.
D

uring graduate school at King’s College London, I was fortunate enough to take a course with Dr. John Mackinlay on counterinsurgency. Truly one of those great professors who brought the material to life, he often joined us in the pub for a pint, serving simultaneously as host, emcee, and provocateur, goading us on in our debates. A standout moment for us during that course was a day trip to a British Army base at which soldiers received pre-deployment training.

The Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11 | Simon Akam | Scribe | February 2021.

Sadly, training wasn’t scheduled on the day of our visit, however, we were permitted to wander the training grounds and visit the virtual shooting range, which unfortunately broke after one run of the simulation. The training facility, originally designed as a Northern Irish town, was slowly being modified to resemble an Iraqi city. Fish and chip shops had Arabic scripts on the storefront. A quintessential Derry home had a minaret jutting from the top, with a muezzin call ringing from a window, attempting to mimic a mosque. In the rain, it took on a surreal feel—it was Basra meets Belfast.

Mr. Simon Akam’s book The Changing of the Guard masterfully captures this clash of cultures and the British Army’s struggle to adapt to the “wars of choice” of Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Akam’s book almost did not see the light of day as its original publisher, Penguin Random House, backed out at the last minute due to sources who withdrew their statements, a lawsuit, and political pressure. That such pressure was applied is not at all surprising given how uncomfortable of a read this book is likely to be in Britain—both for those covered in the book, but also for the British public.

American Observations of British Military Adaptation

Mr. Akam—who served as an officer in a one-year “gap” commission—explores the halting transformation of the British Army from its peacetime idleness to the horrid realities of the battlefields of Basra and Helmand, a tortured process by which a largely garrison military confronted its shortcomings and the inaccuracies of its own self-image. Yet, as an American reading The Changing of the Guard, I was struck by the familiarity of its message.

For those in the U.S. who pick up Mr. Akam’s book—and I strongly suggest they do—I suspect nothing about the content will seem surprising or unexpected. All of the challenges and issues outlined by Mr. Akam were experienced by the American military, albeit sooner and to a much greater degree. The initial military commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq were woefully inadequate and ill-equipped for the fight in which the country found itself. The doctrine, technology, and leadership failed to recognize the conditions on the ground and failed to adapt. Crash programs for acquisition were implemented, rushing much-needed equipment to the battlefield at considerable cost. Counterinsurgency (COIN) was unevenly applied with some units that were overly aggressive and kinetic, while sister units were drinking the full extent of the COIN “Kool-Aid” (Mr. Akam’s retelling of 42 and 45 Commando are particularly illuminating). The blurred lines of counterinsurgency with warfare and law enforcement sitting side-by-side led to horrific tragedies and abuses, a reckoning that took place in public.

There are, of course, structural differences in the institutions—I always admired the esprit de corps that the British regimental system maintained, which was vastly more than any American analog and was a source of controversy, as Mr. Akam writes—but the transformations the American and British Armies and Marines both underwent were markedly similar. Both were certainly painful and expensive. Both took far longer than they should have. Both saw political classes that refused to accept the situation on the ground and found commanders, at least initially and early on in the conflicts, unwilling to speak truth to power.

I imagine that this eerie familiarity of the subject material is a function of the size, scale, and entwinement of the American military into the fabric of society. The size of the United States military dwarfs that of the United Kingdom (which has roughly only 150,000 active-duty personnel across all branches versus 1.38 million in the U.S.); the U.S. has a vastly more diverse and robust defense “think tank” ecosystem; the UK has had an all-volunteer force longer than the U.S. meaning a smaller portion of the population served in the armed forces; the scale of America’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq was on an order of magnitude greater than that of the UK.

Anecdotally, while there was certainly coverage of the British Army in both wars whilst I lived in London, it wasn’t on display or as frequent in the local papers or news as the American military is in Washington, even today. This is to say that defense issues have much greater prominence in the American dialogue than they do in the United Kingdom, or at least that more Americans than Britons would be aware of the debates and discussions over the role and trials their servicemembers were experiencing.

Yet, as evidenced by the controversy over Mr. Akam’s book, it is clear that the national-level dialogue in Great Britain has yet to materialize. And it is this controversy that is perhaps most illuminating and illustrative of Mr. Akam’s message. Over the last two decades, the United States has had a fairly robust public debate about the military’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, its tools and technology, the mission set and objectives, and even both wars’ conduct.

From Garrison to the Battlefield

Ultimately, what Mr. Akam describes is an Army that is trying to reconcile itself to the needs of a “new war” when it is decidedly oriented towards, at best, an “old war” or peacetime garrison positioned to defend NATO against a Russian invasion. While there have been debates about spending, equipment, and acquisition within the United Kingdom, those discussions largely avoided a fundamental reevaluation of what the British Army was for. In the wake of the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and largely uneventful (by comparison) engagements in the Balkans, the British Army had not been tested or forced to change until Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet the “best little army in the world” often preached its proficiency in counter-insurgency and low-intensity warfare with great intensity. Britain’s small wars in Malaya and elsewhere were trumpeted as evidence that the UK knew how to wage this type of conflict whereas the Americans, with their loss in Vietnam, did not. It is likely true that the average British infantry soldier of a certain age, schooled on the streets of Northern Ireland, was better equipped to handle the challenges of low-intensity conflict or even policing, such as happens in COIN, the absence of top-cover or political empowerment hamstrung the soldiers’ ability to act.

Here, the political leadership in London failed to empower the commanders on the ground to truly implement COIN. Whereas in successful campaigns, such as Field Marshal Sir Gerald Walter Robert Templer in Malaya was empowered to run both the military and the civilian activities, the commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, by comparison, were only allowed to run the kinetic side of the equation—if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. The end result being that COIN activities were hamstrung before they even had a chance to be implemented.

While the successes were notable and the lessons prescient, their application was lacking. Operationally, the decision to send an undersized force into Helmand led to strategic and operational disaster. The deal with the Jaysh al-Mahdi in Basra, then under British command, and subsequent operation to clear the city (“Charge of the Knights”) in which British forces did not participate but U.S. Marines did, further exposed that the metaphorical emperor had no clothes.

Mr. Akam is critical of the broader culture of the British military. It should be noted, of course, that Mr. Akam is speaking generally, often using individual incidents to extrapolate to the broader culture, which the reader imagines is not entirely fair. One would not characterize the entirety of the Marine Corps based on the behavior of the Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) crews. For example, the book opens with an armored officer embarking on training in Canada whilst wearing an SS uniform under his utility uniform—something that was known and tolerated. Shocking though it is, one does not imagine this is a behavior that is widespread.

He is critical of the regimental structure and the process by which some regiments fought consolidation, appearing to spend more time on that fight than preparing for the real fight. He is damning of the mess or dining culture in the regiments that all but encourages excessive drinking. The pursuit of “gongs” or awards, he argues, encouraged excessive aggressiveness and became self-reinforcing—if one was not aggressive on the battlefield and did not get an award, one was unlikely to be promoted—few awards are given for restraint or the battle that did not happen, or where courage was displayed by means other than combat. He even takes to task the ubiquitous war memoir that started as an SAS phenomenon, before spreading to other branches, and the average soldier’s fixation on looking “ally” or cool in their uniform.

Looking at it from a macro-level, the overall message from these criticisms is that the culture that existed within the British military prior to Afghanistan and Iraq was not one focused on fighting and winning wars, rather being adaptable to changing circumstances. Tradition, routine, and peacetime sanded off the edges of the Army, necessitating a rough reality check in both campaigns.

The Failings of Political Leadership

That many sought to halt the book’s publication is unsurprising. There are very few “heroes” in this book and plenty of blame to be laid at the feet of the senior military leaders and the politicians themselves.

While this is very much a narrative on the failings of the British Army and its leadership, lurking in the background is the abject failure of successive governments in Westminster to define an achievable strategic mission and resource it accordingly. The governments of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and now Boris Johnson have all paid lip service to the missions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but singularly failed to provide the Army with a viable mission-set, frequently flitting from one issue to the next. Their often-excessive focus on optics and spin led them to believe that they could contort reality to meet their perspectives, rather than adjust their frames to the situation on the ground. In doing so, they failed to engage the public in the conflicts, seeking to—consciously or unconsciously—hide the costs and consequences of Britain’s involvement.

It is not wholly fair to lay the blame for this absence of strategic calculus entirely at the feet of the aforementioned prime ministers. Britain was, and remains, a junior partner to the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. London decided to support the American invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent war in Iraq. In the case of the former, out of solidarity with a country under attack, and in the case of the latter perhaps partly borne out of a belief in the mission itself, and partly to save face with the United States.

In both cases, Washington never established a viable strategic political outcome that could be achieved by force of arms. At best, in the early days of Afghanistan, there was a mission—unseat the Taliban and defeat al-Qa’ida—and that was achieved. That end-state gradually grew to be a radical reshaping of Afghanistan, something that was never viable from an outside force. The American mission in Afghanistan was certainly undermined by President Barack Obama’s messaging that ensured anyone on the ground knew one foot was aimed at the door, even during the surge in that country. In Iraq, the underlying rationale for the war was quickly laid bare when the weapons of mass destruction were never found, and the paucity of post-war planning exposed just how little afterthought was given to the mission. In Iraq too, the Obama Administration was so keen to get out of the country that it left behind a fundamentally unstable political and security situation, and grossly underestimated the threat from the Islamic State.

In both Britain and the United States there also existed a maddeningly virtuous circle where the military commanders did not want to relay bad information to politicians, who certainly did not want to hear it, and did not want to say they could not achieve the mission. No commander wanted to, or could for the sake of their career, report that things were either no better or certainly worse than when they assumed command. That’s why, for the last twenty years, progress in Afghanistan was “just around the corner” or “six months away”. This is not to say that progress was not achieved, but tactical progress is pointless unless it is connected to an achievable strategic end.

Whereas the United States Army had some accountability for military failures, at least later in both conflicts, the British Army appeared to have little if any—a theme Mr. Akam returns to often. Generals responsible for the failures in Basra and Helmand continued on their career paths, attaining more senior postings, and later peerages and other recognitions. By contrast, those tasked with the mission on the ground were punished for their poor operational performance or misdeeds.

The Future of the British Army

With the campaigns of Iraq over and Afghanistan’s future uncertain, what becomes of the British military very much remains to be seen. As with its American counterparts, there is a reckoning happening now where the “low-intensity” conflict focus is giving way to a return to great power competition and the possibility of confrontations with Russia and China.

At the same time, Britain is struggling to find its role in the world and in a post-Brexit Europe. The long awaited “Integrated Review” offered a holistic vision of Britain’s global interests, but didn’t fully answer the question as to what the country’s role would be in the world. Its pursuit of a “full-spectrum” capability that seeks to be all things to all people seems destined to satisfy no one and leave the country with markedly less influence.

The “Indo-Pacific Tilt” articulated by Boris Johnson’s government in the review, seems to be—at least for now—most style than substance. Britain has few resources to commit to the region, and few levers with which to influence security developments there, certainly none that will appreciably affect American or Chinese considerations. Without a concomitant expansion of resources—assuredly unlikely post-Brexit and post-Covid—Britain will appear to be talking a good game, but not playing with a straight bat.

Perhaps even more important than those necessary acquisition and policy changes that the Review will outline are the cultural and institutional changes needed to address the issues Mr. Akam so eloquently outlines. Militaries are perennially fighting the last war and will likely always do so—for all the ink spilled on defense letterhead in Whitehall and at the Pentagon, little actually changes. What matters more is the ability of these institutions (and the soldiers and marines who occupy them) to adapt to changing circumstances—can the doctrine, technology, leadership, and culture cope with the unexpected.

That adaptability is necessary, but not sufficient, to borrow a phrase from political science 101. What is also needed is a political class that understands the necessity of defining achievable political ends and can articulate those ends to both the public and the military. Whether or not that emerges is the subject of another book or several for that matter.

For American readers, Mr. Akam’s book raises concerns about the efficacy of the “special relationship” on the ground and in the 21st century. At a macro-level, the relationship remains strong and critical to confronting an expansionist China in the Asia-Pacific (and in Europe, albeit in a non-military fashion) and a revanchist Russia in Europe. How that plays out militarily and on joint operations is another matter. What Britain brings to the table both in terms of cooperation with the U.S. and for European security remains an open question. Washington and London must be able to rely upon one another, work with one another, and support one another if the special relationship is to truly remain special—and I for one very much hope it remains so.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

The Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11

Photo by Roberto Catarin via Unsplash.

April 3, 2021

The Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11 | Simon Akam | Scribe | February 2021.

D

uring graduate school at King’s College London, I was fortunate enough to take a course with Dr. John Mackinlay on counterinsurgency. Truly one of those great professors who brought the material to life, he often joined us in the pub for a pint, serving simultaneously as host, emcee, and provocateur, goading us on in our debates. A standout moment for us during that course was a day trip to a British Army base at which soldiers received pre-deployment training.

The Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11 | Simon Akam | Scribe | February 2021.

Sadly, training wasn’t scheduled on the day of our visit, however, we were permitted to wander the training grounds and visit the virtual shooting range, which unfortunately broke after one run of the simulation. The training facility, originally designed as a Northern Irish town, was slowly being modified to resemble an Iraqi city. Fish and chip shops had Arabic scripts on the storefront. A quintessential Derry home had a minaret jutting from the top, with a muezzin call ringing from a window, attempting to mimic a mosque. In the rain, it took on a surreal feel—it was Basra meets Belfast.

Mr. Simon Akam’s book The Changing of the Guard masterfully captures this clash of cultures and the British Army’s struggle to adapt to the “wars of choice” of Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Akam’s book almost did not see the light of day as its original publisher, Penguin Random House, backed out at the last minute due to sources who withdrew their statements, a lawsuit, and political pressure. That such pressure was applied is not at all surprising given how uncomfortable of a read this book is likely to be in Britain—both for those covered in the book, but also for the British public.

American Observations of British Military Adaptation

Mr. Akam—who served as an officer in a one-year “gap” commission—explores the halting transformation of the British Army from its peacetime idleness to the horrid realities of the battlefields of Basra and Helmand, a tortured process by which a largely garrison military confronted its shortcomings and the inaccuracies of its own self-image. Yet, as an American reading The Changing of the Guard, I was struck by the familiarity of its message.

For those in the U.S. who pick up Mr. Akam’s book—and I strongly suggest they do—I suspect nothing about the content will seem surprising or unexpected. All of the challenges and issues outlined by Mr. Akam were experienced by the American military, albeit sooner and to a much greater degree. The initial military commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq were woefully inadequate and ill-equipped for the fight in which the country found itself. The doctrine, technology, and leadership failed to recognize the conditions on the ground and failed to adapt. Crash programs for acquisition were implemented, rushing much-needed equipment to the battlefield at considerable cost. Counterinsurgency (COIN) was unevenly applied with some units that were overly aggressive and kinetic, while sister units were drinking the full extent of the COIN “Kool-Aid” (Mr. Akam’s retelling of 42 and 45 Commando are particularly illuminating). The blurred lines of counterinsurgency with warfare and law enforcement sitting side-by-side led to horrific tragedies and abuses, a reckoning that took place in public.

There are, of course, structural differences in the institutions—I always admired the esprit de corps that the British regimental system maintained, which was vastly more than any American analog and was a source of controversy, as Mr. Akam writes—but the transformations the American and British Armies and Marines both underwent were markedly similar. Both were certainly painful and expensive. Both took far longer than they should have. Both saw political classes that refused to accept the situation on the ground and found commanders, at least initially and early on in the conflicts, unwilling to speak truth to power.

I imagine that this eerie familiarity of the subject material is a function of the size, scale, and entwinement of the American military into the fabric of society. The size of the United States military dwarfs that of the United Kingdom (which has roughly only 150,000 active-duty personnel across all branches versus 1.38 million in the U.S.); the U.S. has a vastly more diverse and robust defense “think tank” ecosystem; the UK has had an all-volunteer force longer than the U.S. meaning a smaller portion of the population served in the armed forces; the scale of America’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq was on an order of magnitude greater than that of the UK.

Anecdotally, while there was certainly coverage of the British Army in both wars whilst I lived in London, it wasn’t on display or as frequent in the local papers or news as the American military is in Washington, even today. This is to say that defense issues have much greater prominence in the American dialogue than they do in the United Kingdom, or at least that more Americans than Britons would be aware of the debates and discussions over the role and trials their servicemembers were experiencing.

Yet, as evidenced by the controversy over Mr. Akam’s book, it is clear that the national-level dialogue in Great Britain has yet to materialize. And it is this controversy that is perhaps most illuminating and illustrative of Mr. Akam’s message. Over the last two decades, the United States has had a fairly robust public debate about the military’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, its tools and technology, the mission set and objectives, and even both wars’ conduct.

From Garrison to the Battlefield

Ultimately, what Mr. Akam describes is an Army that is trying to reconcile itself to the needs of a “new war” when it is decidedly oriented towards, at best, an “old war” or peacetime garrison positioned to defend NATO against a Russian invasion. While there have been debates about spending, equipment, and acquisition within the United Kingdom, those discussions largely avoided a fundamental reevaluation of what the British Army was for. In the wake of the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and largely uneventful (by comparison) engagements in the Balkans, the British Army had not been tested or forced to change until Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet the “best little army in the world” often preached its proficiency in counter-insurgency and low-intensity warfare with great intensity. Britain’s small wars in Malaya and elsewhere were trumpeted as evidence that the UK knew how to wage this type of conflict whereas the Americans, with their loss in Vietnam, did not. It is likely true that the average British infantry soldier of a certain age, schooled on the streets of Northern Ireland, was better equipped to handle the challenges of low-intensity conflict or even policing, such as happens in COIN, the absence of top-cover or political empowerment hamstrung the soldiers’ ability to act.

Here, the political leadership in London failed to empower the commanders on the ground to truly implement COIN. Whereas in successful campaigns, such as Field Marshal Sir Gerald Walter Robert Templer in Malaya was empowered to run both the military and the civilian activities, the commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, by comparison, were only allowed to run the kinetic side of the equation—if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. The end result being that COIN activities were hamstrung before they even had a chance to be implemented.

While the successes were notable and the lessons prescient, their application was lacking. Operationally, the decision to send an undersized force into Helmand led to strategic and operational disaster. The deal with the Jaysh al-Mahdi in Basra, then under British command, and subsequent operation to clear the city (“Charge of the Knights”) in which British forces did not participate but U.S. Marines did, further exposed that the metaphorical emperor had no clothes.

Mr. Akam is critical of the broader culture of the British military. It should be noted, of course, that Mr. Akam is speaking generally, often using individual incidents to extrapolate to the broader culture, which the reader imagines is not entirely fair. One would not characterize the entirety of the Marine Corps based on the behavior of the Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) crews. For example, the book opens with an armored officer embarking on training in Canada whilst wearing an SS uniform under his utility uniform—something that was known and tolerated. Shocking though it is, one does not imagine this is a behavior that is widespread.

He is critical of the regimental structure and the process by which some regiments fought consolidation, appearing to spend more time on that fight than preparing for the real fight. He is damning of the mess or dining culture in the regiments that all but encourages excessive drinking. The pursuit of “gongs” or awards, he argues, encouraged excessive aggressiveness and became self-reinforcing—if one was not aggressive on the battlefield and did not get an award, one was unlikely to be promoted—few awards are given for restraint or the battle that did not happen, or where courage was displayed by means other than combat. He even takes to task the ubiquitous war memoir that started as an SAS phenomenon, before spreading to other branches, and the average soldier’s fixation on looking “ally” or cool in their uniform.

Looking at it from a macro-level, the overall message from these criticisms is that the culture that existed within the British military prior to Afghanistan and Iraq was not one focused on fighting and winning wars, rather being adaptable to changing circumstances. Tradition, routine, and peacetime sanded off the edges of the Army, necessitating a rough reality check in both campaigns.

The Failings of Political Leadership

That many sought to halt the book’s publication is unsurprising. There are very few “heroes” in this book and plenty of blame to be laid at the feet of the senior military leaders and the politicians themselves.

While this is very much a narrative on the failings of the British Army and its leadership, lurking in the background is the abject failure of successive governments in Westminster to define an achievable strategic mission and resource it accordingly. The governments of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and now Boris Johnson have all paid lip service to the missions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but singularly failed to provide the Army with a viable mission-set, frequently flitting from one issue to the next. Their often-excessive focus on optics and spin led them to believe that they could contort reality to meet their perspectives, rather than adjust their frames to the situation on the ground. In doing so, they failed to engage the public in the conflicts, seeking to—consciously or unconsciously—hide the costs and consequences of Britain’s involvement.

It is not wholly fair to lay the blame for this absence of strategic calculus entirely at the feet of the aforementioned prime ministers. Britain was, and remains, a junior partner to the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. London decided to support the American invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent war in Iraq. In the case of the former, out of solidarity with a country under attack, and in the case of the latter perhaps partly borne out of a belief in the mission itself, and partly to save face with the United States.

In both cases, Washington never established a viable strategic political outcome that could be achieved by force of arms. At best, in the early days of Afghanistan, there was a mission—unseat the Taliban and defeat al-Qa’ida—and that was achieved. That end-state gradually grew to be a radical reshaping of Afghanistan, something that was never viable from an outside force. The American mission in Afghanistan was certainly undermined by President Barack Obama’s messaging that ensured anyone on the ground knew one foot was aimed at the door, even during the surge in that country. In Iraq, the underlying rationale for the war was quickly laid bare when the weapons of mass destruction were never found, and the paucity of post-war planning exposed just how little afterthought was given to the mission. In Iraq too, the Obama Administration was so keen to get out of the country that it left behind a fundamentally unstable political and security situation, and grossly underestimated the threat from the Islamic State.

In both Britain and the United States there also existed a maddeningly virtuous circle where the military commanders did not want to relay bad information to politicians, who certainly did not want to hear it, and did not want to say they could not achieve the mission. No commander wanted to, or could for the sake of their career, report that things were either no better or certainly worse than when they assumed command. That’s why, for the last twenty years, progress in Afghanistan was “just around the corner” or “six months away”. This is not to say that progress was not achieved, but tactical progress is pointless unless it is connected to an achievable strategic end.

Whereas the United States Army had some accountability for military failures, at least later in both conflicts, the British Army appeared to have little if any—a theme Mr. Akam returns to often. Generals responsible for the failures in Basra and Helmand continued on their career paths, attaining more senior postings, and later peerages and other recognitions. By contrast, those tasked with the mission on the ground were punished for their poor operational performance or misdeeds.

The Future of the British Army

With the campaigns of Iraq over and Afghanistan’s future uncertain, what becomes of the British military very much remains to be seen. As with its American counterparts, there is a reckoning happening now where the “low-intensity” conflict focus is giving way to a return to great power competition and the possibility of confrontations with Russia and China.

At the same time, Britain is struggling to find its role in the world and in a post-Brexit Europe. The long awaited “Integrated Review” offered a holistic vision of Britain’s global interests, but didn’t fully answer the question as to what the country’s role would be in the world. Its pursuit of a “full-spectrum” capability that seeks to be all things to all people seems destined to satisfy no one and leave the country with markedly less influence.

The “Indo-Pacific Tilt” articulated by Boris Johnson’s government in the review, seems to be—at least for now—most style than substance. Britain has few resources to commit to the region, and few levers with which to influence security developments there, certainly none that will appreciably affect American or Chinese considerations. Without a concomitant expansion of resources—assuredly unlikely post-Brexit and post-Covid—Britain will appear to be talking a good game, but not playing with a straight bat.

Perhaps even more important than those necessary acquisition and policy changes that the Review will outline are the cultural and institutional changes needed to address the issues Mr. Akam so eloquently outlines. Militaries are perennially fighting the last war and will likely always do so—for all the ink spilled on defense letterhead in Whitehall and at the Pentagon, little actually changes. What matters more is the ability of these institutions (and the soldiers and marines who occupy them) to adapt to changing circumstances—can the doctrine, technology, leadership, and culture cope with the unexpected.

That adaptability is necessary, but not sufficient, to borrow a phrase from political science 101. What is also needed is a political class that understands the necessity of defining achievable political ends and can articulate those ends to both the public and the military. Whether or not that emerges is the subject of another book or several for that matter.

For American readers, Mr. Akam’s book raises concerns about the efficacy of the “special relationship” on the ground and in the 21st century. At a macro-level, the relationship remains strong and critical to confronting an expansionist China in the Asia-Pacific (and in Europe, albeit in a non-military fashion) and a revanchist Russia in Europe. How that plays out militarily and on joint operations is another matter. What Britain brings to the table both in terms of cooperation with the U.S. and for European security remains an open question. Washington and London must be able to rely upon one another, work with one another, and support one another if the special relationship is to truly remain special—and I for one very much hope it remains so.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.