Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Mike Jackson interview

There was an interview between John Humphrys and General Sir Mike Jackson on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. This is the lightly edited transcript:

JH: We haven't been spending enough money on equipping the Armed Forces and we haven't given enough priority to Afghanistan. That's what General Sir Mike Jackson says …

JH: So, to what extent are we underfunding, if that's the right word, the Armed Forces, the Army in particular?

MJ: Well there's been quite a lot of comment has there not over recent days and weeks on this subject. But there was the public sector settlement which gave defence 1.5 percent real increase over the next three years, which I understand of course the government making something of that. But I doubt that that is enough to afford what we are doing, to give the Armed Services proper conditions of service and to also look forward into the equipment programme to make sure we're paying the right sort of premium into our national insurance policy on defence. I fear there's some sort of crunch on the horizon. If I'm wrong…

JH: Why didn't you say that when you were in the Army?

MJ: Well, I did say it many a time. But one says it within the constraints which you're under constitutionally. But we’ve moved on anyway. I've been gone now getting on for 18 months and this settlement was made, I think, a month or so ago if I remember rightly.

JH: And the settlement, according to the Chancellor Mr Darling, and I'm quoting him, us the longest period of rising investment in the defence of our country for almost thirty years.

MJ: Well, that may be true, but what is also true and this is never really, this nettle is not properly grasped, that it may not be enough to do the things which we do now and the things which we may have to do in the future. It's not enough just to say it's has been the longest run. Is it enough? That is the exam question.

JH: Well, the other question though ... are we trying to do too much? I mean if you compare our spending with other countries, obviously the United States is a special case and is massively richer than we are anyway, but if you compare it with our colleagues and friends in Europe, we're doing more than they are. We're spending a greater proportion of out national income than they are. Why should we spend even more?

MJ: Well, it is true that we spend more than a European average. But we can't just start by saying we've got that amount of money. What shall we do with it?

JH: Why not?

MJ: Because that ignores strategic circumstances.

JH: But we all face the same strategic circumstances, whether it's France Germany or whatever …

MJ: Well they may be perceived, they may be perceived more sharply here as opposed to there. But … it is an important point, that the analysis must start in logic, from what it is that the United Kingdom thinks it's part to play in a very uncertain and difficult world. You've got to get that analysis right because from that then flows the tools you need, and they're not all military tools either, but the tools you need to pursue the strategy which you have decided to adopt. That's the right way round.

JH: Well, sorry, up to a point. You might decide … Let's take a hypothetical, and it's a ludicrous notion, but let's say that we decided the world would be a lot safer if there were democratic government in North Korea, we wanted to overthrow the government of North Korea. And let us say that that was the settled will of every politician in the land . It would be a massively expensive operation, therefore it couldn't be done. So you can’t always start from the strategic decisions that's made as far as our national security is concerned. You have to say what can we afford to do and let's do it.

MJ: Yes, but you can't decide what you wish to afford - can is another word and I can come back to that in a moment – you can't decide what you wish to afford until you’ve done that strategic analysis. And then you start to make some judgements. But the amount of money spent on defence is of course at the end of the day a strategic-political by the government of this country, no doubt reflecting the wishes of the electorate. But what I'm saying is that I detect, I fear, some crisis ahead in defence spending if things go on as they are in terms of what we do, what we might have to do and the money allocated.

JH: But you might say, might you not, that we have seen this before, a group of retired Generals getting together and staging this kind of lobbying exercise? There’s been a lot of it around recently, hasn’t there?

MJ: Well, I'm speaking for myself. I'm not speaking for anybody else.

JH: I bet you have a chat with people like General Guthrie, Dannatt…

MJ: Well, no, no, I'm speaking for myself. You may conclude that this is a lone or just a few lone voices crying in the wilderness. I'm not sure that this is right because, besides anything else, there is the question of conditions of service of the people in the Armed Forces which are not – which I think is generally accepted are not as everyone would wish them to be in every case. And that I think is much closer to home than … and people understand that much more sharply perhaps than concerns for 15 or 20 years hence.

JH: So General Dannatt's right when he talks about seriously deteriorating morale is he? That's my words not his, but that's the impression.

MJ: Well, I'm not prepared to comment there – it would be quite wrong of me to comment on my successor. But this question of morale is made a lot of in the press. But the funny old thing when I talk to a lot of people serving and a lot of people just back from Afghanistan, that's not what I find. I find a quiet professional pride and satisfaction in courageous actions and Amen to that.

JH: General Sir Mike Jackson, many thanks.

MJ: Thank you.