On Tuesday 2nd November the Henry Jackson Society were delighted to welcome General Lord Dannatt to discuss his new book ‘Boots on the Ground: Britain and her Army since 1945’. Lord Dannatt impressively managed to condense the history of the British army since 1945 in the space of half an hour. His informative summary involved a chronological series of conflicts the British army was involved in, beginning with the surrender of the German army in 1945, which he described as the British army’s “finest moment since Wellington had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo some one hundred and thirty years before”. Lord Dannatt also discussed Britain’s role in the establishment of the Jewish home in Palestine in 1948 which overlapped Prime Minister Attlee’s announcement of the transfer of power to India. This marked a historic landmark as the “jewel was being prised from British imperial crown”. Although the British army was worn out from war, military operations were still conducted in Malaya and Korea. Lord Dannatt highlighted Attlee’s reluctance to “scuttle away from Britain’s overseas operations”. For example, in spite of victory in 1945, Britain was going to have a sizeable force in Europe and compulsory conscription was reintroduced in 1949. While one cannot detract from the historical significance of these conflicts, Lord Dannett highlighted the Sands Review of 1957 as a turning point in the history of British defence policy, which had a profound effect on the nation and the armed forces. This saw the decentralisation of decision making in defence, ending of national service and slimming down of the army because of reliance on nuclear weapons. Lord Dannatt ended his summary by discussing the debate over where history ends and where current affairs starts. In spite of the theories posed by Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington, Lord Dannatt was adamant that the end of the Cold War and 9/11 were two of the most important moments for Britain’s army.
Following this informative summary, Lord Dannatt opened the floor to a series of questions. In response to a question about the Chilcot Inquiry and the need for a parliamentary vote to make decisions, Lord Dannatt maintained that individual service men and women should do what they are doing in the name of the people and the country. Moreover, Lord Dannatt argued that soldiers should feel that they are acting in the name of people and it is critical to get parliament’s consent. When quizzed on the issue of opportunity cost and the lack of ‘value for money’ with regards to the defence budget, Lord Dannatt contended that the British government is always ambitious. However, Lord Dannatt conceded that the UK is guilty of always wanting the best but in small quantities. Lord Dannatt believes the UK government could rectify this issue by disciplining itself to state eighty percent of its requirements in a timely fashion. The last question of the discussion was arguably the most challenging as Lord Dannatt was asked whether the UK should stop being an aircraft carrier for the USA in its interventions abroad. Lord Dannatt adamantly disagreed, and argued that while mistakes had been made, the world remains an uncertain place and that the US had strongest military power in the world. Lord Dannatt concluded the event by criticising Obama with regards to Syria as he claimed that the situation would have been far better had the world seen more leadership from America towards Russian aggression.