Britain’s future strategic direction #1 – RUSI and the Defence of the Realm.

It is not news to anybody that Britain’s Armed Forces are about to enter a crisis, with decades of underfunding, followed by a decade of improperly funded wars, followed by the recession led Defence cuts, the result of which is to prompt a Defence Review in the near future.

Of all the analysis on Britain’s Future Defence Review (FDR) conducted by the IPPR, Think Defence, The Kings of War, Richard Norths blog-spot and The Times series on FDR, it is the RUSI series that ask the most incisive questions in my opinion, and this post in particular draws upon the second report: A Force For Honour in order to ask that most basic of questions from which all else follows; what place in the world does Britain wish to hold in the 21st century?

This debate is in danger of being undermined by the facts-on-the-ground, i.e. we are stuck in Afghanistan with a Defence cut looming and our brave boys are dying, all possible efforts should be marshalled there and anything else is of secondary importance. This is a dangerous road to take because it is not looking to Britain’s long-term strategic interest, and so do I choose to throw my two-pence in…….

It is a well known military lexicon that an army can be “all teeth but no tail”, but while the UK is capable is fighting and winning wars in far away places it is not capable of doing so whilst trying to maintain its multitude of capabilities under current funding constraints. Put simply; the protracted conflict in Afghanistan, at the far ends of the earth, is a tumour that is sucking the life from all branches of the Armed Forces.

Since the end of the Cold War Defence spending has fallen from 3.5% of GDP to its current level of ~2.2% of GDP,  a fact compounded by Defence inflation double the nominal rate. In 1998 the Government commissioned the Strategic Defence Review which stated that Britain was to maintain its ability to conduct theatre level military operations out-of-area, sustained & high-intensity ground operations, the strategic deterrent, as well as build up the capability for rapid reaction assault forces.  However, at the time the SDR 98 document was commissioned Defence spending operated at ~2.7% of GDP, a level that could sustain the two military functions in tandem. Now, Defence spending is at 2.2% during a period of war which has lasted nearly a decade.

In short, we cannot achieve the SDR, and if we continue to pretend we can then we put at risk our ability to achieve any of the  core military capabilities listed above, and in recognition of the UK’s inability to achieve the SDR under current funding levels RUSI commissioned a report to ask two questions:

1. Is it still desirable and appropriate for the UK to wish to act as a Great Power?

2. If it is desirable to remain a Great Power, how can this be achieved?

Question #1 was satisfactorily answered with the following motives:

a) Thucydides wisdom – all nations seek power for reasons of fear, interest and honour

b) The Strategic Bargain – where we work with partners to ensure collective security

c) National Obligations – Uninterrupted access to economic recourse & Defence of the Realm

d) Military Aid to Civilian Authorities – a resource to resort to in times of natural disaster

Question #2 looked at the various options that can be taken in light of the failure of the SDR vision, and in recognition of the current financial situation which makes the SDR an unachievable dream.

a) The Global Guardian Doctrine – i.e. we maintain our ability to mount large scale theatre level operations out-of-area, examples of which would be Desert Storm and Afghanistan, including protracted COIN operations.

This is a Great Power Status

It meets motives a, b, part of c and d.

b) The Strategic Raiding Doctrine – i.e. we maintain our ability to mount medium scale assaults via amphibious/naval capability in conjunction with rapid-reaction/expeditionary forces, examples of which would be the Falklands Conflict and Sierra Leone.

This is a Great Power Status

It meets motives a, b, c, and d.

c) The Contributory Doctrine – i.e. we would lose any possibility for national autonomy for intervention operations, as we would be dependent on other nations for the capabilities that had been surrendered, but we would concentrate on specialist capabilities and command and control of coalition operations. We would be in a similar position to 19th century Britain with its colonial levies; able to provide C4ISTAR or specialist functions to multinational operations.

This is NOT a Great Power Status

It meets motives b and d, as well as part of c.

d) The Gendarmerie Doctrine – i.e. we lose all ambition to high intensity warfare outside of our own national borders, and capable only of providing light weight peace-keeping forces for multinational operations. We would be in a similar position to Belgium or Denmark.

This is NOT a Great Power Status

It meets motives d, as well as part of c.

e) The Little Britain Doctrine – We abandon all but home defence, we would remain in a similar position to Ireland.

This is NOT a Great Power Status

It meets motive d.

There are two doctrines above that preserve Great Power status as defined under the terms of this Rusi report, Global Guardian, and Strategic Raiding, but there is also another interesting option; the Contributory doctrine discussed in greater detail in the third RUSI FDR report. However this article will discuss the strategy favoured by the author of; A Force For Honour.

Strategic Raiding presents the following advantages:

1) It maintains Britain as a Great Power militarily. i.e. we won’t have to gut our forces to achieve it.

2) It does so whilst achieving all four of the strategic motives for maintaining military force. i.e. the military is able to follow all of the motives that entail its purpose.

3) It is an option that Britain is actually able to contribute to. i.e. America or Europe asks, and we can say “yes” with confidence.

4) It is an option that does not entail a twenty year commitment that neither the Treasury nor the public are willing to pay for. i.e. in blood and treasure.

5) It is an option that will enjoy popular support of the electorate. i.e. they won’t be unhappy if we are unable to volunteer for open-ended COIN operations in future.

The last point is critical in my opinion, the British people have by dint of our island/naval status become habituated to the continual easy success of our warlike ventures, at the same time as being blissfully unaware about the ugly and immediate consequences of having a bloody and protracted land war fought across our own front lawn. The ability to reach across the globe and apply surgical force at whatever critical nexus an enemy presents has made the perception of war in the last 350 years a series of newspaper reports that starts with; “British ambassador confined to his residence whilst British trade ships denied port entry”, and ends with; “Royal Navy ships destroy blockade while Marines storm ashore to free ambassador”. In short it has preserved an ‘enthusiasm’ for military action that has long since been knocked out of our continental neighbours, but it has also restricted the type of military action we are happy to ‘indulge’ in, for it certainly does not extend to ugly and protracted ground wars without a decisive and heroic victory within sight. This is of course the major down-side of the Global Guardian doctrine, for it will entail precisely the kind of ugly and protracted warfare which the public is unable to support.

If we are determined that Britain remains a Great Power, and respectful of the limits placed by the electorate on the application of military power, then it seems clear to me the only viable option is for Britain to pursue the Strategic Raiding Doctrine.


7 responses to “Britain’s future strategic direction #1 – RUSI and the Defence of the Realm.

  1. Pingback: SDSR Part Deux – Further reductions to come. « Jedibeeftrix's Blog

  2. Excellent and spot on analysis. I totally agree with the principles you explain, and i reached the very same conclusions. Eventually, at some point, i’ll finish writing my own piece about strategic considerations too… It is taking me a long time.

  3. I want to suggest you to read this eye-opening report from a recent hearing about the SDSR by the Parliamentary Defence Committee. There are other reports too, which can be found on the Committee’s site, and all tend to go in the same direction.

    Which incidentally is the same we argue for.

    It is REALLY interesting.

    Have a good read, and let me know the impression it makes, if you will. It sure impressed me a lot. Both in “happy” and “scary” ways, i guess, the latter mostly because of the seriousness of the remaining budget shortfall.

    The last SDSR hearing took place today, and the document will soon be online too. Another interesting one to give an eye to.

  4. It was really impressive a read.

    And perhaps even more impressive was seeing a RN officer and a RAF officer agreeing totally on the carrier thing, and see the RAF officer argue for carrier aircrafts and not Tornado replacements.
    Some sanity is still present in the world. 🙂

    But seriously, the bits about strategy and reputation of the UK with US and French allies are the real thing of the report. I’m sure it’ll prove interesting to you too.

  5. Pingback: Future Army Structure – A call for papers Part 3. | Jedibeeftrix's Blog

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