Wednesday, 6 January 2016
BUT IS IT SPORT?
Many of my Twitter followers will know that this is a parody account, I presently sit on the outer edges of the Five Eyes Community where I still have to exercise some professional and personal caution. These views are my exclusively own and in no way represent any part of the Crown.
I am not by any stretch an academic and my Twitter content is broadly mischievous or technical in nature. Since the advent of twitter this blog has, until today lost its utility. There may be a slight moral twang to my content, my father was a witness to Belsen, I to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, some of my peers have seen worse. I have been plying the trade of an analyst for over 30 years now. Target packs I have worked on have saved friendly lives, sent disaster relief to the right place and sent a few adversaries to court, or to meet their maker, I have supported Ministerial submissions.
@DavidMaxwell161 from Georgetown is someone I follow on Twitter and whose content I respect. Over the weekend I was taken by a thread he picked up on from KCL http://kingsofwar.org.uk/author/betz451/ which caught my attention about UK’s contribution in Syria.
The theme of this light-hearted, holiday season blog post was that UK’s involvement in Syria on the back of the recent vote by the House, is less than optimal. I was surprised to see this tone from a faculty so close to the British defence community and several days later, still feel compelled to respond. Extracts from the original @KingsOfWar blog are in black italic below.
A month ago I remarked on the non-sensical decision by Britain’s parliament to authorise bombing by the RAF in Syria–see Britain’s Stupidest War. My point then, the clincher at any rate, was that I thought we would come to regret how as a society we’d allowed our wars to be so totally hijacked by domestic politics that they now served essentially little more than as props in political theatre. This piece then in today’s Telegraph caught my eye for the obvious reasons: RAF bomb raids in Syria dismissed as ‘non-event’. It turns out that not only are we not really doing much in the way of bombing (we may be doing a bit more on reconnaissance, but we were doing that before the momentous vote too), but actually the target that got all the attention was actually one that had been serviced by the USAF over a month before.
APPLICATION OF AIR POWER AND THE TARGETING PROCESS
That a target may get hit more than once might not be such a surprise to some of us. Despite the application of overwhelming technology,the reality of warfare is that targets may not always fall when hit. The original targeting information may have been incomplete, BDA may have identified previous strikes had not been fully effective. The target may have been reoccupied.
Like the Ho Chi Mhin trail, London was bombed every night for over a year, so a repeat strike on the same target is not so far outside the expectation of some in London.
One also needs to consider that contributors to an air campaign may in fact be working from an agreed coalition target list. These days few G20 nations can afford the luxury of unnecessary duplication of effort, the RAF in particular is increasingly driven by cost. Unity of purpose is after all one of the principles of war, can we so readily discount that there was no consensus for these targets to be re-visited? Personally I’m dubious.
Whilst the USAF may be seen by some as the acme of air power, their contribution to fratricide is well known to the British infantry and hospitals in Kandahar.
So, what’s up KOW readers? What’s the point of it? Obviously, Shakespeare came to mind first–Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5:
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
But what does it mean? I hear you say. What’s the strategy? How does action X contribute to the realisation of policy Y? Wrong question, Grasshopper! What’s important is how it makes you feel.
PHYSICAL ANC COGNITIVE EFFECTS
How do you feel? Well at least we have some agreement that there is a relationship between physical and cognitive effect. An oft quoted 18th century academic once wrote that: war is an extension of diplomacy by other means. In hybrid warfare cognitive is at least as valuable as physical.
In UK the armed forces are under ever-increasing levels of legal scrutiny and oversight. Levels of scrutiny far beyond those in many other armed forces and even some police forces in US.
Just a short walk from KCL to the Inns of Court, Ben Emmerson QC has already done some excellent work on the use of physical effect that touches on some of the differing national regulatory constructs that can exist within a military coalition. https://www.justsecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/2013EmmersonSpecialRapporteurReportDrones.pdf
DEMOCRACY, OVERSIGHT AND THE WAR-FIGHTER
War-fighters also have a view on this, they are part of society, not apart from society. In very recent history UK has entered in to conflicts without a clear mandate, over a decade on we still await the findings of the Chilcott enquiry. Even this could become recent history when it finally gets published. However, British voters should take some comfort that institutional lessons have already been learned and measures put in place within UK Defence. In a democracy like UK, with defence totally reliant on volunteers, the motivation of our sailors, soldiers and airmen should never be taken for granted. Should it be a surprise that there may be some in the military who have even stopped to think about our freedom and our democracy, in those long periods of waiting before they have to fight, to put themselves in harms way?
Im not just thinking about aircrew here, consider also the tanker and ISR crews, the CSAR / MERT girls and boys who may have to step in to the void to pull them out. Heaven forbid the British and allied “advisors and mentors” who may have inexplicably found themselves close to the proposed impact area. In harms way, to provide the most accurate targeting data we can find to satisfy the raft of regulation and oversight we in UK have to face prior to weapon release.
Another point here is that in a coalition we don't do this on our own, any one of those interchangeable roles could be done by one “Tier one” ally supporting another. This is not just a transaction between us and Daesh, it is a transaction between us and our allies.
Working under some of the regulatory constraints that Emmerson talks about, one might like to consider the assurance that some UK war-fighters now have, knowing, that they have Parliament guarding their back, instead of climbing on it.
STRONG OR WEAK POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
Venturing off piste slightly there is also some commentary about strong and weak government. It might be suggested by some that asking Parliament to vote on committing Land forces to Syria and now offensive air, could be seen as irrelevant or a sign of leadership lacking confidence. Personally I see a leadership in tune with the democratic process, with a moral strength that an autocratic leader could never have.
We might come back to the difference between physical and cognitive effect. To suggest that UK’s involvement is to help increase the body-count is something of a fallacy. We all know that even the scent of civilian casualties will drive us in to the hands of the internet jihadists. The counter here is not more bombs, it is a stronger competing narrative, there is no doubt that we are still a long way off here .
At which point the government can say ‘we’re doing our best!’ It’s down to you to forget that doing their best consisted of driving the occasional ball 10,000 feet down a crevasse.
SO IS IT SPORT?
In concluding I might pick up that golfing theme: golf is generally seen as one player addressing a ball with a number of sticks. The comparison does not translate well in to interdicting adversary infrastructure in some of the most congested airspace in the world, constrained by layers of legal oversight, whilst operating within a highly sophisticated and adversarial Russian air defence / air superiority envelope.
Some dear colleagues in Andrews, Arlington, Norfolk and Quantico may see this as a game of golf, even in the Twittersphere I know many more who do not. Irregular or hybrid warfare is arguably more about cognitive effect than it is about application of kinetic effect. From a British perspective, it is about a stronger, more compelling competing narrative, it is about building a consensus in the community.
I might pause here to look at the “Muslim community”, I have served with Muslims and I socialise with them, their neighbours and families. In UK defence I sense that we tend not to brand people according to their religion. When you speak to these people they see themselves as an intrinsic part of British society. My point here is that I believe that UK democracy is about creating a consensus in all of society, putting this to the vote in Parliament may be imperfect but its the best indicator we have at the moment. maintaining social cohesion is something that many of us still have to master. ( #Ferguson #Mizzou)
But is it sport? Whilst the Hoo Ya community may object, hybrid warfare today is arguably more about complex theatre, a multi-national promenade performance at that. Except that for the analysts, the targeteer and shooter, the critic, the final arbiter, is not a contributor to the inside pages of the broadsheets. For a Brit actor in this play, it is ultimately the highest court in the land, past Cafe Nero, just over the road from Kings College London
… and the game of golf? it may one day be seen as an analogy used for last-generation warfare.