Friday, 13 March 2015

Rory Stewart - Defence debate

With apols for yesterday's wayward post - I plead work, Marc and tiredness - I republish an extract from Rory Stewart's speech in the Commons yesterday in the Defence debate;

"That is a fundamental point, so let me deal with it briefly. We need to work from the assumption of three things. First, we must agree that these things are threats. There is a huge debate within the civil service, where some people are beginning to say, “Perhaps failed states and terrorist groups are not really threats at all; perhaps everything we have done in Afghanistan and Iraq was mistaken, and we do not need to worry about what is happening in Libya, Iraq and Syria.” Secondly, we need to assume that Britain wants to do something and actually wishes to be a global power. There is another danger in this whole debate, with people in Whitehall saying, “Perhaps this is none of our business; perhaps these things are threats, but somebody else such as the United States will deal with those threats for us”—a freeloader problem. Thirdly and most importantly—this comes to the centre of the strategy—we need to believe that we have a doctrine that can deal with these things. We need to believe that we can deal with them and that we have the capability to engage.

I shall deal with resources needs separately. First, the threat posed by Russia’s recent actions requires serious imagination. We have had “reassurance measures”—the grisly jargon we produced in Wales, essentially to talk about setting up a high-readiness joint taskforce, about exercising in NATO at a divisional level and about air policing operations. Those things need to be resourced. It will be surprisingly difficult in practice to have that very high-readiness joint taskforce, with all its enablers in place and functioning, particularly when some of the framework nations are still insisting that they can take their forces out of that very high-readiness joint taskforce and deploy them somewhere else such as in the Central African Republic.

It is much more than that, however. This House will have heard that we need to invest. Here, however, the idea that flat real plus 1% is somehow going to be enough cannot be the case if we are serious about the threats. Let me run through some of the requirements. Maritime surveillance is an obvious one, so there is no point debating it here today. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capacity is another. Any Members present who were in the armed forces will remember training, walking around in NBC suits and thinking about how to deal with that kind of threat. All that capacity has gone out the window. We do not do that any more, because we have been fighting for nearly 15 years against lightly-armed insurgents, and most of our planning was based on counter-insurgency warfare operations that did not require that kind of training.
Ballistic missile defence is a third requirement. If we are serious about taking on a country such as Russia, which has tactical nuclear weapons as part of its normal operational doctrine, we need ballistic missile defence. That will probably mean—I do not want to pre-empt procurement decisions made by the Ministry—finding some way of buying into an existing US system and persuading the US to locate it not just in continental Europe, but in the United Kingdom.

If we look at our Navy, we find that it is currently down to 19 frigates and destroyers. That is pretty radical. What we have heard in the other place from Lord Astor is that our attrition calculations are currently zero. That means that we function on the assumption that we are not going to lose any of these frigates or destroyers. Lord Astor said that we have not lost any of those things since the Falklands war, so we do not need to worry about that. Of course, the Falklands war was the last time that we were fighting a navy, so it does not provide a basis for making this sort of calculation if we are thinking about taking on Russia.

It is the same for the Royal Air Force. As we move down to just seven squadrons, our attrition calculations are again pretty close to zero. If we are serious about carriers, we need to realise that they cost a lot of money. If we are to put one carrier at sea, we need to think about how to resupply it and how to get the fuel and weapons to it. The fuel and weaponry supply vessels will be moving along at 9 knots, which poses a huge challenge to us. We need to work out where to get the money to buy the planes to put on that carrier. How can we have a comprehensive carrier strike capacity? We have not yet paid for it.

Then there is the Army. If we are thinking about manoeuvre warfare again, it amounts to a huge spending commitment. It means thinking about heavy armour and whether we want to relocate the Royal Air Force at an Army headquarters level rather than two levels up. It means wide water bridging capacity and all the things that any Members present who operated during the NATO era will be able to think of much better than me.

Then there is ambiguous warfare. If we are thinking about dealing with Russia, we are going to have to think about what to do on cyber, information operations, strategic communications; and we will need to think about whether we have the special forces capacity right the way around the edge of Russia to deal with the phenomenon of these “green men” in these insurgency operations. We need the knowledge of places such as Narva in Estonia.

That is the easy stuff. That is before we get on to the concurrent threats, mentioned by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. If we in this country take seriously the idea that we care about threats from failed states, terrorists and Islamist groups, we are going to have to think about northern Nigeria, Libya and Yemen, and we are going to have to think much more seriously about Syria and Iraq. We are going to have to think about continuing to support Afghanistan and, potentially, Pakistan, and if we do not do something about these places now as a coalition, it is just going to get worse. We will be reporting back to the House in two years’ time, and the Nigerian problem will have spread into Chad and Niger; the Libyan problem will have re-exploded back into Mali; Syria and Iraq will be destabilising Lebanon and Jordan even more profoundly than they are now.

Unfortunately, in dealing with these problems, we cannot base what we do on the Future Force 2020 structure. That was about the enduring stabilisation operations and heavy investment in counter-insurgency operations, with 100,000 people retained for a decade or more. That works if we have only one of these problems, but it simply does not work if we are dealing with a dozen of them at one time. So we need a much lighter, smarter approach to dealing with these countries. That will mean moving out of the world view of “one at a time” and not losing confidence. That is central; it cannot be about despair. It is about recognising that in Bosnia and Sierra Leone, we did these things quite well, but that if we are serious about them, we are going to have to upgrade our special forces and potentially look at—again, these are just ideas—type 2 special forces of the “green beret” type that they have in the United States. We may need to develop the idea of the Chief of the General Staff on defence engagement, but much more ambitiously, much more imaginatively and much more aggressively, including pre-posting officers into a dozen countries. We may be talking about 50 or 100 officers at a time, not about just one defence attaché covering three Baltic countries, and we may need to rethink the whole force structure that lies behind that.

I have run out of time, so let me say a few things in conclusion. I have sketched out a world which, as was made clear by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, is very different now. It is different in terms of the conventional threat, but—and this is something that we have only touched on so far—it is, above all, different in terms of the concurrent threats that are emerging from all the fragile states. We have not begun to think those through. We have not begun to consider the deep implications of the skills set, the force structures and the capacity that we would need in order to deal with those states simultaneously.

The 2% of GDP matters for several reasons. First, we can deal with these problems only as a coalition, because they are beyond the sort of problems that Britain can deal with on its own. The 2% matters because it is a way of raising the commitment of more than 20 NATO countries to matching that expenditure themselves. It essential to keep the United States bound into the system, because it is currently spending 70% of the NATO money. The President, the chief of the United States army, and the United States ambassador to the United Nations have all made it clear that they view the 2% as a sign of seriousness and of Britain’s commitment to keep the United States involved. Above all, however, the 2% is needed because the threats are real. The world is genuinely becoming more dangerous, and Britain cannot be a freeloader.

One of the sad aspects of what I feel is happening is our growing obsession with kit. People stand up and list all the different bits of kit that we have bought, but they do not intend ever to use it. They are freeloading on the idea that Britain will never act alone, that the United States will somehow fill in all the gaps, and that therefore we do not need to be serious about what we are actually doing in countries such as Libya. The challenge to Ministers should be, “Explain how we are to deal with a situation like the one in Libya. Explain what we are going to do in Yemen and northern Nigeria. Explain how this kit will really prevent us from letting the Russians into Mariupol.” Do we care about those issues, or are we creating an isolationist world view?"

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Piketty on the EU

Somewhat rushed this week so I'm just picking up the story that Clarkson has eaten a newly born infant or something, but I did have a chortle at what may be a Damascene conversion from young Piketty;
The (Stability) pact is a true catastrophe. Setting fixed deficit rules for the future cannot work. You can't solve debt problems with automatic rules that are always applied in the same way, regardless of differences in economic conditions.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Russia again ..

I'm guessing here, but I suspect the Chechens arrested for shooting Nemtsov probably did shoot him. They are 'right' for the amateur nature of the hit - seven shots fired, only 4 of which hit the victim, only one of which was fatal. The question as to the 'why' remains; I don't believe a word of the Hebdo indignation story. Either Nemtsov was on a standing target list - and to Chechens, he was just another Russian oppressor - or the hit was 'commissioned'. Either way, Putin is in the clear; even if his minions hired the Chechens, it will never be proved and there will always be enough 'reasonable doubt' to secure him an acquittal in an English courtroom. 

Juncker's particular stupidity in calling for a Euro army may indicate his return to breakfasting well, but not wisely, on Cognac. Without political union, the attempt at economic union via the Euro is faltering. Juncker needs more than a flag and an anthem to make an army; a military command system without political union is a  non-sequitur, even more so than an economic union. Soldiers don't take orders from members of a committee. 

And finally can I commend Peter Hitchens in the Speccie for his perspicacity;
Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding? There remain 300,000 neutral square miles between the two, mostly in Ukraine. From Moscow’s point of view, this is already a grievous, irretrievable loss. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the canniest of the old Cold Warriors, wrote back in 1997, ‘Ukraine… is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.’

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Excise duty on Cider

Normally this is the sort of story that Richard North pounces on; the dear old Grauniad headlines a story "Four out of five cider-makers under threat from EU tax call" only for it to turn out to be all Ed Balls' fault.  

OK. The story comes from this EU Commission press release
Taxation: Commission requests the UNITED KINDGOM to amend its excise duty legislation granting exemption for cider and perry made by small producers
The European Commission has today formally requested the United Kingdom to amend its excise duty scheme that exempts from duty cider and perry made by small domestic producers. This exemption concerns producers, whose production does not exceed 70 hectolitres over a period of 12 consecutive months and who make such products for sale.
EU excise duty rules oblige Member States to levy an excise duty on alcohol and alcoholic beverages. There are no provisions which would provide for an exception to the general obligation to levy excise duty in respect of cider and perry made for sale by small domestic producers. The UK excise duty scheme therefore contravenes EU legislation, which was unanimously agreed and which does not allow for such exemption in any of the Member States.
The EU of course doesn't specify how much excise duty should be - and indeed it can be 0%, and actually is 0% in many EU nations. It also doesn't prevent a fast-track for simple nil returns from small scale producers; the full range of excise duties charged (January 2015) on cider by EU members can be seen HERE

The answer is wholly with the UK government. The suspicion of small cider makers is that Cameron's administration, so amenable to big-business interests, is acting on behalf of the industrial cider factories to squash small scale craft production. And the evidence does seem to point this way.

Of course Osborne could solve the problem with a zero rate for small producers but with a balancing increase in duty on ethanol (otherwise large producers would get the first 7,000 litres duty-free as well). Factory cider is made of ethanol, tap water and unfermented apple juice* with just enough real cider added to disguise the taste. Increasing the duty rate on ethanol would hit the big industrial alcopop and fake cider makers and leave the craft makers unaffected.

Well, Dave?

*I.e. like that in the pasteurised tetrapak cartons. Whether the apples were hand-picked by the migrant Mexican pickers at a Californian ranch or not is irrelevant.