In Part 1 and Part 2, we discussed the major threats to national security, few of which pointed to the need for conventional forces such as have been used in major conflicts for the past 100 years: an Army made up of infantry, artillery, cavalry (tanks), engineers and signals; an Air Force of fighters, bombers, reconnaissance and transports; and a Navy of aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and support craft.
Threats that would predicate the need for such forces are classified as having a low likelihood or low impact, and as such not as much weight was given to them in the Strategic Defence Review of 2010, which has led to a massive reduction (still in progress) in the size of our conventional forces.
Let us now review those Tier 3 threats (as defined in the National Security Risk Assessment), with an eye on a future for the UK outside of the EU.
3.1 A large scale conventional military attack on the UK by another state (not involving the use of CBRN weapons) resulting in fatalities and damage to infrastructure within the UK.
This threat begs the question of who would mount such an attack. Russia is not the same direct threat to us that it once was in the Cold War days, albeit they still possess a large military capability, and the present Ukraine situation shows us how quickly that could blow up. The USA regards the UK militarily as a “large aircraft carrier” moored off the coast of Europe for them aiding any European conflict. In that sense, we might be threatened by Russia.
There is then the argument that the EU is a force for peace. However, the contradictions of that are now becoming evident, and the possibility of civil war within Europe is high, albeit unlikely to affect us directly. Where the potential threat could lie would be if left the EU, and for some reason or another the European Union saw military action against the UK as a possible course of action. Of course, such a threat will have been dismissed by the committed Europhile Cameron, and if (when?) the UK leaves the EU, perhaps that would predicate it’s break up. Whether a Europe of independent nation states would make war more or less likely is purely a matter of conjecture.
What is certain is that the future world is uncertain, as was proven in the mid-to-late 1930s. However unlikely a threat, a responsible nation must have the potential to respond to a growing or new threat, as it emerges. What that means is that even if conventional defence forces are maintained at a low level, a capability to rapidly expand MUST be available.
3.2 A significant increase in the level of terrorists, organised criminals, illegal immigrants and illicit goods trying to cross the UK border to enter the UK.
One might argue that this is happening already. Primarily, it is a matter for the police and border forces, but the latter have proved themselves to be spectacularly incapable at dealing with illegal immigrants and terrorists. If the military were engaged on such a task, it would be more in the provision of organised labour, and such labour would need training. If and when we leave the EU, this becomes more urgent, we need to secure our borders and this would need an enhanced UK Border Force, HM Coastguard and monitoring of UK airspace for non-scheduled aviation.
3.3 Disruption to oil or gas supplies to the UK, or price instability, as a result of war, accident, major political upheaval or deliberate manipulation of supply by producers.
This threat could manifest itself in several ways:
- War in the Middle East, denying us exports from those countries.
- Diplomatic stand-off with a major supplier, for example Russian or European gas.
- Attacks on our sea oil and gas rigs.
The most direct way of insuring UK plc against such risks would be to have a home-produced energy capability, and UKIP’s energy policies offer that. To even consider a military adventure in the Middle East now our experience tells us is not worth the candle. And the Royal Navy has been cut to the bone so much that it cannot afford much protection to our rigs.
3.4 A major release of radioactive material from a civil nuclear site within the UK which affects one or more regions.
As an inherent part of being equipped to handle nuclear weapons and to combat the effects of CBRN weapons in the field if used on our forces, the military needs a capability anyway which can deal with such a threat. If there were a major release, their forces so trained in dealing with such a threat would need to be deployed in support of the civil authorities, who generally will not have a clue what to do about it, other than the operators of such sites.
3.5 A conventional attack by a state on another NATO or EU member to which the UK would have to respond.
In terms of NATO there is certainly a treaty obligation to provide support, and that covers most EU countries as well, but there is no formal military obligation with respect of the EU – yet. However, the longer we remain in the EU, the more formalised will become a unified military force, and this has been part of Cameron’s thinking in the 2010 SDSR, in that gaps we have other members of the EU will make up for.
Notwithstanding that, if we assume that our NATO obligations remain, there is a commitment, but we would only provide those forces that we have assigned specifically to NATO commands (which the majority of our forces were during the Cold War) or that we can spare in the event of an emergency on NATO’s periphery, for example, Turkey.
3.6 An attack on a UK overseas territory as the result of a sovereignty dispute or a wider regional conflict.
This is the “Falklands scenario”, albeit we have other overseas territories around the world. It is well known that if the Argentinians invaded the islands again as they did in 1982, we do not have the capability to retake them – our hope lies in the one naval destroyer patrolling the South Atlantic, probably one submarine too, and the 4 Typhoons at RAF Mount Pleasant being able to repel any invasion attempt.
It really all depends on the strength and seriousness of the threat, what we might be protecting (beyond the lives of the small populations of such territories) versus the distance from the UK. If oil or gas is discovered in the seas around the Falklands, or in the slice of the Antarctic and its waters that is also a British Territory, then the need to be able to mount a credible defence (or offense to retake) becomes greater.
3.7 Short to medium term disruption to international supplies of resources (e.g. food, minerals) essential to the UK.
This is an extension of the energy threat at 3.3 above. Once again, it is best countered by being self-sufficient. During World War 2 we were almost self-sufficient, and since then more efficient methods of farming have been developed, albeit there is a greater population. Putting set-aside land back into production could provide additional home-grown food. Minerals too, we have large quantities of iron ore in Britain, for instance, and with more automation extraction and production may become economic again.
Shortfalls that would accrue beyond home-produced resources might predicate a military adventure, and to counter a threat to supply routes, enhancements to naval and air capability the most likely to provide mitigation of the threat.
The Requirement from all Tiers of Threat
The Tier 1 and 2 threats generated needs for:
- Nuclear forces
- Flexible disciplined manpower, trained in dealing with terrorist/crime threats
- Home military-industrial capability
In simple terms the Tier 3 threats add these requirements:
- The ability to grow a substantial home defence force quickly if a conventional attack on UK becomes more likely. (3.1)
- Air and Naval forces to help secure our borders (3.2)
- Greater home production of energy, food and minerals (3.3 and 3.7)
- Naval and Air capability to protect shipping, oil/gas rigs and our airspace. (3.3 and 3.7)
- Nuclear accident handling (3.4)
- Forces as agreed for assignment to NATO and flexibility to deploy other forces (3.5)
- Some expeditionary capability to defend overseas territories, factored on a cost/benefit basis, which might also be available to protect other foreign interests (3.6 but also 3.3 and 3.7)
In Part 4, I will attempt to postulate what shape of armed forces might be needed to satisfy all these requirements, in a scenario involving UKIP as part of a government, and post EU exit.