Saturday, 25 April 2015

Libya and the election row

So the latest round in the election prize fight has been fought over foreign policy and whether it was right or wrong to help the Libyan rebels against Colonel Gaddafi, especially now that the country has descended into what is basically a civil war and is at the heart of a migration crisis with people fleeing Africa through the country's ports, many of whom have subsequently drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to make the crossing to Europe. 

To me the fundamental problem with the arguments that helping the rebels was the wrong thing to do just because things have not turned out the way everyone hoped is two fold. The first is the implication that allowing Gaddafi to remain would have somehow produced a more favourable result. Keep in mind that just as NATO began its operations Gaddafi's forces were planning an offensive against Benghazi, with orders to suppress the rebellion using whatever means necessary. He threatened to find people in their closets and show no mercy or compassion to those that resisted. He was not exactly planning to take the city through diplomatic means.

So anyone in a decision making capacity at that point has to make a choice. Sit back and watch the Libyan army run rampant through the streets, or provide assistance? To sit on your hands at that point would be to condemn a great many people to die. This is the crux of my beef with the idea that somehow NATO was wrong to intervene. The narrative created makes it sound like Gaddafi would have just quietly restored order, when the reality is he was planning to go in all guns blazing. And as we've seen with the civil war in Syria, the presence of an army with limited training and equipment for fighting an urban COIN war usually leads to a bloody mess as it is. The fighting in Libya could have carried on for quite some time anyway had NATO not pitched in.

The narrative against the intervention also belies the fact the people are free to make their own choices. At the conclusion of the American War of Independence there was peace. It took the Americans almost one hundred years before they finally got round to having it out with another in the open field. Many revolutions do not end well, but then again many revolutions do. I'm surprised how many people in the west are so uptight about the idea that a population should be allowed to decide for itself what sort of government it wants, even if that means them fighting it out with one another to figure out who wins. Just because there might be fighting after an intervention is not really a good excuse to sit and do nothing while people are crushed mercilessly under the boot of a dictator. 

And the final part of the narrative that irks me is all the complaining about how the west has abandoned Libya to its fate. Let's just be clear here, this is what the Libyan's wanted. At the time of the intervention the various Libyan rebel leaders were making the point quite blatantly that what they wanted was western help to defeat Gaddafi and that from there they would take it themselves. They did not want the west to interfere in the process post-Gaddafi, they wanted to be left to it. So they have been. To complain at this late stage that the west has not done enough to help stabilise the country is a bit of a piss take frankly.

Just my two pennies on this issue.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Update 21/04/2015

Evening all.

Just a quick update. I know things have been a little sparse lately. Tomorrow I have a first interview for a (potential) new job so hopefully that goes someway to explaining why I've been a bit quiet. One of the reasons I want this new job is because the hours are shorter and it should be a bit more chilled out. With any luck that will give me more time for writing.

And frankly there isn't a huge amount to write about just this second. The big problem is that we're all waiting to find out who wins the election and then what kind of coalition is cobbled together as a result. This in turn will effect the nature of the forth coming SDSR and its in the run up to that that tongues will really begin to wag and the claim, counter-claim, brief, counter-brief game will truly begin. Normal running should resume fairly shortly though. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to do a bit of swatting.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

You SSK thing

Today I'd like to continue the theme I've been harping on recently about UK defence in the context of just pure defence, i.e. protecting the UK, without any concern for foreign adventures and UN missions etc. Putin is the new black these days and everyone seems to think the UK should suddenly be re-arming ready for world war three because... Russia. So an interesting topic at such times would be - I think at least - the issue of conventionally powered submarines.

The UK's last foray into this world ended with the Upholder-class diesel powered subs, which served for a grand total of four years in the early nineties before being decommissioned and sold off as part of the "peace dividend" (the dividend that just keeps giving....). Since then it's been all nuclear for the UK, in ever decreasing numbers which in the case of the Astute-class seems likely to come to rest at seven. Meanwhile the rest of the world has somewhat embraced the concept of the conventional submarine due to the lower construction and running costs, accepting a trade off in many performance measures vs a nuclear submarine in exchange for the ability to at least play in the game, and understanding that even conventional submarines represent a formidable foe for surface vessels when properly handled. Stories abound about European operated conventional subs sinking entire US carrier battle groups on exercises. Even if the exact details of each of these incident might tell a different story to the one that appears in the various press releases, it would be foolish to assume that despite quite a lot smoke there is absolutely no question of there being fire.

The UK reluctance to invest in such a capability has its own merits. Question one; where would you build them? Barrow is tied up building the Astutes and planning for the successor class to the Vanguard SSBNs. Question two; what would the UK do with them? Nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN) have been the favourite for a while now due in large part to their exceptional range and speed. They are Fisher's dreadnoughts for the 21st century. Endurance and speed that a conventional submarine can't hope to match.

Well, as the Russian bear rising seems to be the flavour of the month right now then actually the conventional sub seems to make a lot of sense. From the Royal Navy's perspective the biggest concern in relation to the Russian Navy in some hypothetical future war is probably the dual threat of Russian submarines and surface groups penetrating into the Atlantic and disrupting supply lines with the US, while also threatening the UK deterrent. To do this the Russians would have to make their way through the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap. Now in days of yore the UK used to be able to help protect this gap with its maritime patrol aircraft but whoops, budget crisis, MPA no more. But protecting and patrolling this gap - and indeed the surrounding UK waters - is right up the street of a conventional sub (Henceforth SSK, to save me having to keep typing "conventional sub").

The mission plays perfectly to the strengths of the SSK as a slow but virtually silent ambush predator. Whispering back and forth through local areas of interest to the UK, the SSK would provide a powerful tool in the Royal Navy's underwater arsenal, while the SSNs roared about the open oceans. As far as purchasing some of these goes, a UK new build, homegrown design would obviously offer tailor made advantages as well as being a potential source of exports given the current popularity of these kind of subs, but a foreign buy would be more likely. Given the low(er) cost of SSKs in comparison to an SSN it shouldn't break the bank to purchase a few and there is certainly plenty of competition on the market place right now, from the German Type 212, to the French Scorpene and Swedish Gotland-class.

If we're all really serious about this "the Russians are coming" narrative that has developed lately then to me a small fleet of SSKs seems a highly logical choice.