General The Lord Dannatt urged future military leaders to “think outside the box” as he predicted the continuation of austerity influenced defence budgets, even after the 2015 general election.
The former UK Army Chief was speaking at St George’s Hall in the final instalment of University of Liverpool’s What does 2020 look like? Security and Conflict lecture series. Seeking to provide a vision of the world in seven years time, the programme has already featured Quilliam founder, Maajid Nawaz; Colonel Tim Collins and Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.
Lord Dannatt opened by discussing the defence review of 1997/98 that he said “provided the UK with scalable and balanced armed forces”, capable of responding to “strategic shocks”.
He said the events of September 11 2001 were an example that “changed the ground”, and while criticising the rush to war in Iraq, and his view that it had a detrimental effect on operations in Afghanistan, he defended Britain’s influence in the south of the country.
He described Afghanistan as a “war among the people, for the people” adding that its cause had been “misunderstood”. He said there would be a role for the Taliban in the south of the country, but this was a “far cry from the pervasive role at the turn of the century when they were providing sanctuary for al-Qaida”.
More broadly, Lord Dannatt said both wars had created a West “far more wary of intervention”, particularly on Muslim land, and the policy of ‘go first, go fast and go home’ had “rapidly become history”.
Looking ahead to 2020, Lord Dannatt predicted a second coalition government, a slowly improving economy, with no increases in public spending creating a restricted armed forces, no progress on Israel and Palestine, and a US administration led by Hilary Clinton. He felt the “struggle within Islam” would strengthen threats in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia and northern Nigeria.
Do things differently
Lord Dannatt said: “Our national ambition should be properly set out. What is our role to be in the future? Are we going to remain as a medium-sized power closely linked to the USA, the leading military nation in Europe and a permanent member of the UN Security Council? Or will it be that pressures of budget mean that role cannot be maintained? Should we be considering taking a lesser role, like one of the Scandinavian countries and live in peace and make clocks?
“We must realise that we have to do things differently. We must think outside the box. It may seem like tomorrow looks a little bit like yesterday, but worse. Simply doing what we did yesterday is not the answer.”