The Government must describe the circumstances in which the UK would intervene militarily in the future, says the Defence Committee in its report, ‘Intervention: Why, When and How?’ The public needs to know that the UK will deploy forces only as part of a considered national strategy.
A strategic and well-articulated vision of the UK’s position in the world and the level of influence it is able to exert would lead to more rational decisions on whether or not to intervene as well as a better public understanding of the rationale for any such future decision. It would also assist in identifying the strategic objective of such operations, contributing to a more coherent UK foreign, defence and security policy.
Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP, said:
“The British people are suspicious of the motivation for deploying troops to certain situations but not others. We need to see, in the next Defence and Security Review, a definition of the circumstances in which the UK might intervene in future and the legal basis for such interventions in order to ensure a successful outcome and full public support. The Government also needs to be more forthright in stating the consequences of non-intervention when it decides to intervene”.
The Committee supports the Government’s adoption of an “adaptable posture” in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The threats to UK national security remain uncertain and unpredictable and it is important that the Government and UK Armed Forces retain the flexibility to deal with them. The 2010 National Security Strategy said that the national security apparatus had focused on non-state actors and that the current main national security threat was from international terrorism. These threats remain, but the Committee calls on the Government to ensure that the next National Security Strategy gives due weight to the likelihood of a return to an increased threat of state versus state conflict and that decisions on the force structure, manpower, equipment and capability in the next Defence and Security Review ensure that UK Armed Forces are able to meet these threats. The NATO Summit in September 2014 provides an opportunity for consideration of the future role of NATO in providing collective security against these threats.
The role of Parliament in deciding to deploy UK Armed Forces into conflict situations has been effectively changed by the vote against military action in Syria. The Government needs to resolve the balance between Parliament’s essential role as a strategic inquisitor on military deployments and the use of the Royal Prerogative in conflict decisions. The Government should intensify its efforts to resolve this matter. But the Government must not wait until the next possible military deployment to do this. The Government should commit to ensuring that a summary of the legal justification on military action is available to Parliament in advance of any such debate.
Interventions bring with them responsibilities in respect of defining exit strategies and desired outcomes which will invariably take longer than anticipated to achieve. Securing the peace is as important an objective as winning the war. The Government should set out in the next National Security Strategy and the next Defence and Security Review how it intends to define and assess successful exit strategies and end states.