By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter
all the headlines about David Cameron’s decision to intervene—and intervene
more forcefully—in North Africa, there’s one that stands out: “Top brass
resist PM’s Mali war”. And it stands out because of its familiarity. It now seems that
almost every time Mr Cameron turns his attention to defence policy the top
brass, or “defence chiefs”, or military chiefs”, are there to resist him. For
- Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2010: Military
chiefs accuse coalition of rushing defence review
- The Guardian, 25th February 2011: Military
chiefs urge David Cameron to rethink cuts
- Daily Telegraph, 11th May 2011: David
Cameron has triggered a row with military chiefs by insisting that hundreds of
British troops must be withdrawn from Afghanistan within weeks
- Evening Standard, 18th May 2011: Military
chiefs call on Prime Minister to scrap increase on foreign aid
- Daily Telegraph, 23rd June 2011: Military
chiefs' clash with politicians over Libya and Afghanistan
- Daily Mirror, 17th February 2012: David
Cameron dismays defence chiefs by agreeing project to build drones
- The Sun, 12th November 2012: Top
brass reject David Cameron’s plan to send troops to Syria
- Daily Express, 7 January 2013: Defence
chiefs slam military cuts
could go on, but you get the point.
all that, a Downing Street source says that the relationship between the
Government and the military command isn’t a total slanging match, but more
often a case of “raised eyebrows and curt handshakes”. Yet there’s still no
denying that it boils over into anger, on occasion. Even Mr Cameron has admitted
as much. His barbed quip that “you
do the fighting and I’ll do the talking” was a sign of the frustration he
some extent, it was ever going to be thus. We can always expect military chiefs
to defend their own patch, and particularly from incursions by the Treasury’s
bean-counters. News of today’s cuts—with 5,000 soldiers set to be axed—will
not ease their concerns about military overstretch.
it’s not just the cuts in themselves, but also the way they are being implemented.
In his statement yesterday, Mr Cameron cited the Strategic Defence and Security
Review of 2010, saying that it prioritised those assets required for the
battlegrounds of the future, such as special forces, cyber-security and drones.
But the military chiefs have their doubts. That review was always, as I’ve said
before, a document shaped by compromise. It’s stuck between the competing
demands of conventional warfare, counter-terrorism and cuts.
what should be done? It might be too much, politically as well as fiscally, to
have another review — but it oughtn’t be too much for the Coalition to consider
it. If Britain is going to be striking at Africa for years to come, then we
should ask questions of “how”, almost as much as questions of “why”.