Tuesday, 19 January 2021
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UK security policy

By Chris Newton

Throughout its period in opposition the Conservative Party continually criticised many aspects of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). This culminated in the party's opposition to the Lisbon Treaty and its defence provisions, including a mutual defence clause and permanent structured co-operation. Some commentators have expressed concern about the future of Anglo-European defence relations now that the Conservatives have been elected to power. But how justified are the concerns? Will the next few years prove to be the nadir of Anglo-European defence co-operation, a continuation of the past few years, or even an improvement from the past few years?

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By I.E. Shields

It is undeniable that the UK is in a financial mess, and it is equally incontestable that the present Government is determined to address the deficit since they believe that this is in the country's long-term interests. This article will challenge neither of these assumptions, but will look at the degree to which the present, and ongoing, Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is being conducted and ask whether we are in fact sleepwalking into a security disaster?

We do not know what the SDSR is going to conclude and this article is necessarily, therefore, speculative, albeit that it will not try to guess the contents of the Review. But what we do know is that the SDSR is being conducted at break-neck pace, by a very small circle of insiders (despite Government claims that it is inviting outside views: with such a compressed time-line there is insufficient time to undertake proper strategic analysis, let alone take into account external views). The results will be known soon, but we should anticipate little time for debate after the results are published, more likely an unseemly rush to implement what are likely to be hefty cuts.

And herein lies the biggest danger, not the reduction in spending, driven as it is by necessary financial considerations, but the lack of real scrutiny. There are suggestions, if not actual claims, that the Review will be based on, at least in part, a review of where Britain sees her place in the world and therefore (one might expect) how we are both to discharge our global responsibilities, and lever influence, not only to meet our own needs but also to play our part in maintaining the international order. These are lofty and laudable aims, and such a Review is to be supported and applauded. However, within such an ambition lies a potential danger: what if the conclusions are wrong? Now nobody can predict the future with much, let alone total, certainty. But scrutiny is needed for the price of failure at best Britain's place in the world diminished (with concomitant implications for the national economy), at worse either this country or the way of life and international order to which we adhere under severe threat. No, this is not melodramatic, but a plea that the Review receives due scrutiny. But scrutiny from whom?

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

The leak of a confidential letter written from Liam Fox to David Cameron has now been widely picked up in the press. The upshot is Fox's complaint that the Strategic Defence Review process is fast losing credibility and coherence because of the Treasury's willingness to subordinate national security to a timetable chosen by Cameron and George Osborne for very political reasons to try get the bad news out of the way, in one go, in the Comprehensive Spending Review. While one has to admire the political gusto of Cameron and in the unlikely event he pulls it off, it would constitute a masterstroke nonetheless Fox is right: that these kind of grave decisions cannot be taken in such a short space of time (while Guardianistas will vomit righteous indignation, the fact is that Defence is different from other departments, i.e. more important), and that there has been an inadequate scope for debating the future of Britain's role in international politics.

The basic problem is this: the UK is currently engaged in a war in Afghanistan, and will be there for about five more years. This requires proper funding of the ground forces which wage counterinsurgency conflicts. However, to fund the Afghanistan commitment, the Army will need to be shielded while the other services are squeezed the aircraft carriers potentially face the axe, as do other classes of surface vessel, several kinds of aircraft, and even the Trident submarines. The strategic dilemma facing the country is whether future security crises requires long-term occupation and nation-building on the Afghanistan model, or whether the threat, and demands on the UK, will look quite different. If the future is not more Afghanistans, then favouring the ground forces now by badly weakening the naval and air power available to the country risks calamitous damage.

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Dr Robert Crowcroft

The facts of the latest terrorist plot against the West are still hazy, but what we do know is this: simultaneous attacks have been planned against several European cities, including London and probably sites in France and Germany. These attacks were to be modelled on the effective 'commando raids' in Mumbai in 2008, in which groups of terrorists wreaked havoc with automatic weapons and killed hundreds of people. India has still not recovered. And the plot was led by senior Al-Qaeda figures in Waziristan. The intelligence services think that the plot was in the 'final stages' before being launched, that it would have been a 'spectacular', that British Muslims were once again involved, and that the purpose was an old-fashioned suicidal rampage. The plot seems to have been disrupted by American drone strikes in Pakistan, killing the brains of the plot.

There are two points here. One is the absolute centrality of the United States to any sensible security strategy for Britain. I will try not to even get into what this latest American intervention to protect our citizens says about the perspectives of those like Labour leader Ed Miliband (who wants a more 'independent' foreign policy) and his ally Sadiq Khan (who thinks the US alliance is 'poison' for Britain). All I will say is that I look forward to the day when the likes of Miliband and Khan sign up to defend the country with their lives if the Americans decided a whining ally isn't worth having. As a university teacher, when confronted by anti-American students I routinely stop seminars and pose the question whether they, personally, would be willing to kill in order to defend the realm. The bewildered look on their faces when I do so tells me that they have never contemplated an activity that throughout human history as been the norm for most males. But the fact that people in this country can lead such a sheltered existence is due only to Britain's alliance with the United States and our possession of nuclear weapons. Surely it isn't beyond us as a society not to mess it all up.

The second point is that given the inability of Islamic terrorists to match, or better, the 9/11 atrocities over the past nine years, from their perspective this kind of attack would appear to be the most sensible kind of approach to take. All they need is a few guns and a rampage can be launched. With Mumbai-esque operations there is less of a need to do the kind of things that increase the risk of detection like buying chemicals and cooking explosives in suburban kitchens. The blunt (and frightening) truth is that if I was an Islamic terrorist, settling on a 'commando raid' rampage would now look a far more profitable means of spreading fear and chaos than attempting to stage so-called 'grand' terror attacks.

Will home-grown terrorists head in this direction? If they do, the prospects for social peace in this country will be poor. It is significant that this plot emanated from Pakistan where Islamic extremists are at least familiar with the concept of 'strategy'. We should be grateful that, so far, domestic extremists have proven even more inept at waging an insurgency against Britain than was the IRA and they were shockingly bad, to say the least. Instead those British citizens who turn to terrorism have been more inclined to gesture and feel-good exhibitionism about killing the infidels than with actually getting on and killing then. The 7/7 bombings were the only significant Islamist attack on these shores since 9/11, due to not only the diligence of law-enforcement agencies but also the incompetence of domestic terrorists. If more British Muslims come under the operational sway of those people abroad who actually understand how to run an insurgency, then terror attacks could become a more frequent occurrence.

Take the 2005 attack on the Tube and Tavistock Square. Brutal? Yes. Strategically effective? Absolutely not. The purpose of an insurgency is to win the support of a particular part of the population (in this case, the wider British Muslim community). To do that, they need to be radicalised (here, made not only sympathetic to, but willing to actively assist, the Islamist causes). And to be radicalised, the majority of the population must be persuaded to take repressive measures against them (in other words, turn the non-Muslims against the Muslim minority). From this perspective, 7/7 was a dismal failure. The plotters were glorified exhibitionists. Contrast it with the Chechens who conducted the horrendous Beslan school siege in 2005. Now they had an eye for strategy. And compare it with the Mumbai atrocities as well. The reaction of the British public to rampaging, random attacks against the vulnerable or major national hubs doesn't bear thinking about. At the very least, racial tensions in this country would increase markedly.

The terrorists, therefore, have important decisions to make. If they become more cunning and with a greater eye for strategy, then our stable society will find itself in danger. And so we have important decisions to make too: about whether we will stop rubbishing the relationship with the United States, and what we are going to do to prepare for attacks like Beslan or Mumbai. Because it is almost certain that, sooner or later, they will happen.

Robert Crowcroft is a specialist on British politics and defence.

 

By Jeffrey Sterling and Nick Butler

Over the next three weeks the coalition Government will make the most significant set of decisions on UK industrial policy which have faced any administration in the last four decades. Important enough in terms of Britain's strategic position in the world, the decisions on the defence budget to be announced by the Chancellor could also crucially shape the future of much of our remaining industrial and engineering base.
Attention, both within Whitehall and in the media has inevitably focused on the possible reductions in troop numbers, on the number of carriers and jet fighters we need, on the role of the Royal Air Force, and on the future of the UK's independent nuclear deterrent.

All are serious issues but equally important, and so far barely discussed at the meetings of the National Security Council which will advise the Prime Minister on defence issues, are the questions concerning the industrial capacity which must underpin any defence strategy.
No one can deny the serious economic circumstances facing the Government or the budget problems facing the Ministry of Defence in particular. The bow wave of commitments repeatedly "pushed to the right" - a piece of civil service jargon reflecting the tendency to extend the timescale of individual projects in order to spread the cost into future years - has been well documented. So too has the "bias to optimism" which has produced a persistent and repeated underestimation of costs.

Both are real and serious problems. As the Defence Secretary has said the MoD's finances are in a mess and must be sorted out. But Britain's future defence capability cannot be made the victim of punishment for past mistakes. Defence cannot be treated as just another Government department while soldiers are fighting and dying for their country in Afghanistan. Five years ago the UK devoted some 4.5 per cent of its GDP to defence. To reduce that proportion to only 1.6 per cent which would be the effect of the proposals currently under consideration - would not only breach our commitment to NATO which has set a two per cent guideline but would also ignore the reality of the risks we face. Balancing the budget is important but so too is Britain's ability to defend itself and our strategic international interests in a dark and threatening world.

The definition of those interests and the scale of resources applied to their protection are matters for high political decision. But defence is not an abstract concept. The details of each assertion of defence policy depend on the underlying ability to deliver what is promised. In 2005 the Defence Industrial Review identified the key areas where Britain needed to protect and develop engineering and technical strengths to meet specific defence needs. The report was clear. While some equipment can be bought on the open, international, market other elements absolutely require indigenous industrial capability. The integration of complex information in the cockpits of planes , the management of information gathered from multiple sources which make up the most advanced Command and Control systems and cryptography the protection of vital information are not skills which can be outsourced even to suppliers located in countries with whom we are close allies.

At the heart of defence policy is the national interest and to protect that interest in extreme circumstances we need companies which can develop, manufacture, supply and then service each of key leading edge technologies. We need to retain the skills and experience of the individuals and teams spread across large and small businesses whose brain power has given Britain not just security but a source of real competitive advantage.

In many of areas UK companies hold world leading positions. Although some technology cannot easily be traded, much can to the benefit of the balance of payments and to employment across the UK. Such trade can also bring direct benefits to our own defence. There are huge spin off benefits from a sector which now represents Britain's largest remaining investment in advanced manufacturing and high level engineering skills.

A prime example is in homeland security where the world leading technology developed in this country which tracks the movements and activities of individuals and groups through advanced data management technology helps protects both against terrorism and against organised crime. Much of that technology can be sold abroad and such sales can extend the security of people in this country by making other countries such as India and Pakistan safer against threats which respect no national frontier.

The analysis behind the 2005 Defence Industrial Review was extended and updated by work undertaken by the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Business and the Home Office before the General Election. That work, commissioned and led from No 10 by one of the authors, identified the crucial links between defence policy and industrial capability. That report also identified the extent and quality of the supply chains which underpin the strengths which exist today. Regrettably that report remains unpublished.

That report should be on the table for the National Security Council, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister as they take the crucial decisions on defence policy over the next few weeks.

Traditionally and beneficially major decisions on defence in the UK have been taken on a bipartisan basis. Both the Prime Ministers we have worked for, from their very different political perspectives, believed that defence was too important to be left to the bickering and pointscoring of party politics. That was the spirit in which the last Government launched the current Strategic Defence Review. The terms of reference were discussed on a cross party basis. The timetable for the review was deliberately set to run beyond the General Election and in order to ensure that the conclusions as far as possible could be reached without reference to short term political advantage.

The serious risk now is that hasty decisions driven solely by budget considerations will destroy that bipartisan approach and will pre-empt the serious work which needs to be done in analysing the threats and risks to our national interest. We need a defence strategy which is not only resilient in the face of a fluid and volatile set of risks but also and crucially a strategy which is matched at the industrial level by an absolute commitment to maintain the means of delivery.

Once destroyed by random budget cuts that capability cannot be recreated. To cut without thought for the consequences would be to imperil the security of the nation which is the first, and preeminent responsibility of any Government.

Lord Sterling was a senior adviser on industrial policy to the Government of Margaret Thatcher. He was also Executive Chairman of P and O SN.

Nick Butler was senior policy adviser on industrial policy to the Government of Gordon Brown until the last election. He was previous head of strategy for BP.

This is an extended version of a letter published in the Financial Times yesterday.

 


INTRODUCTION

Driven by globalisation, the world is rapidly and irreversibly changing. So too is the character of conflict: the Cold War is emphatically in the past. However, Defence has not changed apace. It must therefore transform in order to remain relevant and thus continue to secure UK national interests. The Army has conducted a detailed study, drawing on lessons from contemporary operations and the deductions from Defence's thorough examination of the Future Character of Conflict. Based on this, we have designed a relevant, adaptable and cost effective Future Force, which will continue to evolve as the demands of operations change over time and is designed to meet future threats and challenges. This work is known as Transformational Army Structures (TAS). The key word is transformational; the Army will continue to evolve.

Whilst TAS focuses on the Army's deployable component, the broader study encompasses all elements of the Force, including the Territorial Army, our Reserves and those which support the deployable component from 'the home base'. Furthermore, it is fully integrated with a number of other detailed studies focused on Equipment, Doctrine, Infrastructure and Personnel. This note focuses on the deployable structure, that which we must protect.

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By Chris Newton

In order to prevail over Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, democratic countries need to win the support of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the moderate Islamic community, and its own electorates. This is the crucial battleground in the 'War on Terror'. However, many academics and commentators have concluded that the Islamists currently have the advantage in this area. Just as the situation in Iraq in 2006 demanded a review into US military strategy, the situation today requires just as important a review into the west's approach to strategic communication. This article examines the flaws in the current approach and provides suggestions as to how the west can establish a better 'strategic narrative'. It predominantly takes a UK perspective.

Losing the war of words?

Scholars and analysts have not rated the west's efforts so far on this front. Indeed, the various opinions polls suggest that British public support for the war in Afghanistan is waning. Why? As David Betz suggested in an article on propaganda in 2008, there Islamist strategic narrative is more coherent than the west's. The Islamists tell a story of victimhood which its audience can relate to. It combines elements of truth, such as the Abu Ghraib incident, with fiction into an emotive narrative of western persecution and aggression. It disseminates its message across the world, using the internet and the media effectively. And as a result, regardless of how preposterous their claims are, the coherence of their argument makes it compelling to its target audience.

The western narrative, as David Betz showed, lacks coherence and is rather confused. The different objectives for the Afghan mission, ranging from getting rid of Al Qaeda to the elimination of poppy crops has confused people as to why we are really there. And given that the main military part of the 'War on Terror' is taking place in a distant land, the audience finds it difficult to relate Afghanistan to security in the UK and the west. What makes it even harder for a western narrative to gain currency is that so many of the public are cynical towards politicians and are consequently susceptible to anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, and anti-war narratives. This is because of the disintegration of unity and a lack of self confidence within western countries, especially the UK. Moreover, Islamist ideology is only one narrative that the west has to tackle in addition to the established narratives of Marxism and emerging narratives put forward by authoritarian rulers.

But is the west really doomed to fail here? David Betz contrasts the west's performance in the war on terror with western societies' marketing and public relations activities in business, fashion, and popular culture. Why can't we translate this success to the area where we need it most war? In domestic politics, politicians hire public relations professionals to develop its own narratives about the state of the country and how they will change things. Political party offices hire people to monitor the words and actions of their opposition and they develop material that highlights inconsistencies and hypocritical actions. But for some reason, governments and news organisation are extremely poor at communicating to the public the inconsistencies of the Al Qaeda narrative.

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Extracts from a submission for the Strategic Defence and Security Review by Oliver Covile MP. Mr Colvile is MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and chairs the Royal Marines group within the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces.


The Strategic Defence and Security Review is being conducted in the context of a much wider public expenditure review. Public expenditure needs to fall as a proportion of national income to stabilise the public finances and to reduce the crowding out effects that public spending has on private sector economic activity.


Nevertheless, this paper argues for establishing the priority given to defence spending within public spending and national income as a whole.


The previous Labour Government's Green Paper (February 2010) assumed that defence should be planned within the current level of spending or less. I believe that this assumption needs to be explicitly abandoned by the Coalition Government. Defence of the Realm and its interests are a fundamental duty of any Government and a core belief amongst Conservatives.


Defence spending within overall public spending and national income

While it was right to reduce defence spending as a share of GDP after the end of the Cold War from around 5 per cent of GDP, the peace dividend sought in the early 1990s was too great.

The Options for Change White Paper went too far in reducing defence spending in relation to the international risks UK has to recognise and prepare to meet in terms of properly funded defence capabilities.

Having reduced the share of GDP devoted to defence to less than 3 per cent, defence spending after 1997 was subject to a further squeeze that pushed it slightly below 2.5 per cent of GDP in the mid 2000s, despite increased spending resulting from extensive overseas operations.

In my judgement this is an unrealistic basis for defence and foreign policy planning. Historically it is a very low level indeed, apparently lower than the previously lowest recorded proportion of national income spent on defence in 1930 when it was 2.6 per cent.

Not only has defence spending fallen as a share of national income but also as a proportion of total government expenditure. The ONS study in 2009 on public sector output productivity between 1997 and 2007 among other things exemplifies how public expenditure priorities have been changed.

The weight given to defence within General Government Expenditure by sector weight, fell from 15.1 per cent to 11 per cent. What this shows is that during a period when there was increased international risk and with more than two major protracted operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, at a time when public spending was rising rapidly, the priority given to defence was reduced.

In my judgment this priority need to be reversed. It is not a question of affordability but priority within public spending.
The proportion of public expenditure devoted to defence should return to a position that is at least comparable to that in 1997. I believe that the ratio of GDP spent on defence should return to a more realistic level closer to 3 per cent of GDP.

The principle issue about the level of defence spending is not one of affordability, but rather one of deciding political priorities.

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By Ian Shields, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

On 10 October the Prime Minister presented to Parliament the National Security Strategy (NSS), titled "A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty". This article will examine the Strategy's contents, and ask to what extent it achieves the aim of the introductory statement that "the security of our nation is the first duty of government. It is the foundation of our freedom and prosperity".

First, then, the contents. There is a disappointing but unsurprising number of criticisms of the previous administration that reek of party politics ("Unlike the last Government, our strategy sets out clear priorities" p.5 for example) when national security should be above such squabbling. The Strategy highlights the formation of the National Security Council, and explains how this will function in terms of reviewing the Governments list of security challenges, drawing together expert advice and offering broad changes in direction: all good, strategic stuff. It lays out, very clearly, in Section Three (see especially p.27) what are seen as the current priority risks, grouped into three tiers of importance. The highest tier comprises international terrorism, cyber attack, a major accident or natural hazard, or an international military crisis that draws in the UK. These are all entirely reasonable, and with the promise that the list will be kept under constant review and formally refreshed every second year, a sensible and open method of identifying threats. A state-on-state threat to the UK is, entirely reasonably, afforded lower priorities (a Tier Two threat if using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, Tier Three if conventional weapons only are employed in attacking us).

Much is also made of alliances, with the relationship with the US stressed as remaining the most important (see p.4) followed by the EU and then NATO. Again, this is entirely sensible and in keeping with the theme of living in a globalised world, and the new demands (and, therefore, security challenges that we face). The other broad theme that runs through the Strategy is the need to harness all the levers of national power (with particular emphasis on the diplomatic) to secure Britain's place. And finally, this NSS stress that it addresses only the ends and ways, the means being left to the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). Given that the SDSR deals with more newsworthy items such as troop numbers, ship orders and air base closures, and was to be seen as an element of the Government's spending plans, it is unsurprising that the SDSR has received much more attention than the NSS; whether this emphasis of public review is correct is less clear.

Having made the link between the NSS and the SDSR, and having claimed that the NSS sets the strategic direction and boundaries within which the SDSR should operate, it is clear that one should follow the other, and that they should be read in conjunction with each other for without a strategic direction, how can the SDSR match the necessary means to achieve the ends and ways, particularly when defence procurement is itself so drawn out, and therefore requires a clear strategy?

And it is here that I start to struggle with the NSS. For the SDSR to have real meaning, the NSS must and should be the leading document, yet it has received scant attention in the blaze of publicity surrounding the spending announcements. The NSS makes much of our strength as a trading nation, with the added bonuses of English being the world's lingua franca for trade, and our geo-temporal positioning as part of Europe and straddling the time differential between the Far East and the US. But what is left unanswered is the key question of what role does Britain foresee herself playing in the future? While the NSS is strong on identifying some of the challenges the world faces in a globalised era, including such extremes as climate change and international, ordered crime, it singularly fails to give a clear articulation of the role this Government expects the UK to play, beyond some fairly broad, even banal, statements about maintaining order and upholding rights. And of equal concern is that this document claims to be a strategy, but looks forward little more than five years (convenient since that equates to the life of a Parliament, but hardly strategic in time-scale). It contains some well-crafted rhetoric, but gives little feel as to how or why further change might occur, how this might affect the UK, and what the country might do to influence the course of events in Britain's best long-term interests.

The Government is to be applauded for going as far as it has in producing this NSS, but it leaves too many nagging doubts. Has the Government really got a clear view on the likely course that world events will take? Does it see the world being uni-polar or multi-polar in the future? What will Britain's relationship to major, and regional, powers be? What is the most likely role for the EU, for the UN, for NATO, what part will we play and how will we influence their direction of travel? And w(h)ither our relationship with the US? Perhaps this was just too rushed; perhaps, since it is the first attempt at such a strategy, it is only a starting point; perhaps there is another, classified document addressing such questions. But perhaps it is also something of a missed opportunity....

I suspect that Pitt the Younger, one of William Hague's great heroes from history, had a clearer idea of the country's strategic direction when he came to power (and I am not referring to the period of the Napoleonic wars, but before those conflicts started); having carefully read this National Security Strategy I am unsure where the Government intends Britain to head, or how it envisages us reaching this undefined Nirvana.

 
 

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