FOREWORD - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 42
Professor Michael Clarke
For almost 50 years, the Western world has lived through what has been described as 'peace in a time of war'. But now we are facing 'war in a time of peace' and in the United Kingdom at least, the strains on the defence establishment are clear for all to see. To maintain forces that are continually engaged in operations, that need to train to higher standards of performance and scrutiny than ever before and to keep UK forces up-to-date when other armed forces are capable of step changes in high technology modernity is difficult enough in itself. But to do it in a domestic political environment that regards itself as being 'at peace', that does not choose to spend much on defence and even questions operational decisions taken thousands of miles away, poses more severe and unique challenges for the military than it has ever faced.
Such challenges, of course, extend to the defence establishment as a whole and require flexible and agile responses from industry and the MoD, no less than from commanders in operational theatres. Much of what makes the UK so capable a defence actor turns out to be so intangible when it is properly analysed – the training, the military culture, the business environment, the relationship between defence and industry – that it is easily lost through complacency or political expediency, and it is not missed until it is too late.
For these reasons alone, it is vital that the MoD and industry get their processes, and their interactions, right. The MoD must make a success of the Defence Industrial Strategy 2 and specify a number of things that were left ambiguous in the original version of the DIS. And industry must sign up to making a success of through life capability management and the defence acquisition change programme initiatives to enable it to enter into a proper commercially 'competitive partnership' with the MoD. Somehow, industry has got to find the right relationship with the MoD, which balances competition and partnership in a rapidly consolidating defence industrial environment. These are unpropitious times for both sides of that relationship. They are unpropitious for industry with the credit crunch and the real prospects of global recession making industry more risk averse and squeezing investment capital so severely. They are unpropitious, too, for the Ministry of Defence, facing the policy hiatus of a UK election season that will effectively begin early next year. But the world will not wait until we are ready. In reality, we have only one bite at these particular cherries and the consequences of failure will be severe – not least on our armed forces in operations.
'War in a time of peace' is not just a rhetorical flourish. It is the political expression of a mismatch between resources and commitments, between expectations and responsibilities, which, in every sense, puts defence on the United Kingdom's front line.