Britain’s future strategic direction #3 – And why I believe the IPPR are wrong.

Another of the serious contributors to the debate surrounding the Future Defence Review (FDR) has been the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a UK think-tank with its paper: Shared Responsibilities.

Think Defence have already provided a very thorough break-down of the IPPR report, so rather than repeat the exercise this blog would refer readers to those articles before continuing on with an analysis reserved to the points of disagreement.

Think Defence: IPPR and the Future Security of the UK – Our Response #1

Think Defence: IPPR and the Future Security of the UK – Our Response #2

Think Defence: IPPR and the Future Security of the UK – Our Response #3

The IPPR policy paper is a far broader document than the remit of this article, which remains focused on Defence policy, and while much of the broader document is informative and useful there are several points of disagreement, which shall be expanded upon below:

12. 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….

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.

15. 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.

Taken together, points twelve, thirteen and fifteen, when viewed in the context of the RUSI report #2 can be seen as an amalgam of the Global Guardian doctrine and the Contributory doctrine, with critical differences however. The IPPR’s vision does not concern itself with Great Power ambitions, and so is willing to chop both the capability for high-intensity & theatre-level war-fighting, and the capability for amphibious operations in support of expeditionary forces. In return it focuses on a COIN expanded version of the Contributory doctrine wherein Britain takes the role of a force-enabler best described in the words of the RUSI FDR report #3:

A case could be made for the UK military to transform itself so as to become a ‘multilateral spine’. Barring some residual capabilities for national territorial defence, the UK could focus on building enablers and framework capabilities so as to bolster the multilateral institutions rather than deploying major formed units of its own. This ‘contributory option’ sounds like a radical proposal as it would put at risk the UK’s ability to deploy significant combat power unilaterally or as part of a coalition. Conceptually, however, it would not be dissimilar to the model adopted by the UK throughout its imperial history. UK forces were able to police large parts of the world quite cheaply through providing military frameworks, an officer corps, and enabling technologies. Some variant of this approach may serve the UK well in the future.

The current understanding of this blog is that the ability to conduct theatre-level out-of-area operations of high-intensity is a capability possessed by only the UK outside of the United States, so this would become our high value asset, which in addition to various specialist functions and a force configured to allow the UK to act as the ‘spine’ for multi-lateral operation, would provide Britain the weight necessary to retain a voice at the top table.

Is the ability to shape the world in this manner (rather than be shaped by it), enough for Britain? Only if you accept the précis that state-on-state warfare is a thing of the past, and therefore a capability not worth retaining individually, and only then if you are going to put a great deal of confidence in the EU to provide for that lack collectively. The Contributory doctrine is not a bad thing in itself, indeed it has a lot of merit especially for an island nation that is not forced into the corner of configuring ones strategic posture to resist the thousand tanks parked just across the border next door, but those two flaws are fatal.

The greatest utility one can gain from an armed force is the ability to wield it as a threat for diplomatic advantage against another state or bloc, and this needs to be considered from the point of view of receiving as well as giving.

The greatest failure the EU can ‘achieve’ is to have an expensive Armed Forces, rendered impotent by the lack of a resolute collective view, it will prove useless as a deterrent, and useless as tool for advancing foreign policy.

If you do not retain the ability to threaten state-on-state warfare, and if your bloc lacks the collective and combined vision to present a united face against threats recognised by individual states, then that utility is lost and any capability in addition to that needed for home-defence is a waste.

It is not enough for Britain to become the worlds most effective Gendarmerie, because the assumptions that permit this strategic tunnel-vision are simply not valid.

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 am agreed with Think Defence; DfID should certainly be rolled back into the jurisdiction of the FCO, and a much greater coordination between civil and military elements enforced to ensure greater effect.

This blog would go further still, and bearing in mind the stated preference for Strategic Raiding, explicitly separate peace-keeping from war-fighting via the creation of a foreign deployable paramilitary focused on stabilisation and reconstruction. This is not quite as daft as it sounds and has the following advantages:

  1. It is already practised, after all, what do you think the German contribution to ISAF amounts to except for stabilisation and reconstruction?
  2. It would preserve army skills such as engineering and medical, for use as a reserve, under a doctrine that is largely navy/expeditionary centric.
  3. It would allow continuous involvement in humanitarian activities, without impairing our desired strategic purpose; expeditionary assaults.
  4. It might aid recruitment in a post-war age if we create space for those who would defend themselves at need, in addition to those who will fight at will.

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

The opportunity costs of maintaining our deterrent

This blog is all for including the strategic deterrent within the scope of the FDR, as long as it is explicitly recognised that nuclear weapons utterly prevent the use of conventional warfare against Britain and Britain’s strategic interests, and that without them we would have to make good that yawning deficit by a massively increased conventional capability.

For what it is worth this blog recognises the utility of the strategic deterrent for the following reasons:

  1. It negates the need for Britain to retain a heavy defence industrial capacity, in a country that will make its create its future wealth from innovation rather than manufacture.
  2. It negates the need for Britain to retain a massive conventional Armed Forces for home defence in a country with declining amount interested and available military manpower.
  3. It allows the creation and maintenance of an Armed Forces configured and postured for offensive military action out-of-area, i.e. it complements strategic power projection.
  4. It provides political clout that helps Britain shape the world in its image, rather than the other way around, i.e. it helps preserve UNSC membership among other benefits.

To summarise, I recognise and applaud the intention of the IPPR to find a strategic direction that preserves Britain as an active and influential participant in world affairs, but I find their reasoning flawed and their conclusion inappropriate.

4 responses to “Britain’s future strategic direction #3 – And why I believe the IPPR are wrong.

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with you on a stronger reconstruction force for the reasons you state and a number of others. We are about to commence on our land component section of a series of musings on the future defence review. If you click on the FDR menu at the top of the Think Defence blog you will find all the articles so far, air and maritime primarily, plus of course the strategy stuff

  2. Have you had a look at the Conservatives paper on defence and security, have a look at our posts on the Conservatives policies.

    If they are to form the next Government, I thought it an interesting exercise to see where they stand.

  3. I haven’t, and thank you I certainly will have a look, the Cons defence policy will indeed be receiving some attention from JBT inc.

    sorry for the late response, still getting the hang of this wordpress business.



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