The General’s Speech

The General’s Speech

UK Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, speaking at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) – [The Arms Fair] – Excel Centre, London

Born in a British Army base in Bielefeld, Germany, son of a Major General, Eton, Guards Regiment, lower second class BA from Durham University and an officer with experience in virtually every war involving the UK including service as an SAS commander and former Director Special Forces; who could be more qualified to give the opening speech at DSEI last week than the UK Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Mark Carleton-Smith KCB CBE, with the established right of direct access to advise the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister?

Reporting by media at the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair (DSEI) is by strict selection, as are passes to attend; potential critics are filtered out, but Shephard Media, whose mission is stated as “to provide the best marketing solutions and business information services to the defence sector”, helpfully published extracts of the General’s speech.

An accompanying photo showed the General, in full uniform and medals, apparently ill at ease with himself in his role as chief salesman for the UK Arms industry, his speech laced with big chief talk such as “establishing advantage over potential adversaries”, “prioritising investment in deep battle”, “creating a sharper and harder and more dangerous army with a more dynamic global posture”, “the adoption of disruptive technologies including Artificial Intelligence, and finally the use of “Autonomous weapons and Quantum Mechanics”. Native English speakers, let alone foreign visitors, must have struggled to understand this ominous gobbledegook.

The UK has a dedicated department for UK Defence and Security Exports, part of the Department for International Trade, which uses taxpayers money to promote DSEI and UK arms exporting companies around the word, the largest of which is BAE Systems, which provides the technology, technicians and armaments which are essential to maintain the murderous war by Saudi against Yemen. BAE chair, Sir Roger Carr, is shown on Twitter at DSEI hosting the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Khalid bin Bandar el Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, educated at Eton, Oxford and Sandhurst, and whose wife is Lucy Cuthbert of Beaufront Castle, niece of the Duke of Northumberland.

Given that it was exactly one month after President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan, following 21 years of George Bush’s “War on Terror”, the professional Head of the Army, with responsibility for developing and generating military capability would appear to be a man well worth listening to at this pivotal moment. However the armourers and arms dealers of the world were not to hear any regrets nor lessons to be learned from the multiple human catastrophes in Afghanistan, or the wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. Not even a word on the link between war and global warming, the vital role of peacekeeping at the United Nations, serious diplomacy or the devastating effects of war on civilians – the “collateral damage” as these war crimes are described. No call even to mourn “the children of war who have experienced more trauma — physical and emotional — than the medical professionals who care for them have ever seen: the shredded remains of their mum or dad, blown apart by bombs……” 1

How prescient were the words of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech on 17th January 1961; “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. 2

Eisenhower would probably have appreciated reading the 4th of Keir Starmer’s, now abandoned, original ten election pledges, entitled “To promote peace and human rights”: “No more illegal wars. Introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act and put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. Review all UK arms sales and make us a force for international peace and justice.3

Back at DSEI, Mark Carleton-Smith could only complain that “today’s threats feel much more hybrid; the cycle of competition is heating up and the real challenge is to simply keep up.”, revealing that he appears incapable of understanding the threat to world peace and the environment from the diversion of technology and vast resources to make war, the insanity of the new arms race developing before his very eyes, or even the technology itself.

David Collins

20th September 2021