Part 2 – A post about what future threats we might face
At the heart of any defence and security review must be some analysis of the future.
Of course, if anyone can predict the future then I would ask them for next week’s lottery numbers. A flippant point perhaps, but it is important to realise that the world is and will be unpredictable.
If we are to maintain security and promote our interests in this unpredictable world then almost by definition we have to have a flexible capability that can meet any combination of futures.
However, and this is the rub, that wide ranging flexible capability requires a degree of funding that in the absence of a serious near home large scale threat is simply not acceptable to society. We might see crowds lining the streets of Wootton Bassett or buying Help4Heroes wrist bands but come the crunch, the nation would rather spend its wealth on other things.
The conventional wisdom is to decide what we want from the armed forces and then fund appropriately but this approach whilst eminently sensible is simply never going to work in a world of competing budgetary pressures.
The alternative approach is to decide a budget and do the best we can.
How can you square the circle of a limited budget and an unpredictable future?
This is a multi stage process
Step 1 – Accept that you cannot have it all
Step 2 – Try and make sensible predictions about likely futures
Step 3 – Bet what family silver you have on these likely futures whilst hedging as much as possible against the unlikely but still possible
The future is made of the same stuff as the present – Simone Weil
The nature of human conflict is the same as ever, competition for resources, disagreements on politics or religion or conflicts of economics. The context within which conflict operates changes but its fundamental nature remains the same, one party imposing its will on another.
It is easy for commentators and authors to say what type of enemy we might face based on what has gone before but the future, as has been, proven by history, cannot be fully predicted.
History is also a fickle teacher, drawing lessons from the past does not always provide a reliable indicator of the future.
Post cold war, the reality is varied and frequent actions across a wide geographic spectrum against an assortment of adversaries, none of which are likely to be able to conventionally match us.
These actions can include major combat such as the Falklands conflict or the first Gulf war; counter terrorist operations, peace keeping, humanitarian relief and support to the civilian authority.
Defence policy assumes that we can meet most opponents abroad and do much of the fighting away from the UK.
Only a fool would put all our eggs into one basket and organise totally for one type of threat, it is not a sensible option.. The future is uncertain, who could have predicted 9/11 and its security implications.
How will our forces be used in the future, what missions will they be expected to carry out and where in the world will they need to operate?
These questions dominate defence planning and the political aspect that informs these deliberations.
As I have already stated, one cannot fully predict the future but a reasonable description of likely trends, events and conditions can be made;
Competition for finite resources such as water, fuel, metals and minerals will likely increase, creating a source of conflict
Globalisation, climate change (regardless of cause) and increasing economic inequality will create risks that may need to be addressed by the application of military capability, not necessarily violent force
Urbanisation of the world population will continue but conflict may be prevalent in all terrains
Ethnicity and religion will continue to be a source of conflict. Expansionist and increasingly CBRN capable nations may represent a significant threat to our security via direct use, proliferation and sponsored use of these weapons
Islamic fundamentalism is likely to present significant and overriding challenges in the short and medium term
Information technologies will continue to be a source of both benefit and detrimental effect. Dependence on technology will increase
Exploration, exploitation and dependence, therefore potential for conflict, will increase in so called common spaces; the oceans, the poles, space and cyberspace
The rise of citizen journalism, single issue pressure groups, easy access to image/internet/video technologies and increasingly diminished news cycles will create challenges for all military forces
The threat to UK territory from other sovereign nations is diminished in comparison with earlier periods. It can be reasonably argued that interstate conflict is less likely in the context of increasing globalisation and the homogenisation of nations..
UK forces will be increasingly unlikely to be deployed unilaterally except for the smallest operations. Our historic allegiance and loyalty to the USA and NATO is likely to continue but increasing demands from the EU will also form inform our planning and operational outputs
Conflicts may not include solely military participants but paramilitaries, terrorists, private contractors or just ‘angry civilians’
The UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council which places certain obligations on us
The people of the world will increasingly look to the developed nations to ‘do something’ in areas of conflict or to relieve suffering, this may translate into increasing demands for non violent interventions because military forces are trained, capable of rapid and uniform action with a range of applicable skill sets and capabilities
A number of previously less capable military powers are in an economic or political ascendancy and building their forces, for example China, Venezuela, Brazil, India and Iran
Perception about what are acceptable casualty levels, civilian involvement and even what weapons are ‘fair and humane’ will continue to pose challenges for Western forces when potential enemies are likely to have less concern for these issues.
UK forces will likely operate with a wide range of other nations military and non military ‘actors’ to coin a new phrase.
A full range of weapons, ranging from small arms to advanced fighters will continue to proliferate as both the ability to finance purchases and system development will be prevalent in many nations.
Afghanistan and its environs cannot be ignored in any strategy
These factors point to a turbulent future but as a nation we have serious monetary and social issues that have an equal pull on the public purse.
The next post in this series will examine our place in the world, ambitions and a response to these threats that will inform the reshaping of our armed forces.