A Defence Review 72

The defence review is admitting the bleeding obvious – that there is no real danger of armed invasion of the UK, and that terrorism does not pose an “existential threat” to the UK and our way of life. That is a real advance, because Blair, Reid and Blunkett were determined to convince us that it was an existential threat, “on the scale of the Second World War” as Reid once ludicrously opined of a menace that killed under 70 people inthe UK. What did become a threat to our way of life was New Labour’s hyping of that threat to impose unprecedented authoritarianism.

By contrast the current review is almost rational. Everyone seems very pleased at the highlighting of cyber attack, though I tend to think this too is ramped up a la swine flu. But at least nobody is suggesting drone attacks on weddings to take out laptops – at least yet. I like the whole Dr Who sound of “Cyber attack”. We should prioritise Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in defence spending (sorry, that will mean nothing to anyone under 50. I was 52 on Sunday).

But do not expect any further rationality. Trident missiles are no use against any actual threat, but we will be told we still need them, in reality because they make British politicians feel they are more powerful and important than German and Japanese ones.

The aircraft carriers are important to our ability to support US invasions abroad.They have no other purpose. The big question so far ducked is whether we have abandoned the disastrous “Blair doctrine” of liberal interventionism. or bombing foreigners to make them better people. The unspoken presumption isthat we are still maintaining this option.

72 thoughts on “A Defence Review

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  • bert

    From http://preview.tinyurl.com/35ajhs7 , the BBC reported that Theresa May said:

    “I was in the United States a few months ago and a very senior intelligence figure said to me that cyber attacks, he feared, were going to be the United States’ _next Pearl Harbour_.” Oh Lordy!

    Is there any actual evidence for cyber-terrorism? How do any losses etc. sustained by the government compare with the not oft mentioned ‘VAT carousel fraud’? (One of the Postie’s pet subjects for research).

    The BBC also reported that last week, the UK’s communications intelligence agency GCHQ gave some indication of the scale of the problem when it revealed that each month more than 20,000 “malicious” e-mails were sent to government networks, of which 1,000 were deliberately targeted at them.

    Yep, it’s called spam – we all get it!

    On another note, regarding proper public scrutiny of government processes, see http://77inquests.blogspot.com/

    Stef (Famous for 15 Megapixels) also has some good commentary.

    Best Wishes,


  • somebody

    Cameroon and his gang of ConDem rodents have added cyber terrrrrrrr to the list.

    All done to engender fear and the feeling of impending chaos, and therefore helplessness, in the sleeping populations.

  • TonyF

    Very sensible piece, Craig. Yesterday I went to the CND briefing at Portcullis House, Westminster.

    Great stuff. MPs from Labour, Green and LibDems. Well researched report presented on the impact on employment of cancelling Trident.

    Trident is worthless and useless except to make some arms manufacturers much richer, and to make the world a more dangerous place. Hillary Clinton came to see the Coalition last week demanding that the Government revise its plans for cuts – instead presumably closing hospitals, schools and universities to pay for Trident.

    Our enemies are within. Mainly in the City and in New York. No nuke will deter them so long as they have the combination to the safe of funding from government.

  • Ishmael

    Labour have not gone away, and who knows what the puppet master ‘Harman’ has planned for her puppet Red Edd. I’m sure you can see Harman’s hand moving each time Miliband speaks. They will no doubt be back sometime. I do agree the carriers are showboating rather than an urgent requirement. I am convinced there is also no “real” defence against Russian built anti-ship missile attack. Making these things floating coffins in the event of war. The Americans see the threat as real which is why they contracted Orbital to develop an effective target decoy to replicate the characteristics of the Sunburn missile. They have been at it for years, started 2003, i’m sure and still no effective defence. Which is why I could not believe the UK government went ahead anyway

  • Rob

    Well it seems the Trident decision is at least going to be postponed to 2015 and there will be cuts in the Navy, including immediate ‘scrapping’ of the Ark Royal. Of course this may just be to finance the two new carriers.

    On the issue of cyber war, I think it must be taken seriously. Forget all this stuff about spam and viruses – that is to cyber war like a fight down the pub is to what the army does. Cyber attacks have the potential to cripple a country and it is only early days in the development of cyber weapons. There are many, many potential targets: telecomms, banks, supermarket logisitics computers, traffic management, government, power generation, industrial process plant. The ‘beauty’ of some categories of attacks is the precision with which targets can be hit. The stuxnet worm is a rather shocking example of how finely targeted malware can be. Other attacks appear at first sight to be more amusing. In the Estonian attack in 2007 all the phones in government departments started ringing, fax machines were spewing out paper. But in a crisis, how convenient to be able to disable communications between civil servants. I assume – hope – that government ministers and senior civil servants would be able to communicate using secure lines but how far down the tree does that security go? Does it stretch to the grades who actually have to do things, rather than talk and plan things? And how about the new remotely controlled domestic power meters? There has to be a remote on/off switch – controlled by software of course. Nice way to create chaos if you can do it – switch off everyone’s domestic electricity.

    Even now there is uncertainty about who executed the Estonian attacks and much debate about the origins of the stuxnet worm. How do you retaliate when you don’t know who to retaliate against?

    In the past you destroyed a country’s infrastructure with bombs; now you can destroy it with software code and probably do it faster, more precisely and with less collateral damage to the physical assets. There is indeed a need to get to grips with cyber war, maybe cyber terrorism.

    All that said, what a marvellous opportunity to squeeze in a bunch of freedom-limiting measures alongside the defensive measures. Eyes open, folks.

  • TheMgt

    Given the excuse that the carriers are still being built because it would cost more to cancel them, can we then flog the finished carriers to some other country?

  • craig


    its been stopped bythe platform,not b me. Usuallybecause of too many linksbut sometimes itsbecauseit arrivedinahail ofspam. The awaiting moderation message is not true – such comments vanish somewhere.Try again.

  • Katabasis


    I’ll miss out the links this time.

    My point was that while I agree with you regarding UK military adventures abroad – such as the obscenities that are the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures, that the “there is no real danger of armed invasion of the UK” line isn’t entirely true.

    There have been recent provocations in the Falklands and Gibraltar, neither of which the government appear to want to address. This is, IMO the only viable justification for the military – the defence of the realm and is manifestly not what the government is directing the armed forces to do.

  • Clark


    I’m glad that you’re blogging again, and happy birthday for Sunday. I’m not quite 50 yet, but I do remember Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart; UNIT would deploy their puny weapons to little effect, and it was usually up to The Doctor to find an intelligent solution.

    The Military-Industrial complex rolls on, oblivious to our changing times – nukes and aircraft carriers. Much of the talk of “cyber attack” is just bluster on behalf of the big media companies:



    “intellectual property theft [is] taking place on a “massive scale” – some relating to national security”.

    “Fundamentally, getting cyber right enables the UK’s continuing economic prosperity.

    “There’s a clear defensive angle. In order to flourish, a knowledge economy needs to protect from exploitation the intellectual property at the heart of the creative and high-tech industry sectors. It needs to maintain the integrity of its financial and commercial services.”

    “That will lead to a competitive advantage for the UK. We can give enterprises the confidence that by basing themselves here they gain the advantages of access to a modern internet infrastructure while reducing their risks.”

    “He said developing such expertise would also open up potential export opportunities, with the global market for cyber security products “growing faster than much of the rest of the global economy”.


    So can we expect GCHQ to join the fight against file sharing and copying? It reminds me of Craig’s question, when Royal Navy personnel were arrested and held in Iran in 2007, as to why the Royal Navy were investigating avoidance of car duty tax.

    The vulnerability of our computer systems is similar to the situation with the banks – lack of government regulation. Microsoft have been permitted to secure a monopoly, and have risen above the forces of competition that maintain product quality in the market, and have continued to produce insecure software. Our idiot leaders have accepted Microsoft’s free samples and special offers, so our institutions have become dependent upon an insecure system.

    And then it becomes entrenched. Note that last paragraph – “potential export opportunities [in] the global market for cyber security”. Just as in the War on Terror, a huge, profitable “security” industry has grown around avoidable insecurities. Thus, those insecurities have become economic necessities.

    And yes, it gives our leaders a good excuse to monitor all our private communications.

  • technicolour

    They are not our leaders!

    Otherwise, so well put – ‘those insecurities have become economic necessities’ indeed.

  • Rob

    Clark – while I agree that it is a shame that the Govt has accepted the Microsoft shilling it is important to broaden the idea that cyber attacks are just to do with Windows insecurities and relatively minor crimes like copyright infringement and credit card fraud. Much of the national infrastructure and industrial activity is potentially at risk. Remember that the overwhelming majority of computers are in embedded equipment and machinery. They have been regarded as not at risk in the past because they are not the sort of targets that offer rewards to crooks or hackers, and because they are not connected to the internet in the same casual way that most PCs are. Nevertheless stuxnet shows nicely that there are other ways to screw them up.

  • Clark

    I should have pointed out that the passage I quoted above, which seems to be all about “economic prosperity” and “competitive advantage”, came from from Mr Iain Lobban, the head of GCHQ.

  • Clark


    I agree that cyber attack is a serious and growing risk. However, the Stuxnet virus, Gary McKinnon, and many other incidents all show that the main attack route is via Microsoft Windows.

    Where would money be best spent? Monitoring the entire population to identify potential attackers (didn’t work for 9/11 or 7/7, did it?) or plugging the enormous glaring security hole, for which effective plugs are freely available? Or would we rather just spend lots more money? Oh yes, that could be the plan…

  • Clark


    yes, I believe that there is some threat from “terrorism”, but that it is vastly overstated for political gain and to secure funding for the “security” industry. So I think I reject the hype.

    I put “terrorism” in quotes as it seems (a) a totally arbitrary classification – “a terrorist is someone with a bomb but no air force”, and (b) it suggests that the perpetrator’s intention is to cause “terror”, but this is a groundless assumption.

  • Rob

    Clark, The main attack route is Windows partly because Windows constitutes the majority of computers on desks. If that changed, the attack route would change too, particularly if one accepts the proposition that attacks would be funded and motivated by a desire to damage the nation and not just make a few dodgy millions from fraud or theft. There also has to be a pragmatic element to this. While I’d love to see a transition to, say, the widespread use of Linux and open source software throughout the public sector (for all sorts of reasons) – it isn’t going to happen quickly if at all, for several reasons. There is the huge already installed base; but the main deterrent is the wholesale retraining that would be required to get users and IT staff up to the same level of skill as they currently are with Microsoft software. Well, better, preferably. That is not cost-free: apart from the explicit training costs there is the implied loss of productivity during the transition. And although I agree that Linux is inherently a much more robust OS, I’m sure it is not without vulnerabilities, particularly given the fact that many (most?) security issues are down to human fallibility and laxness. Furthermore it’s not clear if all the software needed for, say, CAD, modelling, software development, etc is available on Linux platforms.

    It is something of a cliche to say that we are always equipped to fight the previous battle (I’m sure there’s a famous quote about it but can’t remember or find it). Iain Lobban’s Maginot Line simile may not have gone down very well with some, but it seems to me there is some truth in it. You build some magnificent defence structure only to find that the attackers ignore it and come in via a totally unexpected route.

    “Where would money be best spent?” Ah, there’s the rub. “Monitoring the entire population … ” almost certainly not, although they might try to sneak some of that in as I suggested above. I am not at all expert enough to offer sensible comment about how to defend against cyber attacks; I expect some overlap with the existing anti-criminal security industry but I would also expect some more pro-active measures to pre-empt and neutralise co-ordinated attacks, or attacks aimed specifically at infrastructure/industrial plant.

    As for accepting the terror hype, I am reluctant. I think it is unlikely that terrorist groups within the current understanding of the term could muster the resources to make attacks as sophisticated as stuxnet. They could probably access the software expertise needed, but perhaps not the much more specialised tech info needed to target engineering or logistics systems. They are more likely to mimic the crooks – easier to do, faster payoff. In any case, my reading of the news is not that the govt is suggesting that cyber attacks will come from terrorists. But it would be stupid to assume that there are no militarised cyber-threats from other countries. Cyberspace is economically and politically important territory that can be fought over. It just happens not to be very easily correlated with geographical territory.

  • Dick the Prick


    Not sure about the carriers and not sure that their use would be restricted to US led aggressive intervention.

    As has been mentioned elsewhere, let’s hope the Argies aren’t watching. Aircraft carriers are the dog’s bollox, the cat’s whiskers, the bee’s knees. Think about the Pakistani floods, the Malwian disaster a bit back, hell – just complete independence.

    Couple this with ‘British jobs for British workers’ (yeah, soz about that), the technological research, the Jocks (and me being a Tory, it’s not proirity number 1) and just the principle of the matter. £5 billion for some brilliant & useful toys seems fine; Trident – yeah, outdated and a insane boondoggle but aircraft carriers are cool on every level.


  • Alfred

    “Trident missiles are no use against any actual threat…”

    Well they must constitute some kind of deterrent against those who threaten the first use of nuclear weapons, e.g., Russia in South Ossetia only two years ago, Israel and the US continually against Iran.

    The problem with Trident is that it isn’t British. According to Eric Margolis its “nuclear weapons cannot be fired without the US-turned series of electronic locks” (http://www.ericmargolis.com/political_commentaries/the-royal-navys-most-desperate-battle.aspx).

    The idea that since Britain has no external enemies she can simply abandon here defenses seems extremely naive. Britain’s ten-year rule, instituted by Winston Churchill in 1919, which postulated that Britain would not be engaged in a major war for ten years, was not abandoned until 1933, at least four years too late. As a result of such thinking, Britain’s defense budget was, according to Niall Ferguson, cut by a third in the ten years to 1932, while French and Italian spending rose by almost two-thirds.

    Given the enormous complexity of today’s military systems it would certainly require more than a decade to rebuild a competitive military establishment, assuming that were even possible. In other words, to run the military down to accommodate more domestic spending — mostly socially destructive welfare programs and unproductive bureaucratic expansion — without major risk to national security requires greater foresight than possessed by Churchill and the rest of Britain’s political leadership during the 30’s.

    Since virtually all of NATO’s military capability is software dependent, the idea that the risk of cyber attack is over-hyped seems a little naive too. Sure al Qaeda isn’t going to bring down America’s air defenses (well not a second time, one hopes) but do you doubt that India and China who have a huge human resources advantage in software aren’t working on it. Cyber attacks of unknown origin might very well be a part of the development program. The final stage, of course, would be a brief announcement from Beijing that NATO’s weapons cannot be fired because the electronic locks have been changed and that, from now on, the world will be run in a slightly different way.

  • Alfred


    Re: aircraft carriers.

    Most US/NATO weapons systems are intended for use in the policing of empire. In this role, carriers are important as offshore airbases from which to conduct intelligence gathering, punitive bombing raids, etc.

    What happens when the most modern aircraft carrier faces a volley of Russian Sunburn missiles or China’s Mach 10 Dong Feng 21 remains to be seen. If it happens, we will have all out war between NATO and either Russia or China or both. That’s why the US Navy is not panicking. There’s no reason to expect either Russia or China to provoke such a war anytime soon.

    At some point the test may come. If a bunch of carriers are sunk by Chinese missiles, then it will mark the end of the age of the carrier, just as the sinking of the British battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse by Japanese land-based aircraft in 1941/42 marked the end of the age of the capital ship without air cover. But in the meantime, you can be sure that the Americans are working on countermeasures.

  • ingo

    a belated happy birthday from your favourite painter, stonemason, tiler, bricky,etc. etc. I was 52 once.(:-)

    The upgrading of cyber threats makes it obvious that todays electronic moneymarkets, stock exchanges and trading volumnes are more importanmt tools of war than the missiles.

    Large quantities of US Government bonds and currency squabbles, increasing all the time, are the field were future wars will develop.

    Trident was useless a decade ago, now itrs potentially scrap unless Alfreds scenarios have a chance of developing.

  • dreoilin

    “What happens when the most modern aircraft carrier faces a volley of Russian Sunburn missiles or China’s Mach 10 Dong Feng 21 remains to be seen”

    Surely Russia or China don’t really have to lift a military finger? If Russia turns off the gas, much of Europe is buggered. Russia has other customers. And if China completely stopped exports of rare earth metals, the world economy would go into virtual meltdown. Rare earth metals play a vital role not only in cutting edge (and green) technology, but also in precision-guided weapons. Other sources are out there, but the stuff is hard to find, and harder to extract. It’s going to take years. Surely Russia and China together are holding cards that the UK cannot even pretend to rival. Or is Britain going to wave Trident at countries that put economic/energy squeezes on?

    On a slightly different topic, the threat from the “Real IRA” (small as it may be) is to me just another example of where conventional armies and weaponry are pretty much useless against guerrilla warfare, whether in Vietnam, or on the streets of Belfast, or currently in Afghanistan. Hit and run tactics cannot be fought with conventional platoons doing conventional things, which is why unmanned drones are increasingly being used, with utter disregard for innocent civilian lives. The IRA were never defeated in Northern Ireland. They called and maintained a ceasefire, and entered into political negotiations. It’s as simple as that. I have often wondered why that lesson was not impressed by Britain on the Americans (who apparently learned nothing themselves from Vietnam, and are still trying to impress on their citizens that they are doing well in Afghanistan.)

    Ok, Alfred, clobber me.

  • ingo

    take a hot water bottle as well, dreolin, first cold night this year.(;-)

    Do agree with you on northern Ireland and Trident.

    China cannot afford a war, as its social strata, despite the economic success, is quiet weak. Their relations with large minorities is squalid and their own people are forming a backlash to their highspeed development and corruption that goes with it. The opposition to central planning is not just rural anymore.

    There are also the green shoots of union activities that can galvanise a few million, something the Government is grappling with, making their manufacturing base fragile. China has got a lot of environmental problems, frequent earthquakes and floods, any administrative response to those, or lack of it, could galvanise public opinion.

    Last years rape and killing of a girl a by a police man nearly created this mass outrage, the army was on stand by.

    Don’t think China will want to go to war with anyone mayor in the next decade unless provoked. If Iran is attacked and Chinas vital oil supplies endangered in any way, it might just take Taiwan and various disputed islands in the South China sea to make a point.

  • Paul Johnston

    Re Cyber War

    If you are stupid enough to put something important with an external ip address (power station control systems, air traffic control, train signalling etc), you deserve all you get. When are people going to realise “War Games” is a movie, it’s reality in the same way as “The Day After Tomorrow”. The talk of Windows being the problem ignores the fact it’s a machine OS. The real problem is when infrastructure takes a hit and then we are talking DNS or switches and routers. So far Cisco has a very good track record with IOS but it only takes one flaw and hackers latch onto it really quickly.

    If you want to know what “could” really cause fun and games have a look at:


  • Alfred


    I think Ingo answers the question. For now, neither the Russians nor the Chinese want war more than they want western markets. Lets hope that will always be true.

    But if there is a major conflict, it might be all over before shortages of gas affect Europe’s military capability or interruption in the supply of neodymium creates a shortage of violet glass. So I doubt if you will have to go back to cooking over a peat fire anytime soon.

    Meantime, the Americans are thinking of creating a strategic reserve of rare earths:


    which will be good for China since they will then sell more neocondumnium or whatever than otherwise.

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