17 JUNE 1972, Page 17

hat , or aking defence Ai ecisions 7 ,`mastai r Buchan p,he Po/!tics

of Defence David Owen (Cape to not easy even after a careful reading iscern any underlying or coherent ab'''s in this book. Certainly it is not isv(44 the politics of defence, which would iyill?1,ve a careful analysis of the way in te iii)tilcn the political process or the operaof special interests has altered, and the 41 ;te' Modify, the defence policies of • 44iitcant countries in the recent past and Wei rl,ear future: something that has been lot littly.`-'c'ne for American policy by scholars old hve8 rIlintington and Schilling; for Britain 'all ltla ,11-vder, Andrew Pierre and Lawrence /IV (4ert41; and that has been attempted for ,ht \vo Soviet Union by experts like Erickson, ;ed hoot f e and Macintosh. Instead this short to briekt rambles over a vast field including a ely crisp glance at several complex recent lVai:si Cuba, Gulf of Tonkin, the June dr tett; ' and the ' Pueblo ' incident, to some 1411.,rits about the evolution of recent Britt,' thr, defence policy, to the law of the sea, to fUture of European defence strategyler 4).7 author is a doctor of medicine who tht‘ "t‘v° Years, from 1968 until the fall of Ii4eh,‘ahour government in 1970, was Parfig entary Under-Secretary (Navy) (not led er, as the blurb alleges), the youngest le) hiocl,r Minister of the day and clearlyim post a od h5 intelligent intelligent one. Though not an ler for -a4rit in terms of decision making, ,he kh5it;` , is largely that of parliamentary )y. tqte gist for decisions about his service hY a complex bureaucratic system °f his Policy achievements seems to ht" 101 ;a1) no ttoLi,n been the abolition of bell bottom ' tagmrs when they were becoming all the pos-ii The briefings to which he was exile :ed clearly gave him a nasty fright. For tliron lsed what has been patent to others lllai-fg? Much of the past quarter-century, 4141-ih`lie oceans are strewn with the sub "es and surface ships of the adversary powers who may get drawn into conflict with each other and those of small allies; but just because they are scattered, capitals and chiefs of staff must devolve more responsibility upon captains of ships than commanders of land or air forces. His message is that "the political heads of the armed forces must exert greater control over such missions."

This is certainly a laudable objective and one that has become accepted in most European countries, more so now than a decade ago in the United States and probably in the Soviet Union as well. But Dr Owen neither explains how this is to be done nor distinguishes for the most part whether he is discussing the handling of operational or planning decisions. Moreover, in the four cases he has chosen, in the first two the object of his criticism is the politicians themselves, in the third some unidentified Israeli decision maker for attack on the USS ' Liberty ' during the Six-Day War, while the ' Pueblo ' incident is analysed largely in terms of a failure of American military communications in the Pacific. The treatment of each of these is brief, based on spotty sources and therefore rather superficial. In the seven and a half pages devoted to the vast subject of international maritime law, he deals with one aspect only, the status of narrow waters.

The last third of the book which concerns European security and the future of NATO is considerably better than the sections dealing with crises and decision making. Dr Owen explains the pitfalls that lie ahead as the United States becomes, if not isolationist, increasingly careful in the definition of its external interests, as some decision must be reached on the future of the British and French nuclear forces, and on whether an enlarged Community or the NATO Eurogroup (to which France does not belong) must become the focus of long overdue coordination in the defence and technological fields, if Western Europe's political resources are to be able to take over more of the burden of a flexible strategy from the United States. He analyses well, if not exhaustively, the dilemma with which the continuation of two independent nuclear forces in Europe confronts London and Paris, to say nothing of Bonn and other capitals, and seems to favour a tripartite agreement on the technical aspects of nuclear sharing between Washington, London and Paris, together with a consultative arrangement among the European Atlantic powers on strategic planning, of a kind that has worked well over the past six years in NATO as a whole. He is in favour of a continuing European nuclear capability in some form, but fails to probe deeply enough whether real economies in the use of resources can be effected. No one could subscribe more wholeheartedly than I to Dr. Owen's closing judgement that "To create a climate in which defence decision making operates, sensibly, sensitively, and objectively is in the interests of every citizen." Unfortunately the book as a contribution to the evolution of such a climate shows too many signs of hasty preparation. For it is marred by small errors of fact and half digested judgements. Are Chiefs of Staff really more autonomous actors in the political process than say the gnomes of the Treasury; has Dr Owen ever dealt with the officials of the Ministry of Transport? It is not historically true that the Six-Day War converted "a straight Arab-Israeli problem" into "a direct confrontation between Russia and the United States." It is not true that land-based ICBMs in hardened silos are so vulnerable that they have to be fired on the first radar warning of attack; Dr Owen has been the victim of naval propaganda here. It is not true that there was no well-defined boundary between East and West Berlin before the building of the Wall. He gives a 1968 White Paper as evidence for a 1971 statemend about the relationship of AngloFrench nuclear cooperation to the nonproliferation treaty; while his prediction that Russia would not accept a freeze on delivery systems without a moratorium on the development of multiple warheads has been proved wrong by last month's interim SAL treaty. The citizen is entitled to better food for thought than this.