Aug 19 Editorial
‘Unicorns’ – not the creature of legend but, in the modern vernacular, of chasing or raising false expectations – would appear to be the word of the moment; with this person or that accusing the other of setting blessings of unicorns loose, into the Brexit dominated public discourse, to divert from real debate of issues critical to our collective future. Perversely, as a consequence, it would appear this is making the national appetite more introspective, even introverted, when it comes to the UK’s role as a global player, just at the time we need to be out there establishing our post-Brexit credentials beyond these shores. Indeed, if one follows the UK media, we seem to be more interested in selecting leaders who promise more funding to improve our quality of life than stressing the need to earn such a living in the global market place.
Meanwhile the world is moving on despite us. However, it is clear, before long, as a P5 and G7 player self-interest will force us to re-engage with coherent strategies, re-honed intent and credible tools. This means reinforcing fundamental alliances and friendships. And standing up for the principles by which we purport to live and prosper by: i.e. international liberalism that requires global order, a rules-based system of trade and diplomacy, and a fundamental belief in tolerance and the rights of the individual.
Some, such as President Putin, of course declare that “the liberalism idea has become obsolete” and has “outlived its purpose.” I suppose one has to acknowledge that not all are posed with the same scale or type of issues, which in turn might taint their attitude towards such Western philosophy; for example, China running a nation of billions, from a purely practical perspective, requires a different approach to that of the UK, with a population of millions. And perhaps we Western liberals need to instil more of a sense of personal responsibility, not just expectation, in our collective consciousness if we hope to gain broader traction with our liberal philosophy (a shortcoming our detractors often point out as our Achilles heel). Nevertheless, core beliefs of the West remain – forged and proven on the bloody anvil of previous global conflict – that any strongman, self-interested geo-politics, in the end, fosters polarisation and conflict, and militates against the type of growth that benefits the many not just the few.
On the 75th anniversary of Operation NEPTUNE and D-Day, unsurprisingly this edition commemorates the sacrifice that enabled the beginnings of a more liberal world – one that, at that time, was determined to ensure rules-based order dominated geo-politics, with alliances starting to regulate and deliver good behaviour. Today, with re-emergent tensions in the Gulf (and echoes of the Tanker Wars of the 1980s), migration remaining a hugely chronic issue, the rise of China as a maritime power, climate change (and its persistent deniers), trade wars and shift eastwards (from Europe) of global economic power, all would appear to make alliances and friendships in the West all the more important. So, there are also articles in this edition looking at defence and security in Europe post Brexit, timely reminders of the importance of cultural awareness in effective war-fighters, a perspective on naval involvement in migration management and, in an era of non-linear (or grey) campaigning, encouragement to properly educate ourselves in order to be truly fit when engaging in information warfare.
But before delving too deep into the minutiae, and recognising Sun Tzu’s warning that “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”, it is timely also to welcome the new First Sea Lord (and long-standing NR member), Adm Tony Radakin, whose vision statement on taking up office is reprinted in this edition. Painting the context against which the RN will operate, he stresses the utility and global reach of this arm of the UK’s Armed Forces and how such is now properly recognised together with a new mindset of growth of a Service essential to delivering that global vision. Such change at the top is tinged by some sadness at having to say goodbye to Adm Sir Philip Jones at the end of his time at the helm – he in many respects has been the navigator that has devised and plotted the course for the more “assertive, more opportunistic and less constrained” Royal Navy that Adm Radakin now presides over.
As I have said in previous editorials, shaping the future requires real (hard) thought and debate. Often there is no absolute answer. And over time the most ardent supporters of one position might have their own private ‘damascene moment’ and shift their views to a contrary position to that previously held. In May’s editorial of the NR, I reflected on the moral component of fighting power – a component that often, unwisely, is allowed to play second fiddle to the more tangible conceptual and physical components – and how it tied into the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Continuous-At-Sea-Deterrence. In that edition the preponderance of contributions were advocates of CASD and its achievements. And amongst that advocacy, the gauntlet was thrown down: “if you don’t agree, say so!” So, in this edition a number of authors express different opinions on deterrence. Not on the quality or professionalism of five decades of SSBN submarining but questions over the efficacy of deterrence, moral and ethical dilemmas and the negative impact CASD has had on the balance of conventional fighting forces. I would suggest the advocates of CASD are now obliged to respond to those detractors’ challenge: “we don’t agree, but you might convince us by countering the opinions proffered in this edition of the NR.”
Might I end with an encouragement to all members. The NR has no other purpose than helping develop the professional minds of those serving in the Naval Service. This requires a broad kirk of members (serving and retired) to join our discrete discourse to explore the full width of considerations in any particular issue. As much as I want your contributions, both to this journal and on-line, might I also ask you all to become active advocates for the Review and encourage new members to join or, indeed, lapsed members to rejoin. More than ever innovative contributions are required to address an increasingly complex global maritime.
For many, the summer vacation season is upon us. I hope you enjoy reading what is something of a bumper summer edition of the Review. And in doing so I hope it spurs you on to write, debate and contribute to the growth of our Naval Service and that of our friends.