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A Defence Policy for Great Britain

Posted by Richard Thursday, August 25, 2005

From time to time, some of our readers have laid the charge of "negativity" at our door, always attacking but never coming up with any ideas of our own. While we would not agree with that charge - having offered many positive suggestions in the past, we nevertheless accept that there is room for some more structured offerings. Therefore, as an occasional series, we are offering some specific options for various policy issues, starting with this one, on defence.

Traditionally, defence policy is predicated on the preservation of the territorial integrity of the nation and its possessions against actual or potential invaders. However, with the end of the Cold War, there is no significant threat of invasion, against which major forces need to be earmarked, nor is there any likelihood of any such threat materialising in the short to medium-term.

Instead, we are faced with the more diffuse, so-called "asymmetric" threats, including failed and "rogue" states, and state sponsored terrorism. Those threats, and long-term humanitarian crises, fuel global instability and create conditions where domestic security is threatened directly by terrorism.

However, the diffuse nature of the threats requires a global reach which is beyond the capacity of the United Kingdom, and requires a flexibility of response that we are not always able to provide. We are no longer a world power and are neither willing, nor able economically to take on the role of "world policeman".

We have, therefore, found it more advantageous to work with allies in coalitions, either bi- or multilaterally, or through organisations such as the United Nations, Nato and the European Union, affording ourselves only a very limited capability to act entirely independently.

It makes sense to continue to work within the framework of coalitions and therefore to construct defence policy on the basis of equipping ourselves to work with our allies.

Naturally, those will tend to be those with whom we have a shared "world view" – or at least the greatest degree of commonality. To this extent, there are developing divergent views, stratifying largely between that of the Europeans and the United States and her many allies.

In the past, we have sought a "bridging role" between Europe and the United States, while maintaining good relations with Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand, India and others. However, it is undeniable that a polarisation of views is developing to such an extent that it is no longer possible to keep a foot in both camps, and a strategic choice will have to be made between one or the other.

At the moment, the choice is being made by default, through gradual doctrinal and technical harmonisation with our European Union partners, based on focusing our actions through the deployment of the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF), outside the Nato framework. We believe that this is not in the national interest. The main force for global stability, through the promotion of democratic self-government, is the United States, acting either in coalition with willing partners or with Nato.

Therefore, we believe that, since a choice has to be made, our defence efforts and the emphasis on structuring our armed forces should be on developing our ability to work effectively in concert with the United States and her allies. This should be the focus of our procurement policy and the doctrinal development of our forces.

However, as part of a community of nations with the shared interest of maintaining peace and prosperity, safeguarding the lives of those individuals who are less fortunate than ourselves, protecting the weak and the innocent, we accept the European nations have a valuable and necessary role in helping to maintain global stability.

To that effect, we will use our influence to encourage European nations to abandon attempts to develop an autonomous European Union military capability, and channel efforts through Nato in accordance with the Washington Summit Agreement of 1999, supporting the Strategic Concept and the Defence Capabilities Initiative. In particular, we would see Nato as the primary mechanism for securing doctrinal and technical interoperability, without which coalition forces – whatever their composition – cannot be truly effective.

Inexorably linked to the execution of any defence policy is the nature of our Defence Industry policy, and our ability to share technology with our allies, and to benefit from technological developments, especially those of the United States – some of which are delivered by British-owned companies. In this context, we cannot expect free sharing as long as our home-based industries and our government is working with other governments and industry partners which are major suppliers to strategic rivals and potential enemies of the United States.

Therefore, we intend to refocus our industry and government partnerships, and our own arms sales policies, to mesh with our own strategic allies, to prevent the leakage of technology into potentially hostile hands.

We also intend to refocus our procurement policies and abandon the de facto "Europe first" policy, aiming to purchase equipment from sources which offer true value for money and which guarantee interoperability with our main allies. Further, we do not intend to pursue the line of favouring domestic programmes where it is not in our economic interests to do so, but will seek partnerships with like-minded nations, or offset deals where appropriate.

This notwithstanding, we accept a need to maintain security of supply, either by holding sufficient stocks of essential materials or, where more appropriate, maintaining a domestic manufacturing base, the combination sufficient to permit independent operations, should the national interest require.

In terms of the main component of our forces – the personnel – we are concerned to see that the recruitment of high quality men and women continues and that establishment numbers are maintained. Here, we do not see that this can be achieved if the military is treated as a body separate and distinct from the rest of society.

Not only this, in order properly to do their jobs and to reflect the values of our society, soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen and women must be valued, respected members of our broader society and have close connections with it. To that effect, would rebuild the relationship between schools and the military, reintroducing combined cadet forces into schools, with good links also with universities and industry. To the same effect, we would rebuild the Territorial Army, and Reserve Units of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and The Royal Marines.

Overall, we recognise that the military is currently undergoing a major restructuring with the adoption of what is known as a "Network Enabled Capability" (NEC) which amounts to a revolution in military operations.

We support this transformation but do not believe it wise to expend considerable sums to achieve a unique British capability when it would be more economical to work closely with our US ally to produce a common system.

Nevertheless, we believe also that we must retain the skills for which British forces are so highly regarded, and support the traditional structures, such as the local Regiments, which give them their strength and continuity. The pursuit of technology is not incompatible with the maintenance of the finest traditions of our Armed Forces and should not be seen as a replacement.

Furthermore, while the adoption of NEC is necessary to enable "rapid reaction" expeditionary forces, and particularly the development of highly sophisticated, medium armoured forces, we do not believe this should be at cost of sacrificing our heavy armour capability, which we believe still has and will continue to have a central role in the British Army.

As regards the Royal Navy, we believe it should still be the service that maintains our nuclear deterrent through its fleet of missile submarines. These, we believe, should be renewed to maintain a credible deterrent against "rogue" states which might acquire or have acquired nuclear weapons and be tempted to use them.

For the rest of the fleet, we believe that it should progressively be reconfigured to support expeditionary warfare, with the focus on ships to support amphibious actions, including at least three fully-capable carrier vessels. The Royal Marines should form a central part of this capability. Not least, this gives the United Kingdom the ability to mount rapid and effective humanitarian and relief operations and our capability should be configured to provide for these tasks. We should, however, also maintain a strong force to protect our trade routes.

For the Royal Air Force, this should be also be configured to support expeditionary warfare, reducing the air defence component to the minimum. It should be focused primarily on providing a strategic airlift and effective tactical ground support/strike, with a strong reconnaissance capability, including space assets and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Beyond this, we need to consider to what extent the UK is prepared to join in coalition missions and what capabilities we are willing to afford. Clearly, the defence budget must be limited but in the post-Cold War world, limits are set by our willingness to pay more than they are by our capability.

Yet, in the public arena, those limits have never really been discussed. Therefore, for the longer term, we need to open a public debate on the shape and size of our armed forces so that government policy can better reflect the wishes of the people. In particular, we must also decide for the future whether we want or need to retain a full range of capabilities or whether the national interest would be better served by limiting ourselves to certain specialist functions, deployed in concert with our allies.

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