This Analysis is necessarily a long one as it serves as my submission to the UK Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (IR 2020). It has been seen and commented upon by very senior people from across the Euro-Atlantic Community and is designed to challenge prevailing assumptions in London, not only about defence policy and the Review, but Britain’s place in a fast-changing world. It does not pull its punches. All best, Julian
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT PAPER
Integrated Review 2020 and the United Kingdom Future Force
September 3rd, 2020
Abstract: IR 2020 and the United Kingdom Future Force 2030 considers the essential issues all strategic reviews should address given the challenges Britain faces today: health security versus national security, British defence strategy today and options for the future, the other Brexit and Britain’s abandonment of a continental strategy, the role of HM Treasury in national defence and the vital need for a threat not cost-led defence strategy. The ‘strategy’ which IR 2020 crafts will have profound implications for Britain’s role in NATO and for the Alliance itself. To that end, Britain must invest the Alliance with the necessary strategic ambition and military capability needed to maintain all-important Allied defence and deterrence. The piece also considers the growing implications of US military over-stretch for the defence of Britain and wider Europe. Consequently, it calls on Britain to lead a Combined Arms approach to the development of a high-end, first responder European Future Force that exploits new Emerging and Disruptive Technologies. Critically, the piece considers what it would take for Britain to remain a real Tier One military power via a new look defence strategy and concludes by suggesting IR 2020 will be a tipping point not just for British defence but for Britain itself in an uncertain world with an uncertain future. Are Britain’s political leaders up to the task?
“We seriously doubt the MoD’s ability to generate the efficiencies required to deliver the equipment plan. In the past, the MoD has proven incapable of doing so—for example, in 2015, when only 65% of planned ‘efficiency savings’ were achieved. Even if all the efficiencies are realised, there will be little room for manoeuvre, in the absence of sufficient financial ‘headroom’ and contingency funding. This is not an adequate basis for delivering major projects at the heart of the UK’s defence capability.”
House of Commons Defence Select Committee, 2017 (before the COVID-19 crisis)
Today is the anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two so consider this! Somewhere in China, sometime in 2019, deep in a dark Wuhan ‘wet market’ someone allegedly contracts a virus from a bat. A year or so later British defence policy, funding and investment plans, as well as many of its defence planning assumptions (DPA), lie in tatters. Meanwhile, Beijing forges ahead with a massive military modernisation programme that is exerting growing pressure on Britain’s critical ally, the United States. Just to reinforce the point last week China ‘tested’ DF21D and DF-26 anti-ship missiles in a move the Pentagon called “destabilising”. That is the unpromising back-drop to Britain’s delayed but finally forthcoming Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (IR 2020). The Times suggests “…several billion pounds could be wiped off the MoD’s annual budget, which is £41.5bn this year”. The fact that the Review is being undertaken at the worst moment in the midst of the COVID-19 economic crisis as part of a wider comprehensive spending review (CSR) says everything one needs to know about the politics behind it. More ‘efficiencies’, more cuts.
The political purpose of the Review is thus clear: to find ways to raid the defence, aid and foreign policy budgets to pay for a COVID-19 crisis which has taken the national debt to over £2 trillion, whilst avoid giving any such impression. By weakening Britain’s defences further simply to pay for COVID-19 London risks swapping one pandemic crisis for another just as dangerous geopolitical crisis. Equally, if imbued with the necessary strategic ambition this era-defining Review could afford both London and the British defence establishment an opportunity. What are the defence policy options available to Britain’s beleaguered government?
Conceit, deceit and the magic military
Health security versus national security: Like many of my colleagues in academic and think-tankery I have been invited to submit my views as part of the usual feeding frenzy that accompanies such reviews. Is it worth it? First, HM Treasury and Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s Chief Advisor for Everything, seem to have already decided Britain’s defence course of action – more decline management. Second, should I legitimise (the real purpose of such submissions) a review that will almost certainly see health security funded at the expense of national security? Third, is IR 2020 really a strategic defence review worthy of the name? Since the 1998 Strategic Defence Review British defence strategy has had four essential strands all of which mask a growing gulf between ends, ways and means. Cloaked in political hyperbole such reviews have driven an inexorable decline in the fighting power of Britain’s armed forces and the ‘hollowing out’ of its ever-smaller front-line force.
British defence strategy today: The result is what passes for defence strategy today. The use of nuclear weapons as an absolute guarantee against any existential threat to the British Isles with just enough intelligence capacity and expeditionary/high-end military intervention capability to convince Washington that London still remains an important ally, whilst maintaining the pretence that Britain remains a Tier One military power through commitments to the NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) that London cannot possibly meet while stonewalling NATO concerns about declining British fighting power, particularly in the Land Domain. Fourth, placing the Alliance at the centre of British defence strategy whilst withdrawing from the continent.
Strategic defence and security reviews 1998-2020: SDR 1998 began this process of wishful defence policy projection when Tony Blair established his doctrine of liberal humanitarian interventionism and the use of the British armed forces as ‘force for good’. Unfortunately, the defence planning assumptions underpinning the Blair Doctrine were blown away by 911, the Afghanistan War and the concomitant Iraq War. Consequently, the distance between the ends, ways and means of Britain’s defence policy became ever wider.
By the time of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) Britain’s armed forces were effectively broken. Worse, the banking crisis in which Britain found itself deeply mired forced the then British government to impose swingeing cuts of up to 20% on an already worn-out force. SDSR 2010 also established a ‘method’ that has, in effect, become a mantra for the ‘management’ of Britain’s military decline by claiming that central to its purpose was the need to “avoid the twin mistakes of retaining too much legacy equipment for which there is no requirement, or tying ourselves into unnecessarily ambitious future capabilities”.
SDSR 2015 was a partial attempt to begin the long-term recovery of Britain’s armed forces. It re-confirmed a commitment Britain had made at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit to make defence spending 2% of GDP of which 20% would be spent on new equipment. SDSR 2015 also saw the adoption of two other British defence political ‘stratagems’: creative defence accounting and the use of magic military solutions. In the 2015 SDSR the magic military ‘solution’ was ‘beefed up’ Special Forces that were to be the go to cure all for all and any pressures Britain’s markedly smaller Future Force might face.
Falling GDP due to COVID-19 means by definition a falling defence budget. Cue IR 2020. The political inference thus far is that IR 2020 is yet another metaphor for multi-dimensional cuts to the foreign, security, development and foreign policy budgets just at the moment when Britain no longer has access to the EU and its institutions. It also takes place at precisely the moment when US forces are beginning to feel the heat of China’s military rise and the growing pressures that places on Washington’s ability to guarantee the defence of Europe, despite a predatory Russia.
The magic military: The magic military bit of IR 2020 (or 2021, or whenever it will be published) is cyberspace and black hole space. Cyber and space are important theatres of contest as I discuss in my forthcoming new Oxford book, Future War and the Defence of Europe. The role of Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (E&DT) in future defence will also be vital. The real question, given there is already a £20 plus billion funding gap in the defence equipment budget, is where exactly should Britain invest in such technologies. My fear is cyberspace and space are both perfect for defence ‘cutateers’ because they are unfathomable black holes the depth of which can never be measured. As the pioneer of the concept of 5D warfare in which complex strategic coercion is exerted across disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption and implied or actual destruction I am fully aware of the important role cyber could play in modernising deterrence and defence. The same goes for artificial intelligence (AI). What AI?
Critically, cyber cannot and will not replace fighting power and the platforms, systems and people that will be needed in sufficient quantity and at a level of quality needed to win the hard yards of twenty-first century peace. The advocates of ‘winning to the left of combat’ with cyber et al find it impossible to explain how.
Tank politics, cost-neutrality and the other Brexit
Cutting, investing and influencing: Sir Max Hastings has suggested that one should not be emotional about the scrapping of outmoded defence kit. He is absolutely right! He was responding to leaks from within Whitehall that Britain might scrap all of its ageing fleet of two hundred and twenty-two Challenger 2 main battle tanks and assorted other armoured vehicles. There is also talk of Britain’s frigate fleet being reduced from the already miniscule thirteen to the hardly noticeable eight, and slashing orders for F-35 Lightning 2s. Britain used to have a little bit of everything, but not much of anything, soon it will not have very much of anything at all. This is important because if a small force cannot be in two places at once, a minute force cannot really be credible as a force anywhere at all. A lack of mass means a lack of that most vital of commodities, influence. This, in turn, is critical for the most important function of any force – the power not to fight at all. Worse, the danger is not only that tanks, aircraft or ships might be cut, but that just a few of each are kept for political reasons to assuage lobbies of tankers, airmen and sailors thus further destabilising an already unbalanced force.
If such cuts were made due to sound military-strategic reasons then so be it. Just because Britain invented the tank does not mean it needs them a century later if they serve no practical defence purpose, although I know of no one in the infantry who does not feel safer (and is safer) for the presence of friendly armour. In reality the floating of such cuts by those inside the Review is simply because once again IR 2020 is being cost not threat-led. HM Treasury is insisting Britain’s smaller defence books be balanced at a lower level of funding and whatever cost to a force that to the budgeteers is all cost and no value. The obsession with ‘cost neutral’ defence reviews assumes that an ‘all things being equal’ strategic environment in which threats never increase or change. Look at the world in 2020 even compared with 2020!
Fixing the defence-procurement shambles: Britain’s defence procurement is also a farce constantly subject to the shifting sands of political will with equipment programmes both cut and stretched in equal measure. One thing IR 2020 could do is to grip the defence industrial implications of the changing character of warfare and the technologies ‘defence’ will need. The very concept of the defence industrial base will need to change as AI and in time quantum computing enter the fray and massively accelerate the speed of both war and command. Indeed, only a new form of a strategic public private partnership could master the change that is fast coming, allied to a new kind of Defence Growth Partnership (DGP).
Threat-led or cost-led?
Britain desperately needs IR 2020 to be a genuinely threat-led review, the first since the Cold War. However, given that any such review will need to be paid for the economic and financial context is not at all promising. The crisis in British public finances is, indeed, very real with the national deficit now over £300 billion. However, the public finance crisis is also fast becoming a defence, NATO, transatlantic relations crisis because British governments continue to see defence as a peacetime luxury, even if they routinely speak as if the fight against COVID-19 is a form of ‘war’. One cannot win wars with either a peacetime mind-set or a peacetime view of investment and London urgently needs to see both COVID 19 AND the deteriorating strategic environment as part of the same set of challenges. The choices are stark. London can either accept that the national debt is already so high that adding more defence costs to it will make little difference. Alternatively, they will have to look for other sources of funding, such as the £15.8 billion devoted the aid budget. Either way, any meaningful attempt to close Britain’s threat-rhetoric-defence gap would necessarily see the British defence budget rise to at least 2.5% GDP and see all the costs associated with the nuclear deterrent removed from the defence budget.
HM Treasury and national defence: The worse nightmare of HM Treasury is a no deal Brexit and COVID-19 combining to drastically reduce the tax base and thus bankrupt Britain. Fair enough. However, simply making IR 2020 a slave of HM Treasury is self-defeating. To serve any purpose any such review must address the big picture of British security, defence and influence. The role of government is to strike a balance. It is not to recognise only as much threat as HM Treasury says it can afford. If Britain is at ‘war’, as the Government suggests, then the spending guidelines need to reflect that imperative, as they did during World War One and World War Two. Any such expenditures must thus be seen as a form of war debt to be paid off at historically low fixed interest rates over many years and in combination with higher taxation. That is the only possible way that Britain’s national ends, ways and means can be afforded in the wake of this crisis, let alone its military ends, ways and means.
Rational defence policy-making: It is vital IR 2020 establishes a rational for policy choices based on a real strategic assessment (not the political PR that are the UK National Security Strategies and the National Risk Register). However, there is little or no evidence the current regime has the political will or the vision or, indeed, a strategic culture that would enable it to undertake an exercise that would inevitably throw up some nasty and expensive surprises. Worse, so long as Government policy is driven primarily by ‘all things being equal’ HM Treasury economists secure money will always come before a secure Britain.
IR 2020, NATO and the military Brexit
The vital role of NATO defence and deterrence: NATO is the lodestar for modern defence and deterrence and it is vital the Concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA) is implemented in full. At the core of the effort is the modernising enhanced NATO Response Force (eNRF) and Britain needs to be front and centre of that effort. It is not. Indeed, the greater the stated commitment London makes to the Alliance in IR 2020 the greater the likely cuts to Britain’s forces. For London NATO has become a metaphor for “we can no longer really afford to do this or that, so you our allies will have to do it”. The problem is that every other European ally is doing the same thing, apart from the Americans and, yes, the Turks. The result is a NATO that is fast beginning to look like one of those Soviet propaganda movies of old which were all façade and no substance and in which ‘cohesion’ is everything. There could come a day when NATO is forced out of the Baltic States due to American military over-stretch and European military weakness, but the ensuing communique would no doubt state that in spite of the ‘set back’ the Alliance maintained its ‘cohesion’.
The other Brexit: In August 2019, Britain conducted a military Brexit abandoning the land defence of the European continent by withdrawing the massive bulk of its remaining forces back to the UK. The remnant is a forward-deployed battlegroup in Estonia, a few units in Germany and some Special Forces stuff. How can such a posture possibly reinforce the two centres of gravity of NATO defence, deterrence and security? How could cyber possibly help NATO maintain high-end deterrence against Russia to NATO’s east and engaged support for front-line states facing the Mediterranean to NATO’s south? Britain’s military contribution to both is already minimal which is demonstrated by Britain’s effective absence from any or all diplomatic efforts of any weight anywhere these days. Indeed, there is a very great danger that Prime Minister Johnson’s Global Britain will simply no longer matter even in its own strategic backyard – Europe. Given the still vital link between power and influence could IR 2020 make Britain matter even less?
Combined Arms and the UK Future Force 2030?
UK Future Force 2030? For IR 2020 to succeed it must look purposively out towards 2030 and mirror US efforts to modernise its forces by moving away from a focus on counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East and back to high-end power projection. However, the USMC is an intrinsically joint force. For such a vision to succeed Britain’s defence chiefs would not only have to stop fighting each other (and stop engaging in competitive leaking) they would also have to speak hard truth to political power and do so, for once, with one voice. If the National Security Council had any weight it could assist that, but it is a pale shadow of its US counterpart.
A new look defence strategy: If the nuclear deterrent is taken as a given (although all current and future programme costs should be removed from the defence budget), and assuming cyber defence (and offence) would be as much a civilian as a military cost, the centre of gravity of IR 2020 will necessarily concern the future of Britain’s high-end expeditionary/intervention forces. Given the fact that any such British future force will need for the most part to rely on US enablers it is therefore logical to look to the US for a possible vision.
USMC and UKAF: The future of Britain’s expeditionary capability must be a deep joint force supported by Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (E&DT). In that sense, the US Marine Corps (USMC) is the most obvious parallel to the UK Armed Forces. Whilst the USMC has some 182,000 active personnel supported by some 38,000 reserves, the UK Armed Forces have some 149,000 active personnel supported by 44,900 reserves. Both the US Marine Corps and UK military are power projection forces, with both increasingly focussed on admittedly vulnerable carrier-enabled power projection (CAPP). Not only is the USMC a possible source of vision it is also the natural partner of the British force and will operate F-35s from Britain’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
Combined Arms? Both the USMC and UKAF share other ‘virtue out of necessity’ attributes relevant to IR 2020. London’s abandonment of a continental strategy and the centrality of the nuclear deterrent in Britain’s defence strategy leads inexorably to a kind of rough military logic about the future of intervention. First, any such posture precludes the kind of mass force that would be needed to fight a high-end war with the likes of China and Russia. Second, the focus then becomes the creation of a small, but high quality, deep joint ‘strategic raider’ force focussed on one Strategic Command. Third, given the small size of such a British force and its ‘lightness’, like the USMC it would need to maintain a high degree of interoperability with the US Army and access US enablers. Indeed, it would be little more than an adjunct of US forces. For even this vision to be realised ‘UKAF’ would need to properly grip the concept of Combined Arms in much the same way the US Marine Corps sees it as central to its DNA.
Size and force structure: The role of a small high-end force would be to undertake relatively long-reach but short duration ‘kick down the door’ Littoral plus operations in conjunction with allies, most notably the Americans. Given Britain’s existing defence investments any such scenario would necessarily see the Army providing a follow-on force for small spearhead formations of beefed up Special Air Service/Special Boat Squadron, Royal Marines, and whatever name is given to the Parachute Regiment given that drifting down into the twenty-first century battlespace a la Arnhem is no longer particularly safe (more on the role of the British Army later). The future of ‘airborne’ is assured, but it will be a very different form of airborne, possibly one in which even helicopters are replaced and the future airborne soldier is borne aloft by jetpacks operating with artificially intelligent drones acting as ‘friendly wingmen’. In other words, a smaller force package version of how F-35s might operate.
The Royal Air Force would have four primary roles: to support the Royal Navy by providing carrier strike; to ensure an assured level of sophisticated anti-access/ areas denial (A2AD) over British airspace and, with the P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, under British waters; to afford limited strategic lift for supply and re-supply of deployed forces; and, of course, to protect the nuclear deterrent as the submarines enter and exit Faslane (both the Vanguard-class and in time the new Dreadnought class nuclear-powered ballistic missile boats).
Level of ambition, area of operations: The good news is that whilst the military reach of the USMC is across the maritime-amphibious global battlespace of the Indo-Pacific where, of course, the USMC gained its stellar reputation, Britain is a European power and can focus its main effort far closer to home. Interestingly for Britain the choices the Americans are making the implications for the future force structure of the ‘Corps’ include a much tighter joint ‘culture’ with the US Navy, even if the USMC is unlikely ever again to mount large scale forced entry amphibious operations. For the Americans the emphasis will thus be on high-speed, short-term, maximum shock, high technology raids (strategic raiders) against vulnerable parts of a high end peer adversary’s force posture. Britain?
Tier One and the cost of readiness? Like all recent defence reviews (and the fluff they are cloaked in) IR 2020 will no doubt claim that Britain will remain a ‘Tier One’ military power. The true test of such a claim will be the role of the British Army. Here ‘UKAF’ would part company with USMC. The difference with the US Marine Corps would be the transformation of the British Army into a twenty-first century ‘heavy’ force that whilst relatively small would still be able to operate to high-end effect across the battlespace. The political benefits of such a plan would be clear. First, Britain would still be able to exert leadership within the Alliance to which it claims to aspire. Second, such a ‘command hub force’ would also enable non-US allies to ‘plug’ into UK-led coalitions if the US was busy elsewhere. Third, it would enable the French and the Germans to ‘buy into’ a new British commitment to European defence. However, the British would also need to keep a significant part of what would be a significant high readiness force at high readiness for significant periods. Not cheap!
Little force, little Britain: If IR 2020 really is to be another, “we cannot afford everything we really should” review it is hard to see the Army ‘winning’ given the changing character of warfare and Britain’s diminishing role within it. If that were to be the case, and given how much money Britain has already ‘sunk’ (excuse the deliberate pun) into big ships and very complicated fast jets the logic would then be to invest in an all-out genuine and muscular maritime-amphibious strategy, with an air force tailored to support. At least such a capability would afford London more discretion over the use of force in complex scenarios, as naval forces can come and go albeit at the expense of reach. However, given the trade-offs implicit therein the Army would be reduced to little more than a lower-readiness, support for the civil authority, home defence force. If such a choice is indeed made Britain should at least have the decency to say to NATO and other allies that Britain no longer really does big land stuff, but will make a serious material contribution to collective allied maritime and air security.
That IS the essential defence choice IR 2020 must now make and whilst painful it might just allow Britain to retain a seat at top tables, and possibly ensure Britain holds onto NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. The worst thing for Britain to do would be to continue doing what it is now doing – pretending to its allies, most notably the United States, that Britain remains a serious land power when it can no longer field anything like the force the NATO Military Strategy and Defence Plan assumes. The furtherance of such deceit could, in time, lead NATO into disaster.
Britain and the European Future Force
IR 2020 and US military over-stretch: There is another change factor IR 2020 must grip. The attrition of a decade of full engagement operations, allied to the rise of peer competitors means the Americans are also facing an ends, ways and means crisis that the new Administration (whatever it is) will need to address. It is a crisis (for that is what it is) that will have profound implications for the future defence of Europe because it will put transatlantic burden-sharing front and centre of the US policy agenda. They will have no other choice. Indeed, without the full and combined leadership commitment of Britain, France and Germany across the multi-domains of contemporary and future warfare the US will be simply unable to any longer guarantee the defence of a free Europe.
A European Future Force: Europeans desperately need to build a European Future Force worthy of the name to ease pressure on the Americans, and to reinforce the credibility of Alliance defence and deterrence if, as would be likely, future enemies force the Americans to fight in multiple theatres the world over at the same time. Such a European force would also need to be a deeply joint, multi-domain, multi-national force and plugged into a tight command security and defence apparatus (an adapted NATO?). Britain, France and Germany would also need to act as ‘high framework powers’ by enabling force generation, command and control of coalitions by acting as autonomous command hubs. Therefore, in the wake of Brexit, IR 2020 should commit Britain to play a committed leadership role in the forging of such a command group by updating and expanding the 2010 UK-French Defence Co-operation Treaty with the aim of forging a new European fast, first responder and high-end force designed to reinforce effective deterrence in and around Europe, even if the Americans are busy elsewhere. A necessary reality check must be inserted at this point. Any such European Future Force would need to be weaned off US strategic enablers to be truly autonomous. For example, the US today provides 65% of NATO’s ‘fast air’ and 90% of refuelling aircraft. Indeed, if IR 2020 is to have a scintilla of strategic ambition or imagination it is just such a vision it must espouse.
IR 2020: yet another strategic pretence and insecurity review?
Some will consider this ‘intervention’ unhelpful. It is necessary. This is because the future of defence is on the offensive. The lethality and range of modern weapons systems, both offensive and defensive, allows ‘defence’ to be prosecuted by forward forces supported by ground, air and maritime-based weapons deployed at depths well-outside the tactical defence area. Deterrence by Denial is now not simply the presence of massed heavy metal, but the integration of so-called ‘fires’. In that light, IR 2020 must not be judged by its political, but its strategic value. It must also answer three questions: does it set Britain on a course to play the military role a still major European power of its size and strength should play in the defence of Europe? Does it enable Britain to support US leadership and make an adequate contribution to the sharing of transatlantic burdens? And, does it help to prevent the possible defeat of NATO by revealing a British future force able and willing to act in extremis?
My fear is that none of those questions will be answered by IR 2020 and it will be the same ol’ British same ol’. More of the same old defence pretence at which London has become the acknowledged master in which there is much talk of ‘ambition’ where there is none, more ‘commitments’ are made, even as the ability to meet them declines, yet more ‘efficiencies’ are called for that are little more than euphemisms for deep cuts, and in which defending Britain is a cost not a value. In other words, the same old mix of conceit and deceit that has done so much damage to Britain’s credibility and reputation as a power. For once it would be nice to be surprised by a British government that actually ‘gets’ the nature of twenty-first century power and is willing to prove it.
The domestic political implications of IR 2020 must also be gripped. The recent spat between the BBC and huge numbers of the British people over whether or not Rule Britannia should be sung at this year’s Last Night of the Proms is sadly indicative of modern Britain. For the BBC the song is a nationalistic anachronism that reeks of jingoism. To millions of Britons it remains a leitmotif of national defiance. However, behind the culture wars there is something quite profound, the systematic deconstruction of British patriotism and national self-belief. As a trained Oxford historian I am the first to acknowledge the sins of the past and I am in sympathy with much of the ‘new thinking’, although I am profoundly concerned about the imposition of contemporary values on past actions. In that light the state of Britain’s armed forces is something of a metaphor for the state of Britain itself. With separatists in power in Scotland, and many citizens seeming no longer to care about Britain and its role in the world, could IR 2020 mark the beginning of the end of Britain itself? After all, if the British establishment no longer believes in Britain as a power then how can the rest of us? No state can be a power if it is deeply divided or is led by people for whom power is just pretend.
If that is indeed the journey upon which Britain is embarked then the implications for Britain, Europe, and all the world’s democracies are profound. Freedom cannot be defended by values alone, however well-intentioned. Indeed, freedom, power and defence are inexorably and intrinsically-linked. Freedom’s defence must thus always involve a sufficiency (no more) of military power given the scope and nature of the threats democracy faces. To be credible any such power must also communicate to allies, adversaries and enemies alike both the determination and the capability to fight if needs be. That was the lesson of the 1930s. Britain 2020?
IR 2020: tipping Britain into an uncertain future
Basil Liddell Hart once famously said that between 1919 and 1939 the British were ostriches, and when their heads were jerked from the sand their eyes were too angrily bloodshot to keep clear sight. IR 2020 is a tipping point for a declining Britain and thus should not be seen as simply another review. As such, it will reveal the extent to which Britain is a serious power to be treated seriously by friend or foe alike, or a posturing, paper, pretend power in which the appearance of strength is far more important than strength itself. Indeed, watching Britain from abroad it is hard not to conclude that much of the London establishment suffer from what is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a type of cognitive bias in which they believe their nation/organisation is smarter and more capable than it actually is, and that allies and partners share such bias. Ultimately, Britain’s greatest weakness is not its inability to close its defence ends, ways and means gap, but the poor quality of Britain’s leaders, their strategic illiteracy and ingrained short-‘termness’, allied to a determined refusal and/or inability to lead Britain to the strategic role to which a state of its power and importance could still aspire. Prime Minister Johnson aspires to emulate his hero Winston Churchill. IR 2020 is his chance to begin that journey. Churchill was great not because he succeeded in easy times, but because he prevailed in appalling times. Over to you, Prime Minister!
The bottom-line of IR 2020 is thus: military threats are emerging and the nature of warfare is changing. The conditions for shock to happen are not only created through the design of aggressors but also the neglect of defenders. Given the strategic responsibilities of an advanced global trading power of some sixty seven million people that is a leading member of NATO and a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council Britain’s armed forces are fast becoming absurdly weak in relation to the threats they must face and the roles and tasks they are expected to perform. No amount of clever drafting can or will hide that reality! Indeed, if Integrated Review 2020 is, indeed, more strategic pretence it is only to be hoped that some future enemy will be obliging enough to act in such a way that Britain’s defence planning assumptions do not simply collapse like the pack of cards they are, just as the Wehrmacht did in 1940.
Let me finish with the words of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, “…now we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we will certainly come out on top if we succeed in being defeated”. IR 2020?
Julian Lindley-French, September 2020