Dr Chris Wyatt attended the 9th Historical Analysis for Defence and Security Symposium, held at Dstl Portsdown West, from Wednesday 24th to Thursday 25th May 2017. There were two themes for the 2017 Symposium: Dealing with Uncertainty in Defence and How to Avoid Fighting the Last War? For almost 30 years, MoD and Dstl have used analysis of historical campaigns and developments in academic understanding of conflict to provide a 'reality-check' to UK defence policy. The aim of this symposium was to bring together analysts, military historians and policy makers to discuss the use of historical lessons to understand topical and enduring defence and security issues.
Dr Wyatt spoke on UAVs and Air Control on the North-West Frontier: Re-Fighting the Last War? The paper argued that over the last 13 years, the US has been using unmanned aerial systems over the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, what used to be called the North-West Frontier Province, particularly North and South Waziristan. The literature on this has been quick to draw parallels with policies of air policing and air control developed by the British in the same region in the 1920s and 1930s. There is, in short, a narrative that presupposes old wars are being refought. This is a tempting analogy but is a flawed one for a number of reasons, the first being that the overall policy was different in terms of what they were trying to achieve. The second reason is that the actual types of mission being flown were of a fundamentally different character. The third is that international law at the time functioned differently and was seen differently from that of today. Finally, responses on the ground were different then from today. All these factors problematize narratives of continuity and similarity and, through understanding the mechanics of both situations, help to avoid the appearance re-fighting earlier wars.
Broadly, the first day covered the theme of 'Dealing with Uncertainty in Defence' and the second day 'How to Avoid Fighting the Last War?'. Other papers presented covered the following: Fighting in the Fog of War: Decision-Making under Extreme Uncertainty in the Waterloo Campaign, Learning the Wrong Lessons? Naval Operational Research during a Long Peace, Weighing the Fog of War: A Bayesian analysis of the Battle of the Dogger Bank, Battle of Hannut 1940: An Operational and Tactical Analysis, The Agile Forces Study 2016, Territorial Defence Forces: Concept, Role and Revival, The Future of Warfare: A DRDC Exercise, Certainty, uncertainty and agility - how to be decisive in the next war!, Reconstitution in the German army 1918-1939, National Security Risk Assessment: Nine Questions for the British Approach, and ISIS and the battle for the heart of the Middle East: Towards a non-state theory of war. Overall, the conference was a great success.