Friday, 27 November 2020
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UK Politics

In my statement to the House on 27 October, I said that the Government would update Parliament on developments in Afghanistan every month. This is part of our commitment to keep Parliament regularly informed. This first monthly report covers a range of issues: the Lisbon Summit, Afghanistan's Parliamentary Elections, governance and regional engagement. Future reports will update on progress in Afghanistan.

The Rt. Hon. William Hague MP
Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

Lisbon Summit

Afghanistan was at the heart of the NATO Lisbon Summit on 19-20 November, demonstrating the high priority that NATO places on its efforts to build a secure and stable Afghanistan.

All 48 nations contributing to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reaffirmed their enduring commitment to Afghanistan's security and stability. They also welcomed the participation and support of other international partners at the Summit, including the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and Japan, with all of whom ISAF shares a common vision for a better Afghanistan.

The ISAF Commander, General David Petraeus, reported that progress had been made on several fronts: the momentum of the insurgency had been broadly arrested across Afghanistan –though not in all locations – and reversed in a number of key areas; the area under the Afghan Government's control continued to expand and the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) was proving to be an increasingly effective force, having successfully provided security for two nationwide elections in 2009 and 2010.

ISAF partners agreed that they would work in partnership with the Afghan Government to deliver President Karzai's objective of transitioning lead security responsibility to the ANSF, in all provinces, by the end of 2014. Transition to Afghan lead security responsibility will be dependent on the conditions in each district and province. It will see ISAF's role evolve away from combat towards increased training, mentoring and support. The transition process is on track to begin in some provinces and districts in early 2011 following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision.

In advance of the Summit NATO asked ISAF partners to fill additional training positions that would help the NATO Training Mission to Afghanistan (NTM-A) continue to meet targets for expanding the Afghan National Army (ANA)and Afghan National Police (ANP). The Summit reported a strong response from partners. The UK had already announced a contribution of approximately 320 additional trainers. Canada confirmed that it would deploy a training mission with approximately 700 military trainers, 200 support troops and 45 police; Italy pledged an additional 200 trainers; Portugal 42; Croatia 30; and Bulgaria three additional mentoring and training teams. Other countries confirmed that they were considering new pledges, which would be discussed at a Force Generation Conference at the end of November.
Although the NTM-A priority shortfalls have therefore been met, the UK will continue to press our international partners to ensure that NTM-A continues to have the resources to fulfil its mission.

Looking beyond ISAF's current mission, NATO and Afghanistan agreed at the Summit the framework of a long-term partnership. NATO agreed to provide sustained practical support for Afghanistan, while the Afghan Government affirmed that it would be an enduring partner to NATO and committed itself to carry out its responsibilities in a manner consistent with the commitments made at the London Conference of January 2010 and the Kabul Conference of July 2010. These would include measures to combat terrorism, address corruption and support regional security. NATO and the Afghan Government will now agree the details of a co-operation programme to take forward this partnership.

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By Imogen Baxter and Dr Robert Crowcroft

Recent events have brought a stark warning that, when it comes to peacemaking and the resolution of conflicts, pinning hopes on goodwill, or asking people to be 'reasonable', is just not enough. The morass between Israel and the Palestinian territories, in Afghanistan, or in Iraq, illustrate that every week. Now we have had another reminder, much closer to home, from an old foe.

There have been multiple incidents related to dissident Republican terrorist groups. Indeed, there has been a significant surge in dissident activity throughout this year, including widespread rioting in Catholic areas of Belfast in July. On 14 August, a bomb detonated in a wheelie bin in Lurgan, injuring three children. Beforehand warnings were given of a bomb being placed near a school; the suspicion is that the device exploded prematurely, it being intended to kill the police officers searching in response to the school threat. That night, police officers investigating warnings of other devices were attacked by petrol bombs and missiles. On 16 August, Patrick Mercer MP expressed the view that Oglaigh nah Eireann, a splinter group from the Continuity IRA, aim to renew attacks on British targets. When faced with this kind of situation, it is all too easy to simply cross our fingers and hope for the best. It is similarly tempting to shout 'Oh, come on!' at the television screen. But hoping for 'reasonableness' as a means of resolving conflict is inadequate, and Northern Ireland illustrates this point well; perhaps too well.

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By Ian Shields, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

On 10 October the Prime Minister presented to Parliament the National Security Strategy (NSS), titled "A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty". This article will examine the Strategy's contents, and ask to what extent it achieves the aim of the introductory statement that "the security of our nation is the first duty of government. It is the foundation of our freedom and prosperity".

First, then, the contents. There is a disappointing but unsurprising number of criticisms of the previous administration that reek of party politics ("Unlike the last Government, our strategy sets out clear priorities" – p.5 – for example) when national security should be above such squabbling. The Strategy highlights the formation of the National Security Council, and explains how this will function in terms of reviewing the Governments list of security challenges, drawing together expert advice and offering broad changes in direction: all good, strategic stuff. It lays out, very clearly, in Section Three (see especially p.27) what are seen as the current priority risks, grouped into three tiers of importance. The highest tier comprises international terrorism, cyber attack, a major accident or natural hazard, or an international military crisis that draws in the UK. These are all entirely reasonable, and with the promise that the list will be kept under constant review and formally refreshed every second year, a sensible and open method of identifying threats. A state-on-state threat to the UK is, entirely reasonably, afforded lower priorities (a Tier Two threat if using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, Tier Three if conventional weapons only are employed in attacking us).

Much is also made of alliances, with the relationship with the US stressed as remaining the most important (see p.4) followed by the EU and then NATO. Again, this is entirely sensible and in keeping with the theme of living in a globalised world, and the new demands (and, therefore, security challenges that we face). The other broad theme that runs through the Strategy is the need to harness all the levers of national power (with particular emphasis on the diplomatic) to secure Britain's place. And finally, this NSS stress that it addresses only the ends and ways, the means being left to the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). Given that the SDSR deals with more newsworthy items such as troop numbers, ship orders and air base closures, and was to be seen as an element of the Government's spending plans, it is unsurprising that the SDSR has received much more attention than the NSS; whether this emphasis of public review is correct is less clear.

Having made the link between the NSS and the SDSR, and having claimed that the NSS sets the strategic direction and boundaries within which the SDSR should operate, it is clear that one should follow the other, and that they should be read in conjunction with each other – for without a strategic direction, how can the SDSR match the necessary means to achieve the ends and ways, particularly when defence procurement is itself so drawn out, and therefore requires a clear strategy?

And it is here that I start to struggle with the NSS. For the SDSR to have real meaning, the NSS must and should be the leading document, yet it has received scant attention in the blaze of publicity surrounding the spending announcements. The NSS makes much of our strength as a trading nation, with the added bonuses of English being the world's lingua franca for trade, and our geo-temporal positioning as part of Europe and straddling the time differential between the Far East and the US. But what is left unanswered is the key question of what role does Britain foresee herself playing in the future? While the NSS is strong on identifying some of the challenges the world faces in a globalised era, including such extremes as climate change and international, ordered crime, it singularly fails to give a clear articulation of the role this Government expects the UK to play, beyond some fairly broad, even banal, statements about maintaining order and upholding rights. And of equal concern is that this document claims to be a strategy, but looks forward little more than five years (convenient since that equates to the life of a Parliament, but hardly strategic in time-scale). It contains some well-crafted rhetoric, but gives little feel as to how or why further change might occur, how this might affect the UK, and what the country might do to influence the course of events in Britain's best long-term interests.

The Government is to be applauded for going as far as it has in producing this NSS, but it leaves too many nagging doubts. Has the Government really got a clear view on the likely course that world events will take? Does it see the world being uni-polar or multi-polar in the future? What will Britain's relationship to major, and regional, powers be? What is the most likely role for the EU, for the UN, for NATO, what part will we play and how will we influence their direction of travel? And w(h)ither our relationship with the US? Perhaps this was just too rushed; perhaps, since it is the first attempt at such a strategy, it is only a starting point; perhaps there is another, classified document addressing such questions. But perhaps it is also something of a missed opportunity....

I suspect that Pitt the Younger, one of William Hague's great heroes from history, had a clearer idea of the country's strategic direction when he came to power (and I am not referring to the period of the Napoleonic wars, but before those conflicts started); having carefully read this National Security Strategy I am unsure where the Government intends Britain to head, or how it envisages us reaching this undefined Nirvana.

 
 

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