To everyone who contributed to the Naval Review over the last 12 months, from our regulars to our first time authors and correspondents, our band of dedicated book reviewers and contributors on the Forum, along with those who have taken the trouble to pass feedback, both good and bad, along to those who help me deliver the Naval Review, especially the Trustees, Secretary Treasurer in particular, and the Editorial team, may I offer a heartfelt thank you and wish all our readership a Happy and prosperous New Year.
Why do rabbits run so fast when they meet a fox?
The Ukraine War has taken a backseat to events in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The liberal west and their media continue to struggle to reconcile the human horrors, specifically the use of inaccurate air power in overpopulated areas. The terrorists will always be able to exploit this lack of stomach for indiscriminate action, but the consequent butcher’s bill for street-by-street cleansing of the enemy is also a very hard pill to swallow for the Arab streets, which now have satellites from California to New South Wales. The West as a collective likes to deal with symptoms and rarely, short of total war, will deal with the cause. The Israeli government, along with the almost unanimous support of their people, have made it clear they are intent on dealing with the cause as they see it – Hamas – once and for all – with all the consequent misery this entails. There are no easy answers but the closer we get to the US general election the more President Biden will need to take steps to influence the Israeli Government to cease killing the majority of totally innocent civilians, under the spotlights of the world’s traditional and social media.
I read this morning that governing Yemen was like “standing on the heads of snakes.” It also provides a fitting analogy for the problem that Israel, and by implication her allies, currently face: If Israel succeeds in her ambition to completely decapitate Hamas do not expect the other snakes, or indeed their keeper, to take this lying down!
Turning to the maritime and dealing with one of the other very angry snakes, the de facto leadership of the state formerly known as Yemen, the Houthis, have effectively closed the Bab-El-Mandeb straits to serious merchant traffic, the insurance premiums have drastically increased, in the case of a Suezmax oil tanker, by over 20 times the premiums of early December, many major operators simply have decided not to take the risk, instead choosing the long way around Africa. After well over 100 incidents involving piracy, drones, both sea skimming and ballistic missile attacks, the US-led coalition of Allies have been carefully crafting and then executing their initial military response. Even Russia and China recognise the importance of protecting global maritime trade which probably explains why UN resolution 2722 (2024) demanding that the Houthis immediately stop attacks on merchant and commercial vessels in the Red Sea passed without veto on 9 January. This gave the legitimacy to a more liberal interpretation to the inherent right to self-defence and the US and UK, with the support of a wider coalition, duly responded with coordinated attacks on Houthi anti-shipping capabilities. No doubt the Operation PROSPERITY GUARDIAN Task Force, including HMS Diamond, will be pleased that for the time being dealing with the threat at range is preferable to putting the CIWS to AAW auto – but this treatment of the symptom is but another chapter in the West’s inability to deal effectively with the cause. It is likely things will get worse.
Some of the wider lessons of the Ukraine War are also starting to crystalise. Undefended warships in scenarios where one does not enjoy air superiority are vulnerable, especially alongside – that of course does not just apply to warships but also key critical infrastructure. So that means a clear understanding of what those vulnerabilities look like, who they belong to and how we intend to defend them. It is becoming increasingly clear that it is time to take our own defence of the homeland very seriously once more, across all domains. As ever, understanding our own vulnerabilities and the crafting of suitable and effective Command and Control are the biggest challenges with the latter being a traditional and enduring ‘speed bump’ to effective progress – who is going to lead and, more importantly, who is going to pay. It’s a sad fact that the UK appears only to be capable of more effective joined-up government in times of global crises and total war. This, of course, chimes with 1SL’s quest for the reinvigoration of the ‘Art of Admiralty’ which in its basic form for an island nation translates to effective maritime security signed-up to by the widest possible group of stakeholders, both home and away, as a precursor and insurance policy to national prosperity.
The inflationary shock to the Western economy caused by the aftermath of Covid, and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the growing crisis in the Middle East, Western Europe’s historic over-reliance on US security, along with an appetite for energy from volatile markets, authoritarian leaders with little respect for a global rules based order, sea lines of communications disrupted by overzealous Suez canal pilots, central American droughts and small bands of determined men with secondhand helicopters, skiffs, drones and RPGs now with enhanced capabilities of sea skimming missiles and medium range ballistic missiles, are all reasons why we should be worried about our prosperity this year. Add to this hideous mix a globe that will be fixed by the introspection of domestic general elections, 70 are to be held involving 2 billion people, some free and fair, some rigged and no-doubt some, allegedly, stolen. So, 2024 promises to be an interesting time, can we really afford another year off and to ignore the absolute pressing need to sort out some of Defence’s biggest problems and start funding our Nation’s security properly now?
And why do rabbits run so fast when they meet a fox? Well for the bunny it is a question of life or death, for the fox it is merely a question of lunch!
Have you phoned a friend? I am pleased to report an uptick in serving members of the Naval Review but we are still some considerable way off a comfortable number of members to guarantee a prosperous future. The value the NR provides to the busy member continues to be enhanced so 2024 will bring a series of additional features to the website and improvements to our digital offering including a new Naval Review podcast series and the introduction of the Naval Review newsletter. I do not have a monopoly of good ideas so please get in touch and tell me what else you would like to see.
Regarding value, the website now offers a daily weekday article or book review, access to a number of regular newsletters, access to our Forum, which draws daily comment on the naval conversation, daily news on Defence and the Royal Navy from BFBS as well as instant access to our extensive archive.
One thing the retired community often asks for is more content from the serving so, specifically to encourage those who have something they wish to get off their chest at pace, a monthly prize of £50 will be awarded to the author of the best digital contribution of less than 1000 words. The many other prizes remain in place too for those who wish to write in a slightly longer form.