More from the IPPR report
12. A full review of the UK’s defence requirements is needed urgently, but this review should form an integral part of a wider Strategic Review of Security. It should not be a Strategic Defence Review conducted in isolation from the rest of government thinking on national security risks and responses. The defence component of this wider review should focus on increased capability specialisation; capabilities required to handle risks that are specific to the UK; a reduced commitment to the full spectrum of conventional war fighting capability; an emphasis on post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction capabilities; and a new approach to the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident
This makes a lot of sense, combining defence in with a wider review of strategic security issues is an obvious ‘good idea’ although the recommendation makes the assumption that we need to reduce commitment to the full spectrum of war fighting capability and concentrate on stabilisation and reconstruction capabilities. This alone is worthy of a prolonged debate, do we maintain a balanced capability able to flex up to full war or down to a low intensity operation or move the force balance away from capabilities to meet the challenge of interstate war.
13. The future defence investment programme should pursue greater UK defence capability specialisation within the context of a deepening of European defence integration and the wider NATO alliance of which we are apart. We need a focus on command and control assets, tactical ground-air support, heavy lift aircraft, cyber warfare capability, and special-forces. We also need to emphasise high quality Service personnel training and an increase in overall service numbers.
I absolutely refute the recommendation that the UK should deepen European defence integration. Given the recent farcical EU mission to Dharfur and ongoing ‘commitment issues’ in Afghanistan our EU partners are simply too unreliable and any further integration would be beset with the same old national priorities and self interest that are the current realities. Whilst one should be under no illusions about our position in the transatlantic ‘special relationship’ we must recognise that the US, NATO and even the Commonwealth represent the future of our security. The EU is simply unable to commit to any operation where there is any serious opposition and we need to be realistic. The selection of capabilities that we need to concentrate on also seem rather ill thought through and arbitrary, lacking any real insight or recognition of where our EU partners might take up the slack in the areas we neglect. The desire to concentrate on high quality training and an increase in overall numbers is sensible.
14. The Government should give high priority to the capabilities required to deal with a range of UK-specific security challenges. These might include major civil contingencies, major terrorist incidents on UK territory, small scale risks to UK communities living abroad, and some elements of maritime security.
The MoD and government have in recent years developing a strategy and doctrine for civil resilience that explicitly excludes the military in all but the most extreme cases, see JDP2-02 for further reading and the civil defence sector, primarily local authorities and emergency services, have made significant headway under the guidance of the civil contingencies secretariat and Civil Contingencies Act.
That said, the military brings a range of unique capabilities that can contribute significantly to the response phase of a major civil or security incident and the recent summer flooding demonstrated that these organisations and operators of the critical national infrastructure still require military resources in times of extremes.
Is it a reasonable expectation for a nation to draw on these capabilities during times of significant distress?
It is definitely worth looking at how the military can contribute more to an integrated civil response capability, resources permitting.
15. The Government should thoroughly re-examine, as part of a Strategic Review of Security, its projected defence equipment requirements. This re-examination should explore all viable options for capability downgrading and quantity reductions, as well as for complete cancellation of some equipment programmes. For illustrative rather than comprehensive purposes, we suggest that programmes such as the Future Carrier, the Joint Strike Fighter, and purchases of Type 45 Destroyers and of Astute class submarines should be in the frame.
No programme or capability should be off limits in any review but the recommendation here is to trade off so called high end assets in favour of the unconventional capabilities discussed elsewhere, for example special-forces or close air support. Although only mentioned for illustrative purposes those in the frame would seem to centre on the maritime domain, these would not be easy choices. Without, for example, the Type 45 destroyers, any amphibious or maritime task group would be completely vulnerable to air and missile attack.
16. The UK should create a Stabilisation and Reconstruction Force, only the headquarters of which should be a permanent standing element. This would be a joint civilian-military force, partly staffed from a trained civilian reserve, capable of being deployed in to still dangerous post-conflict environments at short notice.
I like this idea, it makes a lot of sense but issues of force protection and integration of civilian and military capabilities, aims and objectives would need to be carefully managed. The current three way tug of war between the MoD, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK Aid (DfID) creates neither economies of scale or effectiveness of application.
The woeful UK Aid should be disbanded and primacy once again given to the FCO, wielding the capabilities of defence and aid with a single purpose, the advancement of UK security and interests.
17. The future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent should be considered as an integral part of the recommended Strategic Review of Security. This should consider:
Whether, as the Commission believes is the case, a minimum UK deterrent is still needed
The best and most cost-effective way to provide it, including consideration of whether we should replace the Trident system, as is currently planned, seek to extend the life of the current system further or decide that some other system for providing Britain’s deterrent in a nuclear armed world would be better suited to the strategic circumstances in which we then find ourselves. The opportunity costs of maintaining our deterrent, in all its possible forms, for other sectors of the UK defence and security budget. This must take into account the costs that would be involved in decommissioning Trident and its facilities.
I also believe the UK nuclear capability is intimately tied into our security and status as a nation and in these matters perception IS reality. We must not be perceived, in the growing uncertainty and proliferation in the next 50 years, as going weak on our ultimate means of security. There may be more economic means of wielding the system but whatever means chosen, it must be credible, effective, instantly deployable and survivable. These factors point to a submarine launched system, i.e. Trident or its replacement.
18. In order to maintain the option of refreshing the current system as part of the Strategic Review of Security, the UK should continue with the crucial ongoing preparatory work on the concept, design and assessment phases of the Trident refresh.
19. To provide maximum additional flexibility in our position, the UK should also now recommence detailed exploratory work on the costs and viability of a further run-on, beyond 2024, of the existing Vanguard submarine hulls, so that the Strategic Review of Security, should it conclude that Trident is the appropriate way to go, can also consider this option if desired.
20. Finally, before any further decision of substance is taken on this matter, Parliament must have a further opportunity to vote