In what is expected to be his final public speech as Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt addressed the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)today, Thursday 30 July 2009, on the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) and his conviction of the vital role it will play in ensuring that we are suitably placed for the future.
Gen Dannatt touched on the UK's relationship with the United States of America and the future of the combat mission in Afghanistan as well as taking time to pay tribute to all personnel within the Armed Forces and their bravery and courage in defending the nation:
"Now unless something untoward happens, this is very likely to be my last public speech as the Chief of the General Staff and, given the valuable contribution that IISS has made to stimulating debate and policy-making in the defence and security areas, it seems appropriate that I should be here making my final speech today.
"That said, I am not sure that, as his next chairman, Michael Clark of RUSI [Royal United Services Institute] quite agrees. However my comments today build on and underline what I have said earlier this summer at both Chatham House and at RUSI.
"So my aim today is to continue to contribute to that Defence debate. We, in Defence and across Whitehall, are all now agreed that a Defence Review or perhaps more appropriately what some are calling a Review of Defence is required, but we need to clarify what the outcome of that review needs to be and, perhaps more importantly, how we get to and conduct the review.
"And we need to do this in a way that prevents some comments being taken out of context, and becoming tomorrow's headline. Frankly, defence of the realm must be the stuff of considered debate and not just of catchy headlines.
"But to answer the questions that must be addressed in a Defence Review, I think context is all important. I believe we need to look back, to look around, and to look forward, at Britain's role in the world yesterday, today and tomorrow and also conduct a proper analysis of the character of future conflict and thereby identify the challenges for our country's overall security.
"Now in looking back over our shoulders we could go back to Duncan Sandy's Review of 1957, but an immediate backward glance usefully goes back as far as the SDR of 97/98 and it is worth examining how the world seemed then.
"I will be brief but in summary I would suggest that the thoughts of those conducting that SDR included:
"First, a realisation that the New World Order post the Cold War was neither the end of history nor very different from previous eras.
"Second, that while for some the first Gulf War was an aberration, for others it was a sign post - but we soon fell into a preoccupation with the Balkans and agonised not about war-fighting, but about how to keep a peace within someone else's war. This was a fundamental change.
"And third, as background noise, during the nineties and running up to 9/11, we believed that liberal interventions could be conducted on the basis of 'Go Fast, Go First, Go Home'. After all it seemed to work in Sierra Leone, East Timor, a small intervention in Macedonia, and even after 9/11 with our first ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] experience in Kabul.
"And finally, the run up to the 97/98 SDR was conducted in a period when UK Defence, while busy in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, was broadly in balance. Debate could be had and choices could be made, and were. A balanced outcome, foreign policy-led, was the result - whether it was fully funded remains a moot point, to which I will return.
"But the balance identified in 97/98 had many facets: balance between Europe and the United States; balance between the maritime, land and air environments; and an equilibrium about Britain's role in the world, still content to be P5, G8, and influential in the commonwealth and NATO.
"But I would suggest three signposts came out of the SDR:
"Firstly we saw an accelerated move towards centralisation in Defence - we saw the birth of the integrated Defence Logistics Organisation, experiments like the Joint Harrier Force, the Defence Estates Organisation and others were products of that review - a significant extension of the shift in power and decision making in Defence that had begun with the 57 Sandy's Review.
"But all these 97/98 decisions were influenced by the spirit of jointery, essential, of course, in the battlespace but which has created a confusion between operational effectiveness in the field and financial efficiency in the business space.
"And what this has done is accelerate the trend toward pulling decision making ever more towards the top: fine if the top can take decisions, but over-centralisation is the antithesis of Mission Command. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full speech (HTML format), on the MoD website.