We now have British naval, air and army leaders making assessments about current missions that are at odds with the messaging of the British government. Heads of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have indicated that fighting two wars is unsustainable with current capabilities and budgets.
Prime Minister David Cameron:
"angrily told RAF and Navy chiefs who questioned the mission in Libya: “You do the fighting, I’ll do the talking.”
General Sir Peter Wall, the Chief of the General Staff, suggests in a television programme that Mr Cameron’s 2015 “deadline” to end combat operations [in Afghanistan] could slip.Is this inappropriate? Depends. It seems to be the case that the officers are taking their cases to members of parliament and the press rather than to the Prime Minister:
Mr Cameron is understood to be particularly unhappy that some of the military concerns expressed about Libya to MPs and the media have not been raised with him. A senior source said: “In some ways, it’s a good thing that the chiefs are prepared to stand up to ministers and aren’t just 'Yes’ men. But it would be much more helpful if they did it in private instead of in the papers and in Parliament.”But it is more complex than that. There are at least two ways to look at this conversation amid deep cuts in the defence budgets (and in all other budgets):
- The military is upset about the budget cuts and is using these events to demonstrate that the cuts, made deeply and bluntly, have a significant impact on British standing in the world. Thus, the crisis du jour is really about the military being opportunistic.
- Given how the cuts in the budget were made, the military has learned that Cameron makes decisions without taking seriously the advice they give him, and thus have learned that they must go outside of the normal procedures to have any impact. So, the crisis is not so much about the military whining about a loss in £'s but the military feeling that the Prime Minister neither understands their concerns nor cares about them.
* One of my projects, on a backburner, is considering how British-style parliaments do oversight over their militaries.
** Of course, I am no expert on British civ-mil relations, so I could be wrong.The timing here is most interesting, as the US may be seeing a bit of a storm brewing over how much Obama should be reducing the forces in Afghanistan and how quickly. The difference: the storm is likely to be as much or more within the US military as between the military and the President. For much of the American armed forces, Afghanistan is not a high priority, and they would like to get on with the job of preparing for the next big war (with China). I will be writing more about the big US decision after Obama's speech tonight rather than speculating wildly now. Instead, I am wildly speculating about the Brits.