In our months long romp through the SDSR the readers and authors at Think Defence have covered a lot of ground and as we enter the final build up phase, maybe we should go back to the beginning and re-examine aspects of strategy that should inform the outcome.
Before I wade in I would like to simply say thank you to all the readers of Think Defence and those that have also commented. The comments have been supremely well informed, very well mannered and have added massive value to the site. Of all the defence blogs out there I haven’t seen any that can manage regularly over 50 comments and in a few posts, over 100, bloody smashing!
One of the accusations levelled at this blog is the lack of posts about the strategic environment and a concentration on equipment issues. Whilst it is true that equipment and tactics should never drive strategy it is equally true that in the real world it does, who can say Typhoon, COIN or CVF have not been dictating the headlines?
The battle between the COIN and Maritime approach has been at the core of headlines and discussion about the SDSR, whether from august institutions like Chatham House and RUSI or less august environs like the blogosphere. If we dig even further it is obvious that the bitter and frankly shameful inter service politics, revolves not around strategy or even tactics, but equipment.
Probably the most illustrative aspect of this reality is CVF, the amount of letters to the editor, blog posts, comments, papers, conferences, interventions from ministers, energy and hopes expended on a mere piece of equipment tells me that there is no strategy, except the preservation of prestige and shiny new toys.
Once more we are letting equipment, industrial and political issues drive the strategic agenda, when will we ever learn?
Instead of seeing constant headlines about the dire impact of not proceeding with CVF it would have been nice if there was more discussion on the strategy that might ultimately derive the need for such a piece of equipment.
Don’t think I am picking on CVF because there are other equipments in the same frame but no doubt, CVF has taken on a mystic aura for detractors and supporters alike.
The SDSR will hopefully deliver a vision based on a foreign policy strategy but given the new Foreign Minister has been practically invisible except for fighting off scandal maybe it was too much to hope for. I hope for more, but expect the SDSR to be a series of vested interests being protected whilst the notion of a balanced capability is consigned to the round filing cabinet and salami slicing will occur left, right and centre.
Expect a fudge.
The nature and scale of the leaking and lobbying tells me three things
1. The service chiefs care more for their service than their country
2. There has been inadequate political control of the agenda
3. The Treasury has managed to divide and conquer, as ever
It is quite depressing really.
Back to strategy
One often hears talk about Great Britain’s place in the world, punching above our weight or maintenance of parity with others as if this is somehow actually means anything. It doesn’t and is simply a fig leaf for a complete lack of long term strategic thinking about single most important thing there is, the nations interest.
What is the nation’s interest?
In all matters to do with security and defence we must constantly ask, is this in the nation’s interest because if it isn’t, quite frankly we shouldn’t be doing it.
We must also be fully aware that without money and the will to execute, strategy is nothing more than daydreaming.
Therefore, any defence and security related strategy must have a simple straight line relationship to either a clearly defined national interest and/or the economic prosperity of the nation. Surrounding this straight line relationship between security and prosperity should also be a degree of crystal ball gazing, what the future may bring.
Are we really engaged in anything strategic in the absence of a credible vision of the national interest or is the SDSR going to be a short term exercise in budget cutting, specifically avoiding making any of those much vaunted tough choices and substituting genuine vision for babbling about cyber-warfare.