Britain’s future strategic direction #7 – Whither will the Lib-Dems lead us?

So, the Liberal Democrats, how do they see the world, how do they want to present Britain to the world, and what part do they want Britain to play in the world? This blog shall attempt to divine answers to these questions from their manifesto literature.

Think Defence have provided an excellent review of the Lib-Dems commitment to renewing the military covenant, this article however will look at their Foreign Policy vision in general, and what they will ask of Britain’s Armed Forces in particular, as stated in their “your world” portion of the manifesto.

Where does one start, well, it might as well be their opening statement:

The world has changed enormously since the end of the Cold War. New threats are emerging and yet Britain’s armed forces remain largely equipped to fight the old ones.

So, they want to reconfigure the Armed Forces, but to what? We must dig deeper. On europe we begin to see the security priorities more clearly:

Make the EU use its collective weight effectively in other areas of foreign policy. Britain can have a far stronger voice on relations with Russia, China, Iran and the Middle East peace process when it joins with the rest of Europe.

Which taken in conjunction with the following:

The Iraq War, and allegations over British complicity in torture and in secret ‘rendition’ flights of terrorist suspects, highlight the dangers of a subservient relationship with the United States that neglects Britain’s core values and interests.

Would seem to indicate that the Lib-Dems are willing to abandon Britain’s unparalleled security arrangements with the worlds most powerful country, a country with whom we have a long and shared history, in return for some soggy security arrangement with EU nations. Quite why this is necessary when the UK is already a key part of the most effective collective security pact known to mankind is beyond the understanding of this blog. We are already deeply linked into American and European security arrangements, this is a retrograde step.

Now we move onto Britain’s strategic deterrent:

Rule out the like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system. At a cost of £100 billion over a lifetime it is unaffordable, and Britain’s security would be better served by alternatives.

A statement which Nick Clegg recently elaborated upon by stating that they did support “cheaper and better” alternative to Trident, but as the BBC and Critical Reaction argue so cogently:

British governments have studied three times whether there are cheaper ways than Trident (or its predecessor) of achieving the same aims, but each study concluded that this type of system provided the most credible and reliable nuclear weapon. So yes – there are alternatives to Trident. But they are not necessarily cheaper, nor able to do what the current system does. So if the UK decides it wants to remain a nuclear power, most defence experts believe Trident remains the only really credible option.

An alternative nuclear system would require many more up-front costs and would hardly save money. It would almost certainly cost more, perhaps a great deal more. Trident offers great strategic advantages. It is out of sight and invulnerable. In many ways it is a remarkable bargain. This is because its procurement is the result of a very special transatlantic arrangement with which the Americans are willing to go along but which it might well be awkward to renegotiate.

If you are going to have a nuclear deterrent is has to be strategic, which means it has to represent a credible threat, and it must be able to promise a second-strike, otherwise one might as well not bother in the first place.

And here we enter the realm of fantasy:

But Britain’s reputation has been damaged by unscrupulous arms deals with dictators, allegations of involvement in torture, and of course the disastrous and illegal invasion of Iraq.

The Lib-Dems appear to have no truck with the concept of Westphalian Sovereignty, where non-compliance against UNSC resolution 686 (to inform the UN on all chemical and biological weapons), and resolution 687 (to destroy all chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles), which were instigated in response to the invasion of Kuwait and the scud attacks on Israel (a breach of the right to self determination, and the right to non-intervention, under the Westphalian system), led to an invasion to enforce compliance (of the ceasefire agreement). There were many things wrong with the 2003 Iraq war, both in the lead up and in the post invasion phase, but it was not an illegal war.

This perhaps should not come as a surprise from a party that is so keen on ever-deeper-union within the EU, who as Joschka Fischer put so aptly:

“The core of the concept of Europe after 1945 was and still is a rejection of the European balance-of-power principle and the hegemonic ambitions of individual states that had emerged following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, a rejection which took the form of closer meshing of vital interests and the transfer of nation-state sovereign rights to supranational European institutions.”

The EU is a post-sovereign construct based around consensus of deliberately disparate parties, and that bodes ill for the notion of an independent Britain free to pursue what it perceives as its national interest. what we have here is a party that is closely aligned with the ideology of transnational progressivism and its key tenets:

  • Advocating the goals of an identity group rather than individual: “The key political unit is not the individual citizen…but the ascriptive group (racial, ethnic, or gender) into which one is born.”[1][2][3]
  • An oppressor/victim dichotomy: “Transnational ideologists have incorporated the essentially Hegelian Marxist “privileged vs. marginalized” dichotomy,” with “immigrant groups designated as victims.”[1][2][3]
  • Proportional representation by group: “Transnational progressivism assumes that “victim” groups should be represented in all professions roughly proportionate to their percentage of the population. If not, there is a problem of “underrepresentation.”[1][2][3]
  • Change in institutional values: “the distinct worldviews of ethnic, gender, and linguistic minorities must be represented” within dominant social and political institutions.[2][3]
  • Change in the assimilation paradigm: “The traditional paradigm based on the assimilation of immigrants into an existing American civic culture is obsolete and must be changed to a framework that promotes “diversity,” defined as group proportionalism.”[1][2][3]
  • Redefinition of democracy: “Changing the system of majority rule among equal citizens to one of power sharing among ethnic groups composed of both citizens and non-citizens.”[1][2][3]
  • Deconstruction of Western national narratives and national symbols in favour of post-modern multiculturalist views.[2]

The idea that a Britain fully embedded in EU foreign policy would embark on contentious Foreign Policy under this regime is alien, even if that policy was the unilateral use of military force to remove foreign occupation from British territory.

The combination of an abundance of idealism and a utter lack of pragmatism is clear evidence that the Lib-Dems have not wielded the levers of power in some time.

Here we run into a brick wall as this blog has run out Foreign Policy manifesto to read, there simply is no more, and thus we must speculate.

This blog has used the prism of the RUSI doctrines to disaggregate and study the ideas of other parties involved in the Future Defence Review debate, why not apply the same ideas here? Why not indeed.

When considered against the backdrop of a lack of a serious policy on the strategic deterrent, this blog considers the Lib-Dems uninterested in maintaining Britain as Great Power, therefore Strategic Raiding and Global Guardian are ruled out from the offset.

That leaves the following:

The Contributory Doctrine – i.e. we maintain a reduced military that whilst broadly capable, and able to contribute usefully to international operations, would lose any possibility for national autonomy for intervention operations, because we would be dependent on other nations for the capabilities it had surrendered. We would be in a similar position to Germany or Poland; able to provide brigade level combat units or specialist functions to multinational operations.

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.

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

Based on the enthusiasm for EU integration this blog believes that the Lib-Dems would opt for the Contributory doctrine lite, based on the principle that strategic power projection is no longer desirable, and maintaining sovereign force will be unnecessary under EU defence.

The logical conclusion that must be drawn from the end of strategic power projection in addition to the end of a strategic deterrent, is that Britain will no longer wishes to keep its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as it will no longer have the means with which to justify that seat. The obvious  result would be that the EU would adopt our Security Council seat, and probably merge with the French seat at whatever point the UNSC undergoes serious reform.

Britain will once more exist in a world where it must accept that others will shape the world in their image rather than the converse, and it must trust that the EU has the collective will to provide for that lack of sovereign security.

21 responses to “Britain’s future strategic direction #7 – Whither will the Lib-Dems lead us?

  1. Go team GB ! Head in Sand, ignore the problem and it will go away – oh dear oh dear, wake up jedibeeftrix and look further than your nose !

  2. Head in the sand…………?

    I must presume in the lack of a more detailed response that you disagree with one or more of the following contentions:

    1. That the Lib-Dems do not have a sensible policy on Trident
    2. That the Lib-Dems do not have a sensible policy on the US
    3. That the Lib-Dems do not have a sensible policy on the EU
    4. That the Lib-Dems do not have a sensible strategic direction

    Or, that you believe:
    5. That RUSI are wrong and we have no way to stand unsupported
    6. That the EU is the most effective tool for UK Foreign Policy
    7. That the sovereign nation-state is no longer relevant
    8. That the iraq war was indeed illegal

    Which is it?

  3. None of them is the best or worst per-se, as we do not know the detail of any of their plans until after one of the them, and only that one party, win the election and holds a defence review.

    I have attempted to ‘read the tea leaves’ of the published literature and comments to date, but nothing is certain until that Future Defence Review is held.

    There is also the point that there is nothing wrong with having no Defence policy at all if that is what the British public wants, guns into plough-shares and all that. My principle aim is to make people realise that Britain has a lot of influence in the world, in large part because we have an advanced military which is very active in the world because public opinion allows it to be. If that public support for the military mission goes then so does the influence, which is a point that I think people often miss.

    I personally support an active and well funded military, because I believe the Defence of the Realm is the first duty of the sovereign nation state, and believe Britain has been a very positive force in the world in the last 100 years, but I am keen to tailor that military involvement to activities that most easily gain the support of the public, which is why I support Strategic Raiding as stated in my first military article.

    Thus far the Conservatives seem closest to this position, and the Lib-Dems the furthest, but until we have an actual Defence Review this is all speculation.

  4. It comes down to this: all parties would, if elected, cut expenditure significantly. My understanding is that the cuts our party (I am a Liberal Democrat) is proposing are less severe than those of our opponents and nothing is ring-fenced. This means, I believe, about 11% cuts all round if spread evenly. They won’t be spread evenly of course. Conservative cuts in public spending would greater and given that some areas are ring-fenced (they say) the cuts over the non-protected areas would average 20%. So, if you had to implement a 20% defence cut, where would you start? Or even an 11% cut?
    The Lib Dems are the only party that has even tried to open up a debate about the subject of nuclear deterrence. Ming Campbell and Nick Harvey have published a paper about various alternatives although I think realistically there is only one front-runner in the alternative stakes, that is SSNs with cruise missiles. The party is not advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament (although no doubt some Lib Dems would advocate that). The more we spend on our deterrent the less we have for conventional forces.
    Cruise missiles on SSNs have several plus points. Trident is NOT invulnerable, or won’t be for ever. The two, maybe three SSBNs in harbour at any one time will be increasingly vulnerable to pre-emptive destruction by conventional means. A fleet of 12 or so SSNs (up from the planned 7 or 8) would permit us to hide our deterrent among the conventional forces (and give us a bigger SSN force as well, which might actually be really useful). All the deployed SSNs could be nuclear-armed, or none of them, depending on the situation.
    Furthermore, the distinction between SAMs and anti-ballistic missiles is becoming rapidly blurred. It is certainly true that cruise missiles can be shot down but who says Trident cannot be?
    Cruise missiles cannot do what Trident can do? Yes, I agree but that begs the question is what do we really need. We need to deter an attack on us by threatening retaliation. How much retaliation do we have to threaten? Do we really need to be able to reduce Moscow to radioactive slag? We don’t live in that world any more – enemies might take limited risks for limited gains but who needs to risk getting nuked, even a little bit? I think cruise missiles will do the job.
    Politically it would be nice to have our own rather than buy American. It does damage us in the eyes of our own people to be so reliant on the US. If Israel, S. Korea and India can develop their own cruise missiles so can we, especially starting from Storm Shadow.

  5. Thank you for the response, if I may deal with the points separately:

    Yes, the tories do plan to cut more, i believe the ratio is 4:1 (cuts vs taxes) as opposed to 2.5:1 for the Lib-Dems, and 2:1 for Labour. Given that we are heading towards a national debt of 400% of GDP by 2040 according to the Bank for International Settlements I am happy to see those cuts made. All parties are ring-fencing Defence for the coming year, and all bets are off until the winner produces their Defence Review, so I am unwilling to read more into the vague waffle produced by all the parties until I have more concrete details.

    Re the Deterrent, I have never read anything that has convinced me that there is a better alternative to Trident, and conversely every time it has been discussed or studied the only respectable conclusion is that Trident is excellent value for money, and the by far the best value for money of any system that is truly a ‘strategic’ deterrent.
    The point about SSBN’s in harbour makes no odds, they are not the acting deterrent as there is always one on patrol and another on standby.

    It might be nice to buy our own deterrent, but the reason why we opted for Trident is because we didn’t want to have to pay for our own, and again, cruise is not the answer, the support costs that surround its delivery are bigger than Trident, I also don’t personally care if some anti-americans/pro-federalists get their knickers in a twist about it being an american system, not important.

    My biggest concern about Lib-Dem policy is a lack of a Foreign Policy master-plan, around which can be planned a Defence posture, at least it certainly isn’t being advertised in the manifesto.

    More info is available here:

  6. I am clearly not going to convince you but here goes anyway: I am neither anti-american nor pro-federalist but neither do I see why we should cling so to US coat-tails. Support for their deterrent is greater in France than it is here, possibly because the French independent deterrent clearly is French & Independent.
    If two or even three of our SSBNs were disabled or destroyed in harbour during a conventional conflict then, excuse me, it would matter somewhat. We would effectively be disarmed in a nuclear sense, one or two boats is not enough. You are looking at this through Cold war eyes.
    Cost of cruise missiles? I don’t have any information on that but it stands to reason that if Israel, India & S. Korea can afford to develop their own missiles than we can. Israel’s ‘Popeye’ missiles are thought to be nuclear-armed. S. Korea’s have a 1500 nm range. An incoming defence secretary needs to thoroughly examine all the options and question the assumptions behind all these assertions that such-and-such a thing cannot be done. The UK already deploys conventional cruise missiles and they are going to be a key part of our armament for the forseeable future so it seems unlikely to me that the extra cost of a nuclear cruise missile should be beyond us.

  7. Britain’s deterrent is independent, witness:

    If an adversary attacked our strategic deterrent it would warrant a nuclear strike in return, that is how MAD works.

    It is not the cruise missiles that are so expensive, it is the delivery platforms necessary to get them past the limitations of their short range, and the supporting infrastructure that is expensive. The missiles you describe are tactical weapons, which is a totally different thing from a strategic weapon.

    Did you not read the BBC link, there have been four separate studies that looked for a cheaper option than Trident, there isn’t one that is cheaper, and there certainly isn’t one that is both cheaper and ‘strategic’.

  8. A few points: “If an adversary attacked our strategic deterrent it would warrant a nuclear strike in return, that is how MAD works.” No, completely wrong, that’s how the world used to be, but not any more thank goodness. I very much doubt if any British politician would order a first use of nuclear weapons, especially if it would bring down on us a nuclear retaliation.
    So far as the independence of our deterrent is concerned, what matters in politics is perception. There are many who simply do not believe the British deterrent is truly independent. I agree it probably is in reality, but reality is another matter.
    Why do you claim a 2,500 km range cruise missile like Tomahawk is not strategic? Granted Storm Shadow with a 3-400 mi range is tactical but I never claimed it was otherwise, I simply said that the technology in that missile might be a starting point for developing a longer-range missile. If you can hit your enemy’s homeland, that is strategic enough.
    Finally, you referred me to ‘Think Defence’ – well I have been there, that’s how I found you. Half the commentators on Think Defence say it must be Trident, the other half say we don’t need a deterrent at all.

  9. That is still very much the driving concept of a strategic deterrent today, if someone were to take out our strategic deterrent then it must treated as a first strike, and responded to as such.

    I would suggest that we need to educate people, rather than ditching a capability that performs flawlessly at a reasonable price.

    A nuclear armed cruise missile with a 2500km range could indeed be part of a strategic platform…………. provided it was deployed from a fleet of long-range RAF ‘bombers’ with access to a worldwide network of hardened air-bases. Given the vulnerability of planes to detection and interdiction we would probably need two in the air at anyone one time with two more on five minutes standby, and a further sixteen on rotation so that the fleet isn’t knackered by running its flight hours out in five years instead of twenty due to the need for two planes to be in the air 24/7/365. Due to the vulnerability of cruise to conventional air-defence we would have to work on the principle of saturation attacks which would absolutely necessitate more than 160 nuclear warheads, a position that would sit at odds with our obligation under the NPT.

    It is true, we don’t need Trident in the same way you don’t need home insurance, but it represents an absolute guarantee against invasion of the British Isles and without it we would need to massively increase conventional forces to make good the deficit, it should not be seen as a cheap option.

  10. More on the Lib Dem outlook on foreign policy here by Lord Wallace of Saltaire in a speech at Rusi today

    Can basically be summed up by the fact that the Libdems see our security as entrenched in the EU. Seems like they advocate another East of Suez moment. They also seem to share their leaders self-flagellating view of Britains past.

    Astonishingly, in their list of security interests the South Atlantic was not even mentioned.

    All very fluffy, self loathing and Euromanic.

  11. Steve, have I read your post above that in order to save money you want to replace the 4 Vanguards with 5 or 6 Astutes and on top of refurbing Trident you want to develop a new missiles and new nuclear warhead?

    Nuclear launch procedures and the very strict training that goes with it would have to be increased to all the boats. Instead of patrolling and being in a position to launch they would have to come closer inshore, I am not talking on the beach but the closer inshore you go because of cruise missile range issues the higher the risk.

    How many nuke cruise missiles would you suggest your Astutes carry, each one reducing the useful warload of torpedoes and conventional Tomahawks.

    How survivable against an integrated air defence system, not just a few SAM sites but a decent networked systems, do you think cruise missiles are. If there are any doubts about weapon survivability then in order to ensure a target hit then you have to carry more to make up for those that fail or are shot down. We are back in the load issue.

    Ignoring the proliferation argument, how much do you think your plan would save, over the lifespan of the system as a whole

  12. @ andy

    thank you for that link.

    i do agree that we do face another east of suez moment, tho i utterly disagree with the following:

    1. the desire to abandon great power status
    2. the prescription of the EU as a primary replacement to NATO
    3. ruling out four like for like replacements of trident
    4. the assumption that sovereign war-fighting capabilities are no longer needed

    the lib-dems appear to be very taken with the IPPR report with which i have registered my disagreements in an earlier article, and reading this only reinforces my opinion that they would opt for a lite version of the Contributory doctrine.

  13. I am in no position to work out exact costs; this is something an incoming government would have to do. What I am advocating is building another 4 SSNs on top of the 7 or 8 already planned for. Ideally they should all have vertical launch tubes and I can’t for the life of me see why the Astutes were not so equipped from the outset. This would save the cost of designing a new SSBN.
    A fleet of a dozen SSNs would see 8 or 9 in service at any one time and several at sea at any one time. They would mainly carry out normal SSN duties but carry nuclear cruise missiles as often as, in such numbers as, the international situation would seem to warrant. They would not necessarily carry out specific ‘nuclear deterrent’ patrols in the fashion of the CASD but could do if need be.
    The 4 Vanguard class SSBNs with Trident would carry on until the end of their service lives and then be replaced by the SSNs. Trident would be completely discarded.
    So, we would have our nuclear weapons, with some (the enemy would not know how many) at sea in several boats at any given moment thus invulnerable to pre-emptive destruction. The boats could get within launch range of any likely enemy and although a 2,500 nm range missile from an SSN could not reach every target on the planet I don’t think that would matter.
    Cruise missiles can be shot down (so can ballistic missiles for that matter, albeit with more difficulty). Future cruise missiles might be stealthy, and/or supersonic thus harder to shoot down. But, consider this, if the president/ayatollah/whatever of the enemy country asks the head of air defence ‘can you shoot these cruise missiles down?’ what answer would you expect? ‘Yes, certainly, no problem?’ I don’t think so. Best answer might be, ‘we can probably take out most of them’ but that’s hardly reassuring is it? The most honest answer would be ‘don’t know’. So who is going to take the risk? What exactly is worth taking the risk for? I think what I am proposing is a good enough deterrent and a bigger SSN fleet as a bonus. What more would we need? It would only take a handful of warheads exploding on an enemy territory to cause enormous damage; EMP alone could cripple a modern state.
    I think you still view things through an apocalyptic Cold-War world-view which is out of date.

  14. It is dishonest to conflate, as the article does, the term “cold-worrier” with the phrase; “industrial-era model that said you defeated your opponents by overwhelming them with stuff”, because it creates an untruth that distorts the argument.

    Industrial war was WW1 and WW2, it was a paradigm that the USSR tried to keep relevant in the lead up to WW3, and it was proven utterly wrong when NATO changed that industrial war paradigm with smaller professional forces utilising high-tech weapons platforms.

    The following point is a corker however, completely missing the point about why we created the forces we have the way we did, and wrong for two completely different reasons:

    “Why then should we continue to spend increasingly sparse resources and funds on conventional armies, when the Hybrid Warfare is so much more cost effective and, equally if not more effective?”

    1. Increasingly ‘sparse’ resources are increasingly sparse because the Defence budget has dropped from 3.5% of GDP at the end of the Col-War to the new minimum level of 2.5% of GDP as declared a sensible New Labour, to its current level of 2.2% of GDP and falling.

    2. Hybrid warfare can be highly effective, as long as it is not fought on your territory, as the British electorate are not going to take kindly to becoming an insurgent nation living within the devastation of its own insurgency, they have an expectation of British military competence just as they have an expectation that politicians will understand the defensive value of our island status.

    It doesn’t fly, and it doesn’t change the simple equation that at a total cost of £2b/year for 40 years the Trident replacement represents excellent value for money as an absolute guarantee against conventional or nuclear war be practised against the British Isles.

  15. It is an interesting technology, but it does require that the yanks opt for this too otherwise we still have to develop a 3000km cruise missile on our own.

    The French have just spent a fortune creating a new ICBM, so they won’t be interested.

    And we would still have to have a great deal more than 160 warheads given the ‘unreliable’ nature of any deterrent based upon them.

    Tagging along on the yanks coat-tails is still the cheapest and most effective way of providing a truly strategic deterrent, and it leaves the UK in a position where we have unparalleled technology and intelligence cooperation with the US.

  16. Pingback: Election 2010 – Wither Will the Lib Dems Lead Us - Think Defence

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