Chief of Defence Staff asked to step down early

BBC News reports that the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, has been asked to step down early. Reportedly he will relinquish the post in the autumn after the Strategic Defence Review has been completed.

Whilst his stepping down is bound to sound like a sacking, it is far from that. He had been due to retire in 2009 after a three year term, but had been asked to stay on. Unconfirmed reports suggest that this was due to Gordon Brown not wishing to promote General Sir Richard Dannatt, the most likely successor. Brown was apparently unhappy with Dannatt’s frequent public statements regarding defence policy and funding.

Historically Chiefs of Defence Staff have only served three year terms, in order to ensure that no one person or service can dominate defence policy. Traditionally the role is rotated among the three armed forces, for example an RAF officer will not be replaced by another airman. So in actual fact the latest development is a return to convention after the last Government deviated from it.

Stirrup is likely to be replaced by the current Chief of the General Staff General Sir David Richards, or the Vice-Chief of Defence Staff Sir Nick Houghton. The sensible money will be on Richards, a former Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Richards has extensive experience, has been pretty reliable and impartial during his time in charge of the Army and is also well thought of by our allies, especially the US. Another outside bet might be the head of the Navy Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, but given the Army’s primacy in operations at present this is unlikely.

These latest developments bring to mind an interesting situation that might have arisen if Richard Dannatt was still in charge of the Army – would the Government have promoted him to Chief of Defence Staff, given that even while he was in command he was a Tory supporter? This would have raised very serious questions about the politicisation of the armed forces.

The only other issue that could be raised is whether it is right to have a new Defence Chief after the Strategic Defence Review – surely it would make more sense to have a new person in place before, so they can help inform the Review? Otherwise whoever comes in after Stirrup will be working with the effects of somebody elses advice and influence. If the Government really wants a fresh start – which makes sense – then why complete a Defence Review with a lame duck senior officer?

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Chief of Defence Staff asked to step down early

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Chief of Defence Staff asked to step down early « Daly History Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. We live in interesting times.

    Stirrup was a senior RAF bod and played a part in the axing of the Sea Harrier. At the time the UK had five type of front line jet, Tornado F3, Tornado GR4, Jaguar, Harrier GR7, and Sea Harrier FA2. When the time came to pick a type to axe gues which one got choosen? Yes, the one not operated by the RAF – despite the fact none of of the others could do the same role.

    As discussed at: http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?t=98152

    That has flavoured my view of him.

    So who should replace him? Some think that as we are fighting a land centric campaign the CDS should be Army. Some go further, arrogantly predicting that there will be no naval or air engagements in future, and therefore CDS must be a soldier.

    A differing view is that the role of CDS is to be the senior advisor on defence matters, and not to get to far down into the weeds.

    General Richards has to be a likely bet. He was in charge in Sierra Leone in 2000 but perhaps didn’t notice the involvement of the carrier ILLUSTRIOUS with both flavours of Harrier, plus OCEAN and several frigates. Now he states that future conflicts will be like Afghanistan – land based counter insurgency.

    Where would his appointment leave the RN and RAF?

  3. James Daly

    I think the problem is the appointment of any officer from any service to head up all three is always going to raise issues. Time and time again in history officers seem to want to preserve their place in the history books and not go down as the man who sold their service down the river. I’m always amazed – but not surprised – by just how partisan UK defence policy can be – you can almost imagine all the retired admirals, generals and air marshals pressing on the current incumbents.

  4. It should have improved in the last tewnty or so years, with an increased emphasis on joint operations in the post Cold War world.

  5. James Daly

    Whats frightening is that it has improved – to an extent – since WW2! I’ve just been reading about some of the infighting that went on in the RAF – the removal of Dowding, arguments between Bomber Command and the Air Ministry, and Tedder trying to get Montgomery sacked in 1944. I dont know if its just me but the RAF has always seemed to have its fair share of strong personalities.

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