FUTURE BRITISH DIPLOMACY AND MILITARY STRATEGY
A LITTLE COMMON SENSE GOES A LONG WAY
Back to the Future
Margaret Thatcher always talked to schoolchildren on trips to see 10 Downing Street, who with luck, hoped to catch a glimpse of Britain's first woman Prime Minister. There were no steel gates and barricades in those days and only a single policeman took care of the front door. Like those before her during the last century, Margaret Thatcher wasn't afraid of the people, knowing she was one of them. As a young diplomat I used to exchange polite greetings with the Prime Minister when she was off to the House of Commons for Prime Minister's Questions - and I was heading for a less public meeting at the Ministry of Defence. One afternoon the PM noticed three young schoolgirls complete with maroon blazers and pretty straw hats shyly watching from the other pavement. She crossed the street and began chatting just as I emerged from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's small side door into Downing Street. ' Getting a sense of proportion, Prime Minister?' I enquired with a grin. ' No, dear, keeping it,' she shot back, clearly on form.
Whatever has been written about the Iron Lady, and she was not infallible, most certainly she was a great champion of collective responsibility - team work - through Cabinet government. Matters were considered either by the whole Cabinet or smaller committees of Ministers and officials directly involved with a particular issue. The Cabinet Office, effectively the nation's secretariat, drew on every involved part of HM Diplomatic Service, the intelligence services, the Home Civil Service and the Armed Forces for candid advice. This smooth running machine had been improved and refined during 250 years. During an emergency Ministers, officials and serving officers would attend the COBRA Committee - its acronym simply means Cabinet Office Briefing Room A - a largish room in the basement. That way the Ministers were briefed by those dealing with an emergency and action agreed with all involved departments. One's reward for long night hours in this room was that Scotland Yard provided fried breakfasts - policeman sized and more than tasty.
As Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher led a traditional Cabinet government, assisted by her closest Ministerial colleagues and the Cabinet Secretary who was also head of the Home Civil Service. HM Diplomatic Service has its own Permanent Under Secretary. She kept a finger on the pulse of every department but there was nothing ' presidential ' about her approach to government. Ministers ran their own Departments. The Foreign Secretary really was responsible for our foreign policy right down to the last penny of the overseas aid programme. Ministers ran their own budgets, not the Treasury although the Prime Minister usually signed off any sum over £ 25 million pounds as good house-keeping. She preferred lively debate rather than a room filled with people who wouldn't speak their minds. She had close allies but decisions were taken in the proper way, openly, not behind closed doors with small cabals. The result was that Ministers and officials knew where they stood and the government machine ran smoothly. Her method bore remarkable similarity to Winston Churchill's. Britain regained international respect during her time in office.
She was probably the best educated British Prime Minister with degrees in Chemistry and Law. She could keep the most amazing amount of detail in her head. One legacy of her premiership is that government departments became used to referring questions or informing Number Ten about a much wider variety of matters. This worked so long as Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. Previous prime ministers other than Winston Churchill during the Second World War spared themselves from a mass of detail - Ted Heath would go sailing over summer weekends and remain out of contact until he returned to harbour on Sunday evening. He regarded nuclear war as very unlikely over a summer weekend! None of Margaret Thatcher's successors has been blessed with same intellectual power as herself, three soon swamped by her normal workload, the fourth too idle to look into choices properly.Taking decisions on a sofa with a tiny coterie or making up policies with a small clique in the Treasury are not serious approaches to high responsibility, indeed dangerous, leading to deception of the voters and allies, as we have seen.
Future governments should make decisions through Cabinet Committee although even that isn't fool proof - the present Coalition and its Opposition resembles a gathering of expensively educated, mediocre clones.
Britain has a system of government in need of radical change, unable to resolve crises, strategic decisions left to a House of Commons that lost public trust after the Sunday Telegraph newspaper exposed institutional fiddling of members' expenses.
Our system of governing ourselves evolved during the 17th century and for a largely disenfranchised population. Throughout the last three centuries the House of Lords underwent several stages of reform and logically, perhaps should become an elected body - save that life peerages recruit people into Parliament who, thank the Lord, were not politicians. An elected upper chamber would lack the scientists, doctors, bishops, industrialists, entrepreneurs, diplomats and spies, military officers and sportsmen, landowners and environmentalists who make the present House of Lords such a treasure chest of wise counsel. The present government wishes to elect the House of Lords - create a dumping ground for beyond shelf life and retired politicians - though not proportionately increase the Lords' powers. Logically an elected upper house should have the last word rather than the House of Commons as now. Almost certainly an elected House of Lords packed with aging politicians will spend most of its time grabbing powers from the House of Commons.
In contrast the House of Commons has not reformed itself and shows no sign of any intention to reform. Only the voting laws have been reformed, first in 1832 with the Great Reform Act, second in 1867 with the Representation of the People Act, third in 1918 with votes for women although not until 1928 did all women obtain a vote. Finally the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 in 1970. The House of Commons regards itself as a model for the entire world. The record - it has shown itself quite incapable of safeguarding our industry, our banking system, our trade, our merchant navy, our farmers and fishermen, our diplomats and intelligence services and the Armed Forces.
A rare success story of Parliament is the role of Select Committees, another remains the House of Lords. Both should have much greater authority as have the Senate and its committees across the Atlantic.
Changing the voting system, reducing the number of MPs are simply window dressing; neither tackle the short-comings of an isolated and remote House of Commons stuck in a seventeenth century parliamentary tyranny.
There is a strong argument for taking the most serious matters away from Parliament and giving these decisions to the people as in Switzerland, apart from conquest by Napoleon, a democracy for over 800 years.
While we're at it, let's copy the Swiss and shift to local income tax as well. This would require reversal of the present way the government raises money. Local communities would charge their own tax rate and pay an agreed proportion to the county. In turn the county would pay an agreed proportion to the Central Government. A great advantage is that local authorities compete with each other for residents and that has improved the standards of local authorities in Switzerland. People have a much greater stake in their local community.
Central Government deals with such matters as foreign policy, defence, trade negotiations, the law, national transport rather than trying to buy votes with largesse from the taxes. Even here, popular votes are required before taxes may be raised or lowered, before treaties may be signed or the defence forces reduced or increased. The Swiss have long learned not to trust their Parliament with anything important.
We should do the same.
INTELLIGENCE AND DIPLOMACY
Foreign policy, intelligence gathering, defence, overseas aid, trade and cultural diplomacy are all parts of a single national effort. At present we have two foreign policies - the real one and the overseas aid programme. Without controlling the aid budget, our real embassies lack teeth. Budgets for all these activities should be pooled and overseas aid managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Unsung heroine of the Cold War and every hot war since the 1950s. Probably the most successful spy-plane built with over 50 years patrolling hostile airspace shows what the British can do when their government backs the aerospace and defence industry. The Canberra bomber first flew in 1949 - causing a sensation at the Farnborough Air Show that year. Like the Queen, as a 9 year old, I watched Roland Beaumont take her straight off the runway and into a vertical climb followed by aerobatics which none of us had ever seen performed by a bomber. During the Canberra's early service, many deniable missions were flown over the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. In 1957 she took the World altitude record reaching over 70,000 feet. This record held for decades until the MIG 25 zoomed to 100,000 feet and SR71 Blackbird flew level at 85,000 feet. Only the Blackbird rivals the Canberra's operational record. Canberra's have flown missions over many countries; Argentina, Iraq and Afghanistan to name only three recent wars. The last Canberra PR 9 aircraft finally retired in 2006 after 57 years operational service.
THE NEED TO KNOW
The first requirement for a sound plan is reliable intelligence. At present we are overly dependent on the United States for material harvested from eavesdropping and space reconnaissance. Our human intelligence assets have been strengthened though largely to focus on terrorist threats. Eavesdropping only tells you what other people are doing; recruiting good agents sometimes allows us to have the leadership of ostensibly hostile countries on the payroll. Eavesdropping has great tactical value while human sources and satellites provide the best strategic intelligence.
Today's British diplomats and military planners must decide whether it's wise to remain so heavily dependent on the United States for eavesdropping and space reconnaissance, or, whether we ought to regain the political and operational freedom that, within living memory, including mine, British leaders regarded as normal. Achieving greater national independence for eavesdropping and space reconnaissance activities would require significant investment in satellites and alternative technology - such as high altitude airships or pilot-less aircraft with limitless endurance through solar power. BAE have produced a prototype long range pilot-less aircraft which may offer a less expensive alternative to space platforms. This does not mean that we should take less material from the National Security Agency in the United States, rather that we ought to gather more such intelligence ourselves. Imagination often pays.
Given that for all the billions spent on spying by ourselves and our partners - USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - not one major international crisis was foreseen during the last 65 years, perhaps a little investment in more analysis staff would not go amiss. The UK team has a very good reputation so its by no means a lost cause.
A foggy realm concerns the clandestine kidnapping of prisoners and interrogation methods. We are told the UK approach is not the same as the previous US Administration's. I doubt if any UK intelligence officer is bold enough to act without first obtaining a UK minister's stamp. At the moment the British Government is giving a fairly good impersonation of Pontius Pilate. Ministers should understand that the UK is a signatory of conventions intended to safeguard human dignity, starting with the Geneva Convention. International Law may have been broken. We need to put our heads together with the new US Administration yet the Prime Minister and his coalition deputy speak as though neither was not involved with the House of Commons over the last decade.
Modern diplomacy and military operations also depend on satellite technology for communications. When the UK Defence Minister declares that Britain is unlikely to undertake major military operations independent of the United States this is a reflection of our reliance on US assets for our command and control systems. This limits our freedom to act independently of the USA and one can argue that we should certainly invest in our own space communications.
One can also argue that a strong alliance from time to time inevitably will involve political restraints. NATO and our close alliance with the USA bring enormous benefits, not least keeping the peace in Europe and allowing us to intervene in the World's trouble spots largely on our terms. Therefore any strategy must weigh up the advantages of greater independence over the substantial rewards from our present dependence.
Any military alliance requires that it brings benefits to both parties. That implies that the UK contribution is sufficient to make its continuance worthwhile to our strongest and closest ally. Though it saves us a great deal of money on research and IT infrastructure and protection from cyber attack, the reality is that we become a much more valued ally when possessing a reliable intelligence machine and strong forces able to mount large scale independent operations anywhere in the World.
JUST OVER THE HORIZON
Despite billions spent on gathering intelligence none of the conflicts since 1945 were predicted. Nor have we any reason to presume warnings in the future. Diplomats are supposed to employ common sense and closely watch the obvious trouble spots for danger signals. Sometimes these are missed or ignored - Argentina and the Falklands in April 1982 - but usually there are warning signs.
These words have been on this website for months. The whole Arab world is now in turmoil. Nobody predicted events. Not even the young people who launched this revolution over the Internet.
The government needs to provide our diplomats with enough resources to spot the potential seismic shifts. This does not mean the ability to predict that a Mubarak is going to lose his Presidential Palace. Rather, our spies and diplomats should learn to recognise trends, such as simple facts - the younger generation in these countries are literate, many well educated, and vastly outnumber the pensioners whole rule them through oppression.
Our armed forces need the resources to deal with military threats and civil emergencies.
Presently I see not a hint of this coalition government providing enough resources, rather the opposite. Nor do I see any sign that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are honest enough to tell the voting public that they are about to live in a defenceless and insignificant country.
The Prime Minister and his deputy have put their names to thirty-eight pages of waffle about national security. Other than blaming the previous government for the national debt and thereby excusing yet another Conservative disarmament programme, there is no strategy. This does not mean that our diplomats have been idle, rather that they beaver away in their own corner of the World. The House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration only recently asked the question - Who makes national strategy - and eventually concluded, ' No-one.'
You won't find any questions about intelligence raised in the government's document. You won't find any questions either like those below and elsewhere on this website. Over the next weeks I will offer a questions for the foundations of a national strategy. Meanwhile, below you'll find the kind of questions the government should have been asking itself about immediate dangers, never mind the path to improve the lives of our children and grandchildren.
Political and military risks.
There is a great deal already on these pages about Afghanistan which I will not attempt to précis. The original cruise missile strikes from surface ships and submarines ( including the Royal Navy ) were followed by the insertion of special forces. Once on the ground about 80 special forces troops developed teamwork with bombers and naval fighters backed by tanker aircraft ( including the RAF ) with a strategic impact out of all proportion to their numbers. Armed with electronic gadgets they travelled by Afghan pony and rained bombs - with great accuracy - on the Taliban's positions. The local war lords were able to exploit this firepower from the sky. Afghanistan was cleared of the Taliban within a matter of weeks. A text book deployment of a small airborne force in the tradition of the Bruneval Raid almost 70 years ago.
What followed was less than brilliant. The leadership and large numbers of Taliban were trapped around Kunduz with their Pakistan ISI handlers. All should have been destroyed together. Instead they were allowed safe passage to Pakistan via an air-lift over several days - according to reports, on the orders of Vice President Cheney duped by General Musharef, who did not come clean over the size of the ISI support force backing the Taliban regime. Several thousand Taliban lived to fight another war. NATO has paid for this mistake ever since. Obsessed with ideology, lured by the possibility of a democratic salient in the Arab lands, the Bush Administration invaded Iraq. America thereby failed to follow through in Afghanistan. The exiled Taliban regrouped in their Pakistan safe haven and directed by the ISI handlers, returned across the Durrand Line into Afghanistan.
Britain inserted 16 Air Assault Brigade into Helmand Province - a Taliban stronghold - during 2006 with almost no intelligence gathering beforehand. The result was a slow motion Dien Bien Phu. The brigade fought hard and survived but gradually has been replaced by a 10,000 strong force. Lacking helicopters the force moves by road, providing easy targets for the Taliban bomber makers. Nearly five years later 16 Air Assault Brigade are returning for another tour. One cannot escape the conclusion that this was one of the most brainless deployments in British military history. President Obama eventually came to the rescue with the US surge.
However, much as the President would like to commence withdrawal from Afghanistan next year, without a change of strategy any troop withdrawals will be token. Somehow the Administration has to find a path back to the formula that worked - small teams of experts working with much larger local forces. This will be a long hard road because NATO has marched four years in the wrong direction. Afghanistan now suffers all the problems of the sprawling civil population that cost a fortune in Vietnam - highly paid aid agencies that won't take risks so nothing improves for the local people, private security firms which the Afghan President has rightly told to leave, money by the truck to fuel corruption from the pockets of a host of people tripping over each other.
Trouble is the Afghan President himself, predictably, behaves as the modern ' Amir ' constantly hedging his bets, changing sides whenever the short term demands a quickie' alliance, open to bribes from friend and foe alike. Talk of troop withdrawals by 2015 exacerbates these traditional habits. Had those tasked with the burden of Afghan policy read any history, they would know that when aged 23 years Winston Churchill recorded exactly the same slippery and bigoted political and religious leadership manipulating illiterate savages over a century back. At that time the Pathans from both sides of the Durand Line were given such a drubbing by the old Indian Army that - apart from the customary blood feuds - they were still reasonably behaved 70 years later. At that time one could travel peacefully - other than the risk of kidnap for ransom - from Peshawar throughout Swat, Chitral and Gilgit, indeed even the remote valley of the unruly Mohmands given over to smuggling electric goods from the largely tax free kingdom of Afghanistan over high mountain passes for wealthy Punjabi families. Not a bad deal at one paise a pace when import duty sometimes reached 1000 per cent.
As the recent RAND report suggests, so long as the Pakistan ISI directs and pays for the Taliban's war against the Afghan Government and NATO, the country will stay a bottomless pit. Regardless of whether the money comes from Saudi Arabian sponsors - nearly $ 1 billion over the last four years - or siphoned US aid funds, this nettle must be grasped. The obvious opening move is for the ISI to cease all support of the Taliban and behave like an ally of NATO. This seems unlikely. Pakistan's Government appears to have little influence over the ISI, nor the Army. Should the ISI be treated as the intelligence agency of a friendly state? Probably not. There seems a strong argument for diverting a significant proportion of the intelligence, aerial strike and other assets to eliminating the ISI from the conflict. The battlefields of Afghanistan would become quiet.
Britain's force in Helmand is straight out of the Boer War. Deployed without intelligence and a plan devoid of imagination, slavishly obeying the enemy's strategy. Every lesson from the Indian Raj, Sudan, Egypt, Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya, Aden, Oman and other colonial wars completely ignored by the most poorly educated and blinkered generation of British generals since Spion Kop.
Yet a wealth of experience and knowledge exists in every memoir or history of the North West Frontier during the Raj. Has anyone in the FCO or the MOD searched the mass of intelligence and material gathering dust in second hand book shops all over the World? Two years before D Day the planners began collecting holiday post cards of every beach along the French coasts. Why is it that two American generals, Stan McChrystal and David Petraeus, make no secret that Winston Churchill's account of the 1897 Malakand Field Force serves as their Bible on dealing with Afghans and Pathans? While since 9/11 I have not heard a single British general mention the book.
And I'm not sure if some of our politicians read anything other than tabloid newspapers.
Diplomatic target - stable country and reliable ally.
Political and military risks.
Pakistan has enough problems with annual natural disasters while a shaky government barely copes. One has only to compare Pakistan with India to see how far the country has fallen behind since partition in 1947. Pakistan remains a feudal society where political power stays in the hands of wealthy land owners. During more than 60 years little attempt has been made to create an educated and thus economically and politically engaged population - whereas India benefits from a growing middle class, driving economic growth.
We are not going to see any economic miracles in Pakistan - on present indications we are going to spend staggering sums on keeping the country from sliding further backwards from the present disaster. According to some estimates around 30% of the population are unemployed and the number who are uneducated steadily rises. Political incompetence and corruption leads to repeated periods of military government. The armed forces are the only reliable national institutions with the Army some half a million strong.
Dispute with India over partitioned Kashmir led to four wars - 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 - one of which I witnessed in 1965 - and the 1971 conflict resulted in East Pakistan breaking away as Bangla Desh, moreover taking over half the population and a great deal of the agricultural wealth. Each time, the Pakistan government inserted irregular forces into India's part of Kashmir in the belief that they would cause an uprising. Each time the gamble has backfired. Today the ISI - Pakistan's intelligence service - employs the same tactics against NATO in Afghanistan and also India with attacks on Delhi, Bombay and their embassy in Kabul. As before, the ISI has been caught.
The Achilles Heel of the present NATO surge is that our forces depend correspondingly more on Pakistan for supplies. Fuel and stores reach NATO through the winding roads over Baluchistan and the Khyber Pass after long journeys west and north from Karachi across the Sind Desert and Punjab. Leaked US diplomatic cables give the figures last year - 30% of the fuel and 80% of the dry supplies for the Afghan War reached NATO via these overland routes through Pakistan. According to a recent RAND Corporation report Pakistan's ISI pays some $ 160 million a year in wages to the Afghan Taliban - some of that money siphoned from US aid dollars. Saudi Arabians privately send $ 250 millions a year. Taliban training camps operate quite openly along the North West Frontier Zone. The Taliban leaders and entourage have taken over a suburb in Quetta. Their aims include turning Pakistan into hostile territory, thereby choking off the NATO supply line. Meanwhile attacks planned and directed from Pakistan make establishing law and order near impossible throughout many parts of eastern Afghanistan.
Somehow NATO must deal with the ISI and its clients while reducing our dependence on Pakistan though keeping a foothold. My preference remains for Vice President, Joe Biden's strategy, destroy the wasps nests along either side of the Durand Line through intensive operations by special forces backed by the latest technology and strong air mobility and aerial strike forces. To a certain extent this is happening but presently drones target only individuals not entire bases. A ruthless campaign of raids along the whole North West Frontier Zone should aim to eventually dismantle the Taliban's ability to operate in Afghanistan - though inevitably will turn them against their hosts. At this point the Indian Army becomes pivotal. And our diplomats need to bring the Pakistanis and Indians together long before a crisis breaks.
Should a complete political collapse look imminent, neutralising Pakistan's nuclear arsenal becomes paramount. Keeping track of this arsenal is a tough intelligence gathering task. The nightmare scenario is a prolonged crisis during which the nuclear arsenal is dispersed around the country - much easier to deal with an arsenal that is safely held in store on a secure base. Therefore a crucial diplomatic task is confidence building between Pakistan and India so the nuclear arsenal stays in one place or, if moved, goes to a third party acceptable to India - for example, not Saudi Arabia but another Commonwealth like Australia. The ultimate nightmare is no choice but to destroy the arsenal so that it cannot fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists whether or not controlled by the ISI.
THE OTHER HALF OF EUROPE
Twenty years ago the Berlin Wall came down. Liberty advanced to the frontiers of Belarus and Russia. For a while there was indeed a real chance that democracy would take hold in Russia and the global community benefit from a new, constructive member with a powerful economy, concentrated on improving the lives of its people. This political dream led all NATO countries into hasty reductions of their armed forces. Instead, the chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union created a situation where the old establishment - led by new faces - gained power and show every intention of keeping hold of the reins. For the foreseeable future we must deal with a Russia that is suffering from the global downturn thus defending its economy, struggling to rebuild its armed forces, all this financed from huge oil and gas reserves, and governed by a small elite who draw their political inspiration from Peter the Great and Nikita Kruschev rather than Pericles.
For the moment democracy is on the ropes in Russia. Those who dearly wish to see its advance need our help. They urge opening dialogues with almost anyone who isn't an official - officials tend to represent the current regime. However, some who know Russia through many years living there and doing business, remind that presently, for the Russians, order and stability are more important. Since the tax rate became only 13 % most people pay - indeed millions pay for the first time in their lives - and the days when billionaires bribed officials to dodge taxes are almost history. They maintain such trends explain the popularity of VIP as Putin is known. With the growth of a middle class in Russia, change may come and democracy grow strong. Right now the aftermath of the USSR's collapse and break up, brought a much more unstable and dangerous world. Russians want security for their economic growth. Along the Balkan fringe of the former communist bloc, warfare erupted for the first time in Europe since the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. NATO still keeps a division sized force in Kosovo.
War broke out between Georgia and Russia during summer 2008 after both parties dabbled with brinkmanship. NATO had to confront some difficult questions in the aftermath. The threat of Russian bullying remains - ask anybody whose gas was cut off by Mister Putin during a cold winter. In truth, Putin is giving us a wake-up call, reminding how once the Global credit crisis passes, conflicts will resume over the demand for energy and materials. NATO needs to look at its strategic posture. What would happen if the present Russian government decided to gamble with another smash and grab raid along its border - this time crossing into a Baltic state? Does it make sense that the Swiss Army has six times as many tank regiments as the German Army and that the most powerful formation on German soil is the British 1st Armoured Division? Surely more German armoured formations on the European Plain would provide greater political stability than sending more German infantry with strict orders not to fight, thousands of miles away to Afghanistan. Serious thought is required because at present NATO lacks a sensible division of labour.
This spring Russia announced a huge arms programme yet the reason given in public - eastward NATO expansion - seems at odds with the actual plans. Abandoning the traditional mass conscript army implies no intention of fighting a major war along the western marches. In other words, despite the rhetoric, tacit admission that no threat exists from NATO. Another tacit confession is the realisation that if Russia's ground and air forces challenged America's air power, they would suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussain. Instead of conscripts, more rapidly deployed, smaller professional forces are planned - primarily to restore Russian hegemony over its more rebellious territory, regain a sphere of influence among its former satellites, though also confront any future dangers from the largely Muslim territories to the south and east. Permitting NATO over-flights for supplying Afghanistan is another manifestation of real politik.
Russia's nuclear weapons are also due for modernisation. This should worry NATO because such a programme would allow sequels of the threats made against Poland and the Czech Republic during autumn 2008 over the missile defence shield - although President Obama probably has put this crisis to bed and may yet achieve further reductions of nuclear weapons. Intervention in Georgia taught Russia's leaders that they can take calculated gambles, cross their neighbours' borders with mobile forces - however poorly captained - employing nuclear threats as cover. A further worry for NATO is the proposed modernisation of the Russian Navy - the logic being that if the Americans can throw their naval weight around, so can Russia. All these plans might fall apart because of the economic crisis. Distinguished academic commentators on Russia believe that given a prolonged economic crisis even Mister Putin could become the victim of a coup - not all Russians like the way he bends the rules to stay in power. My expert friends disagree. They say the crisis has made Putin more secure.
CHOP STICK DIPLOMACY
We see a variation on the same theme as China's new industrial economy increases its military power, so the temptation to use it becomes greater. Obvious flash points are the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Others are found among the necklace of islands, the so-called ring of pearls across the Indian Ocean, and the buffer states along China's hinterland from Indian territory grabbed by China through Tibet and Burma all the way round to North Korea. Ultimately the gravest danger may not arise for two decades when China's gobbling of the World's resources bites into North American and European living standards. Ordinary people in Africa already protest about their exploitation by ' Mugabe ' style democracies on behalf of a Chinese Communist regime that also threatens countries as diverse as Russia and Australia.
China's economy is vulnerable. Nearly 40% consists of manufacturing and much of that production ends up in the United States. Nor should anyone look upon the USA as a debtor nation to China. The present trade imbalance could end overnight from a pen stroke in the White House. Should the Chinese fail or refuse to revalue their currency Washington could introduce tariffs that bring China's economy to a swift collapse. Diplomats have tough work ahead.
Today diplomatic and military plans are drawn up against a background of international disorder where the architects of global diplomacy must build on constantly shifting sands. All too often the UK government fails to make effective use of its diplomatic cards. Certainly this was the case when negotiating with the Americans before invading Iraq. Many innocent people would be alive today had we argued longer and harder for a proper occupation plan. The roots of this institutional weakness, dare one suggest, lie in the down grading of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its reduced influence within the UK government. A once great department of state has been humbled to a branch of Number 10 Downing Street and a provider of office space in other countries for home departments. I accept that the creeping growth of power from Brussels has left presidents and prime ministers across Europe with less scope for national action but the damage to our diplomacy is largely home grown and reflects the abandonment of proper cabinet government.
The Foreign Secretary has the pool of talent and experience to manage foreign policy - not the Prime Minister's staff, nor indeed the Cabinet Office. So long as this myopic attitude persists at the heart of government one fears a continuing danger that the naive though arrogant tail may wag the wise though timid old dog. A chance to alter this balance was lost when the Prime Minister was on the ropes within his own party - the present Foreign Secretary could have struck a hard bargain for his loyalty. He'll probably abandon ship to work for the un-elected EC President, Tony Blair. Across the Atlantic by employing the Vice President as a super-envoy and appointing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, President Obama gave a very clear message that traditional structured diplomacy plays a much more important role and has a much stronger voice in his Administration.
THE DIPLOMATIC AND DEFENCE SHIFT - WHERE TO PUSH
I have long maintained that the pay bill to retain professional forces eventually gobbles the resources for equipment. At the moment the bill for service pay consumes thirty per cent of the budget - half with the civilians' pay - leaving forty per cent for equipment and the remainder for running costs. Somehow we have to increase the manpower without further reducing the money available for equipment programmes. There is no question that the defence budget needs more money. Take the trouble to ask the present Service Chiefs and they will tell you that an increase of just £ 2 billions a year on the present annual defence budget would allow them to carry out all operations and purchase all the new equipment they need. Our armed forces struggle because the government has reduced all three below the point of critical mass. All three are too small for the present, comparatively modest operational tasks. A quarter of a century ago the Royal Navy put together a strong task force and despite the lack of vital capabilities - no long range early warning nor close defence against missile and aircraft attack - liberated the Falkland Islands. This was possible because NATO obligations forced the government to maintain the fleet at a certain strength. Today we're back where we were - no ship patrols the islands. Rather like the owner of a quality sports car who neglects the regular services, every time they venture onto the highway, something breaks down and the journey stops for emergency repairs otherwise avoidable.
One sees the same pattern with our diplomacy. The money exists. Only, the FCO budget is relentlessly trimmed - since three decades - while over £ 9 billions a year vanish through an aid budget run as a separate foreign policy and which pays only passing attention to our national interests. You cannot have our diplomats conveying the tough messages to corrupt governments while a rival outfit smiles like treacle and hands over ready cash, no questions asked, no favours returned. We pump one and a quarter billions into Africa each year because many countries still cannot govern themselves. It is no accident that South Africa has a huge problem with illegal immigrants from its neighbours. Worse, over the last five years £ 1 billion pounds has been spent on propaganda to British voters about the need for aid. Leaving aside what this money spent on domestic propaganda would buy in a developing country it could add a frigate to the fleet every year. China receives nearly £ 40 million a year from the aid budget - China has $ 3 trillion foreign exchange reserves and a huge trade surplus. The head of the Commonwealth Development Corporation is paid £ 1 million a year from the aid budget. More aid billions without reforms will simply go into the same bottomless swamp. Aid remains poor people in rich countries giving money to rich people in poor countries. This must stop.
If our media paid as much attention to the aid budget as they do to defence costs the government would have been forced to justify this brainless generosity on our behalf. There is obvious duplication with separate diplomatic and aid staffs. Moreover, our aid effort in Afghanistan should be shared between our diplomats and the Royal Engineers, a formula with wider applications. To put all this in proportion, we could pay for the Diplomatic Service and the Intelligence Services plus the British Council, globally, twice over, with the money given away as aid each year. Put another way, the same money would buy two aircraft carriers or twelve type 45 destroyers, annually. We have to look at the national effort as a single task and logically the budgets for diplomacy, international aid, defence and intelligence are linked together.
We reach a second conclusion - our defence and aid strategies should be driven by our diplomatic objectives based on sound intelligence. When I say diplomatic I stress that our diplomats spend most of the time on promotion of our trade in goods and services and investment. We go back to Winston Churchill's wise words - the purpose of diplomatic relations is not to confer a compliment but secure a convenience. Governments harvest more progress for an aid dollar/pound spent in a well managed country than in a corrupt one. However, all too often, threats to international stability force NATO governments and the EC Commission to prop up corrupt regimes rather than allow shaky states to collapse altogether. One can argue that the best investment we could make with our aid budget is to first remove a corrupt regime and only afterwards invest in the country. Zimbabwe's people have suffered misery because liberal politicians and diplomats lacked enough moral courage to mount a Commonwealth police operation. Global raw materials are finite, competition for them brings danger alongside wealth. Honest governments across Africa and Latin America trade in a market place where the rules are made by their corrupt neighbours. If we want such nations to supply us in the foreseeable future, we must prove ourselves capable of protecting them from regimes with little interest in human rights and less in conservation. Already the ability to mount long range interventions is vital for global trade.
A glance at the US Foreign and International Development budget provides an education. Some $ 40 billions cover all US Diplomacy and International Development Aid. The latter has a budget of $ 18 billions for every country on the Globe including all forms of assistance to both Israel and Iraq. The dog wags its tail. The US Defence budget this year is $ 515 billions from a Federal Budget of $ 3 trillions from a US economy calculated at $ 14 trillions for this fiscal year. Compare these figures with the UK government and one sees how, despite gobbling 40% of the annual gross domestic product, foreign policy and defence are starved of cash to support an aid budget out of all proportion to the overall effort, intellectually out of control. Look no further than Canada with its enviable record as an aid donor. The largest recipient of aid from Canada is Afghanistan. Frankly, my impression is that the removal of the aid budget from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office simply allowed Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to strut the world stage, posing like aged pop stars before a horde of media sycophants. Aid funding is best driven by projects - water, sanitation, health, power, education, rather than random and meaningless percentages of gross national product. Aid projects can become self-supporting. The British Council receives a grant of £ 189 millions from the FCO but earns 60% of its £ 500 millions budget from book sales and examination fees - a measure of its success is that both Russia and Iran want to close down the Council in their countries. For all this ' presidential ' posturing Number Ten still managed to hoist the union jack upside down on the table when Gordon Brown and the Chinese premier faced the World's television cameras.
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' When you're on the phone to Downing Street this morning, Adrian, remind the lady who ordered all those ships that she's sending south.'
The late former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan discussing events with Adrian over a coffee in an Ottawa hotel during spring 1982.
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