It is an absolutely fundamental principle that Defence Policy must be framed against the threat. Only then can the right types and numbers of equipment and human resource be determined. It is quite pointless saying “we will increase the size of the armed forces by 40%” for example, unless you know why, and what kind of people you need. And, these days, intelligent equipment can be a force multiplier – one soldier, sailor or airman might do what ten used to do, with the right equipment.

The present government has (supposedly) based its policies in The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) that it conducted after the May 2010 elections on the National Security Risk Assessment. This divides the threats into three tiers of importance, and in the first tier, those with a high likelihood and high impact, are the following:

  1. Hostile attacks upon UK cyber space by other states and large scale cyber-crime.
  2. An international military crisis between states, drawing in the UK, its allies as well as other states and non-state actors.
  3. International terrorism affecting the UK or its interests; and a significant increase in terrorism related to Northern Ireland.
  4. 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 influenza pandemic.

We won’t even look at the Tier 2 and 3 threats yet, but how does one structure a country’s armed forces and security services to be able to react to that wide range of Tier 1 threats? Certainly, the kind of capability that MI5/MI6 and GCHQ provide is central to meeting threats 1 and 3. And, on many occasions in the past, the military has proven itself to be flexible and multi-skilled enough to turn its hand to civil assistance, responding to threat 4, as evidenced by the recent floods. Outside of total war, there are sufficient numbers of personnel not on active duty that can be diverted to such tasks – the main challenge is organisational, having the right relationship between military and civil authorities, which again the recent floods showed to be lacking, although a sticking plaster fix seems to have been found.

It is threat 2 which poses the biggest challenge. Where will the threat be – near or far? How large will the threat be – a few “freedom fighters” or a large-scale armed invasion? What capability does the enemy possess – a well organised modern state perhaps with nuclear weapons, or an ill-disciplined force with unwilling conscripts? How wide is the threat – specific to British interests or against other western nations as well?

At present, we are members of two collective defence organisations, one long-established with well-oiled military procedures – NATO – and the other the emerging European Defence Force. The advantage of collectives is that one does not have to possess the full range of capabilities, or sufficient numbers of personnel, in order to face a threat – within certain limitations. In respect of the European “force” it is not properly formed-up yet, and in any case, with UKIP’s core policy, we will want no part of it. And, in respect of NATO, their charter is based on the principle that an attack on one nation is an attack on all, albeit that definition was stretched with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan due to the perceived (or misperceived if you prefer) terrorist threat.

So, going forward, we can rely on the support and solidarity of NATO, which includes non-EU members such as USA, Canada, Iceland, Turkey and Norway. What we don’t know, however, is by how much any growth and strengthening of the EU Defence Force will weaken the EU-member state’s commitment to NATO. A breakaway of EU-member states from NATO would reduce our ability to rely on the military solidarity of Europe to an external threat enormously, and in extreme circumstances may even create a threat nearer to home.

We haven’t even started worrying about what defence forces we need, other than having a cyber-monitoring and prevention capability. The “big issue” is nuclear or not, and if so, in what form, as allocating budget to that severely limits any budget for conventional forces.

There is no military high-likelihood, high-impact nuclear threat to us as of today: Russia and China are reasonably benign; belligerent states such as Iran and North Korea do not have either the delivery or weapons capability; and, we would hope that India and Pakistan remain reasonably friendly to us. However, there are always uncertainties in the future – relationships with Russia and/or China might deteriorate, Iran and North Korea may develop a credible ICBM capability, and other more remote possibilities might even be thought about but not publically broadcast. We live in an uncertain world, and the development of nuclear capability is a long-lead-time activity, so we do need some form of nuclear capability. But, does it need to be the expensive, submarine-based, instantly deployable solution that we have now? If the only purpose is to send a message to potential aggressors that we could deploy a credible defensive or retaliatory capability if required, then cheaper options become available, such as cruise missiles.

In Parts 2 and 3, I will look at the Tier 2 and 3 threats, and in Part 4 attempt to address the required shape of our Armed Forces to meet all those threats.

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