Written by Dr Ziya Meral This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence.   A while ago, I heard a senior defence official noting that we still do not know how to engage with and bring in external expertise into the defence world. He gave the example of an official working on a key issue brushing away a recommendation to engage with an established academic with decades on that issue with: 'he is an academic, so not really relevant'. Thankfully, such reactions are rarer these days, and there have been increasing examples of how UK Defence has been engaging and drawing insights from the academic, think tank and corporate research worlds. However, if we are to be honest, there is also a trail of projects and engagement and initiatives that did not result in much outcome, or got derailed, no matter how well-intentioned their starts were. There are multiple reasons behind such failures, and if we are serious about our need to deepen engagement between the two worlds, we have to be honest and reflective about it. Below are some of the most common unspoken (and loudly-spoken) reasons I have observed as someone who has dwelled in the no-man's land between scholarship and policy practice for a decade now. First, intimidation: Often both academics and military personnel feel intimated with each other's qualifications and experiences, or what they lack personally compared to the other. Academics often feel intimated by uniforms, ranks, codes of military relations and the experiences and knowledge and skills that military personnel have which they don't. Military personnel, too, often feel intimidated with impressive lists of degrees, academic affiliations or publications. While a portion of this is healthy and a reflection of differences, at times this becomes downright unhelpful and triggers frustrations and...
Written by Francesca Ghiretti This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence.  2020 was to be a special year for EU-China relations: the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments was to be signed under the German Presidency of the Council of the EU. The materialisation of an agreement which has been under negotiation since 2013. The obstacles, however, are far from being overcome and movement in this direction would have been unlikely without the outbreak of Covid-19, but the pandemic and the ensuing battle of narratives has made its achievement almost impossible. China has proven its ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity before; the 2008 financial crisis served as springboard for its global ambitions. As Covid-19 hits the world and Europe with particular severity, China is paying attention to its recovery phase; which is not only concerned with health, but also, and arguably mostly, with economy and reputation. The two move in tandem, Chinese power and global outreach stems from its growing and innovative economy. Should this element no longer exist or be noticeably weakened, China’s global ambitions would be curtailed. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, for the first time, China demonstrably increased investment in several European (1) countries, actively engaging in European affairs by offering its hand to struggling economies (2). In the years which followed, while the West slowly recovered from the hit, China grew rapidly and carried the recovery of the global economy on its shoulders. As in 2008, the Covid-19 pandemic offers a great opportunity for Chinese enterprises to invest in European struggling enterprises and thus, augment China’s global presence. However, unlike 2008, China’s economy no longer grows at a double-digit pace and this time, the country was itself harshly hit by the epidemic. Furthermore, the...
Written by Matthias Strohn This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence.  On 8 May 2020, we see the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Celebrations and commemorative events had been planned all over the world before COVID-19 forced a general retreat. One could ask whether this really matters. 75 years is a human lifespan. Not many veterans of the conflict are still with us. Once we move from remembering to commemorating, does it really matter whether we place such attention on a date? The simple answer is that it does. It matters for a number of reasons, both historical and, even more importantly, contemporary. The Second World War has shaped our world and continues so to do. Without a thorough understanding of the causes of the war, its conduct and outcomes, it is impossible to understand our world in the 21st century and the realities of security and defence policies. And yet, perhaps even more important than the factual truths are the nations’ individual perceptions of this conflict, as these shape our inter-human and international relationships more than the naked truth. The first step needs to be a thorough the analysis of one’s own nation’s role in the war. Britain has got some work to do in this respect. The ideas that Britain stood all alone against Germany in 1940, that the Battle of Britain saved the free world, and that Britain was a major winner of the war can be easily challenged. Yes, Britain was on the winning side, but one of the major geo-political results of the war was the decline of British power in the world and the rise of the two super-powers USA and USSR. The general British perception of the war can perhaps...
The requirements for a Nation's Foreign Policy to adjust course in response to changes in the Geo-Strategic landscape is not new - nor is the fact that, in times of significant changes on the world stage, more significant alterations in policy direction will be required. In this commentary piece, Andrew Ehrhardt looks back at the significant changes to British Foreign Policy in the period 1900 -1905 and highlights some of the echos from history that are worth considering today. The Fifth Marquess of Lansdowne and Britain’s Grand Strategic Reset, 1900-1905 Written by Andrew Ehrhardt. This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence. The Fifth Marquess of Lansdowne’s tenure as Foreign Secretary between November 1900 and December 1905 has long been overlooked, but his policies initiated one of the most significant periods in British diplomatic history. He had inherited a grand strategy of non-alignment which, while largely successful in previous decades, was quickly becoming an outdated policy as a result of a changing international environment. The future of the international order, which was now beset with rising powers such as the United States, Germany and Russia, was uncertain; yet one thing was clear: Britain’s past position and influence was fading. Faced with this challenge, Lansdowne broke with the traditional foreign policy of his predecessor, Lord Salisbury, and settled longstanding disputes to repair historically strained relations and forged alliances to shore up British vulnerabilities. His three major achievements—the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, the Anglo-French Entente of 1904, and the rapprochement with the United States—are lessons in strategic, pragmatic and innovative statecraft. By 1900, the elaborate celebrations that had marked Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in June 1897 were soon overshadowed by increasing doubt as to Britain’s position in a changing geopolitical landscape. The global hegemon, broadly speaking, since the...
The article 'Is this the evidence for Roman Britain's Great Plague?' originally featured in Issue 221 of Current Archaeology, and is used here with their kind permission.  The Current Archaeology website can be found at this link - Current Archaeology The Aurelian Plague; Pandemic Events and the Military Written by Colonel Al McCluskey, Assistant Head CHACR. This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence In 2008, archaeologists working in Gloucester unearthed the remains of 91 men, women and children buried almost 2000 years ago by the former citizens of the Roman city of Glevum. However, unlike the respectful and ordered remains frequently encountered on such sites, the haphazard character of these burials suggested a community under severe stress, with ritual norms being overridden by the need for the emergency disposal of a large number of corpses. The remains date to the late 2nd Century CE, suggesting that they could have been victims of a plague that swept across the Roman Empire in this period. And as we contemplate the consequences of COVID-19 on the contemporary world, it provides a timely reminder of the impact such events may have had on armies in Britain, and across Europe, in the past. The Aurelian Plagues were recorded in historical sources as being the most severe to strike the Roman Empire, with widespread death reported across whole communities, including the military. Furthermore, while the disease counted Roman soldiers among its many victims, the Roman Army was also held responsible for the introduction of the disease into the Empire in the first instance. It was also the institution which had to grapple with the wider insecurity that may have been unleashed as a result. Historical commentators, such as the Greek Doctor Galen, generally considered the pandemic to have been brought back...
Berlin 75: The City is not Neutral Written by Colonel Al McCluskey, Assistant Head CHACR. This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence. Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the Soviet Army’s break into metropolitan Berlin, when Lt Gen Krivosheina’s 1st Mechanized Corps breached the city’s Outer-Defence-Ring and secured the north-eastern suburb of Weißensee. As such it seems apposite to comment on the article from Professor David Betz and Lt Col Hugo Stanford-Tuck we included in our Newsletter last week (CHACR Take Away Newsletter Issue 4 dated 15 Apr 20) suggesting that cities were a ‘neutral’ environment for warfare in the 21st Century. This callsign disagrees. The ‘Neutral’ argument is based on assertion that modern Western Armies – particularly the British Army – are hidebound by a risk-averse character that is exposed by the challenges of operating in cities. To a large extent, the argument believes that this is the result of poor use of history that focusses on examples of urban combat that are too few in number and too exceptional in their context to be useful.  Betz and Stanford-Tuck further suggest that if this conservative approach can be overcome, through better training, delivered in bigger and more technically advanced urban warfare training estate, and the confident delegation of authority and control to lower command levels, urban warfare can be conducted in a far more productive and successful manner. The assertion that cities are neutral is flawed on three counts. First, it ignores the importance of ‘human terrain’. The ‘Neutral’ argument rests on the extension of Spencer-Chapman’s seminal book, ‘The Jungle is Neutral’ written as a memoir of his wartime exploits in the Far-East. In short, the environmental difficulties equally apply to all sides. This is absolutely true in physical terrain terms. But cities and jungles...
Written by Akin Unver. This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence. In the recent decade, the question of how emerging media formats and communication tools shape war and conflict has become quite popular for the scientific and military domains alike. This popularity owes to the ‘multi-directionality’ of digital media data in contrast to the unidirectional nature of traditional media, where the producers and consumers are well-separated, or traditional bi-directional communication technologies where two sides interact within a closed system. For the first time in human history, individuals can produce and curate their own information for a global audience, without any editorial intermediary or a significant gatekeeper.1 Presidents and CEOs have to compete for the same engagement and attention pool with that of Youtubers, citizen journalists and teen Instagram influencers. Every person with access to a social media platform is now a digital content producer, as well as a consumer, in a publicly accessible, measurable and continually evolving information ecosystem.2 This revolution has a plethora of implications for conflict and violence monitoring. Up until a decade ago, the fastest way a random civilian observer could learn about distant battlefield events would be through traditional media. Military frontline personnel would log these events and send them to the HQ. Commanders would then disclose a small portion of these events to the press, carefully curated by whether they support or weaken the national strategic narrative. Even with the advent of real-time broadcasting and war reporters in the 1990s, the influence of the military and traditional editorial gatekeepers did not wane. Today, this picture is very different. Any civilian with access to the Internet and social media can now watch and monitor the Syrian war (or any conflict for that matter) in real-time, following the images and...

What Use is the Army?

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Written by Andrew Sharpe This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence. I feel slightly uncomfortable asking the question in the title, under the current circumstances, with COVID-19 cutting its swathe through the British population and as the nation leans upon the Army (and, to be fair, the Royal Navy and the RAF too, but mainly on the Army) to help with national logistics, with the construction and staffing of giant field hospitals, and with many other tasks besides. It looks like a slightly ignorant question. Even slightly offensive. Especially to those soldiers who are putting in 18-hour shifts, delivered, I’m sure, with the usual good-natured grumbling and dark humour. Yet, only two-and-a-half months ago (when global pandemics were still, no doubt, in the ‘extreme contingencies’ tray of the MoD policy writers), speaking to the Army Generalship Programme a senior Civil Servant uttered those very words to the new Major Generals on the course, making it clear that, after long service in Whitehall, and especially within the MoD, he struggled to answer the question for himself. And, shortly afterwards, the challenge was re-issued to them by two senior officers, one from the Royal Navy and one from the Royal Air Force who were offering ambitious futuristic visions for the utility of their own Services. And the question troubled the generals, who felt, rightly, that it deserved serious consideration and that satisfactory answers to the question were required. At the same time, the Army’s concepts, strategy, capability and force development staff officers have all, in their different but inter-linked workstrands, been working long and hard hours for some time now to provide clear answers to exactly that question. As the Integrated Review looms (whether delayed or not), academics and practitioners alike are writing and...
Written by Matthias Strohn This work is strictly the view of the author, not the British Army and Ministry of Defence.    The current situation has demonstrated that the United Kingdom can really count on its citizens in times of need and crisis: More than 750,000 citizens signed up to support the NHS. Tens of thousands of retired medical personnel have re-joined the NHS to support the struggle against the virus and to protect the lives of their fellow citizens. The Army is supporting the NHS and has contributed to building the new Nightingale hospitals. It is also on standby to support the strained (civilian) logistical supply lines. These are achievements that can make Britain proud of its armed forces and its citizens. They are also admissions of a lack of strategic planning and foresight. These impressive achievements are only possible, because, so far, the measures are short or perhaps medium term. Should this crisis continue for, say, several years, would the population’s enthusiasm for these voluntary contributions continue? From a military perspective, the Army can afford to support the civilian agencies, because it is currently not required to engage in the realm of its primary reason d’être: fighting a (large scale) war. A very basic look back into history puts this into perspective: The Spanish Influenza that hit Europe in 1918 did not stop the First World War. Priorities were different, and the virus was seen as less threatening than the German troops in the Flanders trenches. We currently hear a lot about the “war” against the virus, and the “Dunkirk spirit” is often used to describe the nation’s mood and the typical British stiff upper lip in dealing with the crisis. Historical catch-phrases are often imprecise and sometimes they can be dangerous. We are not at war. The virus is not...
Jonathan Boff (University of Birmingham) looks back at the post Boer War reforms, the 1919-1932 'Ten Year Rule' period and Duncan Sandy's 1957 Defence White Paper in his examination of the "relationship between public finance and Army reform."  In his examination, recurring (and familiar) themes of Efficiency, Reform, the need to juggle the balance "between machines and manpower as the situation demands", "generating improved capacity at lower cost" and the impact Politics (governmental, and inter-service) will have on any Defence Review. "It is not about the narrative. One does not get more money by vaguely muttering about capability shortfalls or ill-defend threats. Only when the threat is so very real and immediate that it’s clear to a checkout clerk at Tesco’s, will the cash start to flow. In any situation short of that, reform, not expansion, must be the watchword, and the experience of the Edwardian period suggests that it’s crucial to a) prepare the ground and support, within the army, the military, and more broadly, very carefully, and b) to offer economies." Will Defence's contributions to the UK's COVID-19 response bring the required support from "checkout clerks at Tesco's" and the Treasury to avoid the need for Defence "to offer economies"?   Written by Jonathan Boff; University of Birmingham. This article was originally published in February 2019, in Issue 14 of Ares & Athena 'Don’t look back in anger: How the study of war can benefit today’s Army' This work is strictly the view of the author, not that of the CHACR, or the British Army and Ministry of Defence.  Since at least the time of Thucydides, war has been ‘a matter not so much of arms as of money’. Even on 27 August 1918, in the middle of the climactic battle on the Western Front, with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) pushing the Germans...