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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 December 2006, 11:23 GMT
Military matters
On Sunday 10 December, Andrew Marr interviewed General Sir Mike Jackson - former Head of the Army

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

General Sir Mike Jackson
General Sir Mike Jackson - former Head of the Army

ANDREW MARR: ... Welcome. Thank you.


ANDREW MARR: Thank you for joining us. Now in your Dimbleby lecture you said that the army was in danger of becoming a political football.

What did you mean by that?

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: It's partly I think because - and I, I reflected on this - three and a half years ago two thirds of this country were in favour of taking action against Saddam Hussein.

That is now reversed. Two thirds disapprove. And it worries me somewhat that this disapproval washes on to the army itself.

At the end of the day the army is doing its constitutional duty which is to follow the directions from the government of the day, however people regard those directions.

ANDREW MARR: Some people said after your pretty outspoken criticism or suggestions about the government that ..

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: Well it wasn't about the government, it was about how we handled defence in Iran. That was my real theme. And the people who, who do it.

ANDREW MARR: But rotten accommodation for some people at least. Poor pay for others. And, and so on. That you should have spoken out more when you were actually in post.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: Yes I'm, I'm well aware of that criticism. And perhaps with hindsight my personal concern about proper constitutional position, maybe I put that too high. But, but I feel very strongly about that, having served in many parts of the world where no such arrangements exist and the rule of law does not exist. And I'm very conscious of, of proprietary.

ANDREW MARR: You were saying these things, you were saying these things in private. And indeed this morning Geoff Hoon who was then Defence Secretary who's confirmed that you were saying these sorts of things robustly in private. But you didn't get any purchase on ministers at the time.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: I don't think it's any secret that Jackson felt uncomfortable about certain aspects of the Ministry of Defence and having to work within those constraints.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to current situation.


ANDREW MARR: What do you, what do you make of the Iraq Study Group's date for American withdrawal? Two thousand and eight they've said, the American army should be out.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: Not quite. What they said was, if I've understood the report correctly, by early two thousand and eight they should be out of the combat role.



ANDREW MARR: Withdrawing to base.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: .. continuing training support and logistic support. I said and said in my lecture all well and good provided that by that time there is confidence that we have got the Iraqi security forces to a point where they can indeed take on prior responsibility throughout the country. My concern would be here that the, the rush to get a date in may actually take, take away from getting the conditions right.

ANDREW MARR: Because we are ..


ANDREW MARR: .. we are in a terrible fix here in the sense that the violence is getting worse ... worse ..


ANDREW MARR: And many people think the country will break up. And yet if we say we're not going to leave until we've secured proper security in Iraq we may never leave.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: Well I, I think that it's, it's fine to have a, a date. It does concentrate the mind. That's what I said in the lecture as well. But it, we need to be very careful ..

ANDREW MARR: We mustn't cut and run.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: We mustn't cut and run. Because I think the, I think there's a moral aspect to that which I would be very uncomfortable with, having, having begun this. And, and secondly I think strategically it would be quite the wrong thing to do.

ANDREW MARR: Is there any difference between yourself therefore and your successor, General Dannet who says that he wants to get out "some time soon" was his, his phrase. He kicked the door in, now he wants to get out some time soon.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: I, I don't think there was any, was any real, real difference there at all, because whilst I, my concern is to get the conditions right, the sooner that can be achieved the better for everybody, for Iraq themselves, the Iraqis themselves and for the coalition.

ANDREW MARR: Now let's talk about Afghanistan ..


ANDREW MARR: .. where it's been said that this is, this is the fiercest fighting British troops have faced, fiercest hand to hand combat since the Korean War.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: That's the assessment yes.

ANDREW MARR: Is this a more important war than Iraq in the long term?

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: Perhaps in the long term it is. We may have to leave that to history to decide in due course. But, but I would not myself in any way under estimate the importance of what, what is being done in Afghanistan. I was, that was my last visit while still in office in I think early July if I remember rightly.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think the politicians were na´ve about what we were getting ourself into?

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: No I don't think so. I mean much has been made of one or two ..

ANDREW MARR: John Reid's remark about ..


ANDREW MARR: .. hoping that we left ...

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: Indeed. But I know what ... I mean he's perfectly entitled to hope these things happen. But I also know what I think lay behind it. Which was that we're not coming here with the vowed intention of acting as some neo-colonial power. We are coming here to help Afghanistan move on from the, the nightmare of the last few decades and actually to get, come out as a stable, a stable country.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think the Taliban can be defeated?

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: I believe they can. I was very struck by Brigadier Ed Butler who was the British coman.. commander on the ground, his, his assessment that, that they had achieved tactical, tactical victory over the summer engagements. Now a tactical victory does not equal campaign success but it's on that way.

ANDREW MARR: Now you made many points in your lecture about what you would like ministers to think about harder than they are doing at the moment. If the government took away one lesson from what you said and implemented, what would you like it to be?

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: I think it would be to produce a, a sharper concentration on what defence is all about. And defence is about the readiness and then if, if so directed use of military force to achieve political objectives.

And, and it's the soldiers who have to do that. And I, I just felt, and I said in my lecture, that there was a bit of a mismatch here. The top organisation could be more sharply configured to give responsibility where, where it lies.

ANDREW MARR: You raised the question as to whether we should be spending more money on defence. You didn't answer it. But what, so what is your own view?

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: If, if, if this nation wishes to maintain the present size and shape of its armed forces then it will need to dig a bit deeper, the present size and shape. Because it's creaking. It really is. And one, one talks to, to middle piece officers who get pretty fed up with yet another round of cutting of their budgets and all the rest.

Now I, I think a wet finger in the wind, no more than that, a ten per cent increase, which is not a huge amount would probably get over much, much of the day to day difficulties. But if, if there isn't, if there isn't a political willingness from whichever government it may be to spend a greater proportion then I think we need ..

ANDREW MARR: And presumably ...

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: .. to look at that size and shape, I, because I think it will, it will creak as time goes on.

ANDREW MARR: And yet you're also in favour of spending a great deal more money upgrading or replacing Trident. And some people would say well we can't have an army that goes everywhere and does everything it needs to with a, with modern equipment that it needs and also have a traditional nuclear deterrent.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: I, I've given a bit of thought, obviously. I am a believer that now is not the moment to let the British nuclear deterrent just fade away. We're living in a very uncertain world. And our ability to maintain uncertainty on the nuclear issue I think is extremely important. And if I may, it shouldn't be seen really in my view as part of the defence budget per se. This is a political instrument which gives Britain that political position.

ANDREW MARR: And yet whenever I ask politicians to explain a scenario in which it might actually be useful to them they stutter and go silent.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: Yeah I can, I can understand because the very thought of having to use such a weapon is, is horrific. It's a terrible, terrible thing. But you maintain that, that terrifying uncertainty to, to any would be aggressor on a nuclear basis and who can tell what strategic circumstances may be like in twenty years time ... or thirty years time which will be within the life of the next system.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah all right.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: And it's, it, in my view when you look at it in relative terms, and you look at the acquisition cost being talked about, twenty four billion pounds, running costs of about perhaps a billion a year, put that over the life of the system and it's, it's a couple of billion pounds a year when seen in that way. I do not believe that is huge cost relatively.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Well we'll hear more about this no doubt over the coming months.


ANDREW MARR: But for now General Sir Michael Jackson thank you very much indeed for joining us.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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