Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rosyth RUSI Rant

I promised more serious content; here goes.

Right, everyone is vexed about the RUSI report (PDF download) that was recently published under the names of Gwyn Prins (a minor hero of this blog's, for his The Heart of War: Power, Conflict, and Obligation in the 21st Century) and the Marquess of Salisbury (no less, who hasn't written anything I'm aware of).

The media discourse about it has been almost entirely devoted to this paragraph:
The United Kingdom presents itself as a target, as a fragmenting, post-Christian society, increasingly divided about interpretations of its history, about its national aims, its values and in its political identity. That fragmentation is worsened by the firm self-image of those
elements within it who refuse to integrate. This is a problem worsened by the lack of leadership from the majority which in mis-placed deference to ‘multi-culturalism’ failed to lay down the line to immigrant communities, thus under-cutting those within them trying to fight extremism. The country’s lack of self- confidence is in stark contrast to the implacability of its Islamist terrorist enemy, within and without.
This appears to be standard boilerplate Toryism/Decent Left stuff; I rather doubt that Islamists particularly care about anyone's view of the Whig interpretation of history. Depending on partisan allegiance, this has either been read as being a sinister right-wing menace from "ranting old colonels" as the Grauniad's Joseph Harker put it (you haven't read Rupert Smith's book, have you?) or else as a roaring affirmation of everything good and true, as the Daily Mail put it, with the slight curiosity that most of the stuff they attribute to it doesn't actually appear anywhere in the document. There is for example no reference to being a "soft touch" in the text, only one use of the word "immigrant", and no suggestion of further restrictions on immigration. I have the strong impression that most of the journos responding to it have not read the document.

On substance, this point is of course silly; the common factor about British Islamist terrorists, as far as I can make out, is that they are members of my generation and therefore products of Ken Baker's tenure as Education Secretary. "Our Island Story", not multiculturalism, if the word still has any meaning other than the Orwellian one of "something not desirable"; Thatcher, not Wilson or Blair. I assume that this was Old Sarum's contribution, as is the factless pabulum about "long established constitutional arrangements of the Queen in Parliament" and coded Euroscepticism. It's quite clear, however, where Prins cuts in; there is a typically Prins emphasis on the intersection between traditional, big war strategy and human security issues, for example the politics of climate change, the weakening of both the Anglo-American and NATO alliances, relations with Russia, and world naval construction.

Further, the actual policy proposals the paper contains are almost comically modest compared to its tone and its reception; they want to set up two new committees, one a mixed committee of ministers and officials based in the Cabinet Office and serviced by the CabSec, and the other a committee of both houses of parliament. The first would be a sort of national security council, and the second an independent oversight committee of it. This is not terribly controversial, or dare I say it, terribly new.

Meanwhile, Mick DSM Smith reports on some more capability gaps; as Teh Defence Crisis rolls on, the carrier project is sliding right again, and all the four remaining T-22 frigates are to be mothballed, plus one T-23. According to our sources, the T-42 destroyers are "falling apart" and morale aboard ship is at rock bottom; I really have no idea why the T-42s are protected from cuts, as they are the only class of warship we have that was tested in combat and found wanting.

Regarding the carriers, we're now getting to a point where the capability-gapping that was meant to make up the costs is committing us to going ahead; with fewer T-45 ships, no T-22 Block 3 ships, and fewer T-23 ships, and no air defence on the existing carriers, losing the new carriers will render most of the new amphibious ships useless. If the Government really wants to deliver them, it needs to start steelworking at Babcocks in Rosyth. Recap; the ships are to be built in four "superblocks" at Rosyth, BAE's yards on the Clyde, and Vospers in Portsmouth, and then assembled in the drydock in Rosyth, the only one big enough. Once the Rosyth block is in the drydock, nothing else is going to use the drydock until it is either scrapped in place or the completed ship is floated-out. Some preparatory work was announced last week at a cost of £34m, but they have still not taken the vital step of actually checking the welding torch out of the locker and cracking on.

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