“Future Conflict and Its Prevention: People and the Information Age” (excerpt)
(Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies; issued Jan. 18, 2010)
Speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies by General Sir David Richards,
Chief of the General Staff, British Army.

Thank you Lord Guthrie for those unmerited words of introduction. I will not demur although I hope you have the right man in front of you! And thank you John [Chipman] for inviting me this evening to address this fine institution. The IISS attracts some of the world’s most interesting and influential speakers. It is therefore something of a surprise to my friends, and to me, whenever I find myself asked to address it but I will attempt not to let you down!

To set the scene and perhaps to make life a little easier for my journalist pals, some headlines. These will do by the way, I don’t need any others!

1. Conflict today, especially because so much of it is effectively fought through the medium of the Communications Revolution, is principally about and for People – hearts and minds on a mass scale. This is much more than just about cyber attack and defence, albeit this is important.

At the press of a button, an embittered diaspora can be inflamed with a mission and furnished with the knowledge of how to construct a cheap but hugely effective weapon. Dealing with wars fought through internet proxies requires a cultural shift in our understanding of and approach to conflict.

2. A key sub-set of this huge shift wrought through the revolution in communications technology is the need to organise, equip and train to deal with the intense and often overwhelming multi-spectral time pressures of an unexpected moment of acute crisis and tension. We need to 'fill the space', as a crisis unravels and the images flow in relentlessly. We are way behind our opponents in understanding and exploiting this aspect of the battle for people’s minds. I commend Nik Gowing’s excellent book Skyful of Lies for those that want to understand this better.

3. Defence must respond to the new strategic, and indeed economic, environment by ensuring much more ruthlessly that our armed forces are appropriate and relevant to the context in which they will operate rather than the one they might have expected to fight in in previous eras. Too much emphasis is still placed on what Secretary Gates calls ‘exquisite’ and hugely expensive equipment.

4. -- Our Defence establishment has not yet fully adapted to the security realities of the post-Cold War world and this complex and dangerous new century. US defence analyst David Wood recently described the US defence budget as encrusted with an "we've always done it this way'' convention and strategic choices attuned to the last century.

-- Operating among, understanding and effectively influencing people requires mass - numbers - whether this is ‘boots on the ground’, riverine and high speed littoral warships, or UAVs, transport aircraft and helicopters. They have to be able to fight but this is no longer sufficient. No nation is any better than the US in this respect and nearly all are far worse.

5. If one equips more for this type of conflict while significantly reducing investment in higher-end war-fighting capability, suddenly one can buy an impressive amount of ‘kit’. Whilst, as you will hear, I am emphatically not advocating getting rid of all such equipment, one can buy a lot of UAVs or Tucano aircraft for the cost of a few JSF and heavy tanks. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full text of the speech, on the IISS website.


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