Cooperation key to the future of UK Defence and Security policy

Cooperation key to the future of UK Defence and Security policy

Cooperation key to the future of UK Defence and Security policy

In the latest of our Expert Opinion articles, Baroness Jolly looks back at the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review and sets out some thoughts on the future of Liberal Democrat Defence policy.

Baroness Jolly is a Liberal Democrat Peer and her party’s spokesman on Defence.

To follow Baroness Jolly on Twitter – @jollyjudith

Over the last year I attended several SDSR briefings, all of which acknowledged that the world had changed and that the MoD, along with FCO, Home Office and DFID really understood the need to work together and produce a document that reflected that reality.  Clearly the work on Ebola, the Olympics, floods in the west country, and as well as the usual security and defence functions highlighted the need to cooperate.

The decision to make the Cabinet Office the lead organisation was a key one, as was that to encourage contributions from a wide range of organisations, allies and partners, and to include a senior French officer in the top team.  It was a document which for the first time rolled together the SDSR with the National Security Strategy and included finance and it is clear that the eagle eye of the Chancellor was rarely take off the deliberations.  Although not perfect, it did not largely disappoint.

It is impossible to give a commentary on the whole document, but I will pick a few points that express my areas of concern and interest.

The announced purchase of nine P-8 Maritime Surveillance Aircraft was good news after the cancellation of Nimrod aircraft programme in 2010.  While these aircraft have an important role monitoring the United Kingdom’s sovereign maritime area, also in search and rescue operations, they also have an important part in cooperating with our allies hunting submarines in the Atlantic.  This was an activity the United Kingdom unilaterally removed itself from fully participating in with the 2010 SDSR, and for too long we have been reliant on allies for cover.

For an island nation we need a fleet that is fit for purpose and this SDSR does address that point.  Many have complained that there are too few ships and submarines, and that there is a really long lead time for the enlarged fleet, but there is an acknowledgement that we can no longer afford, nor need a fleet that we had in the sixties and seventies, but also that there is the promise of joint working with both France and the US.

The Navy, and other services to a lesser extent, will soon face a critical shortage of engineers at all levels.    This is mirrored in industry as a whole and the solution has to come from outside the Service as well as in.  Neither the US nor our allies in the Nordic States and Europe have this problem.  The profession is valued and understood elsewhere, urgent action has to be taken here, very soon, to find a remedy.

I am particularly concerned about defensive cyber.  Cyber threatens systems.  By its nature, much of todays’ warfare is using systems of systems, with millions of lines of interconnected and interrelated code.  It is important that intelligence is shared, as many of our systems are shared with our allies and partners.  Whereas it is good that we are working with our partners and allies on this, adding to the connectivity is a multiplier of risk.  I welcome the Joint Cyber group, however there is an urgent need for recruitment and training.

Over the last twenty years or so we have seen the growth and importance of soft power alongside the military hard power, and I welcome the move to expand our presence in our Embassies world-wide; we should never underestimate their influence and their ability to not only be the face of UK plc, but also be our eyes, ears and voices in the world.

I also welcome the new addition of the British Council and the BBC World service to the SDSR.  Having lived in the Middle East for some years and worked in the British Council, I have seen its activities and impact first hand.  It is the envy of many – if it did not exist we would have to invent it.  There is a real concern over future funding which needs to be addressed – how does the extension of “deep country expertise” dovetail with cuts to the FCO budget.

The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review was eagerly awaited; its 2010 predecessor was a slash and burn exercise and this needed to be balm to those who care about our defence and security and those whose role it is to deliver it.  It should come as no surprise that the Government sees our defence and security as requiring such a strong commitment to our allies and international efforts.  As a Liberal Democrat, I believe that there are few issues we face that with cooperation cannot be addressed, from transnational terrorism to state aggression.  It is the strength from working with our allies and likeminded states that will allow us to overcome and address them.

Published: Monday 11 January 2016

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Photograph: © Copyright Baroness Jolly

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

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