SDSR 2015 – Impacts, Threats and Critical Assets


I love fantasy fleets as much as the next blogger but I think it’s time we started thinking about the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2015. No Government can bind its successor but the general principle of a defence and security review every 5 years seems to enjoy cross party support so it is a fair assumption that there will be one in 2015 and the MoD, select committees and others have already started work on it.

In fact, the Defence select Committee has started taking evidence for its ‘Towards the Next Defence and Security review’

They are looking at the following issues;

  • the strategic balance between deterrence, containment, intervention and influence
  • the utility of force
  • the legitimacy of force, including the political/military interface, and the changing legal environment
  • lessons learned from current and recent operations
  • the relationship between hard and soft power in terms of influence.

Follow their evidence, deliberations and output here

Looking back at the 1998 SDSR, the New Chapter in 2002 and the SDSR in 2010, to varying degrees they look at the concept of risk as the foundation for subsequent decision making on defence planning assumptions, force composition and equipment programmes.

Each successive review matured the risk based approach as the wider risk management industry so matured and this thinking was infused across the security sector.

The 2010 National Risk Strategy produced a set of priorities based on a combination of the impact and likelihood of the risk being realised. The top priorities were international terrorism affecting the UK, hostile attacks upon UK cyber space by other states and large scale cyber-crime, a major accident or natural hazard which requires a national response, such as severe coastal flooding affecting three or more regions of the UK, or an inluenza pandemic  and finally, an international military crisis between states, drawing in the UK, and its allies as well as other states and non-state actors.

When I looked at this I thought they might be seen priorities but the simple combination of threat and likelihood did not look right.

International terrorism for example, should we be more realistic about its impact?

Even what we might consider a ‘spectacular’ would only impact a tiny proportion of the population and economic activity of the United Kingdom, unless of course it was a dirty bomb in the middle of the City of London (for example) but the documents did not make these distinctions so terrorism in all its forms becomes numero uno.

What was missing was a degree of granularity about the threat and a consistent measure of how impact was defined.

Also notably absent was energy security, food and bio diversity, flooding and severe weather. These might only have a tangential association with ‘defence and security’ and they were covered as a threat to supply (in the case of energy) but that stovepiped approach to risk needs to change, energy security is arguably more important than terrorism but where in the supposedly joined up approach to defence and security planning in a wider context did we find a discussion about policing, intelligence, organised crime, energy co-dependence or investment in shale?

Conventional resilience planning looks quantifies impacts first then combines that with risk and out pops a resultant strategy.  It works wells but it entirely defensive or passive in its outlook;

things will be done unto us so this is how we protect ourselves

This passive posture is also a significant omission in the National Risk Strategy, defence, funnily enough, does not just defend!

Defence and security capability has the potential to exploit opportunities and enhance the lot of this fair isle, where was the added value of the armed forces in the SDSR or the value of the defence industry?

Sadly, absent.

Finally, when we might look at threats and vulnerabilities, to what exactly?

Critical activities, critical assets and national outputs were not defined.

Are the people of the UK a critical asset, what about industry, the environment and the economy? This is the kind of going back to first principles that a truly effective, holistic and sustainable security review would include.

It is what a joined up government would do.

Anyway, back to Think Defence.

If you recall, a few months I floated the idea of creating a crowd sourced collaborative SDSR 2015 going from first principles.

This is the start point.

You will notice a new menu item; this is where over the next several months I am going to build a Think Defence SDSR. The one big flaw is of course this will be open source but it is designed to be a catalyst for discussion more than anything else.

Before we get to ORBAT’s, equipment and who gets what shiny new toy I want to go back to the point of this post, start right at the beginning are explore the following

  • National Critical Assets and Activities
  • Threats and Impacts
  • Opportunities

First, if we are protecting something, what is something?

Define National Critical Assets, Activities and Outputs

Over to you….

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