Britain’s Future Strategic Direction #13 – Threats to meet alone, and those that require partners.

Early in this year the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the MOD produced a paper titled The Future Character of Conflict, an exploration of the threats Britain is likely to face in the next twenty years, in order to inform a future security and defence review. The document focuses on the changes in strategic priorities and capabilities of nations and non-state-actors, and how Britain might react to them. It is an extensive tract broken down into a series of disaggregated bullet points, so for the purpose of this post the most interesting themes have been collated for comment.

What follows is not an analysis of the of the text itself, rather a discussion of how those themes directly impact on the assumptions of the coming Defence review.

“Contrary to some perceptions, this shift will happen in a period in which we will have to defend, or at least secure, our national interests. There is only one way for Defence to position for an uncertain future and that is to be agile. Two of the generally accepted critical characteristics of agile organisations are the ability to decentralise resources and decision making and having uncommitted resources to deal with the unexpected.”

The first theme deals with that most obvious problem for British foreign policy; overstretch, for the last ten years have taken the Armed Forces well beyond the limited flexibility required in the SDR98. That document attempted to marry the conflicting demands of large standing forces capable of defending europe against multi-theatre and high-intensity conflict, with agile expeditionary forces capable of operating beyond NATO’s periphery as a force for ‘good’. While we created deployable HQ’s and acquired assets for strategic transport we retained a doctrine within the army and airforce in particular of stationary and immobile defensive capabilities. The fact that we created a few light weight brigades along with the some strategic airlift and sealift does not change the fact that it is difficult to rapidly deploy and sustain more than a few dozen of the few hundred fighter aircraft, or more than two of the eight army brigades. As is plain now the single deployment to Afghanistan, albeit unusually large is occupying all the UK’s deployable military resources. This is untenable if only because it provides no leverage and no response to new events. The answer must be to create a force structure capable of both persistent as well as permanent capability, with a foreign policy that clearly distinguishes between the two. There will always be a UN/NATO/EU mission that requires ongoing input from the UK, this must be accommodated for without preventing a temporary ability to achieve military effect elsewhere. What is being suggested is a structure that permits persistent rolling tasks separate a permanent ability for temporary intervention.

“Partnerships will operate through a shared perception of risk and reward, but will come at a price. For example, the UK could concentrate its resources on certain areas and rely on partners to provide the full spectrum of capabilities. More clearly identifying what our partners (especially the US) require of us and what we are willing to offer in return, will better allow us to focus on the practicalities of interoperability. A more comprehensive or ‘super-joint’ approach, if it can be made to work, would allow the full range of state instruments to be brought to bear. This may require more radical change across the national instruments of power, not to merge them, but to amplify their combined strategic effect.”

The second theme is a recognition that the SDR98 is no longer achievable, we cannot afford to be a US-lite and instead to concentrate on areas of capability where Britain adds real value to coalition partners, and not in those areas where we do not. We are strongly committed to europe, and this creates a desire to act cooperatively within the european branch of NATO, in addition to the US and Canada, but also with partners of opportunity where the situation requires. The key capabilities we bring to a multilateral operation are command and control, special forces, as well as other niche attributes such as MCM, these we should make available to our allies both extant and opportune. What is being suggested is that we consider ourselves a Contributory power acting as a ‘spine’ around which other nations capabilities are grafted.

“We may wish to consider a significant investment in preventative action, recognising that we may be required to fulfil this role concurrently in a number of widely dispersed areas. The spectrum of preventative activity, and the resources devoted to it, may require a refocusing of priorities within Defence. This should reduce the possibility of conflicts escalating into larger wars that would consume significant resources, and it could also provide a wider range of options to the Government. It has been assessed that £1 spent on conflict prevention generates over £4 in savings for the international community. It is not, however, possible to guarantee the effectiveness of prevention and, even with hindsight, it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of prevent activities.”

The third theme is based on the premise of spending a penny now to save a pound later. There are endless potential conflicts both large and small that can be averted by demonstrating a commitment to a solution now, rather than after disaster has struck. At the smallest scale this could be an army training mission, a visit from a warship, or an airforce exercise with a friendly nation. On the larger scale it could entail military assistance to a civilian authority via a stabilisation force or even a declaration of ‘interest’ in the non-aggression of a third party. All have their utility, difficult as it is to measure a non-event. What is being suggested is the importance of both an ongoing ability to conduct low-level defence diplomacy and the unallocated resources to engage in military coercion at need.

“Deterrence must be credible enough to influence the perceptions of potential adversaries regardless of their mindset. There is considerable risk that simply because deterrence does not stop all of today’s threats – terrorists in particular – it may be viewed as having limited effectiveness. Deterrence is primarily about stopping high-end threats and, in their absence, it must be assumed to be effective. Prevention, including deterrence, containment or coercion, will be far more effective if it is backed up by credible military force. Afghanistan has become an enduring stabilisation mission with regional and global implications. Success, however defined, in Afghanistan is essential; even a perception that the UK has lost would affect our credibility in future operations, and credibility is vital for the strategic reputation that underpins deterrence.”

The fourth theme depends on credibility; the assurance that when a position is stated the opponent takes it seriously, for a nation cannot deter an event if the adversary either knows you have not the capability and/or the will to intervene. This again touches upon both persistent and permanent effect; the former important from demonstrated commitment to ongoing operations, Afghanistan being a notable example, and the latter from having uncommitted resources capable of realising that intervention. If your nation suffers from war-exhaustion then what credibility is to be given to deterrence containment or coercion come the first sign of resistance, likewise if there are no resources capable of enacting such policies. What is  suggested is opting to avoid future OIF’s unless the provocation is intolerable, as such large and open-ended operations absorb all available capability and erode public tolerance for military action as time and tragedy accrue.

“The changing balance of power in international organisations will heighten the tension between the ability for the UK to achieve international legitimacy and the imperative to act quickly. Achieving this degree of internal legitimacy will take time, due to the likelihood that Parliament will require a UNSC Resolution; itself something that may become increasingly difficult to achieve when factors such as increasing global interdependence. Delays in decision making will impact operational tempo, putting a premium on more agile decision-making structures and processes, both nationally and within the alliance. The use of non-precision weapons, or the failure of precision weapons to avoid all collateral damage, while legally permissible, may generate adverse perceptions that undermine the legitimacy of operations.”

The fifth theme acknowledges a world that on the one hand demands greater legitimacy for military intervention and on the other, countries which exhibit a tendency for increased nationalisation of foreign policy, trends that sound contradictory only if you ignore the difference between those nations that are wedded to the international system and those that are not. Britain is a nation that will seek legitimacy for its military interventions from both its partners and its electorate, particularly after OIF, but those interventions will be increasingly aimed at nations that determine their own criteria for legitimacy. Recognition of this fact puts a premium not only on diplomatic agility, but also military agility once sanction is achieved. However, legitimacy is perceived in the eye of the beholder and critical time may be lost whilst coalitions are bartered for, so the ability to deploy independently on small and medium scale operations is a must if the initiative is not to be utterly lost. What is being suggested is the ability to deploy and sustain strategic and sovereign force.

“The idea that the UK could benchmark against general war and then ramp down for so-called lesser cases, will by 2014 be a flawed approach. In 2014 conflict may better be categorised as a mosaic of adversaries, threats, and responses. The RMA assumed it would be less dense: the opposite has been shown to be the case. In future conflict we may be forced, through strategic imperative or operational necessity, to engage our adversaries in areas that reduce the effectiveness of our capabilities and confer an advantage to indigenous combatants. Adversaries will avoid engagements that play to Western strengths; for instance, they will seek to deny us access to theatre, using all the political and military levers that they can deploy. They will also seek to disperse into an increasingly complex battlespace, including amongst the people and below ground, where we will struggle to dominate.”

The sixth theme is an argument against retaining a defence posture configured for general war on the periphery of the european union, it isn’t going to happen, and such an obsession will come at the cost of the expertise in C4ISTAR which permits us to react to situations in a timely and surgical manner. Given the current lack of funds for a Defence budget that can meet all threats there is a temptation to forgo expensive specialisms in favour of persistence on the assumption that numbers can achieve the influence and effect that training cannot. This is analogous to the 80/20 line of thought, and while it is true that we must relinquish the capability for high-end solutions at the broad spectrum, this does not mean we should accept mid-range solutions at the same, for to do so would turn the Armed Forces into a blunt and unwieldy instrument. What is being suggested is that the British Armed Forces must become more narrowly focused as an institution, shrinking those capabilities where we do not hold a competitive advantage amongst our peers.

“Resources and the Global Commons. Access to resources and the ability to move them will become an increasingly important facet of international tension and conflict. In the competition that may ensue, the UK, in concert with its partners, may be called on increasingly to secure its requisite portion of these assets. The World’s population is predicted to rise to over 8.3 billion by 2029, driving increased demands for resources, with 60% urbanised and six billion living within 100 km of the coast. Access to food and water will become increasingly challenging, and regions with acute shortages are likely to feel increasingly vulnerable. Some states will regard the security of their food and water supplies as issues of national survival and will act accordingly: a fight for survival may be visceral and unconstrained.”

The seventh theme accepts that a declining resource base across multiple spectrum’s will create situations that demand military response, and they will do so particularly in coastal regions, either 100km offshore for energy or food, or 100km onshore for populations centres and water supplies. This is an area dominated by the littoral and the riverine, and forces capable of operating over and above the environments will be key. Where forward operating bases can be found ground and air-forces will do fine, where they do not amphibious forces capable of exploiting this environment will be invaluable. To quote Andymed from the Warships1 forums; “The RM isn’t in the business of opposed landings but is instead a raiding force that is designed to skirt around defended positions and penetrate inland with great speed capturing and holding strategically important positions. Al Faw was in fact a classic example of this type of operation.” What is being suggested is the utility of naval, air and ground forces capable of dominating coastal regions  with maximum discretion on timing, placement and force level.

This blog argues for a persistent capability to deploy a brigade in support of NATO/discretionary objectives, in addition to a permanent capability to deploy up to a brigade in support of British/non-discretionary objectives. The two can mix and match, either can be fully or partially deployed, and they can even deploy together in support of the same objective, but the two must remain distinct. The principal difference between the two lies in the fact that the former is ceaselessly tasked to meet multi-lateral commitments, whereas the latter is a contingency which we may choose to use at the request of partners. The operating assumption should be that we retain the ability in a non-discretionary general war to reconstitute force at the division level, but to use the brigade as the primary combat formation in all situations outside that circumstance.  Raiding forces should be constituted as a brigade, and capable of being deployed and sustained as a brigade, but should expect to operate as battle-groups in the main.

Maintaining a separation between permanent and persistent forces will allow Britain to concentrate on being the Contributory partner of choice whilst preserving the ability for independent action in support of partners or its own interests.

Update – 11.09.10 – A leaked study from a Bundeswehr think tank talks of the foriegn policy limitations for oil-consuming nations in a post peak-oil world:

Oil will determine power: The Bundeswehr Transformation Center writes that oil will become one decisive factor in determining the new landscape of international relations: “The relative importance of the oil-producing nations in the international system is growing. These nations are using the advantages resulting from this to expand the scope of their domestic and foreign policies and establish themselves as a new or resurgent regional, or in some cases even global leading powers.”

Update – 12.09.10 – Here are the working assumptions that the SDSR process has drawn from previous work as it proceeds to completion of its own task:

Coined ‘the 2020 option’ the intention is structure the Armed Forces on the basis of the foreign policy goals the UK has set for itself at the end of the decade, the UK’s assessment of the future character of conflict and the changes in technology that will need to be incorporated. The result will be a “flexible, adaptable posture [that] will maintain the ability to safeguard international peace and security, to deter and contain those who threaten the UK and its interests, and where necessary to intervene on multiple fronts. It will also, crucially, keep our options open for a future in which we can expect our highest priorities to change over time”. That would mean an Armed Forces capable of maritime-enabled power projection, the capacity to control air-space to guarantee freedom of manoeuvre and the ability to deploy land power with the logistical strength to sustain it.

16 responses to “Britain’s Future Strategic Direction #13 – Threats to meet alone, and those that require partners.

  1. It is all MoD double speak. My main concern is that HMG don’t do too much harm to the nuclear submarine programme. If not world leaders I think we can claim to be at least second in that area. Perhaps we need a few Darings (with Merlin) but not much to provide the deterrent patrol with support (I believe pilots call it top cover.)

    A few squadrons of Typhoon too plus AWACS to provide a veil of control/security for our space.

    Everything else is secondary. I think after getting out of A-stan the Army (apart form special forces) will become irrelevant. The British public aren’t going to support any Blair-like adventurism either on moral, financial, or both grounds for a generation or more.

    • I do very much agree about the hunter-killer submarines, they are a decisive capability that we would be foolish to discard.

      I’m not sure what you mean on the matter of Darings operating deterrent patrol; do you mean sanitisation of the ingress and egress of the trident boats, or a deterrent effect in and of themselves?

      On numbers of high end warships, i am becoming persuaded to the utility of a CAMM equipped BMT Venator for everything outside of escorting HVA’s for which twelve T45/T26 should be sufficient, but it is rather dependent on them having sufficient ASW self-defence to act alone.

      On fighters, i can see six squadrons or F35 and six squadrons of Typhoon doing the job just nicely, but that is flexible to 4/8 as long as the total is 12 standing squadrons + attrition reserves.

      I agree that the army won’t be heading off on any ‘discretionary’ adventures for a long time to come, but you still need an army large enough to generate persistent force for non-discretionary operations, and that doesn’t take into account peacekeeping.

  2. Yes the Dading bit didn’t scan right on a second reading.

    What I was trying to say was we need some escorts to support the deterrent patrols. I said Daring with Merlin because of the latter’s ASW capability as the former isn’t a purpose built ASW platform. I am actually expecting T26 project to bite the dust. I am expecting Batch 3 T22 to be shelved in October as well. There is only so much an SSN can do to protect the SSBN; a ship can be lot more “overt.” I know since the end of the Cold War there has been no need to have a frigate in the North Atlantic on a near permanent basis. But as our defence capability shrinks, the threat of nuclear proliferation increases, etc. protecting this the corner stone of our defensive bulwark will regain some importance.

    I am not saying the Army will disappear and I agree with your about peacekeeping. The latter is a bit of sticky wicket. The UN is always short of troops. Many Third World troops contributed to the UN need more support than the populations they are sent to protect. I would dearly love to see the UK become a centre of excellence for peace keeping; if nothing more than to add weight to our permanent seat on UN Security Council. But I am not sure whether even PK will become a luxury. I think having the 10billion ring fenced for international aid will become something HMG will regret.

  3. I can see that APT(N) should always be an ASW frigate, and would be quite happy to see T26 as nothing more than a 2087 equipped T45 batch 2 without PAAMS provided sufficient ‘quieting’ can be accomplished at little cost.

  4. As an all electric ship is T45 that noisy? I bet they are quieter than T22s with their variable pitch propellers. Yes before you comment I “know” others “things” can be done to make a ship quieter. But as a starting point it can’t need to much work. I have started to wonder whether a AIP SSK would be a better buy than T26.

    As an aside when you stand on a T45’s flightdeck the size of it actually is quite disorientating. It makes the large hanger look very small. I wonder if there are margins to allow for a slightly bigger hanger so something like Fire Scout to be carried. Also to carry on your train of thought perhaps if we had T26 we should be looking at something like Franco-Italian Horizon as this could provide CVF with a second-rate destroyer escort and an ASW frigate.

    • possibly not, the only issue i can think off is whether a turbine produces a high frequency ‘hum’ that is difficult to damp, but given that there is no prop-shaft to directly transmit sound or make re-engineering awkward it should be too difficult to physically ‘isolate’ the turbines in a similar manner to that done with the 23’s diesels.

      i’m doubtful about the AIP-SSK given the ASW frigates will primarily be carrier/ARG escorts, and the former lack the necessary speed or endurance to deploy with their HVA’s.

      the T45 hanger is artificially small because of the space either side is occupied by life-boats, so i am led to understand, so if they were moved it should be easier to create a roomier hanger, or even a double hanger.

      that all comes down to equipment ordered, but i’d be happy to see T26 arrive with CAMM/artisan, but if CEC were fitted to the T45’s that would obviously be better.

  5. Surely the GTs are rafted already as protection against hull whip/blast?

    Yes I know the ship’s boats are within the hangar that would contribute to the effect. (My dad queried the large open space in the hanger side for the boat. I had to show him the shutter.) But the hangar nevertheless seemed short. I did pace out the length of a Chinook on the flight deck. They are damned big ships……

    I think “above water ASW” is best vested in helicopters. And I think we need to capitalise on our strengths. Is it better to buy X number of helicopters instead of another class of escort? Is it better for the national interest to keep Barrow in work? Would a squadron of AIP SSK allow us to deploy SSN more widely? I hear what you are saying and I agree with you up to a point. It is all idle speculation, come October we won’t be seeing what we have gained only what we have lost.

  6. Again re ASW I agree. If it were up to me I would have destroyer:frigate ratio of 1:2 so 9d : 18f ; would give hopefully 9 escorts “at sea.” It says a lot that 27 escorts seems to be unsustainable for level.

    One more thing further your comment re ASW about persistence etc. Even though I know the figures I have never been able to except that MPA can do satisfactory ASW. How can a plane with a small sensor suite compete with a platform that sits in the same element as the target. As I said I know the figures and spec’s, but…..

  7. ideally all escorts would be specialists in one field or another, but i’d still be happy with:
    6X T45 (CEC)
    9x T26
    9x C2
    12x C3

    MPA4 is supposed to be a very clever platform, but importantly it is a wide-area capability, something which a T23+Merlin cannot achieve.

  8. I know about the range of MPA4. And I know in theory “it works.” To me it is just counter intuitive. I wouldn’t be without them that’s for sure. Of course I would prefer them to be FAA, but I am funny that way!!!

    I think your T45 is low by two hulls, if you are including CVF in your orbat. I think we should be aiming at having 3 T45s “at sea.”1 x T45 for CVF, 2 x for ARG/anti-BDM/choke point/extra-for-CVF.

    I just hope we get to keep the T45s we have ordered. As I said of at young Daly’s blog I am expecting T22 to be scrapped in October. I an hopping that their Harpoon will be moved over to T45. And their Goalkeeper will free some Phalanx for T45 too. I would prefer Sea RAM and for CAAM to be scrapped. But I am already expecting too much…..

    • “I an hopping that their Harpoon will be moved over to T45. And their Goalkeeper will free some Phalanx for T45 too. I would prefer Sea RAM and for CAAM to be scrapped. But I am already expecting too much…..”

      we can only hope.

  9. I want to take a comment’s worth to back up from the particular naval details set down so far (though I do love reading them) and do two things.

    – The first is to say, given these quieter and somewhat cosier surroundings (than TD), that the pair of you are probably my favourite conservatives currently processing oxygen. Not being one myself it’s an actual and genuine pleasure to talk about things that matter with two of your own breed whose intelligence, perspective, and personalities I value and enjoy.

    – The second is a sort of personal laundry list of security priorities for the UK, based both on their potential to positively or negatively affect Britain *and* on the ability of the Armed Forces to significantly influence them. (So, for example, certain kinds of terrorism/banditry and the effects of an erratic period in the global climate — I’ll try not to step on either side’s toes and stick tot eh facts as we have them — don’t figure except as accelerants. We need to be active in reminding short-sighted politicians with a power fixation that smashing things, in order to be effective when needed, must be reserved for cases that actually need smashing and with an eye to the knock-on effects.)

    So, the deterrent is there right off the bat as the ultimate insurance. And that’s been “done” by myself and others over at TD: buy SSGNs, run the deterrent on nominated boats and with ballistic missiles only (to prevent overreaction to launches from conventionally-equipped sister subs), put a lot of live warheads on a lot fewer Trident D5s, and control the costs that way. (The costs are, indeed, spread out, but a gucci set of big new SSBNs and a large number of D5-replacements seem like obvious and sensible places to find cost savings.)

    After that, NATO, where it seems to me the most likely flashpoints over the next twenty or so years are these:

    – Caucasus, which is not really a sane NATO alliance’s business, to the degree it involves Western interests that’s a matter for long term economic and cultural influence rather than pointless sabre-rattling.
    – The Baltics, where it would be better to encourage an old-school Swedish model for rapid militia resistance in the small states (to ensnare any actual forces deployed for a Russian coup de main in slow-moving, bloody skirmishes), encourage their peaceable role as a conduit of commerce, ideas, etc., between the EU and European Russia.
    – Then you get the two I’d actually worry about in terms of both conflict potential, effects on British interests, and need for strategic British involvement. They are the Arctic, where the coming “great game” for resources could produce dangerous military chess games around Finnmark, Svalbard, and Greenland, and renewed Greco-Turkish conflict, which would be an absolute bloody nightmare for the EU on a scale that, I think, makes them dismiss the possibility out of hand. (There’s an old line that a dog is always three meals away from being a wolf. I’d say Greco-Turkish warfare is down to two major financial meltdowns away from reality.) In the first case, the UK is the clear linchpin for the development of a working alliance-within-alliances between Britain, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, and Denmark with an eye to the opening Arctic. (Once again, I suspect the “European rim” which is that lot plus Iberia and all twelve Icelanders, will be advantaged much as they were when it turned out the Atlantic wasn’t just endless water and sea monsters.) There you could sensibly talk about the UK as a military linchpin for collecting and managing the resources of the nations I mentioned to deter a declining-but-revanchist Russia that thinks Arctic affairs are a place where they can play hardball, especially if matched to concessions towards America (who they can play off China) elsewhere. Wrt Greco-Turkish warfare, I’d say keep heads well and bloody down and concentrate on Cyprus (starting by a withdrawal from Dhekelia to circle wagons around the Akrotiri SBA.)

    Beyond that? Protect the Falklands. Stay out of the Mideast as much as possible (here I’d differ with the distinguished folks writing over at the Phoenix site) because it’s a mug’s game. As much one as the Italian Wars and fixating on the recapture of Calais were in their day. Steady moves toward non-fossil fuel sources (yes, nuke plants and offshore wind, I’m looking at both of you and several things besides) and towards more politically secure fossil-fuel sources. More interest in Africa, and in Brazil — it’s quite vital to develop strong bilateral relations with Brazil and keep them with Chile. Presence offshore of East Africa is still important — shipping lanes, Oman is a proper ally that merits attention, and shows enough capacity to project power that India will be interested in “mutually productive” relations. As the United States heads towards its fiscal cul-de-sac and concentrates ever more power on the Pacific and Middle East, actually policing the sea lanes could well fall towards a broad concordance between Britain (in the Arctic/Atlantic), India (Indian Ocean), and Japan (Pacific), with Brazil, the “European Rim,” and South Korea (also Oz) as partners.
    My .02.

    • Cheers jackstaff, is it that obvious?😀

      One the deterrent, i am sympathetic to your view, but unwilling to throw my backing at any position because i am unsure on the absolute merits of each approach.

      I agree that Arctic and Greece/Turkey are real threats, with the former a medium to long problem, and the latter a short to medium, as greece will find its equilibrium in another five years and suddenly realise that its a geo-political irrelevance compared to turkey.

      On the ME; believe we must remain involved but do so via supporting ties with individual allies like Oman rather than broad regional interference.

      On energy security, i very much agree, but would question any use of windpower over 20% of the total capacity, as the grid could not cope with surges and the lack of storage mechanism’s would require other ‘rapid’ capacity such as gas-fire anyway.

      As america looks east europe is going to have to become responsible for policing its own back-yard, we need to be pushing nato-east to shoulder this burden.

  10. It was the byzantine substitution-coded messages (actually it was a comment you tweeted to the Tellygraf one time but really fairly clear. Please tell me Britain has shown the sense to start breeding social-contract conservatives in captivity, because it’s good for the polity and I don’t think you’d mind the work😉

    Since I tend to a naval perspective (which is really cart before horse, that naval perspective stems like that wise old frog Braudel’s from being interested in geography and secular time) it’s worth thinking ahead now on the complexion of a melting Arctic, particularly for the most sizeable nation (economy and population) not named “Russia” or “the United States” in the direct path of its potential trade flows. Greece, other than its traditionally disproportionate ownership share in global carrying trade, is indeed moving towards being the worst kind of combination: geopolitically irrelevant, fiscally unfixable, and wickedly well-armed for its size. (The Milosevic mafiosi of the late Nineties would have thought it very heaven to own Greece’s arsenal.) And Turkey, very much a player, has to contend just as their Ottoman great-great-granddads did with some very strong centrifugal forces within the national state. But in those days they made a savvy (and, for the neighbors, intensely destabilizing) mesh of meritocracy, militarism, and sops to an earlier version of political Islam. (To be fair, some of the political Islamists in Turkey are social reformers, like for example the social-contract Catholics of imperial/Weimar Germany’s Zentrum Partei. But not enough.)

    V. much agreed on the Middle East. Thirty years of British governments, of literally every political stripe, arsed up the Israel-Palestine problem before 1948 but it’s long past being a problem Britain’s capable of helping to resolve. And for the rest? Much better Canadian tar sands (dirty as they are), Falklands well-heads, and Australian natural gas wherever possible.

    I’m fine with a relatively small proportion on wind in the future portfolio (particularly because I’m agreed as to the potential problems for the grid), and really I’d like a very, very mixed and occasionally redundant intermeshed grid. The vey very right-libertarian American “small wars” analyst John Robb once said “solar is civil defence” and, if you translate that from the American Sun Belt to “whatever floats your local ecology’s boat for energy return,” he’s right. “Built on coal and surrounded by fish” was a good premise for the UK back when. Coming up with some modern substitutions for same, with a similar shortness to the lines of supply, would be a good idea. (Of course we’ve, again, seen British governments of every stripe largely piss away the benefits of a medium-sized sea worth of oil next door in a generation. Better luck next time I hope.)

    And yes, policing the back yard is very much something where NATO’s actual military frontiers need to be “incentivized” (awful word. As a parent of three, I can tell you a little plain-faced bribery once in a while can do wonders🙂 Some of that’s already in place: to play my per-capita game again, the whole Warships1 board would die of delight if Britain had as many versatile ASW frigates per capita as Norway (just shy of 50), and still has a national reserve militia trained and equipped to pull a very effective “Viking Hezbollah” (here I’m thinking of their defence of positions in Southern Lebanon, not the state-sponsored terror angle) against any Russian intransigence. Finland too, hence the Swedish delight in being able to largely disarm (which of course shoots a huge sector of their economy — defence contracting — in both knees) since they can now fight to the last Finn. Building up more of the same in the Baltics and Romania (where there’s terrain favourable to “meddling” in the Balkans) would be good.

  11. Actually, that “if Norway were Britain” figure on frigates should be more like 60. That outsized navy (and its nice mesh with a multi-function coast guard that combines all the way from simple but important “traffic cop” work with supertankers in narrow shipping lanes to wartime convoy ASW) plus the big, lightly armed, but deeply civically-invested and terrain savvy national guard, says that their cuisine may suck but they grasp their strategic geography quite well.

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