There's more than one reason why defence chiefs shouldn't criticise politicians

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General Sir Nicholas Houghton’s appearance on the Andrew Marr Show last Sunday has caused controversy, particularly for these remarks:

ANDREW MARR:
…Of course we now have the leader of the opposition who says quite openly he would never press the nuclear button. Does that worry you?
GENERAL SIR NICHOLAS HOUGHTON:
Well it … it would worry me if that, er, thought was translated into power as it were because …
ANDREW MARR:
So if he wins, he’s a problem?
GENERAL SIR NICHOLAS HOUGHTON:
Well there’s a couple of hurdles to cross before we get to that.
ANDREW MARR:
Of course.
GENERAL SIR NICHOLAS HOUGHTON:
But the reason I say this – and it’s not based on a personal thing at all, it’s purely based on the credibility of deterrence. The whole thing about deterrence rests on the credibility of its use. When people say you’re never going to use the deterrent, what I say is you use the deterrent you know every second of every minute of every day and the purpose of the deterrent is that you don’t have to use it because you successfully deter.

I find it very worry that the serving Chief of the Defence Staff of the British Armed Forces is saying publicly that (paraphrasing slightly) he “would worry” if the leader of the opposition gets into power as Prime Minister. In fact I find that absolutely staggering. It is redolent of military coups. This officer has no place whatsoever casting general doubts on the capability of the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition to hold prime ministerial office.

But there is another reason why defence chiefs should not open their mouths on TV in such a way.

They sound like total idiots, and do not have the ability or the position to follow up their statements with sustained argument. Because they are not politicians.

In other words, Sir Nicolas will be safely back at his desk counting warheads when the rest of us are asking “Who the heck are you trying to deter? – Brezhnev died 33 years ago and the Soviet Union died 24 years ago.”

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