Future of the British Army

Soldiers standing on parade Defence Images

The institute’s Ben Barry has contributed to a piece published by the BBC today, asking how recently announced defence cuts will shape the British Army of the future. The restructured force will be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2017, while the number of reservists will double to 30,000.

Brigadier Barry, who left the army in October 2010, calls it the ‘most radical reorganisation for 50 years’.

‘The Army 2020 design [as the plan is called] displays many innovative ideas and structures,’ he writes, ‘reflecting many hard lessons of the Iraq and Afghan wars and the likely challenges of future land operations, particularly fighting “hybrid” enemies and the increasing requirement for urban operations.

Read the rest of this entry »


Behind the Mali headlines, an issue of airlift

RAF C17 Transport Aircraft. Photo MoD under an Open Government Licence

By Douglas BarrieJames Hackett and Henry Boyd, Defence and Military Analysis Programme

Two weeks after sending troops to Mali to repel an advance by Islamist rebels, France has enjoyed much tactical success. French and Malian forces have retaken Timbuktu and Gao, and are now reported to have reached the last Islamist stronghold, Kidal. The main challenges ahead include sustaining these gains, bolstering the Malian military and improving governance.

But these tactical achievements come despite a continuing fragility within some French military capabilities: the limited availability of so-called ‘air platform force enablers’ in general, and a paucity of strategic airlift in particular. This general shortfall afflicts many other European countries, and in the case of strategic airlift is only now being fixed.

Read the rest of this entry »


The two Sudans: still stuck in oil dispute

South Sudanese President Salvar Kiir and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Photo Sudan Vision

By Islam Al Tayeb, Research Analyst, IISS-Middle East

More than 18 months after South Sudan seceded from Sudan, oil remains a sticking point between the two countries. Last week, the stalemate appeared as intractable as ever, with South Sudan announcing plans to sell petroleum to Israel, and politicians in Khartoum vowing that no South Sudanese exports would reach Israel via Sudanese territory. A meeting between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir before an African Union conference in Ethiopia this weekend (above) failed to break months of deadlock. There has now been no oil production in, or exports, from South Sudan for a year, depriving the government in Juba of around 98% of its budgeted revenues.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bushehr fears stem from Iran’s nuclear deceit

Bushehr nuclear reactor. Photo: Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Let’s not exaggerate. Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant is not another Chernobyl in the making. Unlike the ill-fated Ukrainian facility, Bushehr’s fuel rods are moderated and cooled by water, not flammable graphite. Bushehr also benefits from modern design improvements, including automatic control and containment systems.

Nor is Bushehr likely ever to suffer the fate of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. The shallow Gulf waters bordering Bushehr cannot produce the kind of massive tsunamis that inundated Fukushima’s electricity and backup cooling system.

It should also be clear by now that Bushehr is not a proliferation threat. The reactor is used for electricity production and the spent fuel will be returned to Russia so the plutonium will not be available for reprocessing for weapons, if Iran were to obtain that technology. In any case, no country has ever used spent fuel from power plants for weapons purposes.

But let’s not sweep aside the environmental and safety dangers either, as Iranian officials are wont to do. Bushehr is located on an earthquake fault. The dust and heat of the local climate contributed to construction delays because of the difficulty of keeping equipment clean and cool. The grafting of a Russian-designed reactor onto the remains of an incomplete German structure and Iran’s contractual requirement for Russia to employ 35-year-old, leftover German pumps and other equipment made for other glitches.

Read the rest of this entry »


Decoding Manmohan Singh’s red lines

Manmohan Singh meeting soldiers on National Army Day, 15 January. Photo: Office of the India Prime Minister

Manmohan Singh meeting soldiers on National Army Day, 15 January.

By Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy

Many eyebrows were raised in Delhi and around the world when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted that ‘it cannot be business as usual’ with Pakistan after the recent incident on the Line of Control (LoC). Because these remarks came after the National Security Adviser briefed opposition leaders about the government’s approach to the issue, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha took credit for the prime minister’s tough stance, while welcoming it. However, it has since become clear that Singh was adopting a more nuanced approach, not the sledgehammer response that the Bharatiya Janata Party and hotheads in the media were seeking.

The many expressions of surprise, accompanied by gratuitous remarks about Singh’s ‘uncharacteristic’ toughness, ignore the fact that on vital national-security and foreign-policy issues, the prime minister has always drawn red lines and stuck to them. These red lines have been drawn both with respect to political parties and ministerial colleagues at home and foreign governments. When it comes to foreign policy, Singh has jealously guarded prime ministerial turf and defended the national interest.

Read the rest of this entry »


The legalities of pursuing al-Qaeda

Anwar al-Awlaki. Photo SITE Intelligence

AQ radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a US drone in Yemen

How far does a country’s legal authority extend when pursuing transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda for attacks carried out or still in the planning? Recent events in the Sahel region of Africa throw the issue into stark relief, but it had been in the news beforehand because of the controversy over deadly American drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen – a programme overseen by John Brennan, Barack Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser and the president’s recent nomination as the new director of the CIA. Indeed, even before 9/11 lawyers and governments were debating the relevant principles of international law.

Two IISS consulting senior fellows have new papers that touch on the subject.

Read the rest of this entry »


The union at Europe’s heart is frayed

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold at press conference in Berlin. Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Elysee Treaty – the document signed by Paris and Berlin in an attempt to turn two hostile neighbours and rivals into allies, and to ultimately lay the groundwork for the European Union. As IISS Chairman Francois Heisbourg points out in the Financial Times, it comes at a time of strain in the Franco-German partnership.

France’s Le Monde newspaper has already been very dismissive about the scheduled joint session of the French and German parliaments in Berlin’s Reichstag building today. Heisbourg writes that: ‘From the eurozone crisis to intervention in Libya and Mali, and the failed merger of EADS and BAE Systems, the differences and tensions between Paris and Berlin are palpable.’

He admits that shaping a joint strategic future takes time, but says that France and Germany have recently lost the will to overcome other national differences – a process aided by their shifting relative strength, the expansion of the EU, and the arrival of a new generation of leaders ‘who no longer carry the historical baggage of the founding fathers’.

Yet the factor that could now have the biggest impact on France and Germany’s partnership is a third player: Britain.

Read the article at the Financial Times (subscription required)


An Iraqi strongman calls

Nuri al-Maliki on his cellphone. Photo Kurd NetBy Sarah Johnstone, Assistant editor, online

As ‘Genghis Khan with a telephone’ in the 1930s, Joseph Stalin routinely picked up the receiver late at night to issue instructions that led to the imprisonment or execution of millions. Author Toby Dodge probably wouldn’t compare current Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to the brutal Soviet leader; at the launch of his new book last week he steered away from describing Maliki as despotic as former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, Dodge’s portrayal of the Iraqi premier is of a man with ‘clear dictatorial ambitions’ who understands the utility of the telephone.

Dodge’s just-released Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism recounts how the PM’s office in Baghdad has subverted the military chain of command, directly ‘ringing up mid-ranking officers and issuing orders to them on their mobile phones’. It is one of the methods by which an initially unremarkable, ‘grey’ politician has managed to centralise power in the weak office of the Iraqi prime minister since his appointment in early 2006.

Read the rest of this entry »


The battle south of Algiers

The In Amenas gas installation in Algeria. Photo: BP

By Virginia Comolli, Research Associate for Transnational Threats

Until it permitted the French air force to fly through its airspace into Mali this weekend, Algeria had been protesting for months that it would not welcome any outside military intervention to quell the rebellion in its southern neighbour. The hostage crisis unfolding in the Algerian desert, following an attack by militants on the In Amenas gas plant, one of the country’s largest, has starkly demonstrated the risks of reprisal.

So one of the most interesting questions is what accounted for Algeria’s change of heart. This is difficult to answer because decision-making in Algiers is famously opaque, and the country often takes an ambiguous stance on regional security issues.

Read the rest of this entry »


France to the rescue

Operation SERVAL au Mali

By Francois Heisbourg, IISS chairman

PARISOn 11 January, French military forces entered Mali, taking and inflicting casualties in a war as sudden as it is important.

Even at this early stage, broadly applicable lessons can be drawn from the conflict. Although the future course of the fighting is laden with risks, skillful diplomacy can turn it into a major opportunity in the struggle against international terrorism.

The French intervention was prompted by the combined offensive towards Bamako, the capital of Mali, of the three jihadi organisations which seized control of the northern half of the country last year. This unforeseen attack prompted the president of Mali to ask France for immediate help.

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 229 other followers