The Gathering Storm? Brexit and the Future of European Defence and Security


Following the recent UK election, Britain seems poised for a referendum on EU membership as early as 2016. This will have long-term implications for the defence and security landscape at a time of exceptional instability. This is an opportune moment to reflect upon and consider Britain’s relationship with its continental European partners and government priorities moving forward.

During the recent UK general election campaign, Conservative leader David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on EU membership if re-elected as Prime Minister. Following Cameron’s surprise victory at the polls, the country now seems poised for a vote on the issue as early as 2016.[i] Leaders in the financial sector have expressed concern that such a referendum will pose a significant threat to Britain’s economic stability. Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney recently echoed these sentiments when he called for a ‘speedy resolution of the European question.’[ii] Brexit also poses equally great challenges for defence and security.

The United Kingdom has long had a complicated and problematic relationship with continental Europe. Over the centuries, Britain has relied on its position as an island nation in order to remain aloof from unnecessary continental entanglements and alliances. As a global superpower, the UK was able to draw upon its colonial possessions to help bolster its defences. During WWI and WWII, manpower and resources from the Dominion countries and colonies helped Britain to punch well above its weight. With the decline of empire, the UK has fostered strong political and military ties to the United States. However, Britain has never been able to remain wholly detached from its European neighbours nor can it afford to do so now.

The British Armed Forces are the smallest that they have been since the mid nineteenth century.[iii] The defence budget has also been subject to severe cuts. In light of the recent Conservative landslide, Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute has predicted that the, ‘Ministry of Defence (MoD) might get a real terms increase in its total budget of up to 1 per cent per year over the next Spending Review period.’[iv] Be that as it may, defence spending is still set to drop below 2% of GDP over the next few years.[v] Britain’s failure to meet its NATO commitment has strained relations with the United States. Earlier this year, US Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno expressed, ‘his concerns about the impact of UK defence cuts on the level of UK-US military cooperation.’[vi] In an interview with BBC Radio 4 in early 2014, ex-US defence secretary Robert Gates similarly commented that, ‘With the fairly substantial reductions in defence spending in Britain, what we’re finding is that it [the UK] won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past.’[vii] These developments come at a time of exceptional instability, both within Europe and globally.

Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, the stability of Eastern Europe has come into question. The authors of SDSR 2010 did not predict that state on state conflict would pose a major threat to European security in the foreseeable future.[viii] However, British authorities have been forced to rethink these conclusions in light of Russia’s actions. In a recent report, the members of the House of Commons Defence Committee argued that, ‘For the first time, since the Second World War, a technologically advanced European power has expanded its own territory by force, rejecting international borders.’[ix] As spending declines elsewhere, the Russian government is also committed to investing heavily in the military with a projected defence budget of close to 100 billion dollars in 2016.[x] Fearing for their own security, the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) have appealed to NATO for the deployment of a permanent contingent of troops to be based in the region.[xi] These demands come at a time when the UK already faces significant security threats such as foreign and domestic terrorism.

Moving forward, it seems more than likely the UK will become increasingly reliant upon a network of strong political and defensive relationships. Many of these alliances will include key European countries like France and Germany. In Rethinking defence to meet new threats, the House of Commons Defence Committee concluded that while, ‘the UK must build on its strong alliance with the United States,’ it is crucial that, ‘European NATO allies are operating at maximum effectiveness.’[xii] Consequently, many commentators have expressed anxiety about a possible British exit from the EU. On the eve of the British election, author and journalist Alex Preston contemplated such an eventuality. He speculated that Brexit could undermine existing intelligence sharing relationships between Britain and its European partners.[xiii] On the other hand, Eurosceptics have argued that leaving the EU would allow the UK to function more effectively and independently both financially and in terms of defence.[xiv]

The British political establishment and the wider public need to think carefully about the UK’s place in the world and how to redefine and re-establish an effective working relationship with Europe. With the growth of nationalistic feeling in both Scotland and England, this will undoubtedly be challenging.[xv] However, decisions regarding Europe are long overdue. For better or worse, there is no doubt that a UK referendum on the EU will have a lasting impact on both the European and global defence landscape.


[i] ‘Philip Hammond seeks fast settlement on EU,’ Telegraph (14 May 2015),

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Tom Rutherford, ‘Defence personnel statistics,’ Social and General Statistics (26 Sept 2014).

[iv] Malcolm Chalmers, ‘Defence and the Election Outcome,’ RUSI Analysis (12 May 2015),

[v] House of Commons Defence Committee, Rethinking defence to meet new threats (London: Stationery Office, 24 Mar 2015), pp. 12-13.

[vi] Ibid., p. 18.

[vii] Robert Gates, as quoted in, ‘Military cuts mean “no US partnership” Robert Gates warns Britain,’ BBC News (16 Jan 2014),

[viii] House of Commons Defence Committee, Rethinking defence, p. 3.

[ix] Ibid., p. 13.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Daniel McLaughlin, ‘Russia decries Baltic states’ plea for NATO brigade,’ Irish Times (14 May 2015),

[xii] House of Commons Defence Committee, Rethinking defence, p. 3.

[xiii] Alex Preston, ‘What would happen if Britain left the EU?’ Guardian (19 Apr 2015),

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Malcolm Chalmers, ‘Defence and the Election Outcome.’


Charm to the front: some thoughts on public order policing


The days that followed the general election did not lack for frustrated emotion, with dissatisfaction across the political spectrum. That Saturday London’s streets played host to two significant events, in North London and Whitehall. Responding to StrifeBlog’s piece on the 9th May’s anti-austerity demonstration at the latter location, I would like to amplify the points raised regarding behaviour, particularly focusing the attention on the police and the role of theirs within the swirl of protest. Recent research on crowd behaviour and perceptions of police legitimacy suggest this is an area ripe for critical attention.


Protest is a fraught event. The passions which drive citizens to the streets in common voice are not to be trifled with. However, while the emotions of distress are an expected part of such events, my observations from 9th May solidified the conceptualization of the tactical relevance of another emotion, charm, and I would like to discuss here a place for it in British public order policing. It is not news to suggest that polite chat – if not outright charm – is a feature of British policing. If current research is correct, that characteristic is a significant strength against the landscape of policing practice, an asset at the strategic and tactical levels. Moving forward into a period of uncertain funding and even more uncertain political and security challenges, the need to effectively use that strength exceeds that which is merely good practice. While putting a premium on charm in public order situations might accord with the best of emerging scholarship on the subject, in fact these more critical issues may argue for its necessity.

It is first necessary to set the terms of public order policing. For the British police especially, the emotional context of protest places their role on a knife’s edge. On the one hand, there is the policing standpoint on protest. Whether any individual officer or force agrees with those passions, British policing adheres to the standard that the first objective of their efforts is to facilitate the right to protest. Before going further I should point out that I think that this is an excellent starting point for the police role in protest. On the other, hand, the “toe to toe” tactical approach means that they do so at closest proximity to the participants. That is, British public order policing is designed to operate in the face of society’s distress. The challenges of such an approach are significant and it is not unexpected that the police at times struggle to get the balance correct. Much work has been done within policing in the last several years to refine their implementation of the facilitative approach as part of their public order doctrine in response to official critique and public concern. HMIC’s reviews following the 2009 G-20 demonstrations focused on the relationship of that approach with the culture of British policing. Within that framework, and in support of facilitation at close proximity to the protest, increasing consideration is being given to how force, communications, appearance, and other markers of the policing approach to protest influence events and rights. In sum – and it is no small task – British police aim to facilitate protest within the intimate emotional space of the protesters while balancing their actions against a culture which relies upon public consent. Influencing all of this is a growing body of literature regarding the police role in crowd behaviour. The damaging correlation between police hostility and discord or disorder is becoming clear, whereas the banner of respect is linked to positive shaping of events. [1] Events at Whitehall offer an excellent perspective on the role of demeanour – of all involved but especially for the police on the frontlines – as it was a dominant theme of what I saw over the last two hours of the day’s events. Through that frame I would like to consider a few key points which were defined by the interaction of police and protester emotion.

To begin, the onset of the disorder sustains the focus on the interaction between police and protester across emotion and action. From the videos widely circulated online it is possible to form several impressions. Key among them was that whereas the police intention at the start was to facilitate the march decrying the politics of austerity that aim was derailed by events. A minor incident which should not but does often alter the course of events, the “snatch,” (4:05), was the immediate spark to the day’s extant tinder, unleashing the disorder which rightly or wrongly has characterized impressions of the event. In itself, the arrest did not merit the response it invited. But this is the nature of such events and large groups, that simmering passions await the least inspiration. It is the sort of phenomenon which led the United States Marine Corps to imagine the character of the Strategic Corporal. That is, under the right circumstances even minor tactical actions can have significant strategic and political effect. I do not suspect that the officers involved in the arrest intended to unleash the havoc which followed, but rather were simply focused on the task at hand. And what the video fails to show is the act which had led these officers to decide this individual needed to be apprehended at that moment.

Omitting negativity and judgement, it is worth consideration of the balance of value in taking such actions during protest. There is very obviously a trade-off in costs and risks for certain activities in public order policing. Where crowd perceptions of legitimacy and police action matter, especially with regard to their behaviour in the moment and the hair’s breadth difference between calm and disorder, how arrests are carried out is a matter for discussion, with minimum distress a necessary element of success.

But if the early afternoon’s events sustained the negative consequences of the relationship between police behaviour and crowd dynamics in protest, the evening offered a glimpse at the potential of the positive influence. Having spent the afternoon trapped in the office, listening wistfully to the sound of NPAS London circling nearby, when my day’s writing completed at six I made it to Whitehall for final act of the day’s drama ending at Westminster Bridge.

Things had gone to disorder earlier, but by this time in the day the mood had calmed considerably. Although many of the police were in public order kit at that point, this was not how the policing had begun the day. Despite the earlier disorder, there still remained on the streets officers in nothing more than their hi-viz jackets, stab vests and soft caps. Nevertheless, the tone along the lines was at least polite, if not friendly, most officers in helmets had the face shield up and were perfectly willing to engage members of the public. [2] I will admit that in support of my research I take full advantage of the opportunity this presents. But even some of the protesters were enthusiastic with their engagement, and these interactions of the police and protesters was instructive to watch. One exchange stands out. When challenged to confront what had happened there earlier in the day and whether what the police had done was right or fair, one officer smiled and replied “I don’t know, we came down from Walthamstow an hour ago.” The failed attempt to burden the officers with blame was poignant and defused somewhat the protester’s confrontation with the officer. It also was a moment to consider what sort of cognitive impression the day’s contrasting and similar activities would leave on some of the officers.


Protester chats with an officer.


After an hour or so, the decision was taken to end the protest in front of the MoD. I was made aware of this with a polite notification by one of the officers. Although tempers had moderated he did not expect the remaining protesters to take the news well. As I was stood in the path of the intended police movement, it was clear that members of the public wishing to do so would be allowed to pass around the police lines. The officer’s assessment of the temper of the crowd was not inaccurate, and in response to the effort to disperse the lingering crowds the police again had to contend with emotion. Meeting police instructions for the crowd to step back, the chants of “Fuck the Police” echoed down Whitehall. Finding myself behind the police line of march, as they began to walk the crowds west I was able to observe the process from this perspective. The struggle here was not only to move the protesters but to keep control over the metal barriers which had been deployed along the streets. Used by the protesters to confound police efforts to move them along, it was a mildly frantic effort to move the barriers to the rear. Of the many things which the public order leader on the street must consider in such moments, even when the disorder is minor, this is not likely to enter the mind of anyone save those with practical experience. This effort was handled by every officer present and possible, rank notwithstanding.


Following the police line.


Perhaps I followed a little too closely, because at one point, a rather flustered Chief Inspector turned and noticed I was right behind their lines. Finding that I was not a member of the press, she requested that move off to the side a bit. I am relentless about my research, but equally I do not wish to become part of the problem, so to the sidewalk I went. The view was just as good, if not quite as direct. From there I watched the last push to move the protesters towards Parliament Square. Not long after, with the remnants of the protest finally arrived at Westminster, the police quickly regrouped and dispersed them across the bridge.

Observing at close range, across a variety of interactions and emotions, the contours of British policing practice and scholarship on crowd psychology and public perceptions of legitimacy merged conceptually. Watching the exchanges between police and crowd, the strength of this culture of policing which provides ample space for individual diplomacy to shape events should be reckoned as a strength against the academic findings on legitimacy, compliance, and consent generally. [3] And it seems to me that public order policing specifically could harness the influence of this geniality. Without being flippant or unserious, it is worth considering what value there would be in the first line of action in public order policing was chat. Echoing the ancient Roman military principle of placing experience to the rear to shore up the resolve of less experienced troops, in this case we would call for charm to the front to minimize the friction between police and protesters, moderate the latter’s distress of the protesters and public, thus lessening the public order burden overall. The police position in close proximity with protesting crowds is a challenge, but it offers as well an opportunity. Arrayed as the face of protest policing in its first effort, chatters and charmers could do much to maintain the equanimity of those they confront. The most recent protest was not the first I had seen of the value of such efforts. During the Guy Fawkes demonstrations last November I stopped to watch a line of officers manage the flow of demonstrators. You cannot see it in the picture, but the officers have their visors up and are smiling [4] and talking to several of whom they are keeping from heading towards Westminster and Trafalgar Square. The effects were palpable. At the tactical level in the moment, although thwarted in their attempt to join the fray, the individuals were largely mollified to have at least an open “ear” to their sentiments and reasons for protest. More broadly, considering the terms of legitimacy, by treating these individuals with respect, explaining the police reasons for stopping their progress, and listening to their cause, these officers served the legitimacy and perception of policing.


Smiling officers chat with protesters.


Balancing the needs of protest and expression against those for order and safety has never been easy and seems only to be increasing in complexity. The British police will have to confront this, as well as the broader challenges to their relationships with communities and ability to work effectively as a function of that. Seemingly out of place within this world, it may be that charm is a necessary part of the public order kit.




1 See, eg, Lawrence Singer, “London Riots: Searching for a Stop,” Policing, V7, No. 1, pp 32-44.

2 The number of times I watched an officer ask politely several times for a protester to do something was remarkable. Nothing anyone was asked approached onerous, but the mood was simply to oppose.

3 See, eg, Andy Myhill and Paul Quinton, “It’s a fair cop? Police legitimacy, public cooperation and crime reduction,” NPIA, September 2011.

4 This accords with research on kit, as a reduction in force can signal positively to a protest crowd and facilitate communication. See, eg, Stephen Reicher, Clifford Stott, Patrick Cronin, and Otto Adang, “An integrated approach to crowd psychology and public order policing,” Policing, Vol 27, No. 4, 2004.

The Salvage and Repair of Army Boots, Somerset, England, 1943 Rows of shiny army boots await distribution after their repair and rebuilding at this shoe factory in Somerset.

Colonel Panter-Downes: The Army Foot

Our Colonel returns this week to inspire the conversation. In this installment he considers the decline and fall of the foot inspection. Once a regular part of British Army leadership practice, he views its demise against the backdrop of the changes it represents for service and officership. As well as any soldier, the military historian is familiar with the practice, as well as the foot’s larger influence in war. The Romans built their empire upon the Legion’s march. And even in this age of high speed travel, the foot manages to retain its influence upon events. However, as a metaphor for the creeping technocracy within the armed forces, the changing terms of its care as a matter of military concern is illuminating. Read the post, consider the questions, join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW. — JSR 


The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst issued us many things in our year long sojourn there. Some would prove invaluable (our copy of Sidney Jary’s book “18 Platoon”), some would prove tragic (our unfeasibly bulky purple polyester track suits) and some just muddled in between. In this latter category there sits a slim blue pamphlet that still haunts a box in my attic, “The Army Foot: Its Conditions and Cures”.

I do not think that I have ever had recourse to use said pamphlet although the subject is one of acute interest to most infantry officers, for the infantry foot in particular is both an ugly and indispensable object. I have however carried out an inordinate number of foot inspections. Sandhurst was very good at foot inspections, and feet were inspected after exercises and after road marches and this habit carried through to when I was a platoon commander. Feet inspections were the norm and the platoon commander carried them out. When I left my last command some seven years ago however, foot inspections were not the norm. Indeed when, after our first road march, we warmed down and I briefed my command team “Right – foot inspection! I’ll do the HQ you do your teams, let me know when you’re done!” I was met with incredulous looks by the assembled officers. Foot inspections it seems are no longer the norm in the British Army.

This passing of an era seems to me a great shame on a number of fronts. It also seems to me to reflect something of a gradual change in command ethos within the British Army. The reasons for this change are complex but ultimately boil down to two primary factors.  Primarily changes in the character of the society we are drawn from and whom we serve, exacerbated by the steady erosion of the British regimental system in successive defence reforms since 1990.

When I joined it seems to me that the leadership ethos was somewhat paternalistic in nature. As junior officers we were expected to care for our men and it was made clear to us that their problems were very much our problems. I advised on finances and relationships as well as courses and careers, the approach seemed almost Edwardian in character. Despite being a mere slip of a lad myself, my soldiers were referred to affectionately as “my boys”. Not only was I expected to know what was happening in their lives I was expected to be actively involved. I would attend court if they were up on charges (officers still do), write to the bank manager on their behalf if needed and consult (or console) on their marriage plans as required. If the leadership ethos was strongly paternalistic, the character of the unit and sub-unit was equally familial.

This familial character was reinforced by the nature of my battalion, a close knit county regiment with strong local and family links amongst both officers and men.  In my first platoon I found myself commanding one distant cousin, one school friend and two men from my village. People had grown up together and families had served together over generations. Not only did the regiment have a history and character, but it shared regimental families in both the Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes; families who had grown up and then served alongside each other over the generations.

It is the case today that not only have the geographical and familial links been strained by successive eroding of the British regimental structure (which has been most acutely felt in the line infantry units), but also that the ethos of command has moved away from its former paternalistic nature. Partly this is as a result of legislative change (I am not qualified to give financial or relationship advice and therefore would be liable if I did so) and partly because society has changed; the Baby Boomers generation has given way to Generation X and now we in turn are ceding to the Millennials. Perhaps today’s soldiers see a clearer delineation of responsibilities than they did 20 years ago and what was appropriate then is no longer appropriate now? I sense that today junior officers still care for their men, but that perhaps their willingness and definitely their latitude to get actively involved in providing care is more limited than in my time.

Now barring National Guard and Reserve units US Army units have no geographical affiliations for recruiting, and so while there are a great many ‘Army families’ where generations have served in turn this is not necessarily expressed in unit character for Active Component units. Bearing this in mind there is not a direct read across from my experiences of the familial nature of the command care relationship to the US Army.  However US officers will have seen the changes over the years over what they used to do and what they do now, between what was appropriate and what is no longer appropriate.

So my questions for this week are:

What are the parameters of care to which a leader should adhere?

How has the practical application of leadership care changed since you joined and what does this say about your organisation and people?

When did you last do a foot inspection?

Despite the changing times, I remain a firm fan of foot inspections, not only on a pragmatic basis but as a tangible demonstration of care to those under command.  You can learn a lot about a man by how he cares for his feet and what state they are in, you can also learn a lot about a leader through the care and attention that he gives your feet.




UK Election 2015: Chaos, Disengagement and the Hunger Games

In 2010 I ran a series of short pieces on these pages about the General Election (and the image is from the 2010 result). Back through no popular demand at all… some thoughts.

This election will have four main head-lines on May 8th, and a big mess of two significant minorities to hack about trying to form a government:

1) The SNP wiped the floor with Labour in Scotland.

2) The LibDems melted down

3) UKIP were second in over 100 seats, but gained only 5 seats, and thus – ironically – have become the new LibDems…

4) Both the Conservatives and Labour can mathematically form a minority government, and that leaves the Queen with a somewhat large constitutional headache.

So, let’s start with Scotland. Lovely place, one day I will live there. Well, Nicola Sturgeon (leader of the Scottish Nationalists) was the stand-out winner of the televised debate of all seven main party leaders. Indeed, the people I watched it with (who all live in England, and aren’t known for socialist tendencies) all wanted to vote for her by the end of evening. This was partly because she sounded competent (‘knows what she’s doing’), and partly because didn’t seem as ‘male and smug’ as the other ones. So, on an unscientific poll in the Midlands, the leader of a party no-one could vote for, had a clear majority. In more scientific polls, she is set to lead (despite not standing for a Westminster seat herself) an absolute drubbing for Labour north of the border. For Labour’s chances of forming a majority government this is catastrophic. Well, it has ended the chance of a majority. For Jim Murphy (the Scottish Labour Party leader) this will be – if it comes about – a disaster, which is a shame because he is both a competent politician and by most accounts a decent man too. So, whilst the SNP has been making strides to dominate Scottish politics for a good number of years it is the catalysing effect of the Scottish independence referendum that is catapulting the party ever higher in the polls. The notion that the independence referendum was the end of the matter ‘for a generation’ seems fanciful. The mode of exit for the Scots seems painfully clear: the 2017 EU referendum provides them with the perfect opportunity to jump a Brexiting ship. Expect to see to Nicola Sturgeon looking very pleased on May 8th, and her former mentor Alex Salmond restored to Westminster and full of the joys of holding someone over a barrel.

The LibDems are having what is known in cricketing circles as ‘a total mare’. There appears to be nowhere in the land that they are currently safe – bar Eastleigh – according to an aggregator poll yesterday, and the lack of local support (their traditional strength) will be particularly concerning for them. The LibDems have – by dint of their internal constitution – always been very close to their membership, but they seemed to forget this during Coalition and frankly didn’t spend enough time saying how they had held back the Tories from doing whatever it is we assume they would have done if given free rein. And that’s the LibDems problem in a nutshell: what did they provide the Coalition, short of bodies to form a majority? If Clegg is lucky he’ll be offered a seat in the European Commission, a job he’d do fabulously well. As for those LibDem MPs that survive next Thursday, theirs might be a cosy and lonely existence. Back to the drawing board, and the sort of localism that saw them as ‘the’ party of local government for 20years.

UKIP and the irrepressible Farage will be disappointed on 8 May. They’ll be disappointed because – ironically -we don’t have a European system of voting. If we did, they’d be laughing. Nige would be all over the papers guzzling warm beer and basking in the joy of 1953 (cards on the table: as a europhile, I’m not a fan, but I do think he’s a nearly-brilliant politician). So, in line with the Ashcroft polling, I’m also happy to think that UKIP will come 2nd in over 100 constituencies, but fail to win outright in many. The act of coming second in a large number of seats (although they’ll feel like it’s a cup of sick) is actually a very strong result, that they’ll need to work hard, and more coherently, to build upon. For me, the really interesting point is who they are taking votes from: I had assumed years ago that they were the militant wing of the Conservative Party, but there’s good evidence that they’re taking working class Labour votes (which will see Tory MPs saved) and I’ve heard a number of LibDems in the midlands saying they’ve switched to UKIP too (which is interesting, when you compare the platforms). What Farage does very well, is tap into the concerns of actual voters. Not the issues that the mainstream think we ought to be bothered about, but what the ordinary voter is actually bothered about. That makes him a bit of a mystery to people.. well, like me. But after May 8, if he can actually build a party machine and match populism to policies that don’t get automatically shredded by the majority of the press, he’ll cause electoral chaos.

It’s been noticeable that defence and security have been almost totally missing from the election debates. There was half a day on trident, and the debate centred on 4 boats, 3 boats, no boats, and what is trident? But by lunchtime, it was as if all the parties had come together and agreed that trident and defence in general was a bad topic for all of them, and it was better not to talk about it. What I took from this is that defence is going to suffer further irksome cuts after the election no matter who wins, and none of them wish to point out the emperor has his fundamentals dangling in the breeze. We must surely be at the point where the next SDSR needs to have a strong element of public engagement – we are moving from full-spectrum to limited spectrum capabilities and the public are only just beginning to wake up to it. Miliband’s attempt to engage on foreign policy – at Chatham House – was met with howls and protests, and the modification of what went out from the Labour press office the night before rather indicated that the language had been loose. It would have made for a more interesting foreign policy debate if Miliband had gone for the strongest interpretation of what he said – the debate around interventionism and isolationism (a false dichotomy in my view) would have been worth having. But all the parties decided this was bad karma for them too. Even the debate on economics has swirled around, with Cameron’s job’s miracle not landing properly, nor Labour’s swipe at zero-hours jobs and food banks misfiring – you’d have to wonder what carnage Blair and Campbell would have caused with this.

So, on May 8th (and then for probably a month) we’ll witness the moving of the chairs as two credible minority governments vie to actually form the government. Who’d be the Queen in those circs: unenviable! Cameron has seemed – unfairly, so he keeps saying – disconnected and without gusto. But he’s done the job as a Chief Exec rather than a vision thing, whilst Miliband – in not setting fire to anything or falling over in public – has exceeded popular expectations. His brand of geek-immunity from social pressure allows him to rock up with Russell Brand and not be intimidated by the coolest kid in the playground, whilst meandering into a hen party and looking appropriately geeky. Weirdly, Miliband is becoming the Labour party’s secret weapon… six months ago, you’d have laughed to see it written.

This election of disengagement and the race to the deadheat of 33% makes me almost nostalgic for the crushing certainties of electoral domination of the 80s and early 00s. Almost….



4/29: When Casualties Come Home from War

When the casualty incident described in this piece occurred, it fell to me to tend to the unit’s “family.” Beyond the families directly affected, the rest experienced these events through my messages. They chronicle a small piece of what happens on the home-front when casualties come home. [1] These events unfold regularly in our midst, more so in the last decade of conflict, but most in the general public have no experience of this aspect of war; they should.


Reflecting upon the conflict and mayhem that has been unleashed in Iraq since the instigation of the military operations to end the regime of Saddam Hussein, there are many issues to confront the scholar. As a military historian, most fundamentally for me I never believed regime change in Iraq was a good idea. Breaking states should only be a strategy choice of last possible resort, and even then it is probably best avoided. But as the spouse of a Marine Officer my professional and intellectual opposition would be challenged by personal obligations.

I was not unfamiliar with this internal conflict between scholarly and real world obligations. In 2004, as a Fellow in their Summer Seminar in Military History, I watched the veterans among the West Point uniformed historians experiencing both cognitive dissonance as well as resonance as they confronted their intellectual material. I could tell that they were comparing their experiences with their scholarship, but I did not understand what that meant at the time. Years later, humbled by my own small experience, I have a sense of how they must have felt and thought. My hope is that this glimpse into the wider experience of war and conflict will offer a similar bit of enlightenment for others.

The vagaries of the personnel system meant that my former husband missed the first several years of OIF. He spent its first year “Stop-Moved” in Okinawa – a one year unaccompanied tour doubled at the commencement of hostilities in 2003. Then a B-Billet tour in Newport, RI, followed, because the alternation between line units and administrative jobs is relentless in the Marine Corps, no matter the state of conflict. At the first opportunity, after only two years in Newport, the Fleet Marine Force beckoned once again, specifically for Iraq. After a three months’ preparation, in January 2007, as a Major, he deployed to Iraq in command of a Military Training Team (MTT). As a training cadre the team was small, giving the families in support an intimacy and closeness that would colour the experience of the deployment. Furthermore, I was the unit Key Volunteer, which made me the point of contact between the unit/Marine Corps and the families of the serving Marines and Sailor. For the most part this meant I was responsible for providing official and correct information about the unit’s movements and activities to the families on a timely basis. Secondarily, as possible, I tried to offer some measure of additional information and support, as well as to coordinate any assistance the unit or the families might require. [2] It is the sort of responsibility that anyone not afflicted with terrific arrogance will feel that they have done inadequately.

By way of background on the context of the deployment, Fallujah in the first half of 2007 was roiling. At the time of the casualty event the Marines and the Iraqi Army battalion they were training had already seen significant and regular combat action. Their AOR, an area of the city known as the “Pizza Slice,” was particularly dangerous, with regular and daily insurgent activity. The Lieutenant Colonel commanding the Iraqi battalion was experienced and educated, having served during the Hussein regime. [3] Pragmatic and hopeful that a new start could be made for his country, he was a willing and able partner in the rebuilding of Iraq. The battalion and its training team would endure several months of sustained attacks until the insurgency broke – of its own stupidity and the civilian population’s shifted allegiance – early in the summer.

However, before that break occurred, a sniper ambush towards the end of a day’s activities took the lives of one of our Marines, and wounded two others. On the afternoon of 29 April, an element of the battalion and its trainers had been conducting a dismounted patrol of Marines and Iraqi soldiers with vehicles in support. As the last task of the patrol, they had stopped to conduct a search. With the units’ vehicles deployed along narrow and twisted streets, the dismounted elements cleared a building which had been identified as a potential insurgent base. Finding nothing in the building, as the Marines made their way to their vehicles the attack opened with precision sniper and general supporting fire.

Within short order, no more than five minutes of fighting, the three casualties were taken. The remaining 15 to 20 of minutes combat was fought as the dismounted Marines struggled to safely remove the fallen to the vehicles while those in the vehicles provided cover. Unable to safely extricate from the killing ground on their own, the timely arrival of the QRF (quick reaction force) ended the engagement. It was a close run thing, as the Marines engaged on the ground were running out of ammunition to continue their fight.

I remember the day clearly. I was probably munching bagels and driving home to Newport with my son and dog after a weekend visiting family in New York, while these events were occurring. (Yes, you do stop to note the surreal aspects of such moments.) Or maybe I was reading the Sunday New York Times, which had a story on the turning tide fighting the insurgents in Ramadi. Although the deployment was not easy, things were not terrible, and I had just returned from the annual conference for the Society for Military History conference and was energized for my research. [4] We arrived home, safe and sound. And completely oblivious.

It was later that night when the Major sent me the following email:

Do NOT say anything/tell anyone.  The worst happened.  Notifications are being made.  I’m still alive.

Brevity enhanced, rather than diminished, the impact of the news.

The identity of one of the casualties was the first detail I would receive regarding the incident. Shortly after the email arrived the phone rang. On the other end was the brother of the unit’s corpsman (Doc) who had been wounded the ambush. As awful as it was in its brevity I was now happy to have received the message. While there is no way to prepare for such things it was better not to be caught completely unaware. I spent hours on the phone with the brother that night, talking through what was happening to Doc and trying to get what information I could from the unit in Iraq. This effort was complicated by the fact that when casualty incidents happen a unit goes into communications lockdown – “River City” [5] – so as to avoid the unfortunate circumstance where rumour gets ahead of the official notification procedures of the service. Technically the Major should not have been in email contact with me. But as I was conferring with him on behalf of the family of a wounded service member, judgment and discretion were exercised to provide every support possible.

That night we settled the first round of issues and for the moment Doc’s situation was stable.


Continue reading


CCLKOW: The 2% Doctrine

Dr. Hugo Rosemont is Assistant Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College, London.

This week Kings of War and CCLKOW are happy to introduce a new author to the audience and participants, with Dr. Hugo Rosemont discussing British security policy, budgets and priorities as a key part of the impending General Election. Marking something of a departure from the usual, in this case our conceptualization expands beyond defence to consider the implications for policing as well as other facets of the security machine. Although the most obvious nexus lately among these worlds is in the unfolding stories of citizens leaving to join foreign extremists, the wider universe of human and contraband smuggling, money laundering, cyber crime and other transnational “crim-sec” activity is demolishing the neat sense of separation between these state functions which had arisen under modern administrative practices. While it is folly to redefine every problem according to a security framework, it is equally dangerous to ignore the relationship among these sectors and their influence upon the broad terms of security because of bureaucratic boundaries. In governmental policy, I think Hugo is correct to identify the absence of more holistic thinking and approaches as a serious gap in thinking on security. And although the focus is, at the moment, upon the United Kingdom, with an election impending in the US next year these issues will resonate as well. So, enjoy the article, give a thought to the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW. — Jill S. Russell  


Whilst some people might look at the treatment of foreign policy, defence and security issues during the 2015 UK General Election campaign as a farce, is it not now becoming something much more akin to a tragedy? Several commentators have rightly pointed out (for example, here and here) that, with the exception of only a few issues, these topics have not featured prominently during the campaign. This is disappointing for a few reasons.

First, where it has taken place, debate in these areas has focused almost exclusively on the status of the UK political parties’ varying (non?) commitment to allocate 2% of UK GDP to defence expenditure, in line with the country’s stance on the associated NATO guideline, with a sprinkling of discussion emerging more recently on the national security credentials of party leaders, and on the prospects for renewing the country’s nuclear weapons capability. Most notably, the Prime Minister received a high profile grilling on the first issue in a BBC leadership interview last week – his performance was subsequently critiqued by many analysts, including the editor of The Spectator.

The 2% question is a critical issue and it is important that both politicians and public opinion are flushed out in particular around their level of commitment to the UK meeting the NATO guideline (full disclosure: the present author shares the belief of many people – including the 33 Members of Parliament to have signed an Early Day Motion on the issue – that the next Government should commit itself to the NATO figure). But the current, understandable emphasis on this matter is now beginning to do us all a disservice because it leaves little room for consideration of the parties’ approaches to other national security issues. In particular, it is striking how little contemplation there has been to date around some of the more eye-catching security policy ideas to have been proposed in the parties’ manifestos, and indeed on their relative silence towards some of the most urgent issues. With respect to the former, for example, why has there not been a deeper level of interest or more mainstream media attention towards such issues as:

– The Conservatives’ plan to ‘hold’ a National Security Strategy later this year

– Labour’s proposal to abolish elected Police and Crime Commissioners

– The Lib Dems’ belief that intervention is justified by a legal ‘and/or’ humanitarian case

– UKIP’s proposal to establish a new Director of National Intelligence for the UK

– The Scottish National Party’s idea that nuclear weapons are morally offensive

Second, whilst opinion will be likely to split on whether any or all of these ideas are good, bad, or even ugly, unfortunately there is an even bigger problem. It is the apparent lack of detail (consideration?) from the parties on how under their leadership – or as a result of their involvement – the next UK Government would approach such serious current issues as winning the battle of ideas underpinning the radicalization of British ‘foreign fighters’ inclined to travel to Iraq and Syria, and notably in respect of other ongoing crises in, for example, Yemen, Ukraine and Libya. Additionally, a serious connection has seemingly not yet been made by any of the leading contenders in respect of how they propose to handle what Professor Vernon Bogdanor calls ‘The Crisis of the Constitution’ and the impact that policy in this area might have on national security – including the integrity of the country, and its long-term economic prospects. Judging by the manifestos, there also appears to be an ongoing failure on the part of all parties to develop creative solutions for engaging the private sector in addressing many of the most complicated issues the UK faces, upon whom it now depends in numerous areas of national security.

Third, it is concerning that more attention has not been paid in the pre-election discussions to how the next Government should develop its overall approach to national security considered in the wider sense. In other recent election campaigns, most notably in 2010, UK voters were spoilt for choice in being provided with detailed and creative new thinking from the parties (should they want it) around how policies, structures and processes would be developed and implemented by way of a genuinely ‘joined-up’ approach to national security. There have been few such discussions this time but, happily, Charlie Edwards (the author of National Security for the Twenty-First Century, an important pamphlet that originally advanced the need for a ‘holistic’ UK national security strategy) and Calum Jeffray of the Royal United Services Institute have recently co-authored an excellent new paper that adopts such a broad perspective with its analysis on the future for research and development for security and intelligence purposes. It must be hoped that this prompts the UK security and political community into again considering alongside defence the importance of what the coalition Government has called ‘wider security’ issues. For now, it is worrying that, with the possible exception of some attention to limited aspects of police reform and the future powers for monitoring digital communications, deeper discussion on non-military security issues has been largely absent from this campaign to date.

There is clearly very limited time now before 7th May, so the emergence of a renewed emphasis on security issues might be difficult to achieve. It also has to be recognized that, in contrast to high profile proposals on domestic priorities such as health and education, it has often be observed that policies on defence, security and foreign affairs are simply not the same kind of ‘vote winners’. But a case can also be made that two straightforward changes in approach would help to improve the level and quality of the discussions. Firstly, in parallel to any ongoing scrutiny of their policies on defence, the parties could be encouraged (if not pressured) by national security journalists, academics, and any other interested parties, to clarify whether (and how specifically) they would propose to work with partners to develop and fund their approaches to non-military security risks such as terrorism, organized crime and cyber insecurity, at home and overseas. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly at this stage, all those with an interest or voice in the current UK defence funding debate should consider resisting the temptation to add further fuel to the fire on the 2% issue, as important and tempting as it is, or at least contemplate raising in the debate the merits (and importance) of discussing other proposals and obvious (often non-military) security priorities facing the UK.

The reality is that we now have a good idea of where the parties stand on the 2% defence spending issue, however satisfactory or unsatisfactory positions on this matter may be seen to be. Clearly this will need to be revisited after the Election but, in the meantime, it is imperative that answers are also now sought on how the parties would approach other pressing security concerns, including in respect of how (if?) non-military security risks would be genuinely considered in any Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) process held under their watch.

It is against this backdrop that it is hoped that the following questions will help to stimulate some more varied discussion on the future shape of UK defence and security policy in the remaining few weeks of the 2015 General Election:


1 How useful is the 2% NATO guideline as a measure of UK national security capability?

2 How much should the next Government spend on other security capabilities (e.g. cyber, counter-terrorism policing, intelligence etc.)?

3 What ‘security’ issues should/shouldn’t be covered in the 2015 SDSR?

Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


Birth Pangs of a New Order, Volume Whatever

So, to re-cap the past week or so: the two-state solution is (almost) dead (again) after Bibi’s victory in the Israeli elections, the Americans came off the sidelines in Iraq with airstrikes in support of an offensive to re-take Tikrit from ISIS, Yemen’s President has reportedly fled the country and Saudi Arabia has now launched airstrikes against the Houthi rebels, Syria has dismantled 3 chemical weapons sites, Syria stands accused of continuing to use Chlorine weapons, Canada announced that it won’t bother to ask the Syrian government before attacking ISIS, oh and nine British citizens have reportedly entered Syria to work as medics in IS hospitals.

Spot the odd one out. That didn’t stop the nine medics making the front pages, though.

What is the British government to do about British citizens that are willing to travel to Syria and support ISIS? The Guardian called this “a test for British policy” and I agree, but it is a general policy problem that any state whose citizens get involved in irregular conflicts will have to face. I had a good debate on Twitter with Shashank Joshi regarding his argument that this constituted “material support” for terrorism, although the question he was asked was slightly different to its presentation. As I see it, the problem here is that two norms are in direct conflict with one another: the idea that the British citizens shouldn’t support ISIS, and the humanitarian impulse to save lives.

The key problem with any assessment is the same as most arguments about foreign fighters: we don’t really know what they’re up to except via scraps of information and rumours spread via twitter/instagram/the internet. As I see it, however, there are three ways that they could be involved (as medics): as a standard fighter with some medical expertise, as a dedicated medic working in a battlefield role, as a medic working in a hospital or similar facility. The first case is the easiest – even under international humanitarian law medical personnel can carry a light weapon for personal protection but lose the protection of their status if they act like standard personnel. The second is perhaps the trickiest issue. A battlefield medic would be providing material support, but at the same time, although medical personnel are integral to the conduct of military operations, they are commonly protected from attack precisely because international humanitarian law seeks to preserve the ability for medical personnel to tend to the sick and wounded while fighting rages. Even though debate rages about what constitutes “direct participation in hostilities” in non-international armed conflicts, this concept doesn’t include medical aid. Fundamentally, in international law there isn’t anything to prevent a person from pulling wounded people from a battlefield or tending to their wounds.

There is little doubt in my mind that the British government could figure out an argument for making it illegal to go to Syria and provide medical support for ISIS, even though this will be fundamentally a British law for British citizens. The question is, do we want to be seen to criminalise the humanitarian impulse? Will nine medical students really make much of a difference? In terms of narrative it seems a needless own-goal. If these students did go to Syria to heal people instead of kill them, the best thing the British government could do is ignore them and focus on something more important. Throw a dart at a map of the middle east, and it’ll probably land on something that should be a priority.


A Crisis in Confidence: Redefining Veterans’ Rights for a New Generation

136902061Welcome to this week’s CCLKOW discussion piece. This time, we are looking at the challenges that ex-servicemen and women face in seeking compensation for a disability, illness etc. Over the past few years, Veterans Affairs Canada has been severely criticized for failing to process claims efficiently and the closure of key offices. Legislative changes have also received widespread disapproval. However, these problems are not unique to Canada. Internationally, veterans are in the midst of redefining their relationship with the state. This process will have important implications for both the present generation of veterans and their successors in uniform. Read the piece and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

There is a crisis in veterans’ affairs. Over the past twelve months alone, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) has come under fire for everything from failing to process disability claims promptly to the closure of nine out of thirty two offices across the country. Late last year, revelations also emerged that the department has returned nearly $1.13 billion in unspent funds to the treasury since 2006.[i] Moreover, the federal government is currently facing a class action lawsuit in connection to the New Veterans Charter (NVC). Passed in 2005, the NVC replaced existing pensions legislation. Originally praised as, ‘the most sweeping change to Veterans’ services and benefits in the past 60 years,’ it has been extensively criticized since it first came into effect.[ii] Currently in settlement talks with the government, the plaintiffs in the Equitas case claim that the NVC denies veterans access to the same level of compensation as they were entitled to under the old Pensions Act and does not meet the standards set in civil court for, ‘accidents or personal injury.’[iii] In addition, they contend that this is unconstitutional and the NVC should be repealed.

In the wake of continued turmoil, Julian Fantino was dismissed as Minister of Veterans’ Affairs earlier this year. Air force veteran and fellow Conservative MP, Erin O’Toole, replaced him. O’Toole’s appointment has been followed by a series of announcements regarding improvements in compensation for reservists and severely disabled veterans.[iv] Despite these developments, both O’Toole and Prime Minister Stephen Harper face an uphill battle. With a federal election looming, Mr. Harper is under significant pressure to address this issue. Continued problems in veterans’ affairs would reflect poorly on his government and provide his political opponents with ammunition.

Historically, the relationship between government and veterans has often proved problematic. By its very nature, the pension system is ‘adversarial.’[v] Governments have to balance the needs of veterans with the limitations of public spending. Given this consideration, pension/compensation systems have been designed with an ethos of independence and self-sufficiency in mind. Throughout the twentieth century, benefits and allowances have evolved to help rehabilitate ex-servicemen and women and assist them in rejoining the civilian workforce. Millions in Canada, the United States and other countries like the United Kingdom have benefited from legislation that grants veterans access to education, vocational training and financial assistance.[vi] However, officials have also struggled to define who should be considered a veteran in the first place and to what rights they should be entitled as a result of military service. Measuring disability has also proven exceptionally difficult. This is particularly troublesome when it comes to mental health problems, which are not directly or easily quantifiable.[vii] As a result, applying for a pension can be an infuriating process. Generations of veterans have encountered a labyrinthine bureaucracy that can be impossible to successfully navigate without assistance. Individual experiences have varied widely depending upon the nature of the veterans’ disability and the pensions’ officials that he or she encounters.

Since the first deployment of troops to Afghanistan in 2001, the Canadian public has become increasingly cognizant of the role that military personnel play and the health risks that they can run in the execution of their duty. Over the past fifteen years, the federal government has significantly revised pensions legislation and attempted to clarify the relationship between soldier and state. When the New Veterans Charter was first brought before the House of Commons in 2005, it received unanimous cross party support. At the time, Senator Roméo Dallaire described the legislation as, ‘a new social contract between the people of Canada and the new generation of veterans of the Canadian Forces.’[viii] However, the NVC has fallen well short of expectations and the government’s relationship with veterans has been damaged by recent events. There is a clear gap between what legislation is intended to do and the reality of how Veterans Affairs operates on a day-to-day basis. While many civil servants and politicians are undoubtedly well intentioned, waiting times remain excessive and the system is overly complex. Physically and mentally disabled veterans who require medical attention are poorly equipped to negotiate these obstacles.

Canadian veterans are not alone in their struggle. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs is currently facing its own crisis in connection to the deliberate mismanagement and manipulation of hospital wait lists.[ix] In response, President Barack Obama recently announced the formation of an advisory group, ‘made up of public officials and leaders in the private sector,’ to help improve services.[x] Furthermore, media reports in the UK suggest that veterans still face an arduous process when applying for financial compensation.[xi] Veterans’ groups have estimated that it can take an average of over 200 working days in order to process a claim. While the MoD disputes this, officials do admit that there have been delays.[xii] They argue that these problems are largely the result of a rising number of claims and reduced staffing levels. Figures released last year, ‘show there were 36,000 new compensation claims for those injured, disabled or bereaved through service in 2013-14-an increase of around 16% from 2010-11.’[xiii] The government also contends that the 2010 Boyce review of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme had, ‘diverted resources,’ and caused further delays.[xiv]

There needs to be a renewed commitment on the part of both the Canadian government and its allies to translating principles into action. Moving forward, there also needs to be greater dedication to engaging with veterans’ groups across the political spectrum in an open dialogue. As active partners, veterans can help determine the direction of future policy and revitalize efforts to make VAC a more efficient and transparent organisation. In a 2013 report issued by the Office of the Veterans’ Ombudsman, the authors rightly point out that, ‘those who serve in the Canadian Forces do so willingly, knowing that they may be injured, become ill or die as a result of their service.’[xv] They also highlight that, ‘by putting the needs of Canada and Canadians ahead of their own, they forego some of the rights and freedoms enjoyed by other citizens.’[xvi] While service personnel willingly make such sacrifices, they do so with the expectation that they will be treated fairly upon their return home. Not only is it morally right to meet these expectations, it is also vital for the military as an organisation. Recruitment is a difficult enterprise at the best of times. If the next generation is to consider the armed forces as a viable career option, they must be assured of the state’s commitment to their wellbeing. Investing in veterans is an investment in the future.

Questions for discussion include:

How should the word ‘veteran’ be defined for the purposes of government compensation and care schemes?

A multitude of veterans’ charities and organizations have been established over the past decade. Who should represent veterans in negotiating with the state?


*Poppies pinned to Canadian Military. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

[i] Mandy Kovacs, ‘Canadian veterans remain critical of government,’ Global News (28 Jan 2015),; David Pugliese, ‘The battle for veterans’ votes: Conservatives a target for some former military,’ Ottawa Citizen (2 Feb 2015),; Murray Brewster, ‘Veterans Affairs handed back $1.1- billion in unspent funds: documents,’ Globe and Mail (20 Nov 2014),

[ii] Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, ‘Improving the New Veterans Charter: The Parliamentary Review,’ Government of Canada (Jan 2013), p. 3.

[iii] Kieron Lang, ‘Feds spend $694K in legal fight against veterans,’ CTVNews (28 Jan 2015),; Murray Brewster, ‘Afghan vets lawsuit over benefits on hold as Tories search for settlement,’ CBC News (13 Mar 2015),

[iv] Gloria Galloway, ‘Ottawa to announce better benefits for disabled veterans and their caregivers,’ Globe and Mail (17 Mar 2015),

[v] Stephen Garton, The Cost of War: Australians Return (Melbourne: OUP, 1996), p. 88.

[vi] Notes on War Pension Schemes of UK, Canada, Australia, NZ and South Africa, Sept. 1945, The National Archives at Kew (TNA): PIN 15/3069; World Veterans Federation (WVF), Social Affairs Rehabilitation, Comparative Report: Legislation Affecting Disabled Veterans and Other War Veterans WVF-DOC/830 (Paris, France: WVF, Sept. 1955), Veterans Affairs Canada—Canadian Forces Advisory Council, The Origins and Evolution of Veterans Benefits in Canada (Ottawa: Veterans Affairs Canada, 2004); Alice Aiken and Amy Buitenhuis, Supporting Canadian Veterans with Disabilities (Kingston, ON: Defence Management Studies Program, Queen’s University, 2011).

[vii] Garton, The Cost of War, pp. 167-169.

[viii] Senator Roméo Dallaire, as quoted in, Office of Veterans Ombudsman, ‘Improving the New Veterans Charter: The Parliamentary Review,’ Govt. of Canada (Jan. 2013), p. 3.

[ix] Reuters, ‘Obama administration to start new group to advise on veterans issues,’ Reuters (13 Mar 2015)

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Graeme Strachan, ‘Compensate our veterans faster urges former army captain,’ Courier (16 Mar 2015),

[xii] Sima Kotecha, ‘Injured veterans ‘face delays over compensation claims,’ BBC News (6 Aug 2014),; Laurence Dodds, ‘Injured veterans facing long compensation delays,’ Telegraph (7 Aug 2014),

[xiii] Kotecha, ‘Injured veterans.’

[xiv] Ministry of Defence, Cm 7798: Review of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (Feb 2010).

[xv] Office of Veterans Ombudsman, ‘Improving the New Veterans Charter: The Parliamentary Review,’ Govt. of Canada (Jan. 2013), p. 6.

[xvi] Ibid.


Colonel Panter-Downes: Tending One’s Bureaucratic Garden

Greeting’s readers. For this week’s professional discussion we have a piece from our Colonel thinking about how to tend the military bureaucracies. Often derided for the inanity of the extremes, it must be admitted that but for these internal organizing principles and apparatuses large and complex institutions like the armed forces would exceed human administration. Thus, evil though it might perpetuate, the bureaucracy also means that things really do get done rather than collapsing under the weight of every detail. The challenge is in discriminating such that you preserve the good and manage the bad, identify the flab while maintaining the muscle.  So, read the piece, consider the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


I enjoy gardening. There is something both satisfying and therapeutic about working with nature in the pursuit of growth.  I would not however say that I am a good gardener; in fact my gardening skills have been described as somewhat apocalyptic. In an attempt to improve my green fingered skills I often listen in to BBC Radio’s “Gardeners’ Question Time” a thoroughly British institution. A hardy perennial on this show is the subject of pruning which is often necessary to encourage new growth, and it is with the subject of pruning in mind that my thoughts turned to that of military bureaucracy.

It is a given in every military that military bureaucracy is bad and needs pruning.  The former might or might not be the case but the latter is definitely true.  There is a lot of dead bureaucracy out there, bureaucracy that has served its purpose and is no longer required.  This needs cut back to focus on the essential bureaucracy, for bureaucracy is essential.  Now my well thumbed copy of Charles Handy’s “Understanding Organisations” (an excellent book, every field grade officer should own it) uses German sociologist’s Max Weber’s definition of a bureaucracy as:

  1. A division of labour in which authority and responsibility is clearly defined for each member, and is officially sanctioned.
  2. Offices or positions are organized into a hierarchy of authority resulting in a chain of command.
  3. All organisational members are to be selected on the basis of technical qualifications through formal examinations or by virtue of training and education.
  4. Officials are to be appointed, not elected.
  5. Administrators work for fixed salaries and are career officers.
  6. The administrative official does not own the administered unit but is a salaried official.
  7. The administrator is subject to strict rules, discipline, and controls regarding the official duties.

From this definition it is very clear that we, the military, are indeed a bureaucracy (whether we like it or not). What I want to talk about however, is the manifestation of bureaucracy in the rules, regulations, requirements and paperwork peculiar to our institutions.

The intent of a bureaucratic structure is to enable an organisation to function effectively and efficiently.  Bureaucracy, the manifestation of a bureaucratic structure, is supposed to be the oil that lubricates the cogs of power, not the grit that jams the gearing.  All too often however the means (a bureaucracy) becomes the end; in the British Army we refer to this state as a “self-licking lollipop”. The same is often perceived as true for the forms in which bureaucracy takes, the process seems to become an end in itself.  Yet all those rules, regulations and paperwork we chafe at serve a purpose, or did so at one time.  Where that purpose is redundant the bureaucracy has become dead bureaucracy, the purpose is dead but the process remains; like old growth it too needs pruning.

As a rough bureaucratic gardener’s rule of thumb the more bureaucracy irritates us the greater the requirement for pruning. We chafe most against those elements whose purpose we cannot discern, or whose utility we see as peripheral (at best) to operational output. Few chafe at the requirement to sit a driving test and hold a driving license before driving.  Furthermore that which we chafe against reveals much about our organisation. Bureaucracy is supposed to enable the effective and efficient functioning of the organisation, it assists in minimizing risk; but what kind of risk and risk to whom? Bureaucracy can be a window to the soul of the organisation exposing what is acceptable and what is not, where risk is tolerated and where not.  It can tell us uncomfortable truths about who we are.

In thinking down this path I was struck by elements on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the UK leave for field grade officers and above is self-certified.  For those below field grade an application is made to the chain of command which simply states when you want leave and where you will be spending it.  Here in the US the following are required:  Leave Pass request sheet, Hard Copy DA 31, Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), Travel Risk Planning System (TRiPS) completed and a detailed Travel Plan, Privately Operated Vehicle (POV) inspection certificate (is your car safe to drive), flight itinerary (as applicable), and the AKO MEDPROS printout.  It seems to me a little excessive and I was surprised that anyone let alone field grades, was required to complete this.  Presumably if you have commanded a company or a battalion you can be trusted to plan your leave or does mission command only apply in the field?  In this instance the bureaucracy in camp seems at odds with the command ethos in the field.  Now I can understand the purpose of this bureaucratic requirement, but does one size fit all? What mechanism exists for pruning back this when it is no longer relevant?  When I think of my experience of the US Army’s bureaucracy I think of “bureaucracy by attrition”. It tells me that this is an organisation that does not welcome people “stepping out of lane”; its manifestation and ethos seems at odds with the Army Operating Concept.

Much of the UK bureaucracy that I find irksome, owes as much in my opinion to minimising political and reputational risk as it does to operational effectiveness.  I understand the requirement to maintain an operational training record of all training a soldier receives prior to deployment. I cannot help but feel however, that the bureaucracy that now surrounds this requirement owes more to providing an audit trail in the event of an inquest than it does to ensuring that soldiers are sufficiently trained to deploy. The amount of bureaucracy seems excessive to the (operational) value gained, but guards reputational risk (we train our soldiers effectively) and minimizes political risk (training was resourced correctly).   Likewise I was struck by the bureaucracy regarding working with Personally Identifiable Information (PII).  Successive UK governments have been embarrassed by the loss of PII by different government departments (including the Ministry of Defence).  Naturally this has resulted in a regime to enforce best practice and accountability.  But again, the handling of PII has been normalized, we know how to do it, The annual training and certification programme now seems excessive  to the requirement and indicates the absence of risk tolerance in this area.  It seems to me that the UK bureaucratic emphasis indicates acute political sensitivity and a focus on minimizing (organisational) reputational risk.

We military personnel are largely bureaucrats in a bureaucratic organisation.  We should acknowledge and embrace this, because it is only by doing this that we can recognise the impacts of our bureaucracy on our organisations for good and for ill.  To parody Clausewitz  “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the leader has to make is to establish . . . the kind of ethos on which they are embarking and the bureaucracy to support it.”


So my questions for this week are simple:

What does your bureaucracy tell you about your organisation?

What would you prune?

Where would you encourage new growth?


Veterans, Victims and the ‘Culture of Trauma’*

Welcome to this week’s CCLKOW discussion piece. This time, we are looking at the portrayal and perception of military veterans in the UK and other western countries. In short, veterans are frequently characterised as ‘victims,’ in the media and by the public at large. Moreover, there is increasing concern that they will experience long-term mental health problems in the wake of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. However, veterans are a far more heterogeneous and resilient group than reports seem to indicate. Read the piece and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW

In the last few years, media reports have suggested that there are an alarming number of British veterans experiencing service-related psychological problems. Commentators have argued that an increasing pool of ex-servicemen and women are falling through the cracks. As operations in Afghanistan have come to a close, numerous authors have expressed the fear that a record number of veterans will present with mental health problems like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) in the near future.[i] The debate over how best to address their needs and foster a supportive environment for these men and women has become highly politicised. In the process, the veteran has become a hotly contested figure. The popular portrayal of military veterans in the UK and other western countries has only served to further complicate this dialogue.

There is a growing and widespread perception amongst the media and public alike that war is a universally traumatising event and veterans, without exception will be damaged by their experiences. Beginning in 2011, Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft conducted a study to evaluate public opinion of the British Armed Forces. Amongst his chief findings, he reported that, ‘in our poll of the UK public, more than nine out of ten thought it was common for those leaving the Force to have “some kind of physical, emotional or mental problem” as a result of their time in the military; more than a third (34%) thought it was “very common” for this to be the case.’[ii] In a recent article, journalist Max Hastings has also pointed out that, ‘those who have participated in wars are widely perceived not as protagonists…but instead as victims.’[iii] Popular television shows of the past decade frequently depict veterans as broken individuals who can lash out violently at those around them. They are characterised as ‘ticking time bombs,’ who will inevitably experience difficulties in processing their experiences.[iv]

This image is further reinforced when the war in question is unpopular. As historian Helen McCartney has underlined, ‘much of the UK newspaper coverage of the armed forces depicts service personnel as victims, either of failed strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan or of government underspending or MoD incompetence.’[v] In the United States, retired four star General Jim Mattis has also publicly criticized news outlets and politicians for helping, ‘fuel [the] perception that most or all…veterans come back from war traumatized.’[vi] Mattis is but one of many voices within the wider community of American veterans who have expressed concern over public perception.[vii]

On both sides of the Atlantic, the black and white picture that has been presented does not accurately reflect the complexity of the issue at hand and lacks a great deal of nuance. According to a 2014 study conducted by researchers at the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, ‘contrary to many people’s expectations, deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan has not led to an overall increase in mental health problems among UK personnel.’[viii] The authors estimated that only around 1.3% to 4.8% of UK Regulars returning from deployment exhibited symptoms of probable PTSD.[ix] Recent reports also indicate that rates of suicide are lower within the military than in the civilian population.[x] In general, veterans who have deployed on more than one occasion are less likely to suffer from ‘subsequent mental health problems.’[xi] Around 18,000 service personnel are discharged from the British Armed Forces every year. While little research has been done on service leavers in the UK, the American literature suggests that, ‘military service for most people, has a positive effect on…life trajectory.’[xii]

There will be those veterans who experience psychological difficulties as a result of their service and will require help in processing their experiences and adjusting to civilian life. Scholars have identified several groups (e.g. combat veterans, reservists) as at higher risk for mental health problems.[xiii] These veterans and their families deserve to be treated fairly and receive the attention that they require. Be that as it may, the present paradigm of the veteran as victim fails to acknowledge the range of human experience in relation to trauma. Not all veterans are damaged by their experiences of war. Acknowledging this resilience does not trivialize or delegitimize individual suffering. On the contrary, it simply recognizes the complexities of how human beings react to stressful or traumatic events and the difficulties inherent in trying to neatly categorise people into boxes.

Over the next decade, the UK and its allies will undoubtedly continue to face challenges in caring for and adequately addressing the needs of a new generation of veterans. There is evidence to suggest that stigma remains a barrier to those who might wish to seek professional help.[xiv] Furthermore, the military footprint is shrinking in response to cuts in manpower. Consequently, fewer members of the public have ties to those in uniform. There is also a need to continue improving the options available to veterans and their families in connection to services like counseling.[xv] However, this process should not be informed by extreme stereotypes but by a well-rounded and realistic picture of the veteran population. The public should be encouraged to see veterans as they would see themselves, as human beings with challenges to face and reserves of strength upon which to draw. Like civilians, service personnel and veterans struggle with addiction, depression and many other disorders. Equally, they can recover and/or live with those disorders and still have much to offer society. Moreover, they frequently exhibit a remarkable resilience that should be recognized and celebrated.

So the questions for this week are:

Does public perception help or hinder the recovery of veterans who have experienced trauma?

How should the media portray veterans in order to more accurately reflect their experiences?

Is it possible to effectively ‘support the soldier’ without supporting the cause for which they fight?


*’Culture of trauma’ is a phrase that appears to have been coined by Ben Shephard, War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 385.

[i] Sima Kotecha, ‘Care for UK Military Veterans is “Flawed,” Medical Experts Say,’ BBC News, 29 Oct 2014.

[ii] Lord Ashcroft, ‘The Armed Forces & Society: The military in Britain—through the eyes of Service personnel, employers, and the public’ (May 2012), p. 15.

[iii] Max Hastings, ‘Veterans and Mental Health in Contemporary Britain,’ Royal United Services Institute Journal 159, No. 6 (Dec 2014), p. 36.

[iv] Ben Farmer, ‘Army recruitment could be hit by charities portraying troops as victims,’ Telegraph (25 Dec 2013),

[v] Helen McCartney, ‘The military covenant and the civil-military contract in Britain,’ International Affairs 86, No. 2 (2010), p. 424.

[vi] General Jim Mattis, as quoted in, Jim Michaels, ‘Mattis: Veterans are not victims,’ USA Today (5 May 2014),

[vii] David Morris, ‘Surviving War Doesn’t Turn All Veterans into Victims, Sometimes it Helps Them Grow,’ The Daily Beast (18 May 2014),; Dave Philipps, ‘Coming Home to Damaging Stereotypes,’ New York Times (5 Feb 2015),

[viii] Deirdre MacManus, N Jones, S Wessely, NT Fear, E Jones, N Greenberg, ‘The mental health of the UK Armed Forces in the 21st century: resilience in the face of adversity,’ J R Army Med Corps 0 (2014), p. 1.

[ix] Ibid., p. 2.

[x] MoD, ‘Suicide and Open Verdict Deaths in the UK Regular Armed Forces 1985-2013,’ 27 March 2014; ‘Myth Busters,’ Combat Stress (2015),

[xi] James Gallagher, ‘”Violence Risk” after Military Tours,’ BBC News, 15 March 2013.

[xii] Amy Iverson, Vasilis Nikolaou, Neil Greenberg, Catherine Unwin, Lisa Hull, Mathew Hotopf, Christopher Dandeker, John Ross and Simon Wessely, ‘What happens to British veterans when they leave the armed forces?,’ European Journal of Public Health 15, No. 2 (2005), pp. 175-184.

[xiii] MacManus, N Jones, Wessely, NT Fear, E Jones, Greenberg, ‘The mental health of the UK Armed Forces in the 21st century,’ p. 1.

[xiv] Amy C Iverson, Lauren van Staden, Jamie Hacker Hughes, Neil Greenberg, Matthew Hotopf, Roberto J Rona, Graham Thornicroft, Simon Wessely, and Nicola T Fear, ‘The stigma of mental health problems and other barriers to care in the UK Armed Forces,’ BioMed Central Health Services Research 11 (2011), pp. 1-10.

[xv] MoD, ‘Annual Medical Discharges in the UK Regular Armed Forces 2009/10-2013/14,’ 10 July 2014.