A Decade Ago and Again in 2020 DefenceSynergia Proposed An Examination of United Kingdom Future Grand Strategy
For 10 years DefenceSynergia (DS) has advocated that the UK Government articulate a National Grand Strategy. Despite many asking for strategic clarity the Government has obfuscated, offering all manner of policy, plans and political direction as strategy. The term ‘Global Britain’ is a buzz phrase not a strategy. It is ‘all things to all men’ and provides no meaningful guidance.
Now General The Lord Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), has made his views on the subject public in an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph published on 11 June 2022. DS heartily concurs.
Recent HMG and Ministry of Defence (MOD) announcements indicate that the UK has refocused its Strategic thinking towards the Far East whilst maintaining national commitments to NATO facing the main threat from Russia. The threat that China presents to UK and allied national interests worldwide has been recognised with the formation of the Australian, United Kingdom and United States alliance (AUKUS).
The revanchism of Russia is clear as is the danger of a Chinese-Russian alliance. Tensions in the South China Sea and the Chinese build-up on land, at sea, in the air, in space and cyber environments is extant at the same time that Putin freely admits that his aims in Europe are to re-establish a greater Russian Empire. These dual hegemonic policies challenge the international rules-based order and borders requiring a full and proper reappraisal of Russian and Chinese intentions. This in turn, as Lord Richards alludes, requires a rather urgent reappraisal of the UK’s Strategic posture – in NATO and beyond. A dual hemispheric focus.
From before the much-admired 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR98), successive governments have resisted articulating a Grand Strategy for the UK. Despite the formation of the National Security Council (NSC) by the 2010 Coalition Government, successive Prime Ministers and cabinets have preferred to obfuscate and confuse policy and plans as strategy.
The result has been non-cohesive manpower and equipment plans.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has defined for the NSC the clear threat to UK and its NATO and EU allies. Finland and Sweden, despite objections from Turkiye and years of neutrality, have requested urgent leave to join NATO. The Atlantic Council nations (this does not include Turkiye) have seen the threat and are ready to fast-track NATO enlargement in the Baltic region. At the same time the Far East is more a focus for the USA, Japan, India, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and now UK. The FPDA, QUAD and AUKUS providing political, diplomatic and military focus for the nations involved.
But as Lord Richards has explained in his Telegraph article, posing a Strategy presents intellectual and fiduciary challenges. In simple terms the policy opens the question of the ends, ways and means to achieve the strategic aims and goals desired. A National Grand Strategy will, almost certainly, require cross-political agreement if it is to be future-proofed against becoming yet another political football which will prevent it being meaningful, credible and achievable.
As DS has written in the past, for the UK to be taken seriously a Dual Hemisphere Strategic Policy requires credible and cohesive diplomatic and armed forces. This should consist of an aircraft carrier group supported by surface and sub-surface escorts and embarked RAF and Army air assets and personnel. However, without a major increase in Defence Funding to provide for two operational carrier groups – East and West of Suez – the UK’s NATO commitment will be mainly restricted to the Land and Air elements described in the Integrated Review.
DS agrees with Lord Richards, that the UK has not articulated its Grand Strategy preferring to rely upon policy documents, departmental and political plans to guide ministers. The time has come for the Government to clearly state National aims and goals and fund and agree the ends, ways and means to achieve the Strategy that underpins the term ‘Global Britain’.
The two recognised major protagonists for the foreseeable future are Russia and China.
Facing Russia is NATO and China is the QUAD, AUKUS and FPDA. Should this loose diplomatic and military group of alliances be replaced by a revived SEATO with its own version of Article 5?
However, without additional UK Defence spending (the ends, ways and means) it is difficult to see how this country can assist in the Far East unless a Strategic declaration of intent to operate East and West of Suez concurrently is made and factored in to an NSC declared and politically agreed Strategy which is properly funded.