RUSI in the News - July 2009

Citations of RUSI expert analysis and events in the global media, July 2009.

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  • RUSI Experts in the News
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RUSI Experts in the News

‘Preparing for the Lean Years’: Britain’s defence budget set to fall by 10 - 15%

As the UK prepares for the coming Strategic Defence Review, experts are predicting significant cuts to the defence budget. Professor Malcolm Chalmers’ Working Paper, ‘Preparing for the Lean Years’, which was discussed at RUSI’s Future Defence Review Conference, contributes to these projections and specifies that defence spending could be cut by as much as fifteen percent between 2010 and 2016. Of all government departments, the MoD is the most investment-intensive, so it will be hit hard by cuts in the capital budget. The Paper comes alongside reports that this year’s spending in Afghanistan is set to reach £3.5 billion, which is an increase of around thirty per cent. Cuts like this mean the government is forced to reconsider its spending in areas like its Trident nuclear deterrent and armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) procurement.

Read Chalmers’ Working Paper here
Coverage: Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Guardian: Comment Is Free, Bloomberg Press, Daily Mirror, Metro, Defense News (US), Christian Science Monitor

Britain calls for a major defence review

As Prime Minister Gordon Brown comes under attack over British defence strategy, the government have called for a defence review to take place at the next parliamentary session. In the run-up to the review, RUSI will undertake a series of research projects on UK defence policy. The review will consider methods of spending, troop welfare and governmental defence policy at large. It may also force the government to consider the structure of the defence sector. Michael Codner, for instance, suggests that such a quick succession of Defence Ministers in recent years has been ‘unhelpful’ to the development of defence strategy. On the day of the review’s announcement, RUSI held a conference outlining what is at stake in the coming months. Director of RUSI, Professor Michael Clarke, welcomes the review to a defence community ‘desperate’ for reassessment.

RUSI’s Future Defence Review Page
Coverage: Financial Times, Sky News, BBC

Gordon Brown under fire for a lack of equipment in Afghanistan

The row over the UK Government’s support of its troops in Afghanistan was heightened this month as Foreign minister Lord Malloch-Brown gave an interview where he accused the Prime Minister of under-providing equipment to troops in Helmand (before later retracting his comments). Admitting that soldiers were victims of a lack of provision in Afghanistan, especially in terms of helicopters, Malloch-Brown argued that Gordon Brown’s future was ‘bleak’. Indeed, Malcolm Chalmers highlights that ‘the issue has suddenly become very political’ and Brown’s government will have to consider its long term aims alongside shorter term political advantage. In light of this attack, Michael Clarke remarked that the minister’s comments were an ‘astonishing’ challenge to the Government’s strategy. Clarke reiterated that an increase in helicopters would be an advantage for troops in Afghanistan, but warned that they were no ‘silver bullet’ and that even an increase in equipment would not solve all problems. Indeed, his remarks were supported by Amyas Godfrey, who argued too that helicopters were no ‘magic wand’ to fighting in the region.

A change of tactic

Doubts about UK involvement in Afghanistan in general have been sparked by the recent increase in the number of fatalities and widespread speculation about equipment shortages. The number of improvised explosive devices (IED) used by the Taliban in Afghanistan has risen sharply in its most aggressive offensive on allied troops to date. Though public opinion is divided as to whether Britain’s forces should remain in Helmand, RUSI’s John Hemmings stresses that to pull out of Afghanistan without stringent planning could mean ‘an abandonment of Afghans who are trying to rebuild their country’. This sense of duty to the Afghan people has forced policy makers to re-think strategy in the region, and experts are considering the creation of a dialogue and engagement with the Taliban. As David Miliband, UK Foreign Secretary, calls this month for the UK to ‘give Taliban fighters alternatives’, Malcolm Chalmers, a fellow of RUSI, highlights the problem that in the past, fighters ‘who have tried to leave [the Taliban] in the past have not had their security guaranteed and they have been killed’.

Read Hemmings’ latest commentary on Afghanistan here
Coverage: Guardian, Bloomberg Press, CNN, AFP, BBC’s Today Programme, Daily Mail, Los Angeles Times, American Chronicle, Earth Times, Socialist Worker, United Press International, Voice of America, National Public Radio USA

In defence of the Viking

With the Ministry of Defence beginning to investigate the deaths of a senior commander and soldier, ex-officers are defending the government’s decision to send Viking vehicles into areas of southern Afghanistan. The Viking cross-country vehicles are due to be replaced in Afghanistan by more than a hundred new, larger and more heavily armoured tracked vehicles to be known as Warthogs, while a further one hundred Jackal all-terrain vehicles will also be purchased. In light of the reflections on the Viking, Amyas Godfrey highlighted that ‘Vikings were deployed to fill a very specific function’. He stated that in using Vikings, troops were ‘sacrificing mobility for protection, but mobility is itself a form of protection’.

Coverage: Guardian

Calls for ‘responsible change’ in British Armed Forces

This month, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), issued a report calling for changes to the procurement methods of Ministry of Defence. The report urged an examination of ‘all viable options for capability downgrading and quantity reductions as well as for complete cancellation of some equipment programmes’ in defence procurement. In response to the report, Michael Clarke urged that the defence community remain realistic about its goals for procurement. He said, ‘It is nice if we can afford lots of tanks, ships and aircraft, but we can't. We have to make choices in those areas in order to preserve our ability to generally transform the Armed Forces, not to just preserve what we have but to be able to move from one era to another. We haven't done that’.

Coverage: Defence Management Journal

Little: ‘All is not well in the British Army’

Patrick Little, a recently retired major who served in Afghanistan, published an article in July’s edition of RUSI Journal highlighting a long-term ‘state of denial’ in the British Army and a reluctance to learn from previous experience and criticism. At a time of reflection and review of UK defence in general, this candid, arguably scathing commentary on the British Armed Forces has sparked interest throughout the defence community.

Read Little’s article here
Coverage: Times, New York Times, Daily Mail, Foreign Policy

Gays-in-military debate comes back to the fore

With President Obama stating that he would support the lifting of the ban on homosexual troops serving in the US Armed Forces, America is forced to reassess its stance on gay military personnel. Its current ‘don’t ask; don’t tell’ policy means that homosexual troops may serve as long as they are not openly gay. Amyas Godfrey remarks on the implementation of equal rights for openly gay people in the UK military, stating that ‘it was never an issue’ and suggesting that this cohesion made little practical difference to the work on the ground.

Coverage: Associated Press, Guardian, USA Today,

US-Russia summit: pushing the ‘reset’ button?

President Obama’s recent visit to Russia was set to prompt a new beginning in Russo-American relations. Urging President Medvedev to make commitments of cooperation on issues like nuclear arsenal and Afghanistan, experts predicted that the trip would ‘hardly reset bilateral relations’. Lisa Aronsson, head of RUSI’s Transatlantic Programme, noted that the trip would largely be made up of ‘gestures of political engagement’, but that she remained skeptical about what would happen when the talks led to the ‘core issues’. On topics like Iran and NATO, Aronsson continued, there are ‘huge differences in their interests and approach’, thus making it unlikely that many of these major issues would be resolved on this trip.

Read Jonathan Eyal’s commentary on the summit here
Coverage: China View

China’s handling of the Urumqi riots

Despite widespread criticism, the Chinese government insists that its handling of the 5 July riots in its Xinjiang province were handled appropriately. Citing Alexander Neill’s comments that ‘the Chinese government seemed to have done a very professional job in containing the riots’, China remains resolute in its handling of the protests.

Read Neill’s commentary on protests in China here
Coverage: China View

India launches its first nuclear submarine

This month, India launches its first nuclear-powered submarine. Joining only six other world nations, India asserts its nuclear capabilities, whilst saying it had no offensive intentions. The submarine will add a third dimension to India’s defence capacity, and Alexander Neill, head of RUSI’s Asia Programme, said that they would act as a ‘badge of honour’ for the country. Saying it would mark the country’s ‘coming of age’, he deemed the acquiring of such submarines a necessity for any aspiring great power.

Coverage: Associated Press

Reports of RUSI events

Regional perspectives on the new ‘Af-Pak’ strategy: ‘Democracy is yielding positive results in Pakistan’

On 30 June, RUSI held discussions of regional perspectives on the new ‘Af-Pak’ strategy. Talks were given by H.E. Mr Homayoun Tandar, the Afghan Ambassador to the UK, Mr Asaf Durrani, Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner to the UK, and Dr Nasrullah Mirza, RUSI Pakistan Visiting Fellow. The discussions seemed to glean positive conclusions about the prospects for Afghanistan and Pakistan, given the support of the international community.

Coverage: Daily Times (Pakistan), Associated Press of Pakistan (APP)

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