Chief of defence staff warns of military expectations

General Sir Nicholas Houghton Gen Sir Nick Houghton would not be drawn on whether Britain would get involved in Syria

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The new chief of the defence staff has said the armed forces will have to "recalibrate" their expectations after exiting Afghanistan.

General Sir Nick Houghton said they must prepare to tackle new operations from a "standing start".

In an interview for Defence Focus magazine he said the biggest challenge following army cuts was to shape the Reserve Forces.

Labour said the forces are relying on a reserves plan "in complete crisis".

'Cynical and detached'

Gen Houghton said: "Defence has quite rightly focused on Afghanistan in recent years but getting back to a contingent posture that offers genuine political choices for the dangerous and uncertain world we face is now a clear priority."

He continued: "We have to recalibrate our expectation of the level of capabilities we can field on new operations from a standing start.

"We've got to get back into an 'expeditionary mindset' where we will not have perfect capability for every scenario."

Though the drawdown from Afghanistan is under way, and all combat forces are due to leave that country by the end of 2014, Gen Houghton would not be drawn on Syria.

"As it stands, no decisions have been made on our involvement in Syria," he said.

"It is, nevertheless, the duty of the Ministry of Defence to provide options for the use of military force in scenarios such as Syria, and military advice on the utility of those options."

The Yorkshireman replaced General Sir David Richards as chief of the defence staff in mid-July, at a time when the MoD is still making regular soldiers redundant while trying to increase the number of reserves.

The general said he planned to be "honest, straight talking and supportive" to those working in defence in times he described as "quite difficult for many of them".

He said there was scope for better internal and external communications - and the MoD had "risked people becoming cynical and detached from what defence was trying to do".

He also talked of the need to cut down on bureaucracy and change the culture within defence.


Gen Houghton said the forces were still in the "early days" of restructuring after budget cuts.

"We have made all the big decisions", he said. "But there is still an awful lot to do".

He said the biggest challenge was implementing the Reserve Forces proposition so that it balanced the needs of reservists with their families and employers.

"If we can deliver that proposition then the challenge of recruiting, for example 30,000 reservists for the Army Reserve, should, by historic standards, be a relatively easy one."

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said a smaller force "can be smarter", but the government's policy had left personnel feeling "under-powered and under-valued".

He said: "Rather than strategically remodelling our forces for a post-Afghanistan, post-crash, rapidly-evolving security landscape, the government have simply shed capacity.

"Army strength and numbers rely on a reserves plan in complete crisis, which could severely limit our ability to respond to and shape world events."

But a spokesman for the MoD said the UK continued to have a world-class fighting force.

He said: "Since 2010, the MoD has balanced its budget for the first time in a generation and this year published the first 10-year equipment plan, which will see around £160 billion invested."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 421.


    PS. My Wife went back to the England last night.

    Just booked a flight back tomorrow!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    184, good point.

    The Uk's armed forces have repeatedly been dragged into conflicts not of our making with no definable objectives by politicians looking to show the UK as a "leading" nation in NATO and with the US. Their in/decisions cost lives and leave the military demoralised.

    There is an infasructure behind the men on the ground MoD, generals/admirals and their entourges all leaching money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    We are a poor country that is concealing its poverty with debt. We are the most indebted country in the world – we can't afford a first class military any more than countries like Albania or Croatia.

    No country's economy has survived our level of debt – there are many things we can't afford and soon won't have – state pensions, a welfare state, state funded further education etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    410 plotinus - great quote says it all - herewith, modern translation of the pertinent bit:-

    Therefore, my Harry, make it your policy to focus the distracted minds of the people with foreign wars. Military actions abroad will make people forget about troubling matters in the past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    399.Total Mass Retain

    Re German dominance lets say the worse came to the worse what are you suggesting ? They make us eat sauerkraut eat worst and drink their excellent bier ? maybe lederhosen. how would that compare to say a much more likely dominance of Theocratic'' and to many minds'' in the worse case religious laws boarding fascist you seem bent of fighting past wars rather than reality

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    "where am I
    You missed my point which is that its already happened"

    No it hasn't. But could if we let it.

    "could argue staying in would grant that dominance over us as well"

    Wrong. Leaving but having to adhere to EU (or German dominated) rules to have access to the single market would give them dominance without us having any say in the matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    The politics of miltary strategy and planning are light years away from the reality for the boys and girls in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The UK is too closely aligned to (and influenced by)the USA these days - where they too are facing grass roots opposition to foreign policy.

    Our military has been one of our mainstays for many years. Let's not keep crippling it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    399.Total Mass Retain
    "where am I
    Whilst a realist would note that Germany already has that dominance and therefore staying in would compound the problem"

    Why? Why would giving Germany a clear run in economic dominance now be sensible
    You missed my point which is that its already happened, they have that dominance, could argue staying in would grant that dominance over us as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    I have searched to find out how much we are actually financing the Afgan army, what proportion of our "aid" goes to paying for Afgan soldiers & how many, but cannot find this info. It is relevent especially that we are paying for thousands of Afgan soldiers yet cutting our own military.

    Maybe we could borrow Afgan soldiers, seeing as we are paying for them

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    @320 WelshDragon
    "A very important question. You don't see the Swiss, Germans or Scandinavians - prosperous nations with high standards of living - lecturing/invading others, as we do."

    Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland all have troops in Afghanistan. Germany has the third largest contingent after the US and the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Typical, people on this thread blame the military for what happens around the world... the military are a tool of the politicians put into power by the people... ergo YOU THE PEOPLE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE KILLINGS NOT THE MILITARY. You voted the politicians into power, you gave them the mandate, so don't start washing your hands now and putting the blame elsewhere its too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
    With foreign quarrels, that action, hence borne out,
    May waste the memory of the former days.
    More would I, but my lungs are wasted so
    That strength of speech is utterly denied me.
    How I came by the crown, O God, forgive;
    And grant it may with thee in true peace live!

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    @388/372. Haig never went closer than 7 miles to the front line believing his loss would be detrimental to the nation. He wasn't a bad man & did his best but was simply not up to the task. It is said that in 1915 he was just about ready to fight the Boer War. In 1925 he forecast that horses would always be used in warfare providing they were well breed. We needed Allenby in France.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    The UK spends the 4th Highest Amount on Military expenditure of any Country in the World more than India with 20 Times the Population or any other Nato Member with the exception of the USA and far more than such countries as North Korea or Iran.

    Yet there's always a General who will tell you it's not enough.

    What a shock.

    Next You will Have Bishops telling us there aren't enough Christians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    What he really means

    Armed forces cuts mean: the top brass will have to cut back on posh meals and jollies paid for by..... oh yes, the tax payer.

    Time to get rid of the army fat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    @401.J D Foster
    'Defence of this country can be done from these shores, with considerable savings. The personnel available could soon sort out the drug problem on our streets.'
    Or we could just legalise drugs, tax them and educate ppl about the safe usage, not have loads of ppl in prison for them or pay for the policing and not have to make cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    387. billyhano
    "You need not worry about volunteering, It is fairly obvious you would never pass a medical."
    FYI I've done a tour of Afghan thats why with the greatest of respects i know what i'm talking about and you don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    Three times in recent history Britain's Military strength has been pared to the bone. Before ww2, the Falklands and now.
    The Party In Government, the Conservatives.
    One major warship sailed for the Falklands on Auxillary power and had an engine refit in the Azores. Thatcher's finest victory could have ended in disaster.
    And they want to be the party of Law & Order and defence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    Nothing new here. Throughout our history governments have slashed the armed forces just when the future was looking rosey (or so they thought!), or just simply to save money, as is the case now. As the saying goes 'History teaches us that we learn nothing from history'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    • 350 Bumble - Men and women join the armed forces to serve and defend their country - not to kill others unless in defence. Unfortunately Blair the poodle of the USA turned our much treasured armed forces into the aggressors - don't blame the armed forces for what they are ORDERED to do!! You wouldn't be brave enough to do what they do.


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