General (Retd.) Sir David Richards, late Chief of the British Defence Staff
The British armed forces have been engaged the world over for centuries. In recent years I have had the honour to lead those armed forces in places as challenging and diverse as East Timor, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. As a soldier leading the army of one of Europe’s and the world’s leading democracies the importance of national strategy is paramount. In democracies, whilst we may be of influence, it is not soldiers that decide the role of a state in world affairs and rightly so. From my own experience, in spite of the many challenges the British armed forces have faced over the past years trying to bring peace and stability to troubled places, it is Britain’s political and strategic standing which is the vital and yet unquantifiable quality that is so often vital to mission success. Britain is no longer a global power but it remains a country held in high regard the world over for the length of its international experience and the strategic wisdom it has gained.
Britain’s strategic role has not been without controversy, as evidenced by Prime Minister Cameron expressing deep regret for the massacre of Indian protesters at Amritsar in 1919. However, overall the world can be said to be a better place because of Britain and the role it has played and continues to play.
For the British, national strategy is not something that historically has been designed by committee. Strategy has rather emerged as an evolution of debate between all those charged with great responsibilities, both within the departments of state engaged daily in Britain’s foreign and security policy and those without. In the past the ability to make sound strategic judgements seemed to be part of Whitehall’s DNA and thus not in need of formulation or categorisation. This was partly a reflection of Britain’s genuine power in the world and London’s ability to influence events. After all, the truly powerful are less in need of strategy.
However, as Britain has become more modest in terms of both power and ambition it has had to begin properly considering its vital, essential and general interests and values in a more systematic and dispassionate light. This has meant some tough decisions that when seen in the light of history may seem prematurely to signal retreat rather than reflect the strategic realities of an unstable era and the latent influence of a still powerful state. That was certainly the case with the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review which had to address difficult questions in an especially testing period.
However, the spirit of Britain’s greatness both past and present was apparent even in this the toughest of times. All those charged with considering Britain’s future strategy do so and did so not in the belief that Britain is about to withdraw from the world but firm in the belief that with the right use of national resources and the immense network of influence Britain enjoys the country can, and should, continue to play a positive and constructive role the world over.
How Britain plays that role is the purpose of Professor Lindley-French’s book. He examines the balance to be struck between the civilian and the military applications of power; how process, diplomacy, force and resource are blended in order to decide appropriate strategies. In reading it I was particularly struck by the centrality he places on Britain’s role as a champion of international institutions and the legitimate use of force such memberships confer.
As with most such books I do not agree with all the good professor’s prescriptions. Equally, as a valued adviser and loyal friend I know his views always to be worth taking into account. They are born or years of exacting scholarship reinforced by remorseless logic and a rare intuition. I commend this book. It will be of great assistance to those charged with considering the next chapter in Britain’s great strategic story.
General (Retd.) Sir David Richards GCB, CBE, DSO