that meeting. I agree entirely with Frank that our troops, with the enormous level of experience they have acquired over the past several years, have a great deal to offer. And they do expect a great deal as well; they expect to be part of a serious organisation that, more to the point, listens to them and wants to learn from their experience. That is enormously important.

If I may chuck in a couple of other quick points before we go on, the "cracking on" culture is actually a very important part of military life. I would certainly agree that it is not sufficient in all respects. However, if we were to insist on educating our young officers, our men and women, to the point that they were not able to crack on-to the point at which they felt that the minute bullets started to fly they had to open their knapsack and pull out their copy of Plato-that would be something to regret. I would also say that failure in all these things cannot ever be excluded, so I would urge us to avoid the counsel of perfection. This is, after all, warfare and strategy, and these things are all about managing what goes wrong.

Chair: Thank you.

Q38 Mr Brazier: I have two very quick points. Would everybody agree that the forming of the National Security Council must be a worthwhile step forward in terms of putting things together? Do people have views on the current MOD policy of not allowing contact between the senior military and politicians? It seems to me that that rather runs against the trend of what you want.

Chair: I will ask you for an answer to both those questions, please, and nods will not suffice, because they do not get recorded by Hansard.

Professor Cornish: I am happy to start. I think that establishing the National Security Council and the National Security Adviser-I have written about this-was an enormously important and useful step forward. I have also described it as work in progress, and I think it remains that. There is a very important and sophisticated debate going on right now about how it is to be developed. Should the NSA become a political appointee, for example? That is one issue that is under discussion, as you will know very well, Mr Brazier. There are also arguments about the size of the NSC and whether it can be given more staff to do more work. I think it is an enormously important and welcome step forward. In my conversations with senior military officers, the relationship or otherwise with politicians does crop up every now and then. My understanding is that although there is to be no formal contact with politicians, there is plenty of informal contact, so I imagine things are fine.

Chair: Can I disabuse you of that? There is not nearly as much as there should be.

Q39 Mr Brazier: I want to come on to a slightly longer point that plays into the immediate debate we have been having between our witnesses. I by chance read your book, Mr Ledwidge, which I found both fascinating and remarkably depressing, at the same time as I was doing some research on the American war of independence. The parallel is that there was, in both cases, an absolutely overwhelming power facing what appeared to be an easily beaten and inferior enemy. We have never been as powerful as we were at that point in the 18th century; we were extraordinary.

If I could just throw in a point, rather than asking a question, I would love to have your comment on it. The most depressing conversation I have had since then was with a very bright colonel who had recently commanded a regiment in Afghanistan-I will not say which part of the Army, because I do not want to risk identifying him. He had also been a combat officer in Iraq, and the conversation was mostly about Iraq. He was basically telling me that we must not see Iraq as a disaster and that the Army, in the envelope of what it had been given to do, had done very well. I pursued one particular Ledwidge theme, which was the catastrophic misunderstanding of the Iraqi police force and the consequences of that. Possibly unaware of the role that that had played in Cyprus and in Malaya, one of which was successful and one very unsuccessful, he looked me in the eye-a serving colonel with all this combat experience, and clearly a high flier-and said, "Oh, but we have got to take the police force as they are. That is a given." At that point, for the first time in my political career, I genuinely felt, "I do not want to have any more part in this conversation. I just do not believe this." And I walked away. I just put that in as an observation that you might like to comment on.

Commodore Jermy: Let me comment, but first I will say one very quick thing about the National Security Council. I do not think that the NSC should be supported by amateurs, by which I mean civil servants who are not trained in strategy. I think that is quite wrong, and I think it is still the case, or it certainly was when I last heard, although it may have improved. What we must not do in something so important is have people who are essentially all-round civil servants who have just been appointed to those posts. They must be properly trained.

Turning to Iraq and the police, let us face it: at the tactical and operational level, all our people have done extremely well. I am in no doubt about that. It is as we get slightly higher that things start to go wrong. What I think went wrong in Iraq, and I still think it was a wrong decision, was the lack of clarity of political objective about what we were trying to achieve. Ultimately, it seems to me that by the time we got to 2005 the key thing was the American relationship, and frankly we reneged on that objective. As far as I am concerned-

Q40 Mr Brazier: What relationship?

Commodore Jermy: The American relationship. Why did we go into Iraq? We went into Iraq essentially for reasons of the strategic relationship with the Americans, it seems to me, and then we reneged on that relationship by pulling out early. The lesson I drew from that is that you need to be very clear about what the objective is. Whether or not you agree that it was the right objective, if it was the objective that you went in for, that is what you should judge your strategy and decision making against. I do not think that we did that, because we really pulled out at a time when we were not actually doing disastrously. We therefore gave up on the key objective that we sought to pursue in that particular campaign.

Frank Ledwidge: It is a gloss, really, on what Commodore Jermy has just said concerning the relationship between the military and the political strategy. He mentioned Malaya. There is an interesting vignette there. When General Templer was appointed as commander general and civilian overseer of the Malaya campaign in 1952, the first thing he did was send a memo to the Colonial Secretary, Lyttelton, demanding clear political guidance as to what the end state was, so that he could form his strategy accordingly. By return, he received that guidance from the Prime Minister, through the Colonial Secretary, outlining what the end state was to be in Malaya. Templer then said, "I now know how I will shape my strategy in the campaign." To me that is an object lesson and a paradigm of how matters should be pursued. The kind of ramshackle set-up that we have now would make Field Marshal Alanbrooke revolve in his grave, he being an exemplar of how to conduct the military strategic relationship-or template, for that matter.

Professor Cornish: Chair, you asked us to disagree with each another, so I am going to disagree with my friend Steve Jermy now. I do not think you can describe civil servants as being amateurs simply by virtue of the fact that they are civil servants. If we are talking about strategy at the national level, surely you must combine politics, policy and those who are responsible for the delivery of effect through the levers of power. I think we can make the argument that there might be a case for more strategic specialists in the National Security Council, but we cannot expect not to have, as it were, unqualified civil servants. They absolutely have to be there. This has to involve civil control of the armed forces at all levels.

Q41 Thomas Docherty: The Defence Committee has just got back from the United States, where we were very helpfully given a whole bunch of stuff to read over our recess. In the DOD strategic guidance from 2012, they in effect say that they are going to transition what they call their defence enterprise from today’s war to preparing for future challenges. In effect, they say, "We are not going to fight another enduring Afghan-style operation." If I were to ask you to assess the MOD, do you think it has either that thinking or at least some sort of thinking about what it wants to transition towards in Future Force 2020?

Professor Cornish: My sense is that what the MOD is most concerned with at the moment is trying to find a point of balance among the three services below which it will not go, at least not until the next spending review. My sense is that that is the prime concern at the moment rather than, if you like, the higher levels of strategic thought and expectation, which one would imagine ought to come through the deliberation of the NSS and SDSR over the next year and a half or so. I might be wrong-I simply might not be in the right conversations-but that is what I hear being the main preoccupation at the moment: the cuts, rather than future operations, and future operational levels, quite apart from the removal from Afghanistan in fairly quick order.

Commodore Jermy: I apologise if I have given the wrong impression about civil servants. What I was talking about was people trained to think strategically, whether they are civil servants or diplomats. My sense is the same as Paul’s, which is that the MOD is focused on the current and on balancing the books and extracting in good order from Afghanistan. That is the right thing to do. But there is a terrific opportunity, so the fact that we are having this debate is a good thing. You will have seen from the paper I wrote that I have concerns about the future. The concerns are less to do with terrorism and more to do with some fairly big strategic things going on out there. Climate change is an issue. It is sexy, but it is not the one that immediately concerns me. I am more interested in national security and the consequences in the international economic system that are likely to lead, or could plausibly lead, to reasons for us to deploy British armed forces on operations that we would not have envisaged perhaps three or four years ago-stability operations and those sorts of things.

Q42 Mr Brazier: Where?

Commodore Jermy: It is difficult to say. If you ask whether I could imagine us being invited as part of NATO to put a stabilisation force into Greece or Portugal, I could envisage us being invited to do that, and I am not entirely sure what our answer would be.

Q43 Chair: I noticed in your paper that you moved from international terrorism to the threats from climate change and economic instability but with no reference to nuclear proliferation. Is there any reason for that?

Commodore Jermy: No, one would be concerned about nuclear proliferation, but it does not seem to me to be the most imminent issue. The most imminent issues seem to be within international economics and in energy security. I work in the energy business now and the idea that we are going to be saved by fracking or shale is a mistake as far as I can see. It is plausible that we could be facing severe energy shortages over the next 10 to 20 to 30 years. That is likely, it seems to me, to lead to significant stresses and strains within international society. It would be useful for the MOD and others to think through those sorts of things as they look forward into the future.

Q44 Thomas Docherty: I would not dispute that. That is where the MOD is as well. But why is it an either/or for the MOD? While its main body of work is thinking, rightly, about how we get out of Dodge and balance the books, there is a substantive section of the MOD and the Cabinet Office thinking about 2020. I am not a great organiser and I have a tendency to put things off. It sounds as if the MOD is in a culture of putting things off till it is less difficult to do.

Professor Cornish: The Army has produced its Army 2020 report, so by no means am I suggesting that nothing is going on, but the notion that they are looking hard at types of deployment in the near future is probably too much to expect at the moment. I think Afghanistan is the main concern, quite rightly, as are the cuts. We also need to bear in mind that something important has happened. Some years ago the Ministry of Defence would have produced its outlook on the world and it would have included something like a national security strategy that was, in a sense, the MOD telling the rest of Government what it thought foreign policy ought to be. Then the Foreign Office came along and said, "That’s not your business; that’s our business." And then the whole thing came to a halt. Ever since 2010 we have had a different system. We have the NSS and the SDSR, as you all know, which is why we are all here. Therefore, what we must expect the MOD to be doing-obviously it is working in the background with its strategy unit and so on, as we all know-is slotting into that longer term, more ordered process. I think that is what is happening.

Q45 Thomas Docherty: It is not a process the UK invented. This is the US process which they have done for 40 years-having an NSS and a QDR in their case. They don’t do it like that. They had the NSS in 2010 but then they do the QDR at the same time. Then they produce these reports every couple of years that set out how that is implemented. We don’t seem to be doing that, Professor Cornish. What we seem to be doing is this: there was a 2010 process; we will do nothing. We will get to 2015 and we will do it again. And then we will do 2020. It is a stop-start process.

Professor Cornish: We have done it once and it could have been done a lot better that time. As I said, it is work in progress. I would hope that it is going to get better next time round and by the time we have done it 40 times we will be pretty good at it, I would hope.

Q46 Chair: Would you expect the next National Security Strategy to be considered in parallel with the next Strategic Defence and Security Review or before it? When do you think it should begin?

Professor Cornish: I think it should begin now, and I would hope and expect that the two things were being considered in parallel-conjoined twins.

Q47 Chair: Well, as I understand it, it may be some time before the next consideration of the National Security Strategy properly begins. Would that be a concern to you?

Professor Cornish: It would, because the understanding I have developed over the years of strategy is that you cannot have strategy as plan without a consideration of strategy as available resources. You have to have the two discussions in parallel. To the extent that national strategy involves the Ministry of Defence as the provider of a certain type of resource, I would say that it has to be involved in that discussion as it develops. It seems to me to be self-evident.

Q48 Mr Havard: This is the guts of it. The objective reality is that it is not. The description would appear to allow it to happen, but it is not happening; it is still happening in the old, traditional way that you describe. We are a reactive Committee, largely. We are trying to be proactive in the sense of contributing to a discussion in advance to help to shape it and to avoid some of the problem of security being over here and defence and international development being over there-the interconnection problem and the defence and security review. We did not have a defence and security review. We effectively had a defence review and a security review, separate from one another, but published a day, or something, after one another.

Thomas’s description of what we saw in the United States is very interesting, however the quintennial review is being written in the expectation that it will not happen-that it will be a document that is ignored-because the realpolitik within the United States between State, DOD, the Congress and the President and so on will override the descriptive analysis. It may be very, very good, but the realpolitik will disturb it and will not allow it to happen.

You say that there are discussions happening to try to resolve some of these things. You say that there is a discussion happening about what should take place in terms of how the MOD should position itself, but I do not see those discussions and no one else, it seems, outside the cloisters in which they are having the discussions see those discussions. How do we break through this circle to have a more coherent and comprehensive discussion? How can we help to promote that, other than just have a public discussion like this that says, "J’accuse. You are not doing it and you ought to be."?

Commodore Jermy: The obvious way to do it is for it to happen under the leadership of the National Security Council. I completely agree with Paul that these two things need to be conjoined, but logically the National Security Strategy should lead. It is the higher document and therefore it should be the one that directs the broad shape, if you like, of the Strategic Defence Review. To my mind, if it were to be in a system that I had designed, I would want the National Security Strategy to lead and for us to deduce from it the broad terms of reference for the Strategic Defence Review, and for that then to be analysed through. That would be the logical way to do it, because you would then be doing it on the basis of a national security policy, rather than guessing what the National Security Strategy will be and then re-engineering the strategy or vice versa. The logical way to do it would be that way, but I accept that, as Paul has said, the national security process is work in progress. Certainly, the logical way to do it is very clear.

Q49 Chair: Mr Ledwidge, for the record, you are nodding.

Frank Ledwidge: Yes. I entirely agree; it is common sense.

Q50 Mr Havard: Can I put something to you? General Sir David is saying that the strategic focus has shifted, and it probably has-I think it has. It shifted some time ago and we are running to catch up with it. We are trying to scramble out of Afghanistan, but then we have the Prime Minister going round Mali with the French Prime Minster making all sorts of strange comments about how we will help to do things for the future. The "strategic focus" is an interesting phrase; apparently, it means that we are now more concerned about what is going to be happening in a security discussion about where North Africa, the Middle East and all of that is. Is that what the defence and security review is? Is that the sort of foreign policy underpinning approach of how we ought to organise our armed forces to collaborate in activities in those areas, on the basis of a Libya-type operation? Where does that come? Where do we have the debate about what you want people to do?

Commodore Jermy: It is a foreign policy debate.

Q51 Mr Havard: Exactly, so what do the Ministry of Defence do?

Commodore Jermy: The Ministry of Defence ought to be following with foreign policy. It is not always-I worked in Policy Planning and we wrote the 2003 defence review in an integrated way with the Foreign Office, so it is possible to do it. But I have to say that I do not know how the national security process is working, so I would not be the person to tell you whether it is happening or not. But, logically, you start with a broad foreign policy. That is how George Kennan did it in 1947: he set out the main parts of the American foreign policy; the containment strategy followed and so we played out over the next 30 or 40 years of the Cold War. That is logically how it will happen; it is quite straightforward intellectually.

Q52 Ms Stuart: But that works only if you have a clearly defined enemy, which is what we had until about 1989.

Commodore Jermy: Not necessarily true.

Q53 Ms Stuart: Let me quickly finish this. In the case of the United Kingdom, the enemy could be internal: it could be the fuel strike, because the Government has failed to understand how its private industry structures work; it could be the 7/7 bombings; it could be bird flu. The minute that we decide to deploy our standing troops away from these islands is a foreign policy decision. But the fact that our waterways need to be protected is not a foreign policy decision; it is an existential question.

Looking ahead-I would like to get a sense of this-can you define the nature of the enemy in grades of which the UK has no choice but to face that enemy? The next is a choice: it was very interesting when you talked about Greece and Portugal-and you may end up being extraordinarily prescient-but whether we do that or not would be a choice. Whereas, if it is a 7/7 bombing, it is not; we have to do something.

Commodore Jermy: That is a great question. The issue is not enemy-I hate that word, which we use it mistakenly a lot-but threat, which is a different word. The most important thing is to understand the fundamental parts of British security. To me, they are relatively straightforward.

There are territorial boundaries and the security of Britain and our Overseas Territories, and there are our supplies of food, energy and commodities. That is the starting point. To my mind, that is the third party, fire and theft and you must protect those things at all costs, because otherwise you may not survive as a nation.

Then you can start to build on top of that and decide whether you want to do more altruistic or foreign policy related things. But, ultimately, if you cannot provide the security of those things-at the moment, for example, we do not have a Nimrod force so we cannot patrol our economic zones-you are stepping into danger, I am afraid. My starting point would be third party, fire and theft. Then, when I had covered those bases, I would think about what else I needed to protect the security and defence of the country.

Professor Cornish: If I may come to Ms Stuart’s question in a slightly roundabout way, and, first of all, respond to Mr Havard’s question about the MoD positioning, in my understanding, the MoD is always positioning itself for this sort of discussion, in its strategy and elsewhere. I would say that, as far as its activity at the moment is concerned, it is probably pre-positioning itself in the expectation that next year there is going to be a big study, with a big document coming out of it.

That all makes sense if it is going to proceed along the lines promised in 2010. If it is not going to proceed along those lines, the whole thing is a nonsense-I would go as strong as that. If the NSS is to be produced with no cognisance of what is going on at the MoD, or after the SDSR, we will have completely lost the point that was made in 2010.

If I come to strategic focus, where we are going to be looking next or where is the next threat, enemy or whatever, we stand here to make another error: as well as a process error, we stand to make a category error as far as the SDSR 2015 is concerned. The risk now is that we turn this entire exercise into what the Germans call feindbildpolitik; an exercise of threats or challenge chasing, rather than being more confident, more outward-looking and more forward-thinking.

That is why, instead of thinking about the grand strategic narrative over the next couple of years, we need to be thinking more about doing what the NSS promised us in 2010, which is to make foreign security and defence policy based on risk. That, for me, would be the answer.

Q54 Mr Brazier: My question comes in right behind Gisela’s. The Ashanti campaign in the 19th century started with exactly the right process. The three relevant Secretaries of State sat around the table with Garnet Wolseley, who was going to command the campaign, and agreed a clear objective and the resource that they needed and they went and did it. That was set, however, against a background of a country that was clear about its mission in the world and about how the campaign fitted into that. My problem, which is really a restatement of Gisela’s question, is that we have so broken public confidence in what we are about in the world that the last poll I saw on various possible expeditionary outcomes suggested that there would be no public support for any of them except for evacuating British citizens. That was the sole exception.

Let us suppose that we do all these things-all of us here would agree with your risk-based approach and we are certainly all supporters of the NSC-how do we rebuild public support and confidence? How do we bring the country in? At the moment, the country is not committed.

If you will forgive me, I have one last anecdote, but it is highly relevant. I once sat at a dinner at which every single person at the table had a connection with the armed forces, and the conclusion at the end of it was-

Chair: I am concerned about anecdotes.

Mr Brazier: I’m sorry, Chair, but it does make the point. The one thing that they were all saying was that the one good thing to come out of the defence cuts will be that we will not be sending any more young men off to get their legs blown off in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. How do we get the public involved again?

Frank Ledwidge: I must take slight issue with Mr Brazier, at least in the spirit of what he is saying. I share the public scepticism about expeditionary warfare. We have had now two clear failures and one-I am thinking of Libya-that is very much in the balance and looking towards the negative. It is highly understandable that members of the public are concerned. The trouble is that if you set up your military with what Professor Paul Rogers calls a "two-ship Navy" with those two ships equipped to conduct and support expeditionary warfare, that is what is you will look to do, rather than-I suppose this is a question of definition-looking at what threats face us and how to oppose them, as Ms Stuart has said.

As you know, I contend that Afghanistan was a campaign that arose out of determinism. We had this big Army. We needed to use it and to do something. We are expeditionary warriors, so let’s go and do that. We cannot have that happen again. We see now in Syria that if the British and French turn up on Syrian borders, the first thing that the Syrians think about is the Sykes-Picot agreement and they start counting their spoons. We simply cannot afford to get involved again in any of these ill-defined campaigns that are laudable in objective, but impossible in execution. We stand at risk of doing so if we set ourselves up as expeditionary warriors, rather than defenders of the realm.

Professor Cornish: If I can interject, since I am sitting at the same table as my colleague Frank, I really would want to dissociate myself from the notion that we went into Afghanistan simply because we had an Army that needed something to do.

Frank Ledwidge: I don’t say simply, Paul. That was merely one driver for it.

Professor Cornish: That is to reduce it too unfairly.

Q55 Mr Holloway: In the context of Afghanistan, that is certainly the view of one very senior British diplomat. In reference to what Frank said and in support of you, I remember one of the brigadiers who commanded in Helmand saying before he went that the problem is that the only tool we have is a hammer and hammers tend to look for nails.

Commodore Jermy: We can look back, but the key thing is not to beat ourselves up too much over Afghanistan or Iraq. These things have happened and we must learn from them. That is the critical thing.

It seems to me that we need to get the British armed forces back in good order. There is not the public appetite, but they do need to be recapitalised and balanced. It is difficult to predict what will happen in future, but there are certain areas where we know that we would have to be engaged. The continent of Europe is an obvious example, but so too is the Gulf. We need to think these things through and start to look at those areas of the world where if there were risks-to use Paul’s phrase-developing, we would need to do something. We need to think through how we would do that, whatever the public reaction. There are certain circumstances, however, where it is obvious that things need to be done. That includes our overseas territories, and we need to be ready to do these things.

The other place is the gulf of Suez. If the Suez canal were to be closed for some reason, it would be an area where if others thought they had to get engaged, so might we. We need to think about these key strategic areas, because there will be occasions, notwithstanding the lack of public appetite, where we will need to do things abroad, and we must be prepared to do so.

Q56 Chair: Have you each said as much as you would want to say about how we learn lessons, about whether we are capable of doing proper strategic analysis and about whether we keep proper historical records or proper near-historical records of the decisions that have been made and the reasons for them? Is there anything more that you would like to say about any of that?

Professor Cornish: I would love to say more about some of that.

Chair: Please do.

Professor Cornish: I will, but before doing so I will quickly respond to Mr Brazier’s question. There is, if I can use the word, a sort of schizophrenia in public opinion as far as defence matters are concerned. There is immense and gratifying support for the armed forces, which is both touching and important, and we all welcome it. There is, however, a complete lack of support for what is considered to be the political strategic mission-or, if you must use the term, grand strategic mission; and my explanation, for what it is worth, is that Afghanistan and Iraq were presented in some way as the embodiment of our grand strategic mission in the world, and it did not wash. I do not think that the public expects that and it was an error to present it at that level. Our grand strategic mission does not need to be said; it is what it is. We are a medium power with an enormous reputation for our advocacy for human rights and, as a tolerant liberal democracy, we have all of that. I do not think we need to present these expeditionary operations in such a way.

As far as history goes, there is masses more to be done. It is criminal that it is being allowed to slip. The Army Historical Branch is not doing everything it could and should do to gather lessons. We need to think about programmes such as oral history collections of experience and lessons from all the people coming back from these operations. There is an enormous amount more that should be done and it could be done very cheaply.

Commodore Jermy: If I could throw in another-Major-General Mungo Melvin is here as well-we ran something called the defence operational audit process. I cannot remember its exact name, but it was a very good thing. It looked independently at what was going on and I think we could do the same at a high level in Government. I know that when we made the decision to switch the main effort from Iraq to Afghanistan, we did so without any foreign policy analysis. I know that for sure because I was part and parcel to the paper that was written to make the decision. I want to go back through that decision and work out why we did it that way.

You need some sort of process that sits independently of Government and politics and can look at these things in a rolling way, in the same way as we looked at things in Defence. The DOC was a good thing, because it started to surface things. For example, 16 Air Assault Brigade were audited and the audit said, "They have not got the stuff that they said they had." The message had got rarefied and by the time it reached the top of Defence, it said everything was fine, but the brigade were actually in poor shape. The DOC was terrific. We would benefit from having something at a higher level that looked at how we do the process independently of Government. That would allow us to surface some of the mistakes we have made, or learn from them. It would almost be like how the National Audit Office does it, I suppose, but in an operational, strategic way.

Q57 Sir Bob Russell: I am glad Professor Cornish mentioned the support the British people have for Her Majesty’s armed forces, because we have had about an hour of doom and gloom from the three gentlemen here. It is almost as if they are embracing the concept that Her Majesty’s armed forces should be downsized, and we should be a mediocre country that indulges in oral history. I thought Her Majesty’s armed forces were worth more than that. Can we have a bit of upbeat enthusiasm, as you would expect from our military commanders, if not from those doing the theory?

Professor Cornish: I promise you, I am not consumed by doom and gloom. I did not say mediocre; I said medium. We were once a great power, we went through a phase of being a declining great power, and we are now a medium power. We have the opportunity to be a really important and useful medium power, but we must not pretend we are anything other than that.

Commodore Jermy: I am optimistic about the future. We have made mistakes, but we have got out of them. We are extracting in good order from Afghanistan, which is the right thing to do. There will be stuff to do, so we need a solid British armed forces, which needs to be balanced between the three services, and needs to be reactive and ready to go. I strongly believe that we need to keep the forces at their current size as a minimum. There is a lot to do out there, and they need to be prepared and recapitalised. It is not that I am against the military; quite the reverse. I am very confident in them at the operational and tactical levels, but we have lessons to learn at the strategic level.

Q58 Sir Bob Russell: Your body language does not indicate that.

Commodore Jermy: I can just tell you what I think, but having served and been to war for this country, I am strongly in support of it, but there is some recapitalisation and thinking to be done at the strategic level.

Sir Bob Russell: I do not doubt the past. The body language for now and the future is what concerns me.

Q59 Chair: Mr Ledwidge?

Frank Ledwidge: I would like to associate myself with both the language and the body language of my colleagues. Many of us in this room are veterans of war-certainly all of us at this table. We love and support our armed forces, and love and support our country. We want our country, however, to be seen rightly as-I won’t even use the term-a positive force in world affairs. However, we need to trammel that with realism.

If I might return to the question concerning history, General Melvin in the last session-he did not put it this way, but I will-spoke of mainstreaming history into the way we make strategy. That is how things were done, of course, in the days of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which consisted of deeply learned people making operational and strategic decisions in a deeply learned way. Complexions change when things are looked at through that lens.

This is perhaps a preachy point, but I will make it none the less. There are results at the front end from not doing that. I will give you two instances. When I deployed to Libya as a stabilisation officer-by the way, I am not having a go at the people who sent me; I am very grateful for the opportunity and it was a great honour and a privilege-I was given no briefing. None of us was given briefings on the history and background of the place into which we were to go. We had to rely on ringing up friends who perhaps had been journalists there. It was a rather second-line thing.

I contrast that with the way commercial enterprises conduct their deployments. They will conduct a deep political economy analysis without any preconceptions, and they will brief their people closely on that, so everybody involved is closely aware of the situation to which they are deployed. That is the kind of service we should offer our Armed Forces. If that is the kind of service commercial companies offer their contractors, we owe our people nothing less than that. That means having a deep historical context, and making sure that we analyse the situation properly. Syria is a case in point.

Q60 Mr Havard: Can I press you on how we do all this? In America they have the National University and this, that and the other. You spoke about DOC reports. I remember sitting on this Committee and asking for a view, or some visibility, of what was coming out of those DOC reports. I could be in Afghanistan speaking to the people who were contributing to the report, and yet I could see a report at the end of the day-or actually, I did not see a report at the end of the day because I was told it was secret. So you have a public debate about a secret document you are not allowed to read.

The point I want to make is, where is all this going to take place? Are we to recommend that there should be a national defence university structure that has all these bodies in it, to acquire the information and the knowledge you describe and to give the briefings you want to give? What are we supposed to say about what the structure should look like? At the moment, even when information exists, it is not in a public debate that can inform that discussion properly.

Frank Ledwidge: It is not so much the setting up of structures; it is the suffusing of the structures that exist with networks that are open. Practically, that means that the National Security Council, for example, opens itself up to real expertise. For example, on Syria, I am wondering how many serious academics have been asked in to discuss policy there-to give briefings and lectures and to write papers. The answer, I suspect, is none at all.

Professor Cornish: That’s not strictly true.

Q61 Chair: Professor Cornish, have you been called in?

Professor Cornish: No, but my colleagues at the university of Exeter have, if you will forgive the plug.

Mr Brazier: A quick point of fact: in a meeting of Conservative MPs-it was a private meeting, but this is a public fact-William Hague stressed the importance of the new historical branch that he has re-established in the Foreign Office precisely to do this-to get in academics across the thing. Syria was an example that came up.

Chair: Maybe some lessons are being learned.

Mr Holloway: Just to support that, recently, since Afghanistan, they have been much, much more receptive to getting in the real experts-people who have known the place for 30 years-than they ever were before.

Q62 Ms Stuart: That great military strategist Mike Tyson said that you have a plan until someone punches you in the face. In terms of your presentation so far, it is really a question of stopping talking about enemies and starting to talk about threats. Fine. Then you start talking about your first move, but after that you need to look at resilience. I am trying to get to the point of how well we are prepared for the unexpected-the punch in the face. Do we need to do more on that?

Professor Cornish: It is almost impossible to answer that question, because of course by definition we do not know what the unexpected is. I am not being glib, but-

Q63 Ms Stuart: No, but if you are looking at resilience, you do know what you are looking at. Commodore Jermy talked about the Suez canal: if you close the Suez canal, I cannot remember the figure, but you add 60 or 90 days in terms of shipping. If you look at UK plc, what have we got 60 days’ worth of supplies in? Other than coal, I think it’s nothing. So you can plan for resilience after that first punch.

Professor Cornish: You can plan for resilience for the things you expect, but clearly you cannot plan to be resilient for the things you do not expect. You therefore have to be able to adapt and adjust as necessary. I made the argument for risk. The point I would make is that risk is not a world view that crystallises in front of you-

Ms Stuart: No-

Professor Cornish: Forgive me, I am not traducing what you are saying. What I am trying to say is that risk, as far as I see it, is a dynamic process. You have to be constantly reviewing your world outlook and adjusting as necessary. You therefore need to be able to have some means available, whether economic, military or whatever, that can similarly be adjusted to fit. For example, for the armed forces you may say that next time around, let us make sure that we have a broad mix of capabilities that are very high end-as they say-in terms of combat aircraft, and very low end in terms of-I don’t know-a number of ships that are not necessarily fully packed with gadgets but can do all sorts of lower-end things. That is the sort of thing I am arguing for.

Commodore Jermy: To follow on from your point, I think that you are exactly right. The way that you can go after it is through scenarios. For example, if you imagine the idea of Maslow’s hierarchy of national needs, at the bottom there will be things that are actually essential to us-we come back to food, energy and commodities. That is where I would start. It would be very straightforward, I think. Well, not straightforward; it would take time, but could you imagine constructing scenarios where the Suez canal closed and we were able to work through the implications, and therefore the implications for defence and other parts of British society? I am sure that we could.

I am sure that we could do the same with certain issues going on in the Gulf if it were to be closed. Indeed, not only am I sure that we could, I am sure that we should. To my mind it is a very good way of trying to understand, and do some risk mitigation. I am not sure whether this is going on in the National Security Council, but if not, it probably should be. As you go up the hierarchy of national security needs, there are other things that may be less important to you, but at the bottom are those things that are essential to the welfare and survival of our people. Down there is where I would start and do my scenarios.

Q64 Chair: There will be votes in the House at 4 o’clock, in 15 minutes. Because I am not entirely sure how many votes there will be, I think that we should expect to finish then.

To the extent that you feel you want to, I should like you to say what you think we should do as a Committee to help the strategic defence and security review to be as good as possible. What questions should we be asking? Of whom should we be asking them, and how might each of you be able to contribute to our report, perhaps by providing some written analysis or papers for our report, into what we should recommend to the Government? Over to you, Professor Cornish.

Professor Cornish: Gosh, that’s difficult. When I jotted down a few quick notes in preparation for today, you will be alarmed to hear that I ended up with an eight-page paper. If it would be of any use, I should like to turn it into English and send it back to you as a discussion of the whole risk point.

Chair: That would be hugely appreciated. Thank you.

Professor Cornish: Of whom should we ask the questions, and what questions? The key thing has to go back to Mr Havard’s question about the NSS and the SDSR relationship, and if they are not connected. There was a moment before the 2010 publications when they were going to be coming out as one document. We don’t need that. Clearly, we had two documents that were ends, and then ways and means and so on, but if they are not connected-if not within the day, then certainly within a month or so-and if they have not gone through some sort of common discussion, that will be a manifest error. It would be to turn the whole process back on its head and would negate all this. I even got excited about the NSS, the NSA and the SDSR. I regard them as a huge step forward, so I would be personally miffed if it did not happen.

Thinking back to the 1998 strategic defence review, there was a good deal of public or expert evidence gathering, and it was a really useful exercise. Those comments and papers are on the record, and give a good glimpse of the deliberations that went on. If, for whatever reason, that is not going to happen within the NSC, the Ministry of Defence or the Cabinet Office more broadly, I would applaud you, Chairman, and your Committee if you were able to do something of that sort yourselves. I am confident that people would show an awful lot of interest in giving you their thoughts on the SDSR and the NSS.

Q65 Chair: It is because of our experience of the last SDSR that we decided to undertake this inquiry. Your help in getting these discussions out there so that the Government, as well as everyone else, can learn from them would be much appreciated.

Frank Ledwidge: I defer to my colleagues’ expertise in respect of the operating systems of our strategic apparatus and architecture-I suppose you could say that is the hardware. My concern is a little bit more about the software at the strategic operational level-the development of our senior officers. I urge you to push the Ministry of Defence particularly, and other Ministries, to ensure that the people who will be making and executing strategy are the kind of people who are equipped to answer the threats that Ms Stuart raised.

In one of his finest essays, Michael Howard said that the next crisis we might have may be the last. That was in the 1970s. We need to have the kind of people who are equipped to answer unexpected events.

Although this is a bit more woolly, it is equally important. I am speaking only to the military, and within the military we need to strengthen the culture of bluntness and honesty at the higher levels, if it does not exist already. How that can be done, I cannot say, or it would be a long discussion if I could. But it needs to be reinforced. I do not think there is too much more I can add.

Professor Cornish: Can I quickly interject a more optimistic quotation from Michael Howard? That is Professor Sir Michael Howard, of course.

Sir Bob Russell: Oh, that one.

Frank Ledwidge: Yes, most certainly that one.

Professor Cornish: What he said comes to the heart of a lot of our discussion: "No matter how clearly one thinks, it is impossible to anticipate precisely the character of future conflict. The key is to not be so far off the mark that it becomes impossible to adjust once that character is revealed."

Commodore Jermy: Two points from me, but first, I completely support Paul on getting the sequencing of the National Security Strategy and the SDSR correct, and the fact that you are talking about it is terrific. It is great to be here at this conversation and it is great to be part of it. I also want to support Frank’s point, which is that it is not just about the military; it is about getting that proper cross-Government co-ordination between the diplomats, the military and DFID.

The two points I would make are that I think there is a role, potentially, for an independent red team who are doing some of the same thinking. I think they should be funded by Government, but actually thinking out there in the future. We need to raise our vision toward the future, because Afghanistan will be gone soon. The idea of a red team who could perhaps do some of this thinking and support, but independently of Government, would be the first point I would make.

Q66 Chair: Do you think that is us?

Commodore Jermy: No, I don’t think it is, actually. I think it needs to be dedicated. It is the sort of thing that Paul’s team at the university of Exeter might be involved in, so a bunch of academics, probably, policy analysts and military strategists. It does not need to be a huge team, but you are doing some proper, decent long-range strategic thinking.

Q67 Mr Havard: You had ARAG, but that was stood down. Is that the sort of thing, or something beefed up? It would need resources.

Commodore Jermy: Something like that, but with some very, very decent people in it-really good thinkers-because I foresee big issues out there. The idea of a red team of some sort, independent of Government, who can report independently to you and to the National Security Council, would be a good thing to look at in the future.

The second thing is that I think exploring some of the scenarios that are being predicted in the energy environment and economics would be a very good thing for the red team and yourselves to do. Some of the potential scenarios that I can foresee in economics and energy security are of an extremely concerning nature. I am sure we will adapt our way through, because we do, but even so it would be better to do so in a prepared way. In particular, exploring some of these scenarios in a proper scenario analysis would be a very valuable thing for Government to do in the run-up to the next SDSR.

Professor Cornish: May I very quickly say that, fortunately, you do not need to worry about reinventing or reopening the ARAG, because at Exeter we have an excellent red-teaming and scenario-testing facility, which is open for business? Forgive me if that counts as lobbying.

Q68 Chair: You are allowed to advertise. We may have various other questions, but here is one question for you, Mr Ledwidge, while we have still got a few minutes. Do we place too much emphasis on our relationship with the United States?

Frank Ledwidge: I had a conversation with a senior officer some time last year, and I asked him why it was that our Defence Secretary found it necessary to have an officer of a foreign power as a special adviser, namely a United States military intelligence officer. He commended this young man and his abilities. I said that we had plenty of British officers who are at least similarly qualified, and he said, "The reason why this chap is there is to open doors in the Pentagon." I asked whether 400 British dead was not enough to open doors in the Pentagon, and he said, "You don’t know the Pentagon."

That got me to thinking about this problem. We have deferred much of our strategic thinking, certainly in Afghanistan and Iraq-let us just move that aside-to the United States, particularly since 2003. We sit here in the Wilson room, which is curiously apposite. In 1965, as you all know, Prime Minister Wilson was asked for troops for Vietnam, a far more intense and much larger campaign that some would say was more damaging than the recent Afghan war. Wilson gave instructions to his diplomats that no British soldier was to die in south-east Asia, and that they were to come up with suitable arguments. They did, and we kept out of Vietnam. It required some degree of moral courage, but Prime Minister Wilson was up to that.

It is regrettable that we have not looked to our own interests over the last decade, but rather more to other foreign powers. It has been interesting listening to Steve Jermy, over the past hour particularly. He was discussing threats to the United Kingdom, not threats to the international community, not threats to any notional coalition or special relationships, or other such shibboleths. It is my contention that we were mistaken to look to the interests of another power before, I would contend, our own interests, and it is a mistake we should not make again. We must respect our allies. Our closest ally may be the United States, but we have to understand that we can give; we have plenty to give and plenty to receive. That balance has been out of kilter for the past decade.

Q69 Mr Holloway: You raised the question of politicians. To what extent do you think there is a problem about the generations in politics? In Mrs Thatcher’s first Cabinet half the people had served in the second world war, many with great distinction, and we had an Archbishop of Canterbury with a Military Cross, whereas today, we have a much narrower political class with very often very little experience before taking these great offices of state. How can we mitigate that? At the moment there does seem, certainly with Iraq and Afghanistan, to have been a problem at the interface between this very inexperienced political class and the senior military officers.

Commodore Jermy: I write about this. There is an immediate answer, which is self-education. There are a lot of very useful tomes out there. I aimed to put all this in a book so that people and politicians could read it. It was for politicians, military people and diplomats, so that they could think through and at least have a structure and introduction to strategic thinking. That is a start, but you have also got to engage as well. It is no good saying that we have not got time because we are all too busy. Politicians at the strategic level need to engage. They need to engage in self-training, so do diplomats and military people; we all do.

Q70 Mr Holloway: Perhaps we also need to widen the political class.

Commodore Jermy: I cannot help on that, I’m afraid.

Professor Cornish: I would say that this should actually be a rather fine thing. I would hope that it could be more of an opportunity than a problem. I like the idea of a civil polity-a liberal, democratic civil polity-that is at ease with itself, and has the capacity, the strategic culture if you want to call it that, to use armed forces from time to time, without necessarily having to be of those armed forces. That, it seems to me, ought to be the goal of the entire exercise: that perfect balance between civil society and military force, when necessary. I think we should be working towards it.

Q71 Mr Holloway: I was not for a moment suggesting that the qualification for being Prime Minister was experience of a war. I was suggesting that we have a situation now where our political class self-selects at university, and the first thing they have ever run is the country as Prime Minister.

Commodore Jermy: The two things that are necessary at that level are leadership and the capacity to think strategically and to make good strategic judgments. You do not need to have a military background to do that. It is really a question of selection. It then follows that if whoever it is is not making the right decisions, we need to have a system that can remove them and we can replace them with people who will make the right decisions.

Q72 Chair: But do you believe that strategic thinking can be a matter of training as opposed to selection?

Commodore Jermy: I think it can be improved. It needs a good intellect. I learned through the writing of the book, and I am now a much better strategic thinker as a result. I think it can definitely be improved. It helps to have a strategic intellect to start off with, but yes you can absolutely do it. By providing structures to help frame the thinking and checks, it can be done. If you look at the great strategic thinkers, they are usually very literary. They have done a lot of thinking; they are artistic. Moltke the great was a very literary man. They are very widely read people. Churchill was the same, a writer. It can definitely be improved, I am certain.

Professor Cornish: Our conceit at the university of Exeter is that we can do precisely that, so I will also send you a syllabus for our new MA in applied security strategy. Sorry, this goes on.

Chair: You are endlessly persuasive, Professor Cornish; I must come and be an undergraduate.

Q73 Mr Brazier: Just to bring you back to a different area for one last question. Commodore, if we follow your risk-based approach, which I strongly support, is it not pretty likely that we would end up with a much greater maritime focus in our armed forces, including maritime reconnaissance as well as the Navy?

Chair: Could you answer that yes or no?

Commodore Jermy: Yes.

Chair: Members of the Committee will conduct a wash-up session on this in our meeting tomorrow. Thank you to all three of you. This has been a hugely enjoyable inquiry, partly because of the quality of the evidence we have received, so thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 2nd January 2014