A Return to Churchill’s “Ten Year Rule” for the UK?

Allan Mallinson, retired British Army Brigadier and author of outstanding military history fiction, proposes the return of Churchill's "Ten Year Rule" for British armed forces in today's edition of The Times (London*) - requiring them to plan on the assumption that for the next ten years "there will be no war against another nation's conventionally equipped forces …"

Mallinson makes a unique argument in the ongoing debate on the future of UK defense policy:

"For it would indeed be a risk. Critics can point to the debacle of 1939, but the problem with Churchill’s ten-year rule was not its concept but that there was no formal mechanism for review, so that when in the early 1930s the underlying assumption became unsafe, political expediency (appeasement) trumped rearmament. A National Security Council and a formal defence review would avert that danger."

In this regard Mallinson is correct, though he perhaps underestimates the inclination of politicians to dither even in the face of overwhelming threats and thus override or obfuscate formal mechanisms such as a UK National Security Council or a formal defense review.

While this is perhaps an obvious concern, Mallinson makes his killer point when he writes:

"This is not to advocate that we turn our backs on high-end-spectrum war. Recent debate, however, has focused too absolutely on the nature of future war rather than on possibilities and probabilities. The question is where to take the risk. Just as in the 1920s and 1930s, when, for example, the RAF put what little money it had into infrastructure — airfields, apprenticeships and R&D — so the Forces, while organising and equipping to fight their current wars, would contingency-plan vigorously, and above all imaginatively, for the worse-case scenarios of the future. Winning today’s wars would anyway reduce the risk of war tomorrow."

Mallinson hits upon the key strategic dilemna that face U.S. and British decision makers and which those calling for a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan do not seem to grasp – the rationale that got us there in the first place may have been ill-thought out and poorly executed, but we are there and we have staked our strategic repuations to success in one of the most volatile, yet key, regions of the world. It is better to strive for success – no matter how we define that word – than to turn tail only to reap the whirlwind that will inevitably ensue if we are to leave Afghanistan (and as a result Pakistan and a large part of Central Asia) to the vultures.

The only thing missing from Mallinson's analysis, however, is linking his revived "Ten Year Rule" to a fundamental review of British foreign policy aims and goals. Only by realligning U.K. grand strategy to more realistic and affordable foreign policy goals will any U.K. defense posture seeking to avoid high-end spectrum commitments have any prospect of success.

*Americans often refer to The Times as the 'Times of London.' No such paper exists, as I point out to any student of mine who erroneously cites it as such. The proper nomenclature is The Times (London). So there.  

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Filed under Strategy, U.K. Defense Policy

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