“The 15 minutes I spent imagining what I’d name it were perhaps the happiest 15 minutes of my life.”

If the Royal Navy really does decide to sell HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2020, who might buy it? And even more importantly, what would they name it? Robert Farley handicaps the race, giving odds and possible names to potential suitors:

China
Empress Dowager Cixi
Odds: 99-1

Russia
Imperitsiya Ekaterina Velikaya
Odds: 50-1

France
Carla Bruni
(R92)
Odds:  20-1

Canada
HMCS Queen Elizabeth
Odds: 15-1

India
INS India Gandhi
Odds: 15-1

Japan
JDS Empress Michiko
Odds: 7-1

Australia
HMAS Queen Elizabeth
Odds: 9-2

South Korea
ROKS Empress Myeongsong
Odds: 4-1

Brazil
NAe Empress Isabel
Odds: 3-1

If I were a gambling man…

Also, guess what the source of the title is. Then check your answer here.

Lesser Nobility of the Seas

Depressing developments out of Britain (new motto: “Good, not Great”), where David Cameron has announced the extent of massive budget cuts.  They’re not only targeted at the much-reviled ‘quangos’ and other sundry domestic spending, but significantly cut down on the size of the Royal Navy.

And I do mean significant. HMS Ark Royal is to be scrapped immediately, and while the two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will still be built, one will be commissioned pre-mothballed, while neither will be fully operational until 2036 (a rather expensive “jobs program“). One of the two helicopter carriers will be decommissioned. A total of 5,000 personnel cut. And the surface fleet reduced to 19 ships. As many have pointed out, that’s smaller than the task force sent to retake the Falkland Islands.

Obviously, this represents a real threat to British power projection capabilities. But it’s worth asking to what extent they’re still needed. The Guardian, true to form, heralds the cuts as rendering Britain incapable of launching “military operations like Iraq.” Which may be well and good; after all, today’s generals prepare to fight yesterday’s wars, and hopefully there won’t be any more Iraqs or Afghanistans in the near future.

All the same, is this a force capable of defending Britain? Again, the question is what Britain needs defending from. It can’t be the French, with whom the Royal Navy has entered into a sort of timeshare arrangement for the use of aircraft carriers (though hopefully their deployments go better than that of Charles de Gaulle). If anything is to be secure for Britain, though, it must be the sealanes. Britain is an island, and as Patrick Porter reminds us, “for heavy importing island states like Britain, strategy puts food on the table.”

Either way, it’s a huge blow to British prestige both around the world and within NATO. The worst part is that this may be a sign of things to come. As David Betz at Kings of War says:

The thing to grasp is that this is not Year Zero for the UK military, it’s worse than that. It’s more like Year -5 or -10 because that’s what it’s going to take to move all the accumulated bad decisions, and even worse non-decisions, through the system. It will be years before we get to zero and can start to work on building the armed forces we want and need.

Practical considerations aside – and they’re hugely important to consider – it’s almost akin to the death of the battleship, that great “monarch of the sea.” Once the British cuts are complete, the United States will be the only navy in the world operating more than one carrier. Last time the U.S. had to bail out her Anglophone cousin, the Royal Navy had been placed in a similar situation.

By 1939, Britain could not afford the navy that was necessary to ensure security across the globe. While the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty appeared to favor the United States and the United Kingdom, the scattered nature of the British Empire left it without overwhelming strength in any given theater, despite the superiority in absolute tonnage. In the early days of World War II – at least to protect Far East territories and India – the Royal Navy had to rely on the strength of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the South African coastal forces, and the British-controlled Royal Indian Navy.

We all know what happened next: Singapore and Malaya fell, the Japanese preponderance of carrier-based aviation left the entire Eastern Fleet sorely outgunned, and at the Battle of the Java Sea, the entire Allied fleet was wiped out in the largest naval battle since Jutland in 1916. Britain was stretched too thinly.

Obviously, the empire is no more and concerns closer to home are keeping the Ministry of Defence busy, but even so – there is a floor to the minimum amount of required naval force, even for a tiny island like Great Britain. With these cuts, I fear that the UK may have just crashed through it.

“The neutral keep out of the light; good boys are at present safe”

You’ll have to excuse the delay – it was a week before we had a bed or an internet in the apartment, and since then Comcast has really, really dropped the ball (cutting my neighbors’ physical lines didn’t help any). Also, still no job, which is less than ideal.

But still! The writing must go on. Writing and reprinting.

And so I have a very special treat for you today: the entirety of Brigadier Charles Dunbar’s “The Military Problems of Counter Insurgency.” Dunbar commanded 66 Commando Royal Marine during the Aden Emergency, and had quite an eye for low-intensity operations. Written in late 1967 or 1968, the document is a far-reaching and detailed analysis of the problems faced by the British in Aden, while also making allusions to contemporary insurgencies in Cyprus and Kenya, intrigue in Saudi Arabia, Anna Karenina, and the idiocy of “that well known Scandinavian, Mr. Rudegeld.”

I took the liberty of retyping it – my aging photocopy was worn, scuffed, and overly stamped. I’ve attempted to reproduce the formatting as exactly as possible, and this includes leaving in misspellings and other errors. You can see, for example, that when he’s talking on page 3 about the Eastern Bloc, interrogation, and Vietnam, that his mind is racing too quickly to accurately transfer all his thoughts onto paper. But you’ll know what he means. And it’s definitely worth knowing.

This document is available at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King’s College London. Box Dunbar 2/5. Enjoy!

Notes from the Archive II

It merely rhymes:

Mk VII mine buried in a detour around an unfinished culvert on the new road being constructed…

Warning of concerted sabotage attempts at prestige targets and the introduction of timing and anti-handling devices…

Well-timed and expertly executed act of sabotage. The nuisance value was extremely effective considering the small effort and explosives involved…

National opinion is perhaps hardening against us.

45 Commando Royal Marine Newsletters, April 1966-June 1967

Libyan Thugs in the Heart of London, Cont’d Again

This is the last post I’ll write on the subject (probably), but it makes for a good distraction from studying. The exam’s tomorrow. This is how I roll.

Anyways, I got a lovely thank-you email from one of the Libyan protesters at the LSE last week. In addition to my writing, they made sure to credit my good friend the Hybrid Diplomat for his coverage of the event. The email also included links to a number of photo galleries that ‘their’ photographer had taken. Here is the Gaddafi contingent, glowering at the protesters and trading insults:

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's coterie of bodyguards and thugs at the London School of Economics, May 26, 2010.

Compare that with the size of the protest:

Libyan men protest the Gaddafi regime at the London School of Economics, May 26, 2010.

More pictures are available in galleries here and here, though since receiving the email it looks like someone flagged the sites as “attack sites” (I would assume someone tied to the Gaddafi regime). They’re perfectly harmless. Also available as a special treat is a video of yours truly sitting with Fathallah, the victim of a Libyan beating:

Please distract me in any way possible; it’s only 16 hours until the exam.

I Guess CCTV Is Good for Something

A friend of mine got mugged over the weekend coming back from a bar on Saturday night. Luckily, only his phone was taken and he wasn’t hurt at all.

Naturally, CCTV was useless in helping to prevent the crime or even to identify the assailant after the fact. Two separate cameras caught it, not that that matters. Also, rendering the cameras even more useless, they were owned and operated by the LSE, though they were kind enough to release it to my friend.

From him, it got to me. I took the liberty of editing the footage into a single video, and added a very necessary soundtrack. The whole thing only took me about 30 minutes. At least some good came out of the whole affair…

EDIT: Most of the details regarding the path that footage took to get to me were dead wrong. They have since been corrected.

Encouraging Signs from Britain

A LibCon unity government poster from the National Coalition Government of 1940-45.

Much as I despise the term ‘statism’, which like ‘socialism’ has been overused into a meaningless oblivion, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more suitable term for the Labour Party’s approach to governing Britain. For better or worse, Labour’s solution to just about every problem that popped up between 1997 and 2010 involved some kind of state intervention.

Most troubling (to my mind) has been the encroachment on civil liberties as evidenced by the dramatic rise in CCTV and the extrajudicial legal system created by various anti-terrorism acts since 9/11. The absence of handgun-bearing police officers has merely softened the gradual, insidious reach of the government. Thankfully, that era may be coming to an end.

The fledgling Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition government has a number of fundamental disagreements, but one of their shared values is that of civil liberties, and gradually they aim to begin rolling back the state (Guido Fawkes would also like to see the Labour Party crushed for all eternity, but that’s not a preordained outcome). None of the Labour policies have been making us any safer, and it seems like this country is coming around to that conclusion.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, will shepherd a “Great Repeal” bill through the House of Commons. Under the bill, the National ID Card program will be scrapped. A whole host of other Labour programs are due to be severely curtailed if not outright canceled, including DNA retention, anti-terror laws, databases, and the omnipresent CCTV. Details include:

:: New legislation to restrict the scope of the DNA database, probably reducing the length of time innocent people’s details are held to three years as is the case in Scotland.

:: Changes to ensure members of the public can protest peacefully without fear of being branded a criminal.

:: Overhaul draconian and unpopular counter-terrorism laws to strike a fresh balance between protecting the public and civil liberties.

:: New laws to better regulate the use of CCTV, particularly by local authorities and to ensure internet and email records are only stored when necessary.

It’s a good start.

Libyan Thugs in the Heart of London, Cont’d

The attack of the other day is starting to get a little bit of play in the press. They all insist on characterizing it as a “brawl,” however. Last I checked, eight versus two is more of a beating.

The Guardian praises Gaddafi as a reformer, and as that paper now routinely does, causes me to throw up a little in my mouth. The Evening Standard is a little more even-handed, but still fails to distinguish between the attackers and the victim. Most accounts, though, like the AP’s, focused entirely on Gaddafi’s non-answer to the question asked him about the Lockerbie bomber. “He is very sick,” was all he replied.

Reagan, Thatcher, and the ‘Tilt’

The British election has decided in favor of no one in particular. The possibilities seem confined to a Conservative minority Government or a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition one. With so much going wrong for Britain (just look at the accidental disenfranchisement), the last priority of whatever the new British Government is will be their friend across the pond.

At the same time, Rockhopper has claimed to have discovered oil in the area of the Falkland Islands, reversing the disappointment felt by Desire Petroleum earlier this year. With these two events in mind, it seems like a perfect moment to look back at the last time the special relationship really came to the fore, while the Falklands were in the news.

 

The Falkland Islands

One of the last vestiges of British empire, the likelihood that the Falkland Islands would ever become a household name – let alone the site of a major twentieth century conflict – seemed slim at best. Yet when the military government of Argentina dared to invade in April of 1982, the successful British retaking of the Falklands entered into the realm of legend and revitalized both Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government and Great Britain as a whole.

The extent to which American assistance was a crucial part of the British war effort is still debated. Paul Sharp claims that “Britain’s success in the Falklands War…would not have been possible without US support.”[1]Then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger downplayed the role of American aid, characterizing himself as a mere “assistant supply sergeant, or an assistant quartermaster.” He placed the glory of victory solely with the British:

Some said later that the British could not have succeeded if we had not helped. This is not so – I think the decisive factor was Mrs. Thatcher’s firm and immediate decision to retake the Islands, despite the impressive military and other advice to the effect that such an action could not succeed.[2]

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan's cabinets meet at the White House, 1981.

While the revival of the wartime Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ did not necessarily ensure a British victory, the effects that American support had on British and Argentinian morale and indeed, world opinion, were significant. As Sharp explains, “had the Americans decided to oppose Britain’s recovery of the Islands, then the war would have been impossible and Thatcher’s political demise all but assured.”[3]

The sophisticated weaponry supplied by the Pentagon, such as the Sidewinder air-to-air missile and the Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missile, helped to minimize British casualties. Especially crucial was US intelligence. That support was all the more surprising as it constituted a near-complete reversal of the centuries-old Monroe Doctrine demarcating the western hemisphere as an entirely American preserve.

Continue reading

Whither the Special Relationship?

There’s an interesting debate going on over at Harry’s Place as to which British political party has been and would be most conducive (or accommodationist, if you like) to the ‘Special Relationship’. “Norflondon’s” article, in particular, claims that Labour is the “true Atlanticist party.” I would have to disagree.

If you take the three major personal relationships throughout the twentieth century, you have FDR and Churchill, Jack and Mac, and Reagan-Thatcher. All three Prime Ministers were Tories and two of three Presidents Democrats.

This is not meant to imply that the most fruitful partnership would necessarily be Obama-Cameron (i.e. a Democrat and a Tory), but rather that Labour has until recently never been a particularly stalwart half of the Special Relationship. Indeed, America was rather fearful when Clement Attlee and Labour came into power – they were seen as ‘red’ socialists, and socialism was naturally a bad thing (a contemporary cartoon by David Horn in the Evening Standard showed Attlee surrounded by a circle of U.S. Congressmen all asking themselves “no hooves? No tail”)?

The article mentions the Major Government and divides over the Balkans , but considering that was a highly contentious debate within the Clinton Administration itself – not to mention a low-risk bombing campaign – the absence of British support wasn’t seen as a low blow in the same way that say, the Wilson Government’s silence was in Vietnam. Then, of course, there’s Major’s wholehearted British contribution to the first Gulf War.

The change could be pinned on Blair and New Labour, but also keep in mind the nature Blair-Clinton relationship: new center-left incarnations of their old selves.

However, when it comes down to it, does the United States really want a Blairite United Kingdom as part of the special relationship? Patrick Porter has made this point much more eloquently than me; he reminds us of Britain’s pretensions to Great Power status, but then points out the absurdity of Britain trying to do so much:

Geography comes up in the Strategy, but only in a perfunctory and generalised way. It asserts that Africa matters wherever there is extremism or violence, not a very discriminating test; Eastern Europe matters because Britain is engaged there; the Middle East matters because it is central to security and ‘totemic’ to extremists, and Afghanistan-Pakistan for its links to domestic terrorism. Central Asia, Eastern Europe, large chunks of Africa and the Middle East: these four spheres would strain a superpower, let alone Britain.

If at least a portion of an alliance is for figuring out what’s best for an individual country, isn’t the New Labour approach of ‘America first, British national interest second’ pretty bankrupt at this point? Prime Ministers in the past have easily subordinated their Atlanticism to the national interest of the United Kingdom – Thatcher being a notable example – but the times the call for spartan budgets and austerity measures, and those will have to translate into defense cuts as well.

Sadly, I don’t know which prime minister would be the most healthy combination for the Special Relationship and the United States. Perhaps Britain itself must reduce it to no more than a ‘special partnership.’