Podium: Individual rights in the armed forces

General Sir Roger Wheeler From a speech by the Chief of General Staff to the Royal United Services Institute
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The Independent Culture
BRITISH DEFENCE policy has increasingly operated within a new, and in many respects, unfamiliar security environment. There is no longer a direct threat to the United Kingdom and the immediate prospects for an all-out general war have receded. This means that we must balance planning for the worst, yet least likely case, all-out conflict, against the less demanding in terms of scale, but much more likely regional conflicts. Ironically, although the tax payer does not generally perceive any direct threat to his or her security, the world has become a less predictable, less secure place.

In the present security environment the Army Board and the staffs that support us are set on developing an Army with the broadest possible utility, but above all with a genuine war-fighting capability. We can work down from [this] to less demanding peace-support operations, but all our experience shows that the reverse simply does not work.

This was recognised in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR), which was genuinely policy-led. But obviously in reaching its conclusions on the SDR, the Government was, and will always be, under some pressure from many other calls for expenditure that do seem to have more immediate social or political significance. This is particularly true when the man or woman in the street cannot see or feel an immediate threat to the country post Cold War. So we are never going to have a blank cheque

Not only do we really have to make best use of every pound which we receive from the Exchequer, we must also be prepared to demonstrate that very clearly. But it is significantly more difficult to do this when few MPs and their constituents have any direct defence experience at all.

I want to move on to some of the personnel issues that will fundamentally effect the army in the coming years. First, and most important of all, the Army is still undermanned, some 5,000 under strength. Manning the Army fully is my top priority and our investment in recruiting and retention reflects this. Including the additional 3,500 posts in the Army given by the SDR, the aim is to man the Army fully by 2004, But I also have to say that we must acknowledge our failure to get our message across effectively in the early Nineties. One of the constant challenges for the Army now is to remind society about what we do, and convince a sceptical public of the value of a military career.

In striving to make the Army a more attractive place for recruits and for the retention of trained manpower we are clearly not going to be immune to pressure for social change that emanates from either the Government or the public at large.

And in some respects of course, nor should we be: a genuine partnership has to exist between society and its volunteer, regular and reserve Armies. Yet in the absence of any common understanding within society of what we do, one of the greatest challenges which we face is expressing why warfare is different from any other undertaking and, therefore, why the needs of the Army, and indeed the other services, are sometimes different from society.

The right of the individual cannot always take the precedence that is expected in society, if it is to the detriment of the teamwork that is crucial to our operational capability.

This means that we must strike a balance on such issues as increasing the employment of women within the Army; the applicability to the military of European legislation dealing with a national minimum wage; minimum working hours, and the employment of young people. These issues are features of democratic society that we shouldn't be surprised by. It also means that if there are areas where we can improve, or where we have got things wrong, then we must have the courage to say so and take the initiative to put them right. We have a number of initiatives to address the whole range of personnel issues in the form of the adjutant general's human resources strategy.

The other side of the coin of making the Army acceptable to society, is that those people who join us must accept the imperatives of joining an organisation geared to war-fighting. In the past the conduct and values of society were perhaps more closely aligned with those of a military force, but this is not necessarily the case today.

The more libertarian values of modern Britain, with their emphasis on the freedom of the individual, are sometimes at odds with the values and behaviour needed to create the spirit and cohesiveness required in battle. So we intend to spell out what we feel is required of all ranks, and what is not acceptable, in all our training both as people enter the Army and in [later] training.