The Ministry of Defence’s document, “The Future Character of Conflict” (March 2010), presumably remains the anticipated backgrounds of 2014 and 2029, against which spending proposals are being judged.

Two problems with the document:

1 There is little change from today’s Britain in the Britain postulated for the seriously changed worlds in 4 and in 19 years’ time
2 Several currently vigorous developments were scarcely mentioned, let alone faced: the new arms races, the use of mercenaries, the nature of cyber-war…

Will this still be the UNITED Kingdom? What of Scottish independence?
Will the Channel Islands remain as tax havens under the Crown?
What will have become of our relationship with the rest of Europe?
Will the European Union have become more united? If so, in what ways, and will it have a defence capability of its own?
What of European almost or would-be states? Catalonia? The Basque country (3+2=1)? Yugo-land? Italy North and South?
What of Turkey? What of Israel and NATO?
What of the United States, facing the Pacific rather than the Atlantic, and no longer the great monopolist of economic power?

The new arms races are in Missile Defences, space weaponry; and unmanned aerial vehicles – all strongly promoted by the US Military-Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned us against. All stuff that is very expensive; and generally dubious, if not downright dodgy.

The MOD document recognises Deterrence as fundamental to Britain’s military purpose and practice. Yet Missile Defence Systems, as an “enabling” element in an Offensive Strategic posture, aim at minimising – or killing off – Deterrence. (The word “enabling” has been used by Israeli top brass about their multi-layer IRON DOME system, which becomes fully operational later this year.) England of course already plays an active part in the US Missile Defense System with the US-controlled bases at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill.

The ever-increasing use of non-service personnel is – shall we say – problematic: it is part of the “shift[ing] towards the commercial sector which, typically, is more agile than the military” as the MOD text politely puts it. And less accountable. (Will not the various Gulf countries now purchasing many hundreds of billion $s worth of weaponry from the US require commercially-recruited pilots, etc., to fly the new aircraft? Will the CIA provide them?)

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, controlled from several thousand miles away, is proving less than attractive to those whose hearts and minds are the prize.

As for Cyber War: there is no way of anticipating attacks, no way of estimating one’s own society’s vulnerability to them, no way of knowing if one’s weaponry has been pre-emptively hacked into. The implications are endless and alarming. As the MoD document puts it ‘Procurement programs that take decades may be obsolesced in an afternoon by new technological innovations’. Why, today, ‘procure’ obviously hackable weapons?

With the need to reduce expenditure, I find it surprising that the Government is not seeing the situation as one in which we might usefully, along with others in the same boat, agree on various money-saving treaties, and arms and arms trade controls. (These could be difficult for the United States and for Russia and for Israel, all of whose economies house and depend on massive defence industries.)

Space is filling up with garbage, needs a proper system of law, and should be demilitarised. The High Seas need a proper system of law; and the Seabed needs something better than it has. UAVs should be banned. Something like the ABM Treaty should be revived, limiting Missile Defences so they are not set up to damage Deterrence. International rules-of-war for mercenaries are urgently needed – rules not themselves money-saving but conflict-reducing and accountability-enhancing. As for aircraft carriers, they mainly seem to be used for asking for trouble in distant waters. And History and Sociology should be more properly studied.

Above all, let us never again embark on “wars” that are no such thing: “War on Drugs”, “War on Terror”. “War on Mafias” and “War on Tax Evaders” could easily be next. Police them, yes; enforce the law, yes – set the Armed Forces on them, no. Decriminalise most drugs; understand terrorism and don’t wind up terrorists; enforce tax laws at home. Do not mistake Pre-emption for Prevention…

Nuclear weapons, central to Deterrence, will not be disinvented, or ever all dismantled. Nor are they likely to be used: they are, fortunately, strongly “self-deterrent”. So let us keep ours, ideally “made in England”.

Are any other countries in fact likely to get rid of their nuclear weapons? Are all of them? The US plan to secure a “nuclear-free world” would leave us with the grand conventional weapon systems that today are expensive and useless and dangerous.

And probably long since hacked into.

September 24th 2010

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