In Part 1, we considered the Tier 1 threats, and concluded that we needed effective intelligence and counter cyber-attack capability, some form of nuclear capability whether it be Trident or a cheaper less immediately available option, and that civil emergencies could be met from the numbers and mixes of service personnel to support other roles. But, what are those other roles which will generate that mix and quantity of manpower and equipment? This is where we need to look at the Tier 2 and 3 threats, lower likelihood and/or lower impact than the Tier 1 threats, but still possible threats that a responsible nation should guard against. Below are the four Tier 2 threats.
2.1 An attack on the UK or its Overseas Territories by another state or proxy using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons.
If the attack were nuclear, or a massive chemical/biological attack, this would be a matter to be dealt with by the strategic capability covered in Part 1. But a terrorist exploding a “dirty bomb” in Central London, say, killing dozens or hundreds would initially require intelligence and police effort. Even if we traced the source back to another (say Middle East) country, with our experience of Iraq or Afghanistan, would we want to take the same approach as before and invade? From our experiences in Northern Ireland, special forces are the most effective in dealing with such a threat, closing the stable door firmly after the event, to prevent any re-occurence from the same source.
2.2 Risk of major instability, insurgency or civil war overseas which creates an environment that terrorists can exploit to threaten the UK.
Once again, the primary agencies in fighting such a threat to the homeland would be intelligence and police, plus the border force. We know there are severe weaknesses with respect to the latter, and in order to deal with this kind of threat there may be merit in having particular military personnel (notably intelligence) embedded with the border force to deal with “exception” cases. And, as for 2.1, and taking on the lessons learnt from us entering Iraq and Afghanistan (and of us avoiding going into Syria), do we really need a capability for an expeditionary force to such an environment?
2.3 A significant increase in the level of organised crime affecting the UK.
We are back into intelligence and police forces here again, and we can see an increase in East European and Islamic organised crime operations from court cases and the prison population, albeit most of the media downplays these facts. Military back-up in the shape of special forces may be beneficial in dealing with a overt outbreak of crime resulting in street battles, but we have to consider carefully if we would want to bring the military in overtly to deal with “criminal warfare” on the streets of Britain. My own prejudices tell me that if it did come to a serious shooting war on our streets, the military would be a more effective, organised and disciplined force than police, so units established for other purposes should be trained in dealing with such incidents and have access to appropriate equipment.
2.4 Severe disruption to information received, transmitted or collected by satellites, possibly as the result of a deliberate attack by another state.
Effective response to this would require a space vehicle launch capability to “kill” a killer satellite. At present we have no such independent capability, we rely on the USA and Europe for launches, and if we left the EU, we may have to fall back on NATO and the USA. What we are well-placed to do at present, with the industrial capability that firms like Astrium delivers, is to produce the satellites and control systems, rather than the delivery vehicles. An important element of a defence policy of a major nation is maintaining a home industrial capability to produce the full range of required military equipment, but that is a broader issue than just this threat.
Such disruption may also be by cyber attacks.
The Requirement from Tier 1 and 2 Threats
So, combining the required capability for Tier 2 threats with Tier 1 threats, there is a reinforced requirement for intelligence, counter-cyber and nuclear forces and flexible disciplined manpower. Some (or all?) soldiers would need to have possess the skills that they exercised so well in Northern Ireland, and special forces are definitely needed to covertly deal with terrorist and/or crime related issues. Having a home military-industrial capability is important, both generally and specific to the nuclear and satellite technology covered by Tier 1 and 2 threats.
A helpful view of interpreting these tiers of threat comes for the “Thin Pinstriped Line” blog. “Sir Humphrey” observes that diplomatic efforts are important in neutralising threats as well – far cheaper to spend money on meetings, delegations and even embassies, rather going to war – IF such efforts can neuter any threat. UKIP’s “Trade not Aid” policy may well win friends in potentially hostile countries as well, without giving them money to develop their armed forces with.
However, if we assume that we are not going to engage in Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria type adventures (unless we are strong-armed by most of our allies, i.e. NATO), no great need for conventional war-fighting capability has emerged, requiring ships, aircraft and the rich tapestry of land forces with infantry, armoured forces, engineers, signallers and other specialisations – they are generated from the Tier 3 threats, which seems to be the reason such forces were so savagely cut in the 2010 Strategic Defence Review.
In these relatively peaceful times, many of those threats appear to be low likelihood, even though they are high impact. We may be lulled into a false sense of security, much as we were in the mid-to-late 1930s and not invest adequately in defence. However, given the long lead times for military procurement, and the inherent financial instability in the world today, together with cultural conflicts centred on the Middle East, we would be well advised to take those Tier 3 threats very seriously – we will consider them in Part 3.
Author’s Note: Thank you all for your comments on Part 1. One man cannot possibly expect to produce a credible defence policy: it takes a team of people challenging each other’s views, statements and assumptions in order to do that. My aim was to provide a public forum for debate, to put up a strawman based on the assessed threats in order to provoke discussion – which has happened.