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Pauline Neville-Jones: A Conservative Defence and Security Review


For a number of years the Conservative Party has said that on entering office it will conduct a Strategic Defence Review, and has criticised the Government for relying on a Review that is now over ten years old to underpin the operations and capabilities of the Armed Forces.

Time has, of course, moved on and circumstances have changed.  Recent experience has shown that the next Review should go much wider than the role of defence or of the armed forces alone, and that it should be conceptually radical enough to encompass the all contributors to the national security agenda. 

This morning I want to explain why this is, what it means and also set out the thoughts that are likely to guide the approach of a Conservative Government - assuming, of course, that the Conservative Party enters office after the next general election - to a Security and Defence Review.

<h2>What went wrong with the 1998 SDR?</h2>

When the 1998 Strategic Defence Review was published it was widely acknowledged as a good piece of work.  The Review laid particular emphasis on the need for the UK to have an effective expeditionary capability - a principle which still holds today.

So what has gone wrong?

While SDR was labelled as foreign policy led, in fact defence came to usurp the place of foreign policy: defence was no longer a tool of government or a means to a strategic end, but became the first port of call.  In many ways this reflected Labour's interpretation of 'Responsibility to Protect' as a justification - if not a call - for the early resort to the use of force, rather than using force as the last instrument.  However, one of the most significant protagonists of Responsibility to Protect and individuals to have taken the concept forwards, Gareth Evans, will tell you that 'humanitarian intervention' is now a misleading phrase because it has come to be interpreted as meaning simply the use of military force.  He, however, sees the use of military force as a last resort and not the heart of the Responsibility to Protect.

The implications of this were two-fold.

First, as a result of the lack of focus on how to prevent conflict, government began to lose its capacity for strategic assessment of risk and instability.

Secondly, there was a leap in the frequency of interventions in which the UK became involved - in countries as diverse as Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor and Iraq. These operations, unlike that in Afghanistan, were not - or did not turn out to be, in the Iraqi case - directly connected to the UK's national security.  Another trend that became evident as time went on was the ever increasing ambitions of intervention operations.  It is noteworthy that in shifting to a posture of liberal interventionism, which aimed at fundamental societal reform and nation building, Labour failed to observe its own very clear criteria for deciding to undertake military operations as set out in Tony Blair's Chicago Speech of 1999.

We know that the Defence Planning Assumptions as set out in SDR have themselves always been underfunded, as demonstrated by some tragic losses of life as a result of equipment shortages.  This is nothing short of an abdication of responsibility of Labour.  But worse still, having ignored their own criteria for undertaking intervention operations Labour precipitated a situation in which not only were the Defence Planning Assumptions underfunded, but they were overtaken - if not ignored.

At the same time, of course, following 9/11 attention was given to how the military should respond to a changing security landscape characterised by non-state actors with global reach, who could pose a strategic threat to Western interests from failed states, and to challenges like proliferation.

A 'New Chapter' was added to SDR though it did not draw the full conclusions for defence and security policy or for the mission of the armed services from this recognition of the changing threat context.

The most recent visions of British defence policy were set out in the Defence White Papers of 2003 and 2004 which brought earlier reports together in Delivering Security in a Changing World, and in Adam Ingram's review of the defence contribution to countering terrorism both at home and abroad.

While the analysis in these reports - with their focus on terrorism, proliferation, the consequences of weak and failing states and the implications of social and environmental pressures worldwide - is not disputed, I think that in continuing to focus solely on an expeditionary strategy three things did not happen.

First, Labour did not consider - at least fully - the consequences of these overseas phenomena for domestic security.

Secondly, Labour did not consider the interaction which might take place between policies pursued abroad and their potential effects at home.

Thirdly, Labour did not strike an adequate balance between expeditionary operations and the increasingly necessary military contribution to homeland defence and security.

The final point I would make about what went wrong with the 1998 SDR relates to the concept of a 'Comprehensive Approach'.  This is not a new concept, as some might suggest: it was very much evident during operations in Bosnia in the 1990s and to their credit the Ministry of Defence pioneered it.  But I think that by not having foreign or security-policy led defence reviews - and this went hand-in-hand with the neglect of the Foreign Office - agility and interoperability across the range of institutions that now need to participate in operations abroad was not fostered.  Likewise, the focus on technological transformation - while important, as demonstrated by the continued use of ISTAR assets - was at the expense, largely, of a focus on human skills.  So we are playing catch up.

<h2>The strategic context</h2>

Against this background there are calls for the strategic retreat of the United Kingdom. 

In this globalised world this is not at all desirable, not least because the UK is dependent on international trade and resource flows for its livelihood and wealth creation, and also because threats and hazards do not recognise borders so it would be foolish to adopt a posture which suggested they did.

A Conservative Government's National Security Strategy, drawn up by a National Security Council, will assess the range of threats and hazards to the UK which cross the traditional boundaries and definitions of internal security and external defence.  The Strategy will define what Britain's strategic interests and how these interests interact with this environment.  In other words, the Strategy will set the framework for a Security and Defence Review that will be its operational underpinning. 

It is this operational underpinning that I want to focus on.  The strategic context this country finds itself in has been well analysed and I do not intend to go over this ground now in great detail now.  This audience will be well aware of the drivers of insecurity - population growth, climate change, the diffusion of economic and political power to state and non-state actors who do not always share our interests but, perhaps more importantly, values, as a result of globalisation, and the spread of technology.  This audience will also be well aware that these drivers have resulted in a wide range of threats and hazards, including extremism and terrorism, transnational organised crime, the hostile exploitation of the vulnerability of fragile and failed states, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, state authoritarianism and natural hazards of increased frequency and scale.

What I would say is that the drivers of insecurity will increase in their manifestation and effect: natural hazards will increase in frequency and scale across the world; there will be continued pressure on natural resources; the diffusion of economic and political power will continue and open challenges to the way the West has approached the management of the international system to date, as well as further empowering non-state actors who have ready access to a black market of illicit goods.  This creates opportunities for others to exploit the place they find themselves in the world: it both empowers new actors and creates new opportunities for disruptive activity.  If one needs an example of how threats evolve, take terrorist tactics as an example.  The attacks in Mumbai last year could be imitated elsewhere - even here in the UK.

Related to this, I want to touch on the concept of 'hybrid warfare' that is gaining currency in military circles here and in the US.  It is not just that new actors will be empowered and that there will be new opportunities for, and forms of, disruptive activity.  A difficult challenge will be the combination of different types of adversary and different modes of engagement in the same theatre or in the same campaign but in different places.  There may, for example, be the simultaneous use of conventional capabilities and irregular actors such as insurgents, terrorists or organised criminals, and methods such as the disruption of critical supply chains and cyber attack alongside conventional military engagements.

But one should not just react to events.  Labour's use of military intervention as an instrument of choice identifies something very important: that Labour was focussed on reacting to insecurity at a very late stage, rather than prevention.  While a capacity for reactive action must be maintained, a Conservative Government would shift priorities to focus on conflict prevention - at tackling the underlying causes of problems before direct security challenges manifest themselves.  This will require the restoration within government of the capacity for strategic assessment of risk and instability.

On top of such long-range projections we must, of course, add ongoing operations in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is of vital importance to the UK's national security and success there will be the top priority for a Conservative Government.  What is required is a focussed counter insurgency effort aimed at protecting the Afghan population and building the capacity of indigenous and local security forces.  I say a focussed effort because military operations must not continue indefinitely.  There are other worthy objectives, such as better education and improved human rights, but these are different from the military mission and will require socio-economic investment by the international community over the long-term.

<h2>Balancing current and future capabilities</h2>

If Afghanistan will be the top priority for a Conservative Government, how will the capability requirements of current operations be balanced against future capability requirements?  A major task of the Security and Defence Review will be to answer this question, identifying the capabilities that are needed to protect the national interests of the UK.

There are two dimensions to the capabilities question.

The first is what I would call the skills set that Whitehall as a whole can use to tackle insecurity. 

I have said that a Conservative Government will shift its focus to conflict prevention, rather than just tackling the symptoms of insecurity through military intervention.  That is not, of course, to say that interventions will never be needed.  But in either case, recent experience has shown us that alongside the military civilians must also be able to operate effectively in dangerous environments. 

Traditionally it has been the MoD, the Foreign Office and Department for International Development which have contributed the bulk of the resources to conflict prevention and post conflict activities.   I would say that, in addition, wider resources in Whitehall can contribute.  Like the Home Office for policing expertise and assistance, the departments for Children, Schools and Families and Business, Innovation and Skills for education reform, and the Ministry of Justice with judicial reform.  Similarly, the Department for Energy and Climate Change needs to give greater attention to the security of supply lines and support the armed forces in preventing disruption.  There is scope here for a National Security Budget.

In other words, and as the new Chief of the General Staff has said, non-military activities must be given much greater weight and be re-engineered as security instruments and properly integrated into strategy, not viewed as international versions of domestic welfare programmes.

But just, of course, as other Departments should be able to contribute abroad, so the military should have a more structured contribution to homeland security and resilience tasks.  Many in this audience will be aware of the Party's proposal for a small military homeland command, building on the existing facilities at Land Command, and for a more dedicated regular force contribution to homeland tasks.

I have already mentioned the risk of a Mumbai-style attack here in the UK, and that natural hazards are increasing in scale and frequency - and the UK is no stranger to these.  So why is a more structured military contribution important?  Because the risk of such catastrophic and marauding events overwhelming the capabilities of the emergency services is unacceptably high in two particular respects: command and control and doctrine. 

On the first, the military is best placed to provide agile and innovative command and control capabilities in support of the civil power when, during catastrophic events, cannot be expected to have adequate situational awareness.  Currently, military support to the civil power - other than in a few niche capabilities - is therefore only declaratory and its availability is not guaranteed.  As a result, first responders find it difficult to include the military in their planning.  They have told me that what they need is predictable support.   I agree.

On the second point - doctrine - events like Mumbai and Lahore are not cases of consequence management: simply dealing with the aftermath of an attack, as was the case on 7/7.  It would be a case of meeting the terrorists head on.  The military is well placed to support appropriate changes to the doctrine of emergency services to meet evolving terrorist techniques.  Similarly, the need for interoperability is a concept that must be pulled through from the armed forces to blue light services.

The second dimension of capabilities I want to look at is the technical side.  In other words, the kit that one sees deployed on operations or in response to an emergency.

I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the Review, but it does seem to me that the Urgent Operational Requirements being funded for operations in Afghanistan are not irrelevant to the future strategic context.  General Sir David Richards has said ' if our armed forces can focus on a single version of conflict: whether one is fighting non-state actors in Afghanistan or proxies sponsored by a disgruntled major power there or somewhere else, the skill sets and weapon systems required will look usefully similar: a virtuous congruence between non-state and inter-state war'.  

Now, if this is the case links between UORs and the long-term Equipment Programme should be improved.  It should be possible to use the UOR process to bring into service earlier, in 'initial form', those capabilities envisaged in the Equipment Programme before introducing the full capability later on.  Indeed, such early introduction could help the development of systems so that they are better suited to the needs of the frontline.

I would also add that the capabilities and skills sets developed for, and used in, Afghanistan are not irrelevant to the emphasis a Conservative will place on long-term conflict prevention.  The sustained use of diplomatic and civilian policies and instruments directed at long-term reform and stability will necessarily draw on the advice of the military.  They will also be supported by defence diplomacy, security sector reform and capacity building activities.

It must also be recognised that the technologies we are talking about are often fungible- they can be pulled across from the defence space to the security space, and perhaps even vice versa.  In some areas, such as nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical the MoD has significant expertise and the Home Office programme is relatively new in comparison: why does the latter not draw on the work of the former?  This is partly about achieving value for money by reducing duplication - and affordability is something I will come on to - but it is also reflects an end-to-end national security concept.

<h2>Affording capabilities</h2>

How to balance current and future capability requirements is, of course, just one of the obvious questions people ask.  The other is: how is any government going to afford these requirements?

This audience will be aware that the defence budget has not been ring fenced from value for money considerations.  But how will value for money be achieved once the Equipment Programme is reviewed in light of the capability requirements identified in the Security and Defence Review?

I would suggest that the UK moves down the road of the US.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said: 'I concluded we needed to shift away from the 99-percent exquisite service-centric platforms that are so costly and so complex that they take forever to build, and only then in very limited quantities.  With the pace of technological and geopolitical change and the range of possible contingencies, we must look more to the 80-percent solution, the multi-service solution that can be produced on time, on budget and in significant numbers'.  What I think this means in practice is having a basic, modular core of equipment that can be scaled up as necessary.

Finally, let me also add that achieving value for money should mean two more things.  First, not neglecting Research and Development work.  And, secondly, giving greater certainty to industry about where to invest its resources - which will mean reinvigorating the Defence Industrial Strategy and clearly defining sovereign capabilities are required, and extending these concepts to the homeland space.

<h2>Conclusion</h2>

Let me conclude.

To meet the demands of a National Security Strategy there cannot just be a Strategic Defence Review.  Government needs to think of the armed forces as one part of an overall national security capability available to government.

So there must be a cross-government Security and Defence Review to give operational underpinning to the NSS.  This Review must look at how the Ministry of Defence and other Departments should work and integrate with each other to tackle security challenges both at home and abroad.

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