Trident debate resurfaces

Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Passes HMS Dragon as She Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland

Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Passes HMS Dragon as She Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland. Photo Credit: Ministry of Defense

By Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

UK prime minister David Cameron has prompted a small resurgence of the UK’s nuclear debate by publishing a letter in The Daily Telegraph on April 3, asserting that the country must maintain and renew its nuclear deterrent system in the face of global instability. But the debate should not end there: as discussed in a recent IISS panel on the subject, the UK must consider the costs of replacing the deterrent and the resulting effects on its conventional military capabilties. No less importantly, it also needs to take into account the implications renewing its nuclear deterrent might have on global non-proliferation efforts.

In his letter, which coincides with the 100th patrol of the four Vanguard-class submarines that carry the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles, Cameron argued that retaining an independent nuclear deterrent is now more important than ever. He contends that ‘the nuclear threat has not gone away … in terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased’. He also warned that ‘there is real risk of new nuclear-armed states emerging’.

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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.

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UK cyber security under fire

A satellite communications dish outside the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) Photo MoD under an Open Government Licence

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

The British military could be ‘fatally compromised’ by a major cyber attack because it lacks clear contingency plans and depends on technology with no verifiable back-up systems. This was the principal warning contained within the Defence and Cyber Security Report 2013 published last week in the UK. The report said the armed forces were now completely reliant on IT, but the MPs on the committee said they were uncertain who would be responsible for what in the event of a prolonged cyber attack. ‘The government should set out details of the contingency plans it has in place should such an attack occur,’ they say. ‘If it has none, it should say so – and urgently create some.’

The report called on the government more broadly to act ‘with vigour’ to boost efforts on cyber security. ‘The cyber threat is, like some other emerging threats, one which has the capacity to evolve with almost unimaginable speed and with serious consequences for the nation’s security,’ it insisted. ‘The government needs to put in place – as it has not yet done – mechanisms, people, education, skills, thinking and policies which take into account both the opportunities and the vulnerabilities which cyber presents.’

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Oil is key to Falklands’ future

UK military assets in the Falklands region

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

It has been a busy year for oil and gas exploration around the Falklands Islands, and also a crucial moment for the islanders’ economy. Speaking at the IISS in London, Jan Cheek, member of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council of the Falkland Islands, explained how the islands’ government is counting on oil revenues to develop and diversify the economy of this remote archipelago. Though the exploratory drilling that had taken place in 2012 had disappointed investors, she described herself as ‘cautiously optimistic about the future’, amid a diplomatic offensive by Argentina to exert its claim over the islands. Read the rest of this entry »


Mitt Romney’s big London adventure

© Mitt Romney

By Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

Mitt Romney’s now infamous gaffes during a day in London, awkward though they have been, are not the stuff of huge diplomatic significance. His problem is that the whole trip – with stops in Israel and Poland as well as London – was premised on the alleged problem of the incumbent president’s incompetence and indifference in nurturing important alliances. As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait puts it, the UK visit ‘was supposed to have been a restoration of the “special relationship,” a goal that nestled comfortably into the general right-wing accusation that Obama spits in the faces of our friends even as he comforts our enemies.’

Instead, Romney ran into the buzz-saw of the British press, which Chait describes as ‘an outrage-generating machine the likes of which we American reporters can only gaze upon with awe’. As an American in London, I know what he’s talking about. In September 2009, a BBC producer called me at home asking if I could go on camera to talk about President Barack Obama’s ‘snub’, in New York the previous day, to then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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The rule of law in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi at the LSE. Picture from LSE in Pictures flickr feed

The rule of law will be vital to ensuring that the recent changes in Myanmar continue, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi underlined yesterday. During her first visit to her former home, the United Kingdom, in 24 years the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner said at the London School of Economics (above) that unity in her country would only be achieved within a legal framework.

On the BBC’s Newsnight programme broadcast yesterday evening, presenter Kirsty Wark reminded the Burmese icon that her party, the National League for Democracy, had at first argued that it was undemocratic to have 25% of the seats in parliament reserved for the military: ‘So, presumably that is one of your earliest priorities, to change the constitution?’

Aung San Suu Kyi replied that: ‘Well, quite recently the … defence minister said at a conference in Singapore that the military had no intention of holding on to the 25% forever, and that when the time was right they would decrease their … role in parliament. So that was not bad to begin with, and this after we had said that we wanted amendments to the constitution.’

The conference in question was the Shangri-La Dialogue 2012, and Aung San Suu Kyi was referring to the question and answer session with Lieutenant General Hla Min. In response to a question from Richard Lloyd Parry of the Times newspaper in London, the Myanmar defence minister said:

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‘Weapons treaty must include small arms’

Alan Duncan speaks at the IISS, 17 May. Photo IISS

In July, officials will gather in New York to negotiate the terms of a treaty covering the trade in international arms. Alan Duncan, UK Minister for International Development, today presented the case for the treaty to be as robust as possible. He said that while it was recognised compromises might be needed in order to obtain agreement, the UK was going for ‘the full laundry list’.

Duncan told the IISS in London that the uncontrolled flow of weapons across borders caused millions of deaths in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Darfur region of Sudan. Imported small arms and light weapons accounted for the vast majority of deaths in such conflicts. Conflict, in turn, prevented development, because health systems and education could not flourish against the background of armed violence. Yet some countries had no arms trade regulations at all, and there were no common international standards.

The United Kingdom would argue for the treaty to be broad in scope, covering everything from fighter jets to ammunition. While some countries opposed the inclusion of small arms, Duncan said that ‘leaving them out would be an act of negligence’. The treaty needed to mandate detailed national reports of arms exports. It should also address the issue of corruption, by establishing a register of brokers; and it should seek to ensure that arms sales would not damage human rights and would meet criteria for sustainable development. Agreement would represent a quantum leap from the present state of affairs, he said.

Watch the speech


Britain does U-turn on F-35 jet decision

F35-BBy Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace, and Christian Le Miere Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

It seems to have been a case of ‘decide in haste and repent at leisure’ for Britain’s government, which this week changed its mind on the version of F-35 jet to buy for the UK’s next aircraft carrier – reverting to the model chosen by the previous administration that it previously pilloried as the wrong choice.

The Conservative-led government overturned Labour’s choice of the F-35B (pictured)  – a vertical take-off and landing (STOVL) aircraft like the Harrier jump jet it was designed to replace – as part of its Strategic Defence and Security Review in October 2010. It decided to switch to the conventional take-off and landing F-35C, and to equip one of two new aircraft carriers under construction with the catapult and arrestor equipment needed to launch and recover it.

Shortly before Britain controversially began a decade with no carrier strike capability, Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that the new aircraft carriers ordered by Labour were ‘unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France’. He added that the F-35B jets Labour chose to fly off the carriers were a ‘more expensive and less capable version of the Joint Strike Fighter’.

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Joining the dots in the British military

An Army Air Corps Apache aboard the Royal Navy's HMS Ark Royal. © UK Defence Image Database

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

‘The glue that helps bind together’ the UK army, navy and air force; that was how Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach described the new Joint Forces Command (JFC) that formed under his leadership this week. Peach’s new 30,000-strong joint command is designed to better support current operations and help prepare the UK military for future wars through greater levels of integration, including ensuring that lessons learned on operations are applied quickly.

By the end of the Second World War UK forces led the world in joint operations. But afterwards this lead was not sustained. For example, despite the lessons of the 1982 Falklands War, by the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, British standards of air–land integration had fallen behind those of the US. The Iraq and Afghan wars were urgent wake-up calls. During these and NATO operations in Libya, there have been ever-increasing amounts of joint integration and cooperation between all three UK forces.

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Oil at heart of Falklands dispute

UK military assets in the Falklands region

Argentina has been turning up the heat on its simmering row with the UK over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, as the 30th anniversary of the war approaches. In an effort to force the UK to the negotiating table, Cristina Kirchner’s government has persuaded its increasingly powerful Latin American neighbours to speak out in its favour and put pressure on domestic companies to cut off UK trade links. Even Hollywood actor Sean Penn has weighed in. But as the latest Strategic Comment explains, spurring on the dispute are the significant oil reserves that are thought to lie beneath the waters surrounding the islands.

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