Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Real Strategic Defence Review (RSDR)

After reading the marketing materials (sorry National Security Strategy) or toilet paper that has come out of Number 10 (because it did not come out of the MOD) I have decided to write my own Strategic Defence and Security Review.

My Credentials

While many people may describe me as naval centric, I have never actually served in the Navy. I have served in the British Army and I am a long time admirer of the Royal Air Force. So I consider myself to be relatively unbiased. As I have actually served in Her Majesty's Service I consider myself infinitely more qualified than the bunch of Lib Dem and Tory T**Ts who came up with this drivel.

Strategic vs. Tactical

When it takes 10 - 20 years to get a major new piece of equipment into service and wars such as Afghanistan are expected to last at least 15 years, I do not believe a review with a 5 year horizon can be considered strategic. I will attempt to look at the security threats we will face over the next 25 years. I will also not look at issues such as flu pandemics and flooding in the UK as these are issues for health-care and other civilian agencies.


Threats will be organised with their severity and likelihood each threat will be assigned a score based on these two variables.


I will then attempt to assign the type of military we need to counter these potential threats as well as leaving enough capability to cover unforeseen events.


I will assume that the budget we can expect to maintain in the medium to long term is 2% of GDP.

What threats will we face in the next 20 years?

The threat we face will derive from the social and economic trends that we can already see beginning to play out today. In the same way that the Wall street Crash caused the great depression that lead to WWII ten years later.

Trends that exists today are

Globalisation - The spread of new technology to people and countries that have previously not had access to high end technology. Also the reliance of countries on resources obtained from abroad.

Resource Constraint - Insufficient energy resources as well as minerals and basic foodstuffs to keep pace with globalisation and economic growth.

Radicalism - As a result of globalisation and new technologies ideas and organisations can easily become supranational. Governments may fall to be replaced with radical parties. These new governments may seek to export their radicalism to other neighbouring countries.

Environmental Issues- A warming climate will serve to exacerbate the resource shortage in the near term. Also issues such as lack of drinkable water and people dispersed by flooding and droughts will cause instability. Countries susceptible to these problems will be less able to fend off radicalism.

Demographics-Dwindling birth rates amongst Europeans and Anglo Americans will lead to slower economic growth levels in the west. Smaller birth rates as well as immigration will likely lead to substantial shifts in voting demographics in these countries. Flat growth levels and falling populations will likely severely weaken economic and military strength of mainland Europe and Japan. The United Kingdom, USA, Canada and Australia can all be expected to continue to grow however their comparative economic and military strength will be significantly weaker than today. Differences in migration patterns may also change these countries demographics in a way that makes it increasingly more difficult for them to maintain common positions in the way they have in the past.

Rising Powers- Future Mega Powers such as India and China will begin to rise to the fore front of world affairs while rising super powers such as Brazil, Russia and Indonesia will also become more significant in world affairs.

New Lands- As technology improves and weather patterns change new lands previously out of reach from humans such as the deep sea and Arctic will become open to colonisation. Resource constraints as well as displacements caused by global warming may lead to conflict over these new lands and the resources they offer.

Learning from History

Most of these trends are nothing new. They have been seen on numerous occasions in history. Post World War II we entered a bi polar world i.e. the USA and the West against the USSR and the East. After 1991 we entered a uni polar world with the USA being the sole super power. This is not unlike Britain in the 19th century following Waterloo or the Roman Empire following its defeat of Carthage. It's typically a position which does not last long. We can now see the weakening of American power in a world which will eventually contain 7 great powers (USA, EU, China, India, Russia, Indonesia and Brazil). This is not unlike Europe in the 19th Century (Britain, France, Prussia, Austria Hungary, Italy and Russia).

The globalisation phenomenon is nothing new. The spread of ideas and the radicalisation of countries is not unlike the rise of the written word. Books made it possible to convey ideas in the 16th century like Protestantism. In the 19th century it was nationalism and in the 20th century communism. Today the internet makes things faster but the rise of extreme Islam, right wing fascists and even Christian fundamentalists is no different to the rise of new political agendas in the past.

Environmental extremes have been seen before as well. Events such and the mini ice age in Europe as well as other cold and warm periods have caused periodic movement of populations in the past. Often leading to wars of inhalation between two groups of people. Indeed even the fall of the Roman Empire can be attributed in part to environmental changes in Europe.

New Lands have been discovered in the past. New ship technology allowed the 15th century Europeans to sail the world. Discovering new lands to extract resources and often fighting with each other for the control of those resources.

Applying lessons from history can help us to analyse how the trends we see today will play out in the future. It can also give us an insight into how to deal with them.

Threat Matrix

As we can see we face a diverse range of threats. I should clarify that I consider a terrorist attack on the UK such as 7/7 a low danger level. We are talking about a National Security 40 - 50 people dying in a terrorist attack while tragic does not really affect the nation in the way that Russian Tanks rolling into Calais would. The main threats as I can see are posed by threats to our energy supplies or the fall of Middle Eastern governments to extremism such as the toppling of the Saudi Royal Family.

The threat of rogue states such as Iran obtaining and using Nuclear Weapons is also a high level of threat. Almost all the threats we face in the future will happen at great distance from the UK. Most also involve state actors rather than individuals or organisations. Terrorism acts either using conventional means, Weapons of mass destruction or Internet attacks are really matters for the Police and security services. However the military might be expected to assist in the aftermath of a WMD attack or respond with an invasion of foreign country or terrorists bases as we did in Afghanistan following September 11th.

Type of Defence Needed

With a diverce range of threats posed not to the mainland United Kingdom but to our overseas interests we require deploy-able forces able to strike hard and fast and sustain themselves without the use of neighbouring allies’ bases. We will also likely need the ability to not only strike but to take and hold territory for extended periods of time.

Our Allies

We could generally expect our allies in NATO to take care of a conventional threat to Europe. We could also expect to have our allies participate or lead an operation against a rouge nuclear state. We should expect to cooperate with our allies on ballistic missile defence.

In the past the west has always tried to maintain the free flow of energy to all nations. However that was assuming a big enough supply for everyone. As oil wells begin to run dry and we discover there is not enough to go round our allies may act in their own best interests. America and China have already made statements stating that under no circumstances would they allow themselves to be denied oil. In the past in a multi polar world we have seen the two biggest players divvy the world up between them. For instance Spain and Portugal in 1494 split the world between them in the Treaty of Tordesilla. They did not ask the opinion of anyone else they just did it. What if America and China decided to divvy up the Middle East between them?

Similarly with EEZ issues and the opening up of new lands we can expect to be on our own. If India began to drill for oil in Diego Garcia or China began mining in the British Antarctic Territory our allies would not come to our rescue. In issues or resources and EEZ's even close allies can become bitter enemies very quickly. Look at the Cod wars of the 1960's. The UK, Iceland, Denmark and Ireland are all close allies but have been unable to settle EEZ disputes of the eastern Atlantic. Especially when potential oil revenues are at stake. Canada and the USA have had major issues concerning rights to oil in the Arctic. What would we do if the USA started drilling for oil off Bermuda?

With ecological disasters and the resulting flood of refugees would be required to take our place in the international community, providing peace keepers reconstruction aid etc. However our required input would be limited and made with the wider international community. Similarly with failed states we would expect to act as part of a wider community. However it may be necessary for us to provide the initial door kicking exercise as we may have had to do in Kosovo. We might also be expected to provide fast well armed forces able to stabilise a situation as we did in Sierra Leoan or America did in Somalia in 1993. What we won't be doing on our own is Vietnam or Afghanistan style COIN operations. The bad taste left in the public mouth by Afghanistan will likely prohibit this type of long lasting occupation of a country with little or no strategic value. In the future strategic value will mean significant energy, mineral or food resources.

In a multi polar world, with dwindling natural resources and increasing pressure placed by rising populations and climate change it will be far more important to be a substantial player in world affairs. History tells us that in a world like this, small players are excluded from sharing the cake. The lezzy fair defence position maintained by the likes of Germany and Japan will do them little good in the future. While direct threats to any major nation from another state are highly unlikely no country is an island in the 21st century. We all rely on an increasingly long and vulnerable supply chain to extract our resources and sell our goods. Defending and maintaining this supply chain will likely be the biggest defence challenge in the 21st century. Allies will be useful in this to a point however in many cases it may actually be our current allies that we come into conflict with.

As demographics change both in our country and in our allies we may also find historic relationships becoming less certain or capable. For instance the rising number of Hispanics in America will likely cause the US to look more and more to the south rather than across the the Atlantic to Europe. Similarly the dwindling population and economic clout of places such as France and Germany may make them less willing or able to act.

Our military of the future will have to be able to participate in coalition actions be they peace keeping or pre-emptive attacks. However we will have to have the ability to act with more allies than just the USA. We will also require a military that can act independently when necessary and importantly can help to insulate us and our supply change from and increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world starved for resources. Furthermore we will require a military that can give us a substantial independent clout to maintain or enhance our diplomatic standing.

Ideally we would have a large standing army with a substantial fleet to accomplish these security tasks. However defence spending does not take place in a vacuum. Having a large army and navy is not affordable. We must pick one over the other.

By doing this we will become a narrow focused great power. If we do not do this then we will not retain great power status. Before WWII Britain was arguably a narrow focus great power with a massive navy and tiny expeditionary army.

Otto Von Bismarck was quoted as saying the following in 1864 "If Lord Palmerston sends the British army to Germany, I shall have the police arrest them."

Arguable the last time we lived in a multi polar world of great powers we followed a naval strategy. This choice worked out very well for the United Kingdom.

The threats we face in the future would favour a maritime doctrine such as RUSI's Strategic Raiding strategy. As opposed to a land centric focus such as Global Guardian.

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