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Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope's Keynote Address

Commentary, 7 July 2010
Maritime Forces
Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope GCB OBE ADC, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff delivered his Keynote Address to The RUSI Future Maritime Operations Conference.

The First Sea Lord spoke at the annual RUSI Maritime Operations Conference

The Speech

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope FMop

Thank you, Michael, for inviting me to address this year's RUSI Maritime Conference.  I am very pleased that the Minister for the Armed Forces is able to join us this morning. 

Minister, thank you for making time to be here, and for agreeing to address the Conference.  People here might not know that I recently had the pleasure of spending many hours in the Minister's company, while we were returning from a theatre visit to Afghanistan a few weeks ago - in my case, to see firsthand the Royal Marines of 40 Commando in Sangin. He certainly held my attention during a long flight, and I look forward to his comments.     

The Royal United Services Institute has long been a close friend of Defence, and like all close friends, it does not shy away from pointing out where we could be doing better. Over the next 2 days, we have our opportunity to talk rationally about the future for maritime forces in this country, how they contribute to the world of Defence, our aspirations to do more, and the resource implications we all face.  In all this, we have the benefit of contributions from our Land and Air colleagues, representatives of international navies, partners in industry and a number of analysts and academics. Your contribution is much valued and from the audience at large.    

My purpose in the next 25 minutes is to give a Head of Service perspective which I hope will inform the discussions taking place over the coming days. 

The complexity of the challenge facing Defence bears repeating because it must, perforce, set the terms of our deliberations:

Afghanistan remains the priority for Defence. The campaign doesn't define Defence, but it must stay at the centre of our thinking, the focus for our joint operations, and our Main Effort until mission success, however that comes to be understood, has been achieved. 

It is fundamental to the credibility of the UK's military strength and much depends upon it in the longer term - regional stability, first and foremost, but also our future ability to deter and contain, as much as our ability to reassure and support those who look to us for collective security.

Important as that campaign is, and I pause to pay tribute to the courage and commitment of those in that fight and recognise the enormous sacrifices made by our armed forces, we must not forget the range of other tasks, those not of Afghanistan, beyond contingent operations, that protect and promote the national interest. 

Defending our air and sea space, protecting our overseas territories, contributing to stability in other regions of interest to the UK, wider international engagement, none can sensibly be overlooked. 

As the Secretary of State said in the House on the 21st of June:  

"We know from historical experience that a declaration of peaceful intent is not sufficient to dissuade an aggressor, and a weakening of your defences can encourage them."

If that were about the size of it, things wouldn't be so bad.  But we also have to deliver the capabilities it is best assessed will be needed to protect and promote our interests into the future.  Ours is a world characterised by more uncertainty and less predictability than we in Defence have in the past been used to. The sources of potential conflict are increasing, threats are becoming much more diverse.

That is because nations and communities are increasingly inter-connected. The UK is an open society with many global interests: as such, it is becoming more vulnerable to events unfolding far from these shores, dependent on others for many of the resources that under-pin our prosperity and for some of the capabilities that under-pin our security. 

That means we may have no choice other than to get involved in conflicts not of our making, where they threaten our interests, our citizens or our friends. 

Add to this the dire economic situation, a point I need not labour, and it all points to one thing: change must come - and it will. 

I aim to ensure that the Naval Service in this country - Royal Navy, Royal Marines and our close colleagues in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary - is prepared for change - not just for the Navy's sake, but in order that the attributes of maritime forces can be leveraged as far as possible to help Defence as a whole meet the significant challenges it faces.

This Conference is an important milestone in testing some of our thinking, and in that regard I have 3 observations which will come as I hope no surprise, but which I nevertheless encourage you to bear in mind:

First, Defence is a Team Game and we need to think in those terms when we consider maritime capabilities, how we develop them and how we use them;

Second, maritime capabilities are not a luxury - they are a necessity. Our ability to control what happens at sea and from the sea is fundamental to our national security and prosperity;

Third, our maritime forces are delivering today and they will have a vital role tomorrow - to deter and contain threats, reassure friends and develop strategic alliances, as much as to deliver lethal force when necessary.    

My first message underpins the others two - Defence is a team game, and our discussions must start from a position which recognises that, while maritime capabilities are unique in many respects, and deliver in ways not open to others, our focus must be on how the Naval Service can do more - do more to contribute to the work of Land and Air forces, other government departments, allies and partners. That means understanding what they might require of us.

This is a very much a two-way street and our consideration of future maritime capabilities must also recognise and articulate what others can do to support us. Closer integration of air, land and sea capabilities across environmental seams not only gives politicians and operational commanders greater choice, it also delivers the absolute maximum effort from most of the capabilities that we already have at our disposal. 

There is an important international dimension to all this. 

We also need to pursue enhanced inter-operability with allies and partners, particularly the US, but also with France and the many other maritime forces with whom we operate and exercise, regularly and easily. The maritime environment is characterised by the freedom of manoeuvre and global reach which it offers the military, and it has proved to be - and remains - a natural arena within which to build trust with others, and to pursue our common interests in regional and international stability. Multinational counter piracy task forces in the Gulf of Aden are one example, but I might also mention our counter-narcotics work with others in the Caribbean and West Coast of Africa.       

My second message is that maritime capabilities are not a luxury - they are a necessity for a globally trading island nation, with many overseas interests. 

I used to worry that the importance of the sea and what happens there, and consequently the need to be able to control what happens at sea in order to protect UK interests. I worry because this was not particularly well understood, beyond the maritime sector. 

Whilst far from complacent, I worry less about that now, because I think that the strategic significance of the sea is, slowly once again, becoming much more widely recognised. 

That is partly evidence of the enduring truth of my proposition, but it is as much evidence of the growing importance which other nations, particularly the emerging economies, are placing on protecting their interests in the maritime domain. 

This reflects, among other things, the economic value of the utility of the oceans as a medium for trade and a cradle for resources. Consequently, a nation's ability to control or deny access to the sea has long been a decisive factor in guaranteeing strategic success in time of war, or in helping to shape conditions for the stability that prevents conflict, preserves peace and guarantees the free flow of global trade and the economies that depend upon it.  

Access to the sea, and the global mobility such access bestows, have long been fundamental to the security and economic aspirations of states, including our own island nation.    

Make no mistake, the sea is a competitive arena. There are a number of contemporary challenges to the high seas freedoms upon which the global economy and our collective security depend. 

In strategic terms, the most significant is perhaps the increasing tendency of coastal states to extend their jurisdiction beyond their territorial seas in an effort to curtail economic and military activity by others, in and above water space which is high seas. 

Other challenges come in the form of excessive maritime claims, disputes over maritime boundaries or access to the sea bed, and the inability of states to police their territorial seas or adjacent high seas. That can and does lead to organised criminal activity on the high seas with the potential to contribute to the destabilisation of failing states and their wider regions; terrorism from the sea, weapons proliferation, piracy, smuggling, trafficking in humans and the facilitation of illegal mass migration.  

Maritime issues can come to the fore very quickly, usually have an international dimension and carry political consequences. 

One has only to think of the implications of the loss of a South Korean corvette in the Yellow Sea, or of the international response to Israel's attempts to blockade shipping heading for Gaza. I might also point to the environmental impact of events in the Gulf of Mexico. 

In the last 12 months, we have also been reminded that our national interests associated with far-flung Overseas Territories are perennially a potential flash point; and of the advisability of maintaining a meaningful presence in regions of interest to the UK, from the Gulf to the Indian Ocean, from the South Atlantic to the Caribbean, in protecting the maritime trade and energy supplies upon which we depend, or indeed those sea lines of communication into Pakistan along which flow the bulk supplies that enable the UK Armed Forces' contribution to the NATO campaign in Afghanistan. 

To borrow a phrase from the Secretary of State: 'this is no time to become sea blind'.

'Sea Power' as a concept may sound dated to some commentators and analysts, but a great deal depends upon it, not least the ability to shape and influence events at sea and from the sea. 

I was encouraged to read in the reports of proceedings from RUSI's Land Warfare Conference and the RAF's Airpower Conference, both held last month, that the importance of the maritime contribution to operational success is something already recognised by our colleagues in the land and air environments. 

I welcome their recognition that greater integration of maritime capabilities will be key to delivering defence and security as we face the challenges of the 21st Century, just as I pay tribute to the important work they do on the nation's behalf. 

My third message is about the utility of maritime forces, now and in the future. The Naval Service is today contributing to every one of the tasks demanded of Defence, from Afghanistan and Iraq to the South Atlantic, from the Gulf to the Caribbean, from the South Western Approaches to Dogger Bank. What we do is in high demand.

Our maritime forces make an important contribution every day to the defence and security mission, whether working alone or alongside Government agencies and allies, and you will of course hear a great deal about that in the course of the Conference. Underpinning it all is our ability to fight and win in war. War fighting is our bench mark: utility and agility are our hall-marks. However, we all need to focus on the way we develop and use that utility and agility in the future.     

The MOD's recent work on the Future Character of Conflict identified 3 principal threats against which our armed forces may have to act:

  • 1. terrorists and other non-state actors,
  • 2. hostile states and,
  • 3. where there is a clear national interest, fragile or failing states.

It also concluded that the operating environments of the land, sea, air, space and cyberspace will be contested, congested, cluttered and connected.  

Exactly where these threats may manifest themselves in the future is uncertain; but I should make the point that 85% of the countries in the world have a coastline and the land-locked remainder can increasingly be influenced from the sea. I might add that all our UK Overseas Territories, with the exception of Gibraltar, are islands, many of them remote from the UK. 

It is in the periphery of land masses, in the coastal regions, that you find the greatest concentrations of population, industry, political control and trade. 80% of the world's capital cities are within 150 miles of coastlines.  By 2030, 65% of the world's population (about 6 billion people) will live within this area.

If you are serious about being able to influence people, if you think that future wars will be among the people, being able to conduct effective operations in this littoral zone is likely to be of crucial importance, either as the scene of an operation itself, or as the focus for deploying and sustaining the force for an operation deeper inland. 

The MOD's analysis also concluded that being able to target our use of military power in a more concise, accurate and timely fashion, may enable a more judicious and efficient use of our armed forces.  The Royal Navy is well suited to exploiting the unique access provided by the sea to gain the insight and understanding required to make timely decisions; to reassure, to deter or in the final analysis, to conduct precision strikes. 

However, our aim must be to avert crises before they take hold, rather than our current model of holding large forces at readiness to deal with the crisis aftermath, on an enduring basis. That conclusion echoes the Secretary of State's view, which he articulated here a few weeks ago:

'We underestimate the value of deterrence at our peril and we do ourselves a disservice if we merely confine it to the concept to nuclear weapons. The nuclear deterrent is of course fundamental to our ability to deter the most destructive forms of aggression.  But we must also remember the powerful deterrent effect of our conventional forces.'

I believe the Navy knows something about deterrence.  Key to knowing the 'what, how & when' within the application of this military power is greater Situational Understanding: understanding the culture, language, politics, frictions and principal actors within a country or region. The principle behind this is a more persistent, forward-deployed presence in potential crisis areas that coincide with our national interests, affording us the ability to determine measure and perhaps counter a developing crisis.  It is about developing networks that can inform and influence.  

This not only gives us the means by which to apply the ways of deterrence to achieve the ends sought by policy - it can also increase our warning times, such that Defence can consider at what readiness it wishes to hold our forces. 

If we are serious about deterring and containing aggression using conventional forces, defence capabilities should be adaptable enough to ensure that they contribute across the spectrum of rewarding, denying and punishing those we seek to influence. They should be capable of global reach. They should be able to persist, if necessary, in order to develop the situational awareness required to ensure, first, that messages of intent are effectively targeted and then understood.  They should be saleable, so that they can signal greater or lesser national intent in response to a developing situation. They should be able to inter-operate with others. They should be able to protect themselves from an adversary's efforts to deter them. They should be at immediate notice to deliver lethal force should deterrence fail. 

Above all, they should present options which give the Government choice and agility in how it chooses to act.  Versatile forces that offer 'engagement without embroilment' can relieve the political pressures in a crisis, and so create the space and time within which to deploy other levers of national power, unless and until military force is required. Again, you'll hear more about that in the course of this Conference.

I conclude by emphasising once again the importance of support to the campaign in Afghanistan, while also being prepared to look beyond it, today and into the future. 

We have a timely opportunity over the next 2 days to come to a fuller understanding of how the global access, reach and persistence of maritime forces, combined with their versatility and independence, can contribute to the defence and security of the UK in an uncertain, increasingly contested world. 

As I said earlier, war-fighting is our benchmark, utility and adaptability our hall-marks. The Royal Navy has been delivering on that for over 500 years, and while we celebrate our past, we also understand the future, and the importance of adapting to best serve the defence needs of the UK - we have always done this and I am sure always will. Thank you for listening - I look forward to a lively debate. 

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