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MoD turns to bloggers for advice on UK defence policy

Labour, Tories: We won't reveal plans until we're in charge

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With the major parties agreed that a full defence review is to be carried out after the election - thus avoiding any need to let the public vote for what it wants - one wouldn't expect yesterday's MoD green paper to say much, and indeed it mostly doesn't.

However there are a few snippets of mild interest: an admission that the UK cocked up its campaign in Iraq badly, a suggestion that the ridiculously large numbers of senior officers in the forces may be trimmed down, and hints at possible/partial amalgamation of the three services - if only at the upper levels.

The government also reveals that when pondering defence policy, it consults a blog run by armchair generals at King's College London, including a junior US army officer, a German academic living in Israel and a former BBC journalist.

The admission of blundering in Iraq is made thus:

In particular, in our focus on our geographical area of responsibility, for example in Basra, we may have placed insufficient emphasis on the multi-national operational level. In the later stages of operations in Iraq, the full integration of UK staff into US and coalition headquarters significantly improved the coordination of our contribution. We are taking that lesson forward in Afghanistan.

On the matter of trimming some admirals, generals, air marshals and equivalent civil servants, no firm commitments are made:

[We will consider] whether the number of senior civilian and military personnel is justified.

There's pretty much no way it can be: the British Army, for example, can field just two combat units calling for generals to command them - and yet there are 65 two-star generals and above. The navy has 42 admirals, more than one for every serious warship (including quite small ones) it posesses; and things are just as bad in the RAF. Unbelievably there are no fewer than 300 MoD civil servants in the top four grades, equivalent to brigadiers or above.

What all these brass hats mainly do is fight bureaucratic battles with each other: interservice rivalry is a major sabotage factor in MoD decision-making. But the government might do something about that, if re-elected. Maybe.

The interests of the single Services and other stakeholders, may not effectively balance the incentives for change against those for continuity...

We are looking at how we could restructure the senior planning and decision-making processes to ensure they fully reflect operational demands, including by enhancing the authority of the Chief of Joint Operations.

Indeed the Chief of the Defence Staff - Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup - went so far yesterday as to say it was plausible that two of the three services might merge, though he personally didn't think it would happen.

As an air force man, he'd presumably be envisioning a Navy/Army merger to create the Royal Surface and Subsurface Force or something equally bizarre, rather than the more commonly touted plan among those in dark-blue or MTP uniforms of splitting up the RAF between the Army Air Corps and Fleet Air Arm.

Whatever your opinion on these issues, it seems that if you really want to influence British defence policy you'd best get on over and start commenting on the armchair-general web portal du jour, as the MoD and defence minister Bob Ainsworth informs us that "preparation of this paper benefited from discussion on the Kings of War blog". ®

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