07 December, 2006

General Mike Jackson: Dimbleby Lecture, 2006.

General Sir Mike Jackson, former Chief of the General Staff has delivered this year's Dimbleby Lecture, under the title of "The Defence of the Realm in the 21st Century" . Click here for the full text. General Jackson is perhaps most famous as the British soldier who refused to get into a shooting match with the Russians in Bosnia over an airfield, instead telling his superior, US General Wesley Clark, "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you,"

In the Dimbleby Lecture, General Jackson has some unkind words about the treatment of soldiers by the government, particularly the Ministry of Defence , which have captured the headlines. However, he also delineated the threat posed to the west by Islam, echoing the views of his successor as CGS, Sir Richard Dannat: that we are engaged in a war with Islamic extremism, in which military action abroad is only one front; there is also a domestic front on which an ideological battle must be fought.

Genereal Jackson said that, "on 9/11 Al Qaeda issued a challenge to the West."; it is not a war over territory, rather

...9/11 - and, indeed Madrid and 7/7 in this country - represent a very different sort of struggle where the battleground is people's attitudes, allegiances, values - their very identities. It seems to me that Clausewitz's famous dictum that 'war is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means' holds good even in these different circumstances. This struggle is emphatically not one which can be solved by military means alone - far from it. So what threats do I see ahead?

Today's threat is more insidious, is it not, this battle of ideas? We are again confronted with terrorism on mainland Great Britain. We must not underestimate the fundamental nature of the ideology behind this terrorism; whilst the largely secular West has difficulty in comprehending enmity expressed in apparently religious terms, it is clear that that enmity has sworn to destroy us and our values. At home, the Security Service and the Police quite properly have the onerous responsibility of taking the lead in the counter-terrorist role - and it would be difficult to over-estimate the challenge this presents; the Armed Forces act in their support .

Overseas, there is the parallel threat of terrorist attack on British interests and personnel, and again this requires us in support. Next, there can be rogue states which may be inclined to military adventurism in breach of international law, and we have seen examples of that in the recent past. Such adventurism, by definition, is likely to be gravely destabilising. And instability, whether caused by ethnic conflict, or by failed or failing states, may well require the Armed Forces to respond.
On Iraq, Sir Mike thought the coalition should stay to see the job through, so long as it was wanted by the Iraqi government. Turning to Afghanistan, he said,
In Afghanistan I see a long haul yet - and not only a military, but also a civilian, long haul. We must help Afghanistan to progress, we must prevent the Taliban once more taking control by force from, again, the sovereign and popularly elected government, and providing Al-Quaeda with a safe haven. It would indeed be back to Square One. I was disappointed that some commentators took the immediate view, after the first British casualties were taken in Afghanistan earlier this year, that somehow that showed the campaign was flawed. The proposition of a casualty-free military campaign is a contradiction in terms.

NATO is now very much the driving force in Afghanistan and I would wish all contributing Nations, NATO or otherwise, to pursue the common strategic goal - essential to us all, and particularly to Afghanistan itself - with a common vigour, accepting if need be the price to be paid. Faint-heartedness is not conducive to campaign success. What we cannot do is cut and run on these strategic campaigns before it is right to do so. And that 'it is right to do so' means careful and calculated strategic judgement - a judgement which, I repeat, should not be seen through the prism of political popularity, or otherwise. I emphasise again that the Defence of this Realm in C21 cannot be confined to our shores alone.
Here, I have had space only to highlight some matters of direct special interest to this blog. The wide-ranging speech covers also the UK's relationships with the US and Europe,nuclear re-armament, the defence budget and the headline grabbing remarks on soldiers pay and conditions.

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