What an incredible time to be Editor of the Naval Review! Another three months of ‘grand strategic’ events play out at pace, we often stand so close to the ‘map’ that it takes both time and stepping back for the significance of these events to be truly appreciated. I sincerely hope as you read this that we are not facing another deadly strain of Covid as a result of the recent outbreaks in China.
As the dawn of 2023 breaks (although you probably will not read this in hard copy until February, so if the pace of events has already overtaken me, mea culpa) world leaders have a number of dilemmas and challenges to face, here is a selection to ponder:
President Putin – Having ignored the writings of Sun Tzu “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories” it is clear, by accident or design, that he had little understanding of the Ukrainian people or their motivations or indeed his own military apparatus. Now he finds himself on the path to stalemate and waiting for winter to pass. Thereafter, as he continues to shift Russia onto a proper war footing, there can be no doubt that he will use all the conventional assets at his disposal to seek victory. The mass available to him of a fully mobilised Russian Army, no matter their competence, will lead to an unprecedented blood bath and a flattened Ukraine. These are not the actions of a rational actor, and the democratic nations of the world need to wake up to this fact: the subjugated and brain-washed Russian people have some distance to travel to successfully challenge this approach – the ‘Butcher’s Bill’ will rise to new heights. Perhaps, if you follow the playbook of a tyrant, this isn’t a dilemma after all.
President Biden – It took a little while but the current US administration are now full square behind financing and resourcing the worst war in Europe in 80 years, without boots on the ground. This is incredibly good value for money for the US, given that the enemy has absolutely no intent to give up. Ensuring that sufficient capabilities and resources are delivered, without escalating the conflict drastically, remains the priority. Maintaining the will of both the American people and the administration to continue to fund and resource the war, along with getting all European NATO Allies onto the same page, remains his biggest challenges.
President Xi – The Chinese people have collectively stamped their feet. Xi, whilst seemingly at the height of his power, may have overplayed his hand. The ‘Zero Covid’ policy was draconian and not well thought through, as it was not accompanied by the mass vaccination programmes favoured by the rest of the world. Likewise, the policy’s rapid abandonment, along with the lifting of travel restrictions and combined with the mass movement of people caused by Chinese New Year, by a largely unvaccinated population, may well lead to the deaths of millions specifically among the older generation. China is at serious risk of once again being swamped by the disease. This may well become a global threat. In the meantime, other signature ‘wolf warrior’ Xi policies are being quietly dropped along with their proponents – watch this space.
Mr. Sunak – The country’s financial position is dire, the first duty of a government is to provide security for its people, the second is to do so as cheaply as possible. The cupboard is bare and the demand from every branch of government, and particularly health services, is going through the ceiling. The security light on the ‘dashboard of state’ is lighting up like a Christmas tree. The ‘known – known’ of Ukraine is relatively under control with robust British support, but the ‘known – unknown’ of China needs to be addressed not just by Defence but across Government before it is too late. There are signs that this penny has dropped with the PM’s pronouncements at the Mansion House in November,1 but the extent of the problem is yet to be fully quantified. It is becoming clear that we need a laser-focus followed by pacey action to fully understand and then potentially unpack Chinese presence in our education, economy, critical national infrastructure and wider security.
The democratic countries of the world look at the political upheaval in the UK of the last few years in horror, the autocrats with glee. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but lessons of history remain mere lessons if we fail to act. In identifying at which point the West failed to act to stop Putin, we would do well to remember the acts of former tyrants that we also failed to check until it was almost too late. We should never forget that once elected to power the Nazis dismantled democracy in just six months. Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem sums up the peril of authoritarianism perfectly (Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27 January) –
First they came for the Communists And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews And I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me And there was no one left To speak out for me
Martin Niemöller – German Lutheran pastor and theologian
Finally, it has been the Naval Review’s practice to publish obituaries in the Journal sparingly. The recent passing of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce is one such occasion where the Naval Review is privileged to be able to do so, with gratitude to the Times newspaper for their permission and also to Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope for providing his illuminating personal reflections on this outstanding Naval Officer. The Submarine Memorial at the National Arboretum (front cover) is one of many charitable causes which the Admiral was passionately involved in delivering.
House Keeping: The New Website
The new website was introduced in mid-January, without fanfare. It has been designed to resolve a plethora of issues under the bonnet – improved security, efficiency, speed, ease of use, and of maintenance, as well as to have a far more engaging user-friendly front end which is easy to navigate and stress free to use no matter what device you wish to use for access. One of the Naval Review’s crown jewels is over 100 years of Naval understanding and we will continue to develop the digitisation of the archive to make it more easily accessible over the coming months. For those of you who wish to (recognising there are some that don’t), please let the team know what you think of the new format, along with any improvements and niggles you would wish to see addressed. www.naval-review.com
Along with the onset of the new website we will also be adopting a different model for the publishing of articles online to enable a more timely discussion of pertinent pieces. An article, once edited, will appear on the website within days of submission, the best articles will then make up the core of the quarterly hardcopy before further contributions are added.