Whither the United Kingdom’s Security and Defence?

A Question for all Laymen

Introduction

Presently, it is difficult to see how best the United Kingdom’s security and defence assets should be deployed. Their budget is constrained by the demands of Covid19 and those from other government departments. Significant savings from within the Ministry of Defence’s budget can only be made if operational effectiveness is reduced significantly. Current equipment and manpower levels cannot be maintained without an increase in planned funding.

Threats that demand facing up to are becoming increasingly aggressive. Certainty within the United Kingdom’s allied groupings cannot be relied on. Most importantly, there is no declared national strategy over global matters and defined by the government, to direct any coherent “Security and Defence Review”. Defence Synergia proposes measures to alleviate this situation.

External Threats to the United Kingdom

Putting to one side the Covid19 crisis and possible structural changes within the United Kingdom, it is clear that China is establishing/has established herself as a dictatorship which is determined to dominate the world’s economic and political arrangements. Russia too, though far weaker economically, maintains a posture that seeks to extend her control over western democracies and other states. Emphasising these is not to neglect the other threats that emanate mainly in the Middle East.

The United Kingdom’s Security and Defence Responsibilities

Currently, the United Kingdom is a member of the United Nations Security Council and a number of democratic alliances that seek to maintain international peace and harmony. These bring with them important responsibilities to provide diplomatic, political, security and defence assets worldwide. Additionally, our Overseas Territories demand unilateral security and defence measures.

The judgement to be made by the central government is just how important, in the overall policy of political intent, diplomatic activity and provision for other great departments of state, is the funding to ensure the defence and security of the United Kingdom.

Defence Synergia believes that, over the course of some decades, successive governments have focussed on a percentage of GDP to determine the importance of security and defence rather than developing a practical “Grand Strategy” in international relations terms and, thus, the ability to derive a security and defence strategy from which a balanced operational capability can be established and properly funded. A further complicating factor has been to allow inter-service rivalry and competition for resources to determine deployment of the defence budget; this has led to a fractured Order of Battle that does not properly fit integration with allies thus weakening the deterrent to the variety of threats.

One insidious aspect of defence budgeting is it’s annuality; this provides ample scope for uncertainty over the progress in equipment programmes and the manpower to match them. The Chief of the Defence Staff has been particularly cerebral over this and its ramifications to require no further amplification here.

Methodology

Once a Grand Strategy is in place it will be more straightforward to derive the shape and size of our armed forces in order to fit the various responsibilities deriving from it. At the top level, is the United Kingdom a maritime or a continental state? Whilst there will be land and air assets vital to either definition, Defence Synergia believes that “maritime” best answers the question since the safeguarding of trade, supporting our alliances and defending Overseas Territories require significant maritime resources.

If that is accepted, then the Defence Equipment Plan and associated costings should be reviewed and reshaped to fit an operational capability that supports the Grand Strategy and Security and Defence Strategy. We understand that this will require considerable negotiation both with allies and internally but such exchanges should be made quite free from Treasury domination and inter service rivalry remembering and accepting, fully, that the “Security and Defence of the Realm” is the first priority of the government.

How to Extricate the Government From This Dilemma

In carrying out such a review there will be many moments when priorities will be seen differently by the players involved. Given the national importance of getting our security and defence posture right, it would seem inadequate to limit the review to participants within the Ministry of Defence. Given the complexity of the issues we believe that there is a case for such a review to be considered by a commission of some sort. A Royal Commission is, more often than not, ponderous and would be controversial since such proceedings can take a long time and be open to post report “mauling” in Parliament. On the other hand a Parliamentary Commission might be much more nimble and its outcome difficult to refute by the government; Defence Synergia recommends such an approach.

The Order of Battle

It will be no good to start by looking at the current equipment and manpower assets in order to assess what might be done to relieve constraints within a capped percentage of Gross Domestic Product. Defence Synergia believes that a thorough consideration of the United Kingdom’s place and responsibilities in the world must be the starting point in the shape of a defined “Grand Strategy”. By way of a “starter for ten”, we believe that membership of the alliances, mentioned above, should not be discarded or diminished but, the United Kingdom’s role within them be clearly defined and mutually agreed after rigorous analysis. From the responsibilities that those agreements determine, it must be possible to derive the necessary hardware and software contributions to fulfil our commitments. We might describe this as our “Order of Battle”.

We will almost certainly find that this “Order of Battle” is not matched by our current equipment and manpower assets. At that point, a programme must be put in place to bridge the gap and to implement it in the most ruthless way regardless of individual service sensibilities. It will probably turn out that the changes to be made can only be achieved over some time so, in that case, risks must be accepted and mitigations made.

Some Considerations

In very general terms, an aspect of developing a “Grand Strategy” is whether we consider ourselves, or believe that we should be, a continental or a maritime power.

Given that we will be working within alliances, consideration must be given to that which others will be able to” bring to the party”. It is clear that the major contributor has been the United States of America and that some others have not felt able to contribute their agreed share. Significant effort must be made to clarify the commitment of each contribution. Trust might then be better established.

Given that the threat to free trade by China is existential and pervasive, is this not the time to take a greater role in the Far East through the Five Eyes agreement et al?

In the context of the current “world order”, are our severely reduced armed forces now correctly and efficiently structured to provide a better-integrated set of joint forces?

Conclusion

The United Kingdom’s Integrated Security and Defence Review should focus on providing a full security and defence operational capability that matches her international responsibilities. The review should take this as its “term of reference” and eschew inter-service pretentions and, whilst keeping a sensible eye on budgetary considerations, remain independent of Treasury criteria in the first instance. A Parliamentary Commission is the best vehicle to conduct the Review.