Remembrance, Afghanistan and rethinking defence


Several of us in the London office have just observed the two minutes of silence that is traditional in Britain at 1100 on every November 11th, in memory of the country’s war dead. Just a couple of hundred metres away from the office is a field of tiny crosses and paper poppies, laid out in miniature ranks on the grass in front of Westminster Abbey.

By 'London Looks' via Flickr

The fact remains inescapable, in this current climate of defence budget cuts and strategic reviews, that Britain remains a country at war.

One aspiration for this ECFR blog is for it to point readers in the direction of other material – written, spoken, filmed – that we find useful. As part of this I plan to do a weekly draw together of useful podcasts and radio that I’ve heard – and given the fact that it is November 11th, I thought it’d make sense to begin with a look at some useful pieces in connection with Afghanistan and defence.

Just a couple of hours ago, as I was walking along the Thames on a typically stormy autumnal morning, I listened to two useful interviews. One was on – an interview with Gideon Rose, the editor of Foreign Affairs and author of ‘How Wars End – why we always fight the last battle’. It was a useful reflection on the political rather than military aspect of war, and well complimented by an interview with Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, a former senior UK diplomat in Afghanistan, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (the programme that sets the political agenda over Britain's breakfasts).

Over the last fortnight the BBC Analysis programme asked whether Britain had lost its stomach for having a proper defence capability in the face of casualties in Helmand and swinging cuts in Whitehall. This is a subject that Nick Witney has explored at length on our website – with an interesting spin on the recent Franco-British defence agreement today from Jose Ignacio Torreblanca.

Nick and Daniel Korski also explored the issue of how the budget cuts of the current economic crisis would leave European defence in a couple of podcasts under the heading ‘hedgehog Europe?’ a while ago – click for episode one and two.

I’m aware this is perhaps a bit of an anglo-centric list, so I’ll pause at this point, firstly to ask for any contributions to the debate from across the rest of Europe, and secondly to point you in the direction of a film that should be in the cinemas now, by an old journalistic colleague of mine. ‘Restrepo’ is a soldier’s eye view of the fighting in Afghanistan, by Tim Hetherington (and Sebastian Junger), a former winner of the World Press Photo of the Year award. Here’s the trailer, and a reminder of what defence can look like on the ground.

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