Meeting with British Army Chief – General Sir David Richards

Like his predecessor General Sir David Richards was quite honest in his assessment and response to my question at the (IISS) International Institute of Strategic Studies London on 18th January 2010.

I asked General Sir Richards, “You mentioned ‘non state actors’ in your speech. My question is in reference to the editorial of the New York Times “Privatized War and Its Price”, Published 10th January 2010. I am talking about non state actors on our side. They have clearly affected the winning of battle of ‘hearts and minds’. There are people who have grievances against them. They are behaving like ‘cowboy builders’, i.e. instead of solving the problems they have become part of the problem”. Thank you.

General Sir Richard’s response was something like: “It is a very good question. I agree with you on the issues. They are doing jobs which we can’t do like protecting diplomats, aid workers, convoys, and I don’t consider them non-state actors as we contracted them”.

In the editorial of the New York Times “Privatized War and Its Price”, published 10th January 2010, “A federal judge in Washington, Ricardo Urbina, has provided another compelling argument against the outsourcing of war to gunslingers from the private sector. In throwing out charges against Blackwater agents who killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square

in September 2007, Judge Urbina highlighted the government’s inability to hold mercenaries accountable for crimes they commit. Judge Urbina correctly ruled that the government violated the Blackwater agents’ protection against self-incrimination. He sketched an inept prosecution that relied on compelled statements made by the agents to officials of the State Department, who employed the North Carolina security firm to protect convoys and staff in Iraq. That, he said, amounted to a “reckless violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.”

As my question was subcontracting wars to private companies without proper control and legislation might end up in ‘slaves become the masters’, as it happened in Muslim history when slaves took over the rule in India known as ‘slaves dynasty’.

General Sir Richards argued that a switch to more basic equipment could leave Britain exposed if it came to fighting a conventional war suggesting that a potential enemy country would also adopt methods used by al Qaeda or the Taliban.

"Having learned the lessons taught by al Qaeda, the Taliban and many other non-state actors … why would even a major belligerent state choose to achieve our downfall through high-risk, high-cost traditional means when they can plausibly achieve their aims … using proxies, guerrillas, economic subterfuge and cyber warfare?," he asked.

Britain could make up for a lack of military capability in any area through alliances with other countries”, General Richard suggested.

In his speech General Sir David Richards said, “the British defence establishment had not fully adapted to the security realities of the post-Cold War world. Modern conflict was mainly about winning hearts and minds on a mass scale, he said, and this required mass numbers, whether of "boots on the ground," river and high-speed coastal warships, drones, transport aircraft or helicopters.”

"If one equips more for this type of conflict while significantly reducing investment in higher-end war-fighting capability, suddenly one can buy an impressive amount of ‘kit’," he further said.

"While … I am emphatically not advocating getting rid of all such equipment, one can buy a lot of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles or drones) or satellite technology for the cost of a few JSF (Joint Strike Fighters) and heavy tanks," he said.

Britain‘s armed forces should adapt to new forms of warfare and tight budgets by giving priority to troops on the ground and spending less on expensive weapons systems, the British army Chief said.

British military is wrestling with the quandary of how to equip its 9,500 troops in Afghanistan and pay for multi-billion-dollar defence projects at a time when public spending is set to be squeezed to rein in a ballooning deficit. Both the Labour Party and the Conservatives are committed to a strategic defence review if they win an election due by June. A think tank predicted recently that British armed forces may shrink by a fifth in the next six years.

Former senior diplomat, Clare Smith, who served in Pakistan not long ago said, “I liked your question and I have been to Peshawar many times”. I replied, “you still can go to Peshawar as Britain always had complimentary relationship with the Muslim world until it jumped on the trigger happy US bandwagon.”

After the formal address I met the General informally and presented a copy of my book ‘War on Terror and Siege of Pakistan’, which General Sir David Richards asked me to sign for him.