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June 21, 2007



WRT to the US operation in Amara, it's worth noting that US forces based in either Nasiriya or Kut are actually "physically" closer than UK forces based in Basra - this is one of the basic errors in the report that DH was citing.

Broadly speaking this would indicate a "decay" in the UK military position - particuarly as the drawdown to 5,500 troops has now been accomplished.

I tend to think that the Gordon Brown "do-nothing" approach is quite canny - as it gives him practical leverage with the Bush administration if he chooses to use it; his defence staff have given him vast amounts of helpful political cover for this already. Doing something would involve the UK continuing its march towards the exits with the withdrawal of a further 1500 troops later this year, and the "Polandization" of the UK military contingent in Basra.


anyone who's ever worked in a finance department knows that the way to stop a project you don't like but the CEO does is to say yes and then underestimate the budget. I have high hopes for Gordon as PM because I think he's (admittedly rather callously, but it's not as if the well-funded Americans have been killed at a slower rate) intentionally ensured that the Army didn't have the resources to do a job that he fundamentally didn't want done, in the knowledge that Blair didn't have the nerve or the analytical capacity to gainsay him on the budgets. (live! from the department of pure speculation btw).

In general, the Atlantico-Decents seem to hate the hell out of Brown, so I'm guessing he is no longer part of that tendency - although I seem to remember he is definitely BAP and might have a few other Atlanticist organisations on his CV. He takes his holidays in Cape Cod, or so they say.


Unfortunately, Dsquared, this underfunding has had other results like "squaddies bleeding to death in Afghanistan waiting for the one working chopper in theatre" (I'm not taking the piss - the Surgeon General RAMC, Louis Lillywhite, has gone public) and the "golden hour" being redefined as the "golden two hours".


yeah it's horrible, but as I say, if Gordon had given them a load more money, it would have been difficult for him to have hypothecated it to the purchase of evacuation choppers and hospital equipment rather than more thinly-armoured vehicles to mount more patrols.

Dan Hardie

Dsquared's first comment is symptomatic of something wider: very few people in this country support a continuation of the Iraq war (and some of us opposed starting it four years ago) but there was majority support to overthrow the Taliban in 2001. Now that there is a serious Taliban resurgence, all the left commentators (and most of the rightwingers, who don't seriously give a damn about national security) are busy being quiet about Afghanistan, which is pure cowardice.

If Brown decides he wants to end British involvement in the Afghan and/or Iraq wars by deliberate underfunding, that is a) grossly immoral: it will lead to the death of soldiers denied proper casevac (and to the death of civilians in places like Sangin, as outnumbered British infantry call down artillery and air strikes to prevent their own annihilation) but b) it won't work: if the Americans pursue an aggressive policy in the towns near Basra, Sadr and other local leaders simply won't allow British forces to sit tight and save Brown's political bacon. They will take the fight to them.

My guess- and I have nothing to go on bar gut instinct and a few ambiguous comments in various Brown interviews- is that Brown thinks he has cleverly triangulated the problem. Withdraw immediately from Iraq and the Bush administration will seek to punish him, for example by destroying the African aid and trade deals he wants. Keep UK forces in Iraq at their current level and he will be hated by British public opinion. So 'withdraw' British forces (ie reduce their numbers) and the UK public will love Gordon, but keep a residual British force in Basra and the Bush administration will also love Gordon! Everyone's a winner.

(...Except for the soldiers in Iraq, except for the continued destruction of this country's credit, except for the consequences for the Afghan people if the Taliban do make a comeback, except for lots of unimportant people.)

Dan Hardie

Dsquared's comments abt hypothecation are pure silliness: if the Service chiefs put in urgent operational requests for more casevac helicopters they could press for the money to be hypothecated. This has happened many times in the past when particular equipment types were undersupplied relative to what was needed in a new conflict.

There is actually reason to believe that the helicopter problem stems not so much from Treasury funding as from mistaken decisions by Army commanders- see Richard North's blog, as I'm sure Alex would agree...

Also, 'thinly-armoured vehicles' is something of a canard: the vehicles most soldiers think we should have more of in Afghanistan are WIMIKs (basically rugged Landrovers with machineguns), which are almost completely unarmoured but which are also off-road. The way to discourage someone from using IEDs is not bigger armour but more unpredictable patrolling patterns, good infantry skills, helicopter support, and, above all, good local intelligence- which means local goodwill. In Afghanistan, we might just be able to retain the latter, but there has got to be a political decision, preferably taken as the result of a vote in Parliament: do we attempt to rebuild the country or get the hell out? And if we choose the former, doing so in an underfunded way that kills despised 'squaddies' is foul morals and worse strategy.


I would say callousness rather than immorality, because deliberately properly funding the Afghanistan occupation would also result in the deaths of soldiers, quite possibly in greater numbers. As Dan says, while not everybody supports the Afghan occupation (I'm not well-informed enough about it myself to have a definite opinion, because Iraq and Darfur both seem to have a bigger claim on the amount of time I'm willing to dedicate to armchair generalship), as far as I can tell the commanders of the British Army do, and their priority in wanting more resources is that they want more weapons and more people. I was suggesting above that Brown can't force them to spend the money on helicopters if they don't want to, not that he can't prevent them if they do want to.

[And if we choose the former, doing so in an underfunded way that kills despised 'squaddies' is foul morals and worse strategy. ]

I am not sure who is the implicit subject of the past participle "despised" in the clause "despised squaddies", or whose mouth the quotes around "squaddies" are meant to put the word into. I hope that in both cases it's a non-specific public rather than specifically me.

Backword Dave

Speaking of Afghanistan. This is from the Newsnight email (god, I'm sad):

Opium and aid

We have an exclusive report into the growing concern in the Afghan government over whether millions of pounds of British aid money is being spent effectively in the fight against drugs.

Opium poppy growing has risen significantly during the last two years, particularly in the areas under British control. Newsnight has discovered that a fund, set up mainly with British money, to pay for alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers has spent hardly any of the money allocated. David Loyn has been to Afghanistan to investigate.


[funding the Afghanistan occupation ]

erratum to the above; clearly it is not possible for Gordon Brown from the Treasury to fund either "the Iraq occupation" or "the Afghanistan occupation" as the money is fungible between the two and he can't hypothecate it there either.


actually just to make this even clearer, if Dan's blaming Gordon Brown for the underfunding of the Army then that's pretty unfair. Brown can't make any decisions at all about what the Ministry of Defence spends its money on; all he can do is set the aggregate budget for the department in the annual spending round. The MoD then decides how to spend the money, in accordance with the tasks set for it by the PM. I can't accept an argument that suggests it's morally required for Brown to pay the ransom when Hoon, Reid, Browne and the marketing department of BAe effectively use British soldiers in the field as hostages (this way of making a departmental case is equally scandalous when the Secretary of State for Health plays the same game with sick little kiddies as hostages).

Dan Hardie

Actually the scare quotes around 'squaddies' is because I was brought up to hear the word as derogatory and tend to get rather annoyed whenever I hear people use it- even Alex H, as I've told him in the past. The 'despised' is aimed at Gordon Brown in particular: I really don't think he gives a damn about military casualties and as far as I can see Jamie K agrees. And don't try to act the heavy, it's a little sad.

'Brown can't make any decisions at all about what the Ministry of Defence spends its money on;'
Ahem: this article is only one that will tell you that Gordon, on arrival at the Treasury, asked for and got the ability to negotiate the details of defence spending with the military chiefs, bypassing the Secretary of State for Defence:
'GORDON BROWN has bypassed Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, by summoning military chiefs of staff to face-to-face meetings to force hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts...'Etc.

I further note that when there is a total confusion in the assertion that ' all he (ie the Chancellor) can do is set the aggregate budget for the department in the annual spending round.' Actually, Brown when Chancellor could have been over-ridden on the aggregate budget by the Prime Minister, as has happened in the past. Margaret Thatcher, during the Falklands War, refused to give her Chancellor (Howe) a seat in the War Cabinet, on Harold Macmillan's advice. When Brown himself becomes Prime Minister he will be able to over-ride his own Chancellor- or, if there is serious disagreement, take the matter to be settled by the Cabinet.

Dan Hardie

Shd be 'this article is only one of several that will tell you' etc.


"Dan's blaming Gordon Brown for the underfunding of the Army then that's pretty unfair."

Hang on: Brown actually supported the war, at least formally. If that had consequnces for his other plans, then wars tend to do that. His specific responsibility in the government as a supporter of the war and as chancellor was to fund it properly, which he failed to do (not that I think it would have been a success if he had). If he didn't want to do this he should have got up on his hind legs and resigned, along with Cookie boy.

As far as squaddies goes, I've used it here a few times. I picked it up from my first girlfriends' family, who lived a bit too near Whittington barracks for their liking.


[And don't try to act the heavy, it's a little sad.]

a bit of paranoia here methinks, "I hope you don't mean me" is hardly a threat that Tony Soprano would come out with. In general, your policy of taking the most offensive possible interpretation of what everyone else says does not seem to me to have many advantages to offset its fairly substantial and obvious disadvantages.

I think your linked article doesn't say what you want it to say. Brown got the authority to talk directly to military chiefs of staff, but that's all he got - the ability to talk directly to staff in another Minister's department. Which was pretty humiliating for Hoon, but doesn't affect the fundamental principles of the public finance round and doesn't mean that the Treasury can hypothecate spending. In any case, the article clearly refers to programs, not to operating decisions.

"All" in the phrase "all he can do" in my comment above was meant to have the sense "the most he can do", and I don't think that this sense is affected by the point in your final paragraph.


all the left commentators ..... are busy being quiet about Afghanistan

Are they really? I'd have thought that was a hard claim to sustain.

As indeed it's proving a hard occupation to sustain, especially when bombing civilians appears to be the main means of winning hearts and minds. Mostly it seems to win them for the Taliban. Good effort!


pretty humiliating for Hoon

Hoon never seems to have had much problem with being humiliated - not having any talent to offer he can really only function as a professional gofer. Actually he reminds me very much of Stuart Higgins ("Higgy The Human Sponge" as you may reluctantly recall.)


[His specific responsibility in the government as a supporter of the war and as chancellor was to fund it properly, which he failed to do]

I agree that he should have opposed that war (everyone should) and resigned rather than fund it (everyone should). But I don't think the Treasury has cut the budget of the Ministry of Defence since 2003 and am pretty sure that it's been increased substantially every year; looking in the Guardian he announced a special emergency fund of £3bn for Iraq and £800m for Afghanistan in 2004.

What he has done is make the MoD stick to the budget it agreed, which included the MoD's estimates (regularly updated) of what it thought it needed to spend on the war. The MoD has systematically and repeatedly failed to make its budget, and some of the consequences of that failure have had an effect on the war.

But the only way that they could have not done so would have been if Brown had done what the Americans have done and more or less written a blank cheque, committing to meet each and every budget overspend that the MoD made, against the MoD's threat that if any cutbacks were made, they would affect the war. This is exactly what I was talking about above - the MoD can't be allowed to use the troops as hostages.

The more I think about it, the more I think my original "live from the department of pure speculation" must have been wrong, because the most that Brown could have done would have been to acquiesce in MoD projections that he knew or suspected to be inadequate. He could have forced money down their throats (as he did with the Department of Health) but didn't and that's the most that anyone can accuse him of.


I think you need get beyond the idea of a turf war between the MOD and the Treasury over this issue, because otherwise you're left with a starved army in the middle of a war and its somehow nobody's fault. I suspect both sides are pointing fingers at each other specifically with this dodge in mind.

We're obviously seeing the unwinding of the idea that you can have open ended speculative warfare on the cheap while spending money in lots of other areas, and without raising taxes. The govermnment as a whole are culpable for this, but the specific area of culpability in regard to funding the operation has to rest with the Chancellor. Who else is there? The MOD can't raise its own money.


well, blame is the ultimate renewable resource ... I am not seeing much evidence of the MoD asking and not getting though. As with the NHS, I think questions have to be asked not just about the amount of money but the way it's spent.


I am not seeing much evidence of the MoD asking and not getting though.

Four infantry battalions fewer, from 12 to 10 to 8 and now 6+"maybe"2 T45 ships, fewer T23 ships, no fleet air defence, 8 down to 6 armoured regiments, no swimmer delivery from submarines until the next lot are commissioned, the new RAF refuelling tanker/transports in permanent PFI delay, the Canberra PR9 being withdrawn to save money and then leased back from the private sector, no explosion suppressant foam on the C130s, keeping the Nimrods going despite the AAR rig on XV230 blowing up, dropping the Jaguar years before its planned OSD, half the Navy on the beach...there's no end of stuff that's been "capability gapped".

Dan Hardie

Another attempt to discuss politics becomes mired in the ego, or possibly the id, of the world's most sensitive reactionary stockbroker. Given Dsquared's desperate desire to pout, sulk, howl, throw tantrums and generally act like the world's biggest baby, I am ever more firmly of the view that somewhere in the main Davies residence there is 'Dsquared's special room', firmly padlocked and containing a giant playpen, and a large supply of rattles, dummies and what Americans call 'diapers'.... Ejh, of course, harbours a clear desire to be invited round to 'play mummy'.

Substantive comment on defence spending has been provided above by Alex Harrowell, and will be further provided by me either here or on my blog, if I can find the time and if the babies can grow up a bit.


Possibly you could provide us with a projection?


Alex: Which of these are just general defence spending cuts (which I'm in favour of) and which are specific requests for things to fight the war with which have been denied (which I'm not in favour of)?

I mean, it is trivial that if we put the entire economy on a war footing then we could supply all the material needs of the troops in the fields without cancelling everything else (although even then, I don't think that we could have delivered a replacement for the Nimrod in any short time). On the other hand, the troops in Helmand are not suffering for lack of swimmer delivery from submarines (unless I have missed something elementary here) and the fleet is not in danger of air attack and won't be unless we start something with Iran.

As far as I can see, a lot of this boils down to the size of the Army; it would obviously be easier to fight more wars if the four infantry battalions and six armoured regiments were still there. But this is heading into Henry Jackson Society territory and I don't see how it's HMT's fault. If the geopolitical ambitions of the Prime Minister aren't consistent with the military resources available, then that's a debate that the Chiefs of Staff have with the PM, and they have been doing so over the last few years. If the Chancellor was making that decision, he would be pretty much de facto Prime Minister. Admittedly the Brown/Blair relationship has been quite dysfunctional and Brown's expanded the role massively, but I haven't seen any evidence yet (and as I said, this includes Dan's link) that HMT has started micromanaging to this extent.

Looking through that list, the explosion suppressant foam is a clearly war-related expense. But (unless I've read your blog wrong) the entire cost of that project would have been half a million quid (25 aircraft x £20k?). There is no way that responsibility for that one can credibly be passed to the finance function.

Dan Hardie

Oh good, we've got intelligent Dsquared back.

Dsquared: I've not said anywhere that Brown *as Chancellor* is solely or even largely responsible for a) the level of defence spending (which in any case is probably adequate to the country's needs, or nearly so) or b) the precise ways in which defence money is spent. The is the man most responsible for both matters, followed by (if there was a full Cabinet discussion) all of his Cabinet or (if there was not a full Cabinet discussion) those who were part of the spending decision (usually the Defence Secretary and the Chancellor) plus the Service Chiefs: who are obliged to spend the money as they are ordered but who can advise for or against particular spending decisions and who may resign their posts if they feel national defence is threatened.

I think there is a lot of blame, and as I've argued in a great many places, including Crooked Timber threads, at least some of it has to stick to the Service chiefs. But the main responsibility must always be borne by the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary (the latter appointed by the PM). The PM is still someone called Blair but that will shortly change: at which point, yes, Gordon Brown will be primarily responsible for how much money is spent on defence and how wisely it is allocated. If he doesn't like that he shouldn't have applied for the job.

Much more later, time permitting: you lucky, lucky people.

Dan Hardie

And the third sentence should read 'The Prime Minister is the man responsible etc'. If Jamie wants to delete that comment on grounds of pure ugliness, I'll repost it without the bold.


oh dear, someone's shat themself - I tend to wait till I get home for that sort of thing.


Jesus, if you get an infestation of bold tags round these parts they're a bugger to get rid of.

I think Gordon is a closet pacifist (a lot of Scottish technocrats are IME) and will, early doors, either pull us the hell out of both Iraq and Afghanistan, or get us out of Iraq and use the capacity to reinforce Afghanistan (then try to get the Americans to replace us in Afghanistan too).

I think this because (and now I am getting together a coherent version of what I meant to say) he *could* have opened up the chequebook and said have what you like, all the cuts decisions can be postponed until afterwards to the MoD the minute war was declared in 2001. As I say, there's decent evidence that he basically did something similar to the NHS. He then had an opportunity to do the same in 2003 and he didn't take it then either. This behaviour is consistent with both him being unconcerned about the war but not wanting his name on it (pretty unforgivable) and with him being opposed to the war but unwilling to do a Cookie (IMO forgivable as Cook's actions were superogatory). I'm going for option 2, but not really betting any material number of credibility points on it.

Dan Hardie

I'd agree with a fair bit of that, but would add that Cook's resignation was never going to stop British participation in the Iraq invasion. Brown's resignation would have done, but would also have caused an almighty dispute ('war' to excitable journalists) between the Brownites and Blairites, and thus endangered Gordon's chances of becoming PM. As far as I can tell, he supported the war for purely careerist reasons, which means I'm disinclined to give him the benefit of any doubt over Afghanistan or Iraq.


D2 - they're mostly more like "stuff we knew was going to wear out, and budgeted to replace, but we're not going to replace, so we can pay for the war without letting on that it costs money."

The £3bn for Iraq, by the way, was the Treasury's contingency budget. Not more money. This has been reannounced every year as new.

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