A Test Case

By Cornish, Paul | The World Today, May 2011 | Go to article overview

A Test Case


Cornish, Paul, The World Today


The success of the air and naval intervention against Libya in 2011, in which Britain is playing a prominent role, should be judged in terms of the effect it has on the Libyan people, their quality of life, and the cohesion of their country.

WHEN THE RESIDENTS OF BENGHAZI AND Misrata ask "What did NATO ever do for us?", there needs to be a clear, constructive and durable answer. And in spite of the tentative wording of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973, the unwritten goal of the intervention can only be regime change, whereby the grip of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his family - a striking combination of menace and eccentricity - is forever broken by one means or another.

The two British operations taking place under the mandate of UNSCR 1973 - Operation Ellamy (the air campaign) and Operation Unified Protector (NATO's maritime enforcement of the arms embargo against Libya) - could also prove to be extremely significant for British national strategy. After several months of evaluation, the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) were both published in October 2010. In light of Britain's contribution to these operations, does the 2010 strategy reviewlook fit for purpose?

At first glance, British national strategy has met the test set for it by PrimeMinister David Cameron's early decision to intervene. Royal Navy surface warships, attack submarines and support vessels, and Royal Air Force combat, reconnaissance, transport and fuel tanker aircraft have all performed as required. The intervention in Libya could therefore be said to have confirmed the wisdom of the 'adaptable posture' chosen by the authors of the SDSR as the best description of Britain's overall strategic policy framework. Among several other things, the 'adaptable posture' would enable Britain to 'focus and integrate diplomatic, intelligence, defence and other capabilities on preventing internationalmilitary crises, while retaining the ability to respond should they nevertheless materialise.' There could hardly be a better script to describe Britain's intervention in Libya - provided, of course that the intervention does not last too long or costmuchmore than the 'tens ofmillions' the Chancellor of theExchequer appearswilling to spend on it.

But there is another interpretation. Many of the military capabilities being used in and around Libya are destined for reduction or even 'deletion' under the SDSR, as the first steps towards ensuring that by 2020 Britain will have the 'national security capabilities it needs', without any 'legacy equipment for which there is no requirement.' HMS Cumberland, a 25-year old Type 22 frigate, was due to be decommissioned in spring 2011, along with the remaining two warships in her class. HMS Cumberland has been given a brief stay of execution, partly no doubt because the ship has an advanced signals intelligence capability, as well as command, control and communications systems which enable her to be a Flagship for maritime operations of the sort now being run off the coast of Libya. The Nimrod R1 reconnaissance aircraft, due to be retired in March 2011, will now remain in service for several more months before Royal Air Force (RAF) crews can begin co-piloting US Rivet Joint aircraft; a working arrangement which will cover the gap in capability before the RAF takes ownership of three of these aircraft in 2014. The Sentinel R1 stand-off airborne ground surveillance aircraft has also been deployed over Libya and is due to be scrapped once Britain has withdrawn from Afghanistan. Tornado GR4 ground attack aircraft have taken a leading role in the air operation (the newer Typhoon has so far been much less involved), yet in accordance with the SDSR the number of Tornado squadrons was to be reduced from seven to five on June 1, 2011, leaving a fleet of 136 aircraft which, the SDSR notes, 'risk becoming outdated as threats continue to become more varied and sophisticated. …

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