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"defence needs": exchange with Sunday Times

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David C
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Post Post subject: "defence needs": exchange with Sunday Times Reply with quote

From: David Cromwell
Sent: 28 September 2010 14:39
Subject: Questions about 'Rush to cut may spike our guns'

Dear Richard Woods,

Your article about the government review of “Britain’s defence needs” in
the Sunday Times raises important points [1]. I hope you’ll be able to
respond to the following challenges, please.

a) You make an assertion about “the threat of a nuclear Iran”. But you
do not consider the likelihood that the “threat” is being hyped for
Western strategic or profit-led reasons.

b) You write: “In an ideal world the logical way to conduct a strategic
defence review is to work out what the national interests are and what
they are likely to be in the foreseeable future. Then develop a policy,
decide what forces and kit are required, and what can be afforded.”

But even here in the real world, you do not question what constitute
“the national interests”. Adam Smith noted that the “national interest”
is, in fact, the interest of the “principal architects” of policy. Then,
it was the merchants and manufacturers. Today, it is multinational
corporations and powerful financial investors.

c) You quote uncritically James Arbuthnot, MP and chairman of the
Commons defence select committee, when he “warns that money, not
analysis of Britain's global interests, is driving the process.” The
rationale for Britain having “global” interests is left unexamined. We
are just supposed to assume that Britain is entitled to have “global”
interests. Indeed, wholly missing from your analysis is any appreciation
that the primary aim of UK government “defence” policy has been, and
remains, to secure British profits and economic interests abroad, all
too often at the expense of human rights, social justice and
environmental sustainability.

d) Your article relies heavily on input and quotes from a narrow range
of establishment and military figures, such as military historian Max
Hastings, Malcolm Chambers of the Royal Services Institute and Hew
Strachan, Chichele professor of the history of war at Oxford University
and a government advisor. There is even an accompanying propaganda piece
about “cyber power” and “information age warfare” written by former SAS
commander Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams.

How can this constitute a diverse range of opinion which, in balanced
journalism, should include informed and genuinely critical perspectives?
In particular, consider the panel of experts you included in “What the
experts say”:

(i) General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the army

(ii) James Arbuthnot, MP and chairman of the Commons
defence select committee

(iii) Antony Beevor, military historian

(iv) Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United
Services Institute think tank

Not one of these experts questions the underlying rationale or meaning
of Britain’s “defence” needs. Why did you exclude, consciously or
otherwise, dissenting voices? Why not cite, for example, the diplomatic
historian Mark Curtis? He notes that “in pursuing the so-called
‘national interest’ abroad”, successive British governments have
“colluded for decades with radical Islamic forces, including terrorist
organisations. They have connived with them, worked alongside them and
sometimes trained and financed them, in order to promote specific
foreign policy objectives.” [2]

In summary, your article is written from a pro-military, establishment
perspective. You take as a given the British state’s basic benevolence,
and you do not question what “our guns” are doing or whether “national
interests” are, in fact, elite and corporate interests.

In light of all of the above points, how can your piece be justified as
fair, balanced and responsible reporting?


David Cromwell


1. Richard Woods and Tim Rapley, ‘Rush to cut may spike our guns’,
Sunday Times, 26 September, 2010 [hidden behind the Murdoch pay wall]

2. Mark Curtis, ‘Secret Affairs’, Serpent’s Tail, London, 2010, pp.


From: Woods, Richard []
Sent: 29 September 2010 11:45
To: David Cromwell

Dear David Cromwell,

Thank you for your email about the article "Rush to cut may spike our
guns". You make some interesting points, which I will bear in mind for
future articles.

However, I fear you have misread the piece and my intentions in writing
it. It was not an editorial. I made no judgements or recommendations on
what Britain's global interests are, or indeed whether Britain has any;
nor did I take a view on whether Britain should spend more or less on
defence, or indeed what Britain's defence should constitute. The wider
philosophical questions you raise are important, but they were not the
aim of the article.

My purpose was to report what was, and is, happening within the
government and military on a subject of current interest. In that regard
I hope the article gave a fair reflection of events and was balanced and

Yours sincerely,

Richard Woods
Thu Sep 30, 2010 1:03 pm
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