Britain’s policy on defence has been overwhelmingly driven by the need to cut cost, lacks vision and leads to concerns about how plans were being made to combat the real threats and challenges being faced by the country, an influential parliamentary committee has claimed.
The Coalition government’s blueprint, the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy, are both flawed, according to the report by the Commons’ Defence Committee. “We have” say the MPs, “found it difficult to divine any genuine strategic vision in either document. There is a need for an agreed definition of strategy, our inquiry has suggested that there is not a clear definition of strategy adhered to within Government.”
The Committee warned that there is “a danger of defence becoming a matter of discretionary spending…. Discretionary decisions about the expeditionary capability that the UK retains must be based on proper strategic decision making about the UK’s place in the world and not simply flow from the “horse-trading” that surrounds the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) process.”
However, the MPs say the Government is failing to explain the UK’s ‘place in the world’ and the justification for military action to the electorate and this should be done with as much transparency as possible.
“One of the greatest strategic threats to defence is the disconnect between the Armed Forces and the public caused by a lack of understanding of the utility of military force in the strategic contemporary environment. The Government cannot hope to bridge this divide without looking to explain what it believes to the UK’s position in the world would be or should be” the inquiry holds.
Lessons learned from the Afghan and Iraq wars need to be spread across all government departments, especially as modern counter-insurgency requires that ‘soft power’ such as training, education and reconstruction accompanies the ‘hard power’ of combat. The Ministry of Defence, in conjunction with the Cabinet Office should commission candid official histories to be written of both the missions to help this process, the report holds.
“ This work could usefully call on input and expertise from other Departments including the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office since the comprehensive approach became a hallmark of the operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The MPs welcomed the establishment of the National Security Council for giving greater operational focus and coordination across Departments”. However, the organisation is still “ failing to take on the higher strategic role it might have done in Government.” The next Strategic Defence and Security Review, due in 2015, should be preceded by a the Government producing a comprehensive strategy on how “ the UK’s national interests and obligations will be upheld in the face of shifting threats and profound geo-political and geo-economic changes.”
There should be far wider consultation for the next review, the MPs declare. Their next suggestion, however, may raise a few military hackles. “ We consider there are lessons for the MoD to learn from the practices of the French Government into the reformulation of its Livre Blanc”.