A Keynote Speech and Q&A with the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
12:30 – 1:30pm, Thursday 14th February 2013
Committee Room 9, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
For a summary of this event click here.
The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to a major policy speech by the Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence. In his formal remarks, the Shadow Defence Secretary will reflect on recent events in North and West Africa, assessing the threat to the United Kingdom and how UK defence policy should respond over the long-term. He will explore lessons that can be learnt from the last decade of defence policy to inform future strategy, arguing that in an era of instability, adaptability and proactive prevention must be central priorities which shape force structure, the equipment programme and expeditionary posture.
The formal remarks will be followed by a moderated Q&A. We hope you will be able to join us for what promises to be a major policy speech on a matter of acute and on-going consequence to the national security of the United Kingdom.
TIME: 12:30 – 1:30pm
DATE: Thursday, 14th February 2013
VENUE: Committee Room 9, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kindly note RSVP is required as places are limited – responses will be processed and confirmations given.
Rt Hon Jim Murphy is Labour Member of Parliament for East Renfrewshire. He is the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and has previously served as Secretary of State for Scotland as well as in several Ministerial positions from 2005. When he was first elected in 1997 he was the first Labour MP for his seat for almost three quarters of a century. Since then his majority has more than trebled to 10,420 with the biggest swing to Labour of any seat in Britain. At the last general election Jim’s seat recorded the highest electoral turnout of any constituency anywhere in the UK.
Jim lives in his constituency with his wife and three children. He was born in Glasgow and grew up in an Arden housing scheme in the south side of the city. His family emigrated to Cape Town when he was young where he returned from as a teenager. He has served in Parliament since 1997 and has extensive Parliamentary experience. He won and has held the constituency which was previously the safest Conservative seat in Scotland. Jim is a keen footballer and an average golfer.
Great, well ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to kick off today’s event. Thank you all for coming. I’m Alan Mendoza, Director of the Henry Jackson Society. Today’s event is titled ‘Prevention: A New Model for Intervention. How the UK Responds to Extremism in North and West Africa and Beyond’ and it is of course, a keynote speech by our guest speaker the Right Honourable Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, who needs no introduction to you all.
You will all have seen his stellar political career to date including Secretary of State for Scotland, several other ministerial posts, and of course in his current role where he is undertaking, with his colleagues, a review of the UK’s defence policy, covering areas such as trends shaping policy, the future threats we face here, alliances, and strategic priorities. He’s also going to be looking into force structures as well, as part of a comprehensive look at the topic at hand. Today’s speech is very much framed within the context of that review, and we’re delighted, Jim, to have you here with us today, honoured to be the forum for it, and welcome you to the podium.
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
Thank you very much Alan for that introduction, and thank you all for choosing to spend some of Valentine’s Day with me. It’s a bigger crowd than I’d normally expect at a Valentine’s event. I am sorry that I am still recovering from what I call the flu, from what my wife calls a cold. I’m a wee bit quieter than usual. I hope my voice will do throughout the comments and discussion today. It is really great to be here with the Henry Jackson Society. I think the [Henry Jackson] Society is an important place to have these sorts of discussions. It is an organisation with a tradition of relying on intellectual debate and intellectual curiosity, in a sense that there is no contradiction, on one level, in being socially liberal or economically liberal while being robust on security and defence issues. I am delighted that many of my parliamentary colleagues are also here this afternoon.
Recent events have vividly demonstrated the threat of Islamist extremism in North and West Africa. This is not a new threat, but it is one that commands a new urgency. As we have tragically seen, there are real implications for British nationals and interests overseas. Today, there is potential for the threat to take root and expand in its intent and capability. The Labour Party supports UK action in support of the French-led operation in Mali, just as we backed Operation Ellamy in Libya. But alongside the necessary focus on how we respond in the region, we must also take a step back and concentrate on wider implications for UK defence and security policy. With the completion of transition in Afghanistan on the horizon and the Chilcot Inquiry due to publish this year, it is right we assess the lessons for future defence policy arising from recent history. Central is the need for a new model of preventative intervention, based on adaptable forces, superior intelligence and investing to build the capacity and capability of at-risk nations. It must be based on comprehensive working across government and within international coalitions.
SDSR 2010 discussed adaptability and prevention, but this agenda must move from being a debating point to a genuine programme of reform. For Labour, this will be part of our thinking as we consider a future SDSR if in power. This is important because we are entering a phase of transition across the security landscape to an era of persistent and complex instability, driven by multiple trends and multifaceted actors. The certainties of the Super Power Cold War era are long gone. Cyber technology and chemical and biological material pose risks proportionate to their enormous potential to advance humankind. Climate change, resource scarcity and demographic shifts transcend borders and demand international responses. Weak states outnumber the stable by two to one, which means regions such as the Middle East or Northern Africa have a disproportionate, albeit uninvited, role in our security strategy. Long gone is a Britain whose role it is to defend our right to territorial expansion; instead we defend our national and global interests against complex risk with a security posture equally as diverse.
Many have stated that across North and West Africa and beyond there is an ‘arc of instability’, from Mauritania to Somalia and Yemen, encompassing Mali, Southern Algeria and Southern Libya, Northern Nigeria and Sudan amongst others. This is a region in which the drivers of militancy are prevalent and where there exist extremist groups with the potential to gain local traction or national strongholds. Alongside Mali, there is potential for continued unrest. Niger, Mauritania and Northern Nigeria all demonstrate potential for concerning instability.
Before moving to solutions, however, it is right to reflect on our understanding of what the problem actually is. I was asked recently, ‘what is the problem the UK is trying to solve?’ The questioner was judging the UK by both our actions and our pronouncements, and yet for him the answer wasn’t clear from either word or deed. It was Einstein who said, “If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes finding solutions”. Too often in politics we can be tilted towards instant answers when we should be better at first understanding the problem.
In our view the problem for the UK is that there are regions in the world at risk of instability. Many share common characteristics. Resource scarcity, porous borders, youth bulges, high inequality, poverty and a history or regional or national conflict can all contribute to fragility. Illegitimate or weak state governance, or the absence of authority altogether, added to limited international or regional support, can further fuel insecurity. It is within this context that extremists can thrive. Parasitic in nature, extremism intersects with state weaknesses and vulnerabilities to seek sanctuary, foster grievance and build allegiances. It is highly localised factors as much as global vision which can drive militancy.
The problem is aggravated by a lack of capacity within many states to tackle such issues alone and the security policy challenge for the West is to help enable indigenous solutions. We must confront these challenges, however, at a time of constrained finance and domestic publics weary and wary of international venture. We need a response that is clear in intention, based on the lessons of our recent past and as broad as the threat itself. Greater international coalition-building, an understanding of the intricacy of instability and closer-aligned military, developmental and diplomatic efforts are all essential.
I think that some of the political language applied in response to recent events has suggested a natural continuum of the 9/11 world and in turn the strategy then deployed. But the real ‘intelligent’ response is to adapt to developments ourselves. While in 2001 al Qaeda was more of an organised global body, today the ‘base’ sought in Afghanistan is denied, there is constant pressure in Pakistan, action against high-profile individuals has fragmented its command structure and limited expansion. As we know, however, destruction of an individual or cell does not lead to the demolition of a group but instead can often lead to its displacement.
It is perhaps unsurprising that North and West Africa is the new terrain for Islamist extremism given its history and being home to al Qaeda’s early revolutionary ambitions. The threat in the region is fragmented, with multiple groupings with long histories, and the extent to which they are networked is uncertain at best. For the UK, the risk demands a proportionate response. The threat to UK citizens and interests in the region can be fatal. Groups may develop ambition and ability to strike abroad. Britain’s proud diversity could lead to the radicalisation of a tiny subset of British youth. All of which means that the UK operates in coalitions responding to threats to our national interest – against terrorist activity, such as in Mali, or to prevent humanitarian abuse, such as in Libya.
Our response should be rooted in two truths. Firstly, a belief that we have responsibility beyond your borders is not, as some would have it, ideological, but, as we have seen over the last months, a necessary response to the world in which we live. Our nation should be haunted by the isolationist reticence of Douglas Hurd over Bosnia and the tragedy we witnessed in Rwanda. Secondly, as we plan our future defence policy we should learn the lessons from our recent past – not as an admission of failure but we must retain consent by making our purpose clear and develop more effective policy in light of our experiences. A principal flaw of past operations was to misunderstand the complexity of the threat. Al Qaeda was presented as a grouping with traditional command and control structures. While truer in the past, it was and is a loose franchise; as much a worldview as a coherent entity. A search for simplicity and commonality led to solutions which paid insufficient regard to local circumstance and hailed ‘mission accomplished’ moments which may never be attainable in the traditional sense against extremism.
Within Islamist movements there is a persistent tension between global ideology and local action. The former is the driver of purpose, the latter enables influence. This is true in North and West Africa. Separatist movements in Somalia, Nigeria and Mali provide opportunity for al Qaeda, while the power brought by al-Qaeda association has encouraged some separatists to create a common cause with the ideologues. The multinational make-up of groups – whether Gadaffi’s militia or those who attacked In Amenas – doesn’t convey a coherent international movement, but rather followers of a shared ideology or purpose connected through informal networks. In forming regional defence strategy this patchwork of loose alliances is essential to understand. We need to focus on splitting coalitions of groups along their own pre-existing fault lines.
Just as important is the need to understand the culture and character of a specific country. A primitive understanding of the Afghan population, culture and geography prior to our intervention severely undermined attempts to work with proxies and our political strategy was in its conception insufficiently representative. In Iraq there was a serious deficit in Western comprehension of the Sunni-Shia or intra-Shia dynamics. There is rightly much discussion of ungoverned spaces, but this means absence of a central authority rather than a non-existence of local power-brokers who must be navigated. Extremists often understand this and so must we. Associated to this, as we all now know, the physical disconnection of a ‘Green Zone’ or an ‘inside the wire’ mentality can impede communication or cultural empathy. Diplomatic compounds, equally, can be isolated from local communities, restricting the relationships necessary to understand communities.
The final lesson I want to mention is the need to understand the interests of the Forces with whom we co-operate, not just our enemy. They will have their own interests – and not necessarily those of the central authority. It took too long for us to see the training of the ANA and ANP as a strategic priority, and we know that de-Ba’athification left a lethal vacuum in Iraq. When the UK plays a role in training local or regional forces, it is essential we view them not just as auxiliaries but as partners who can inform the strategy behind our operations. Applying these lessons within today’s military context is of course our task, and the operation in Mali has shown how important that is. Neither we nor our allies have yet used these experiences to sufficiently reshape our forces or defence strategy.
We support UK action taken in support of the French-led intervention in Mali – but it has been reactive and rushed with opaque and shifting objectives. Events have exposed continuing lack of preparation. The French have been short of airlift and intelligence assets. The UK could provide two C-17s and a soon-to-be-retired sentinel aircraft. The recent UK National Audit Office Major Projects report showed that the UK, even on the most optimistic outcome, will be short of tactical airlift and troop-carrying helicopters into the next decade. Rather than a clean bill of health, the NAO has called in to question the affordability of the UK Core Equipment Programme. The UK special Forces Support Group is under the threat of cuts.
But this goes deeper than equipment issues. The intervention is a sign of a failure of prevention and foresight. Mali has been on the critical list for a long time and yet the intervention was rushed. Across the region the warning signs started earlier. Trainers should be sent to deter a crisis rather than in response to it. We cannot afford an international deficit in preparation for threats of this nature. For UK defence policy, Mali has revealed the need for a new model of ‘preventative intervention’ based on adaptability, coalition-building, intelligence and greater cultural understanding, seeking to avoid the heavy-footprint operations we do not want to have to repeat.
Military intervention will of course at times be necessitated in response to events. Sierra Leone and Kosovo show the change that can be brought by the military component. Where required the characteristics of these missions, as well as those in Somalia and now hopefully Mali once we move beyond the initial phase, can maximise ability to achieve strategic goals: Western training, intelligence and logistical support for local forces backed by guidance in expelling militants from territories, supported by sustained political and civil reconstruction. Such action should rest on the principles of international law; certainty of strategic objectives; acting under the banner of multilateral institutions; working with regional partners; and clarity over our national interest. The variables are multiple, which is why Western leaders must openly express the parameters of achievability and inherent risks of any military action.
While intervention can disrupt and defeat groups, military might alone cannot kill an idea. The terrorist groups we face today are born from common drivers of extremism which have been built up over generations and may take generations to overcome. Islamist extremism is born from a contortion of an ancient religion. That contortion may never be defeated by Governments alone – especially Western governments. Vigilance and prevention must be our focus. The UK needs a comprehensive preventative strategy, encompassing development, diplomacy and defence.
For defence there are five central issues to reflect upon. Building greater adaptability in to the structure of our forces, greater cultural embedding in at-risk nations, advanced intelligence gathering through in-field activity, increased proactive capacity-building at home and overseas, enabling multinational groups to lead indigenous responses to crises and prioritising partnering and coalition-building, making this an agenda for European nations. There is much talk about the need for adaptability, but the concept and capability of the Adaptable Force outlined in Army 2020 can be extended with a shift towards ‘adaptable units’.
Adaptable units, highly-trained and region-specific, would be charged with in-depth outreach in at-risk countries, with a focus on ‘cultural embedding’. At the invitation of host authorities, our engagement with fragile nations would be more proactive and potentially longer-term, with units tasked with advising and implementing training, stabilisation, policing and combat-prevention. They would be trained in situational awareness and understanding, local drivers of conflict and preventative strategies, with a wider range of humanitarian skills, linked up with our international diplomatic and developmental efforts.
Better understanding of Mali by our French and European allies may have led to awareness of rebels’ plans to advance South or the impact of the in-flow of weapons from Libya. The principle of cultural embedding would be to invest resource early so that specialist, in-theatre intelligence gathering would act almost as a human early warning system for potential unrest in the localities in which units were expert. We can look to the work of the US Marines to learn from here. It is worth us asking why the Government’s latest assessment of Fragile or Conflict Affected states did not include Mali or Algeria and ensuring we collectively improve our methods.
The regional and expert nature of ‘preventative intervention’ would demand its internationalisation and it would only work if part of a unified NATO effort. This is particularly important for European nations, who must demonstrate their commitment to NATO and modernising deployable Forces at a time when the US – our most important partner in defence – pivots to Asia Pacific. Shared threats and financial challenges demand that we pool resource and expertise. When acting overseas the UK is now normally part of a larger effort – whether coalition partners or regional nations with interests. European nations should form flexible partnerships to deliver adaptable units in the knowledge that security cannot be delivered unilaterally.
If successful, international adaptable units would make substantial intervention less likely and in the event of escalation success more likely. Should larger-scale conflict occur specialists would help inform our strategy and guide generalist forces, such as 16th Air Assault, based on deeper understanding and knowledge of local terrain. Their presence in turn would enable meaningful post-conflict planning, based on institutional knowledge. Adaptable units would demand strong supportive expeditionary capability and enablers alongside force protection. C4-ISTAR, naval resources, unmanned technology, helicopters, airlift, close air support and refuelling capabilities would all be essential. Future SDSRs will face trade-offs – global events and threats combine with fiscal realities to make tough decisions inevitable – but adaptability, just like affordability, must be built in to all elements of our posture.
This approach would also demand broader skills. Consider that in North and West African states almost 60 languages are spoken, as well as multiple local dialects, and West Africa is one of the few regions in the world where French has parity with English. Then consider that according to MoD figures, of the 145,000 members of UK Forces none speak Nigerian or Ga, one speaks Portuguese, just 78 speak Arabic and only 101 speak French. This comes while linguists and military intelligence were highlighted as ‘pinch points’ in the 2012 MoD Annual Report. It is essential this is reviewed to enable our Forces to specialise in understanding the cultural contours of fragile nations and develop more trusting relationships within the communities in which they operate.
Civilian skills can also strengthen adaptability. One of the difficulties in targeting bin Laden in 1999-2000 was the lack of cultural resources available to Western Intelligence services. Defence attaches and diplomatic staff are vital, but the “thinning out of resources” at Defence Intelligence, recently highlighted by the Intelligence and Security Committee, is a concern and Defence Intelligence must be geared towards this new threat. The MoD should also consider region-specific career paths in intelligence for military personnel.
There is unique expertise and knowledge in UK industry overseas, the third sector and our expat community. Those who have spent years on the ground living within economies and communities in at-risk nations have in-depth understanding. The Government’s yet-to-be-proven Reservist plan should seek to maximise these insights, and in particular the essential linguistic skills and cultural knowledge in all UK communities at home and overseas. UK citizens’ global orientation can become a strategic defence asset, advising to inform intelligence-gathering and trust-building.
A true comprehensive approach would look at how our Forces can better engage with diplomatic corps and NGO communities to ensure on-the-ground strategies are responsive. This is also why regional coalitions are crucial, so those familiar with customs and cultures are able to effectively engage local communities. This should be part of a wider drive for stronger Defence Diplomacy. The core component of preventative intervention must be an enhanced focus on investing in the capacity of at-risk nations to defend themselves, enabling enforcement of individual and collective rights and values, limiting space for extremism.
If Western nations are going to invest amounts which may register alongside the GDPs of North and West African countries with the aim of averting conflict we must do so wisely. Without passing on the capabilities for internal security management we risk perpetuating the deceptive stability which was blown open in Mali. There are a number of forms a valuable UK contribution could take. The global recognition in the quality of UK Armed Forces is an asset which drives respect. Through training and mentoring UK personnel can share not just their skills but their outlook, emphasising ethical military behaviour as well as capability with weaponry and strategy. We can build on the great work we do already through the Conflict Pool and the British Council in particular. The ‘Sandhurst in the Sand’ in Afghanistan, for example, could be an important legacy for the Afghan National Army, and an aim could be for this model to be replicated elsewhere, coordinated by the UK and our allies.
It was notable that the recent Defence Engagement Strategy did not include further bilateral agreements in the region, which I believe could also be beneficial. Partnering with overseas troops in hostile territories, as in Mali, can be vital. The risk, however, of distorting a local political economy is high and support must be considered case by case. In sensitive regions we must make sure that skills-learned are not used for internal oppression or external aggression. Our support, however, could be seen as a potential driver of change concerning the accountability and civilian control of the military and an incentive for reform to overseas authorities.
The UK has a strong record of providing defence education to international military personnel, with some 3,000 overseas officer cadets training at Sandhurst since 1972. Our training schools are world-class, and just as we have a proud tradition of welcoming foreign students to our leading educational establishments, so too should we offer leadership training to those who need it most. Historically, however, those who we have welcomed have not been linked strategically to security priorities and we should consider a supplement of additional places for at-risk nations’ future leaders at Sandhurst, Dartmouth and Cranwell, as well as the Royal College of Defence Studies and the UK Defence Academy.
The long-term focus of preventative intervention, however, must be to build multinational, regional institutions which can deliver indigenous responses to crises. The Economic Community of West African States has demonstrated during the Mali crisis that it can self-organise but does not have the practical and logistical arrangements to autonomously conduct military engagements or react to significant events. Their issues are, ironically, similar in principle but different in scale to those of NATO. Too many un-deployable troops. Limited interoperability between partners. An imbalance of contribution. Insufficient conflict planning. ECOWAS currently has the will but not the means and it is in our interests to help develop them into coherent military machine. I want to see an engaged Britain in a strong European Union and NATO, but alongside strong regional bodies such as African Union, ECOWAS and Arab League and so we should proactively help build their capabilities and encourage their participation. Again, this must be an agenda for all European nations.
Preventative intervention will ultimately only succeed if comprehensive, encompassing diplomatic and developmental efforts, and there is potential for a more strategic, leading role for the National Security Council in delivering this agenda. One of the lessons from Afghanistan is that sustainable security will be determined by legitimate justice systems, jobs and access to services. The same is true in Mali and other at-risk nations. Populations need hope and clear progress in these areas. Our security strategy must consider the wider economic, social and political implications of any intervention.
An absence of that sense of hope and a failure to tackle issues at root mean our enemies could morph in to terror groups with a social movement agenda, similar to Hamas. Moqtada al-Sadr gained credibility by lighting up Sadr City like Las Vegas while the rest of Baghdad was in darkness; al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula are attempting to rebrand in Yemen with a focus on everyday issues as local as irrigation. Where the state is failing to act, Islamist groups claim they can offer an end to corruption and action on security. We must also shape strategy to local dynamics.
Throughout history notions of sovereignty have changed. Opaque sovereignty – where events within borders were only the business of domestic authorities – has given way to globalisation and the rise of technology, media and multilateralism. This has seen a shift towards transparent sovereignty – where events have implications across borders and national interest is often entwined with events overseas. In the Arab spring we are seeing the shift from opaque to transparent sovereignty taking place rapidly before our eyes. It should be an aim of the international community’s security policy to maintain the momentum in this shift.
In any discussion on defence strategy we must understand the limits inherent to our own capacity. Nothing will prevent the reality that the future cannot be predicted with certainty, coalition does not remove competing interests, intelligence will always be imperfect and there are international trends currently beyond our control. One certainty in an era of instability, however, is that in defence policy the nature of ‘full-spectrum’ will be debated at a time of increasing risk and lower resource. It is essential that this includes a preventative posture based on high skills, new technology, adaptable forces, alliances and enabling local forces.
Barack Obama’s words, “a decade of war is now ending”, is an ambition but not yet a truism. No-one in the UK or our international allies wants to police North and West Africa. Whereas once European nations competed for control in this area of the world today we must co-operate in the knowledge that our own economic, political, and social advance is not brought by conquest but the self-advancement of African countries themselves.
Crucially, we must apply the unavoidable truth that there is no hard power solution to overcome the conditions in which Islamist extremism thrives, just as there is no exclusive soft power means to defeat it. Thank you very much.
Well then, ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you will agree that was a very holistic look at the subject at hand. Thirty thousand feet down to specifics, I think in keeping with the kind of thinking that’s gone into the whole of the review. Thank you very much for delivering that. The Shadow Secretary of State has very kindly agreed to take questions. I am going to ask first whether there are any members of the House of Commons who would like to ask questions, and if not we will move onto general questions. Please keep questions brief as I am sure there are several people who want to speak. Also, please let everyone know who you are.
Questions from Members of the House of Commons? If not, then we’ll move onto general questions.
John Hemmings, research fellow at CSIS and doctoral candidate at LSE. You mentioned these adaptable units would be placed in NATO. Why NATO, and would you put forward any reforms to make NATO fit for purpose?
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
Are you going to take a couple at a time?
Certainly, gentleman over here.
Paul Mantz. I just wanted to ask, how many weak governments/countries in the world do you feel that we should be militarily intervening in? How much do you think it is going to cost extra? Do I understand correctly that you are arguing for a recasting of the DFID Budget in the countries which you feel are in need of such pre-emptive intervention?
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
Excellent. On the topic of intervention, why within NATO, the general approach and what reforms? I spoke in just a few sentences about the difference in scale, but a similarity in problems. [Inaudible] was in NATO, and of course ECA was dominated in a military sense by Nigeria. Not in an aggressive sense, but in terms of reliance. In some ways there is a sort of parallel with NATO’s overreliance upon the United States, and an increasing reliance upon the United States. A number of parallels in principle, the specifics are different entirely.
I think NATO is a way in which you can get more European countries to play a part in this agenda. I don’t think there is a need to create a new bureaucracy, or a new body. I don’t think that through the European Union or Brussels institutions is the way to go about it. I think there is already a structure in place, and I have long argued that European countries need to take on a greater share of responsibility within NATO. The type of model I am talking about will require significant US involvement, but the US is already doing a substantial piece of work unilaterally – US Marines in particular. I think ourselves, some of the Scandinavians, French, Germans – I won’t go through a whole list of countries – but I think there are certainly capabilities to deploy adaptable units from double figure numbers of European countries, either units from each country or working together.
The other issue with NATO is that we are only making our cuts within NATO, and I know a number of defence attachés from different embassies are here and you are all very welcome. I hope this isn’t considered impolite, but as NATO members, first of all, our commitment to NATO funding levels is meant to be a rule of the game. We’re not all adhering to that. Second, we’re all making unilateral cuts in our defence budgets. The level of those are a matter of the domestic economies at one level, but the specifics of the defence cuts make me worry. I worry at the end of this process, NATO and European capitals within NATO, will look around and say, ‘We’ve all made the same cuts, we’ve all made similar cuts, and the European end of NATO no longer has this capability or capacity.’
So while these decisions are rendered by sovereign governments, I wish we had a conversation about a coalition of cuts. Within the NATO coalition we talk about smart defence, but we talk and I don’t think we do it. I think individual European countries are now getting certain defence capabilities unilaterally of one another, and I do wonder what would be the medium term impact as the U.S. looks elsewhere.
Paul’s point about how many countries. I mentioned some, but I don’t have a list. This isn’t based upon calculating a number. It is based upon a set of conditions. I said, pretty starkly, the avoidance of any doubt, this has to work through an alliance, or it isn’t going to work at all. It isn’t me saying that if Labour wins the election in a couple of years’ time that we have an agenda to deploy adaptable units in one dozen or two dozen countries unilaterally. [Inaudible] I think this agenda lends itself to a bigger opportunity for the type of reservists that I was mentioning. I think it will rely upon these coalitions.
It is not a power grab for DFID’s budget. Actually, some from DFID may in an ill-informed way see this as an offer of some of the defence budget to DFID. It’s not that either. The most effective defence policy isn’t always a new piece of military equipment. It can be world class diplomacy or a genuinely ambitious development. So you should not read into this as a power grab of DFID, or indeed a Valentine’s gesture by me to DFID. I am not playing Cupid to DFID on my budget.
Great. One at the back, and then we’ll shift over to that side, and then we’ll come over here at the end.
Nicholas. As the Shadow Secretary of State, could you say a little bit about the legal background for engagement? For instance prevention can slide into pre-emption, which can be murky, as we have seen. Equally, the R2P [responsibility to protect] justification for going into Libya, the international ruling says that the responsibility to protect is slightly ambiguous. Would you support a clearer definition such as D2P, duty to protect?
[Inaudible] from Keyhan. A couple of quick ones related to your comprehensive approach. First is, what extent do you feel that economic protectionism in some countries, such as lifting the protections off of cotton farmers in the U.S., can adversely impact the economy, cause lost jobs [inaudible]. That could perhaps impact our own interests, so that’s a question of balance.
The second question relates to languages, and again here you make an extremely powerful point. In the armed forces thirty years ago, if you wanted to go and join the armed forces here, if you wanted to go and get a language you could. Now you can’t, you have to have a very specific reason, and that impacts very directly and adversely against our ability to interact in the world.
Guy, University of Hull. Given your strong criticism of Iraq, do you regret voting for it?
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
Nice and easy one. [Laughter]Here I thought the responsibility to protect question was a tough one.
On Nicholas’s point, I am a believer, and I am not trying to sound like a wide eyed optimist or a wild eyed adventurist, in having a sense of responsibility. You can see that was proven in Libya, and is tested in Syria. Whatever you talk about, whether it’s a duty or responsibility or the responsibility to protect, it’s clear we’re failing both when it comes to Syria. It’s easier to say that than to reflect on what you would do in a situation which is immeasurably more complex than what occurred in Libya. This is about prevention, and it relates to Paul’s point.
You can judge this in terms of the outcomes for cost and value. The cost of human life and economic wellbeing, the cost to indigenous economies or the savings to all of these, but my argument would be, as I alluded to, we knew the situation in Mali. We circled a date in our diary for September, and said, ‘We’ll get around to doing something about it in September.’ It is hardly surprising that the other guys say, ‘Well, let’s not wait for September.’ I think you can learn, but the international framework is there. I’d like there to be regional support, European support, and based upon United Nations support.
On the point about economic protectionism and language, it is about jobs and what progress we can make in the WTO talks, but there are other things like climate. If your family relies upon fishing, and the fish either are killed off or move on because of pollution or a changing climate, what else do you have? If some guy comes along and offers you three times what you can make fishing if you pick up a gun, what do you do? It is partly our job to sort out climate change and economic protectionism. It is all of those things and more besides. On the language point, I know there are previous barriers, but what I am signalling today is that if we were to be in power, and I am not in any way arguing that our record was perfect regarding languages, because I am conscious that it takes more than two years to learn Ga and that there is no one that speaks it at the Ministry of Defence is a reflection of a systematic failure rather than a political party failure. I am signalling that this would be a fresh priority for us if Labour was in power, as a part of our regeneration. It’s not an abstract intellectual exercise I want the Ministry of Defence to become involved in. If we are serious about the agenda of cultural embedding, understanding, and capturing cultural capital then it is about understanding the language and the dialect.
On Iraq, I was here when we had to vote on Iraq. [Indicates to other MPs] You were here as well, I think you also. There are four Members of Parliament from the Labour party here and we could all give our own answers.
Guy, when I think about Saddam, I know I don’t sound like it, but I grew up in South Africa for a long period of my life, and when I got back from South Africa the first thing I became involved in within politics was about the Kurds. I remember organising a demonstration, some of you may have been to Glasgow, which is a city with big city squares you wouldn’t get away with building anymore, and fifty of us turned up. It was the first thing in which I ever became involved in, and I never thought that I would then go on to be in Parliament. To go on from organising this small demonstration of young folk to having the responsibility of deciding one way or another whether the UK should get involved in military action in Iraq.
I made my decision based upon what I thought were the facts at the time. I believed those facts, other people believed those facts, people posted in places overseas believed those facts, but those facts were wrong. The well rehearsed argument is, if I had known then what I knew now, would I have voted for it? Of course I wouldn’t. If we had known those facts at the time, Parliament wouldn’t have even have had a vote. It wouldn’t have even been on the agenda, but there was a genuine belief that Saddam had those weapons, that there were multiple violations of U.N. resolutions, and we were wrong. I don’t get to live my life again, and I have to live with the consequences of it, but I made what I believed was the right decision based upon the wrong information just like everyone else of all parties. If we had accurate information, we wouldn’t have voted for it. Parliament would have been debating something else that day because it wouldn’t have come up.
Russell Brown MP
Could I just add, it is ironic that we’re in this room today, because on Monday, 17 March 2003 I was in this room with some Kurdish people. It was not just Labour politicians, there were some conservatives here. They were pleading, ‘Do not walk away from us. Do not abandon our nation.’ That had as much pull for me as anything else.
Very good, Right. We’ll go for that lady back there, then the gentleman here, then this side in the front here.
Thank you. My name is Joan, I am a journalist who specialises on Iran. Mr. Murphy you mentioned militant groups which have turned to Islam fundamentalism. I wondered if you would like to comment on some of the sources behind them, and some of the financing and support systems from, on the one hand, governments such as Sudan, Iran, and so on, and on the other individuals and organisations who operate in numerous countries.
My name is Masato Kimura. I am a journalist and my question is regarding the protection and security of those who work in Africa and the Middle East. How can we improve the ability for industry and workers to operate in North Africa and Middle East?
Ben Zala from the ISS, I study British defence policy. Can I say thank you very much for the very candid and thoughtful response to that difficult question on Iraq. I don’t think many people would quarrel with your analysis of many of the lessons of the last decade of wars, but I am afraid the Chilcot enquiry gives an impression that the British government, the Labour government, its management of the war was seriously sub-optimal. It fell well below the standards of management of previous wars. How can you reassure me and many former [inaudible] who were deeply burned by this experience that your stewardship of defence and security would be of a higher standard?
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
On the point about those behind Islamists of terror organisations, you are right in naming some of the organisations, individuals, or governments. What I think it gets to, something I alluded to in passing, AQ – and I think there are others that follow this more closely than me – were in 2004/2005 in terms of capability, the idea that multiple sources of funding and political cover for the different organisations reflect the degree of disparity and difference of emphasis, tactics, and objectives of all the different groups. I just have to be critical for a second of David Cameron and I hope this hasn’t been a party political thing I’ve gotten involved in today, but just in passing, David Cameron’s comments on the consequences of the Mali operations have been unnecessarily simplistic, rolling everything up into one. I think there was an argument for doing that after 9/11, but the world has changed since 9/11. The organisation has been degraded, leaders have been removed, funding and influence been provided of course, as you said Joan, but these organisations operate largely independently. I think occasionally they are connected, but in terms of Iran and others there is an economic and diplomatic path that we’re dealing with Iran, and we have to continue to hope that it is successful and it persuades Iran, not just on its nuclear position, but on other things.
On the question about Japanese industry and factories. This isn’t me being pessimistic, but you can’t guard every oil frame in the world. You just can’t. Companies have to look into whether they can do more. But the UK government can’t dispatch the armed forces, even if the host nation offered its consent, it wouldn’t be a sensible use of resources. Companies should see what more they can do, and of course countries should see what more they can do. I don’t know enough about Japanese industry to know the difference between the UK and Japanese, the nature of that. I will say in passing, however, in a world where America is going to become increasingly energy independent, other countries, including Japan – it’s not for me to decide, this is a reflection not instruction – but I am not sure that the US will have the same ambition to provide the same proportion of military force in the Middle East that it currently does, but it will become partially energy independent. And I think countries like Japan, which are more reliant on energy from that part of the world, will have to think if there’s an additional responsibility for Japan and others in terms of what can be done in the region.
On Ben’s point, I’ll wait and see what happens with Chilcot, I can’t speculate but some of the evidence has been pretty clear. What I’m not going to do today is say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m a fine gentleman, and I’ll be ethical and hardworking.’ On these sorts of things I think you have to be personally and collectively able to demonstrate, not declare. Politicians can declare their intent, we’re good at it, but you have got to demonstrate your ability and track record. I could give you some warm words about my intention. All I ask is that between now and the election, if you, as you will, pay close attention to the thinking we’re undertaking, the sobriety and depth of the thinking, you’ll come to view that these folks mean business on the opposition defence team. There are six of us, and we’re going to do the most fundamental review of defence that in opposition you can possibly undertake. Ask me the question in a year and a half, and I hope you’ll have come to your conclusion based upon watching from close quarters. I know you will.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am terribly sorry but we have reached the limit of our time in this room. I assure you this wasn’t a scripted conversation, but it was the best place to finish. I must say the honesty with which you answered that last question there actually relates to the actual honesty which the review has taken into account. On this issue, I struggle to remember a broader set of issues to look at the political, religious, ethnic, demographic, sociological, economic, linguistic, and you can go on and on and on and you can see the questions that will follow. I think the spirit in which you have undertaken the review has come out today in your discussion, and I wish you the best with that and I look forward to discussing and debating more on that in due course. So if we could thank our speaker.