This is one of the longer blogs at around
1500 words but is about the much ignored question of the Royal Navy, its size,
makeup and purpose. Once it dominated
the British media now it barely rates a footnote.
In the news in the last few days has been a
surreal item about Alex Salmond saying that unless the EU agree to Scotland's
terms for admission to the EU then he will impose a blockade in the North Sea
to prevent the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets entry.
Looking at a map suggests another route to
northern waters so does this mean blockading the Atlantic as well? In any event there is the small matter of how
many warships Scotland might have. The
answer seems to be not many unless perhaps there is the hidden threat to nuke
Lisbon and Madrid.
Away from the other excitements of the
media other things are happening and there are critical issues on which our
future might depend. One is what kind of
Royal Navy we should have and what its function should be.
In the past Naval issues were at the forefront
of political debate. In recent years we
have lost sight of them and could pay a heavy price. This is a long piece taken from the LSE
website who sourced it from the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute.
review is occurring at a time of extreme financial pressure at home and
considerable military risk in Afghanistan.
Gwyn Prins and Sir Jeremy Blackham argue that geopolitics prescribe
a primarily maritime framework for the Strategic Defence Review.
core strategic challenges remain naval ones, yet the Royal Navy has become
dangerously weak. Urgent steps must be taken to reverse this trend before it is
The Royal Navy is and remains the principal
guardian of the silent principles of UK’s national security, namely
preserving the country’s wealth, prosperity and peace, and the free trade
global system on which all that depends. However, the Royal Navy is losing
The inexorable downward momentum in the
commissioning rate of new surface warships has resulted in a rapidly ageing
surface fleet and a reduction of overall fleet utility.
Defenders of the status quo base their
arguments on two strong assumptions. The first is that in a globalised and
increasingly interdependent world, the powers of multilateral institutions and
of supranational jurisdictions will and should wax, as those of the nation
The second premises is that the utility of
‘hard power’ is being swiftly eclipsed by that of ‘soft power’, such as
development aid. This stance has been given material expression in consistent
year-on-year real money increases in the budget of the Department for
International Development, at the expegivnse of the chronic underfunding of the
Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Indeed, the defence budget is in deep
trouble. Bernard Gray claims that the real costs of the defence equipment
programme are currently £30billion above the present allocated budget in the
next ten year period. On top of this, much of the current equipment inventory
is being badly over-used and is consequently in increasingly poor repair.
The nation is at war in Afghanistan and elsewhere, while a peacetime
mentality prevails and Whitehall’s
strategic analysis fails to properly understand the risk environment that
we are obliged to inhabit.
In practice, globalisation is about the
growing interdependence of nations and global regions, but with decreasingly
adequate policing of the global commons. Multilateral institutions such as the
UN and the EU have been weakened and eroded and they often now act merely as
forums within which nations battle nakedly for their national interests.
What is needed is a ‘strategic identity
review’ and the application of Palmerstonian principles to our alliances in
order to ensure that we possess coherent, independent core capabilities to
nourish them and to allow them to protect us in return.
The national institution which should
translate the national will into this coherent force structure is the Ministry
of Defence. In fact the MoD is deeply tribal and, as presently constituted, is
simply incapable of solving the major issues of the defence programme.
The chiefs of staff are the prime guardians
of their own service interests and are seen as such by their personnel,
strongly encouraging inter-service rivalry. However, it is an act of self harm
for any service to denigrate, and thereby lose, the assistance it needs from
the others. It is essential that a full capability approach be taken to the
defence programme. Only this will harness capabilities correctly to the full
spectrum of first-order national security tasks.
We live now in a time in which wars touch
few people directly. Yet, as Trotsky famously remarked, and 9/11 aptly
demonstrated: ‘You may not be interested in war, but War is interested in you’.
Today, the assumption is that good order is
a natural condition and can be taken for granted because ‘nothing happens’. But
that ‘nothing happens’ is no accident, but is rather because of pre-emption and
The free flow that makes globalised trade
and the creation of prosperity possible depends prominently upon the presence
of naval units at sea, unseen and silent and therefore easily forgotten. This
is the classic operation of deterrence and this silent aspect of national
security is of rising importance as the post-Second World War multilateral
The dependence of the West on the use of
the sea for its survival and prosperity is a geopolitical fact of life. In
particular the dependence of Britain
on the secure use of the sea has significantly increased, in both commercial
and military operations.
According to the Chamber of Shipping, 95
per cent of UK
trade by volume and 90 per cent by value is carried by sea. In 2009 total
direct employment in UK
ports and at sea was over 100,000 people.
This is a very substantial industry and a
vital one for the well-being of UK
citizens. It is an industry that depends on good order at sea and therefore it
needs and deserves protection against the increasingly threatening environment
in which it must operate.
Of course, navies must fulfill a wide range
of tasks. Since the end of the Second
World War the contention of successive Navy Boards has been that, if a navy of
‘high’ capability is procured, ‘lower’ level tasks (diplomatic and
constabulary) will automatically be covered by this ‘consequent capability –
the argument of the ‘lesser included’ case.
This logic has been used to justify the
failure to build new ships and as a case for reducing fleet numbers.
In fact, the evidence shows that the result
of this strategy is the opposite of what it intends. The argument for the
‘lesser included’ case is subverted by the high end strategy. Because as well
as failing to provide the numbers needed for the ubiquitous maritime security
tasks, it also weakens the coherence of the power projection case.
The reduced rate of ship orders means that
only sixteen new surface combatants will enter RN service between 2002 and
2031, and the number of significant vessels in the surface fleet will shrink
appreciably, as the chart below shows.
This rate threatens the viability and skill
base of the ship-building industry, plus the manpower base of the Royal Navy,
as well as its capability and reach.
The average age of our Navy’s surface
combatant ships will rise from fifteen years in 2012 to twenty-one years in
2021, with implications for sustainability, support, logistics, cost and
viability. Moreover, it contrasts strikingly with countries as varied as Australia, China,
India and Japan.
Such a programme effectively tells the
world that Britain
is signing off from serious maritime security and hence national security.
This picture is an alarming one. Rapid
rebuilding of the general purpose fleet is essential for the present and likely
core future strategic needs of the UK. Use of the sea demands presence
along the sea routes.
Presence is the prerequisite for the silent
deterrent messages that naval force alone can articulate. Presence demands
numbers and we envisage an initial fleet total of around 25 surface combatants.
That is, in our judgment, the bare minimum
needed for credible conventional deterrence, for power projection, or as a
basis for surge construction in the events of another major war.
the Great observed, ‘diplomacy without force is like music without
blog is a summary of an article first published in the published in
the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on the 23rd of
The Blair-Brown years were a period when
policy consisted of short term reactions governed by the media and the demands
of the City of London. All those key
issues which were complicated or difficult or which demanded serious long term
thinking were set aside while they and their ministers played student politics
with our futures.
The Royal Navy has been the key to our
national security since the time of King Henry V. They threw it away and left the door unlocked
and the Coalition cannot be bothered find it or to work out any strategy for
any future navy.