Strategic Review, Defence Command Paper et al – a reflection, a curate’s egg but which side came out top?

As the dust settles on the documents issued about defence in March now is the time to reflect in the hope that they will not be forgotten.

DefenceSynergia, a defence think tank, has called for a strategic look at the UK’s position in the world for many years and is pleased that at last government has published such a document – the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. This outlines how the government views policy, puts down markers and expresses many aspirations for the future.  What it does not say is how this is all to be achieved – that is left to the Defence Command Paper which was issued a week later.

The Integrated Review calls for UK to have influence globally, but it does not provide the budget, manpower or equipment necessary or offer a coherent plan to achieve this unfunded aspiration.

Then the Defence Command Paper undoes much of the effort put into the Integrated Review.  It talks about resourcing, however, it is at this point that the windows blew open and reality got blown out.

In summary one of the really major contradictions is that you cannot have the same people in two places at once except in films – instant teleporting has not yet been developed.  You might for example have fewer people to man equipment on the new carriers, but the vessel itself cannot be in the South Atlantic and the South China Sea at the same time.

The paper fails to identify how support will be provided to the prime assets e.g. escort ships for the Carrier, the transport aircraft to move land forces to their area of operations or the support for forward deployment of combat aircraft.

The Defence Command Paper offers copious words about cyber, which DefenceSynergia fully supports, but the paper also suggests that this technology is a replacement not an addition. It also envisages considerable expenditure on autonomous systems, a laudable inclusion, but this is fully dependent on funding and the technology reaching operational maturity. In the interim, the current/old systems cannot be removed until the new have been brought into service, yet the paper appears to envisage that happening.

Also referenced in amongst the documents are the Naval and Air Industrial Strategies which both give some context to industry on how the future may develop.  Notably absent is a Land Industrial Strategy which DefenceSynergia calls on the government to issue in the very near future on the grounds of transparency, proper governance and operational effectiveness.

If this was a school report the collection of documents could be described as a “curate’s egg” but sadly on this occasion too more bad than good. The government may feel it made a massive cash injection last December, but it was just enough to fund the current long-standing shortfall.

If the UK really wishes to play its part in global diplomacy it needs to learn from history and take a leaf out of the ‘Chinese manual’ of diplomacy and respond in kind!  We have to invest in people who can compete in the grey area of conflict, we have to develop strong relationships and provide support and help for countries in the Commonwealth and other allies who are threatened.