Defence Committee

Session 2002-03, 15 May 2003

Press Notice No. 24



The Sixth Report from the Defence Committee in Session 2002-03, A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review, is published today as House of Commons Paper 93-I.  (A separate volume of written and oral evidence taken in connection with the inquiry will be published at 1100 today as HC 93-II).

The report examines the Ministry of Defence’s New Chapter to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, published in July 2002, which focused on the threat of strategic-effect terrorism after the events of 11 September and the likely impact of technological change on the military. The report considers how far the New Chapter met the ambitious goals set for it, the process by which the New Chapter was produced, the consultation that the MoD undertook, the implications of network-centric capabilities for the transformation of the military and force structures, as well as a number of legal issues raised by the New Chapter White paper.

The Chairman of the committee, Bruce George said,

‘This report follows our previous reports on the Threat from Terrorism and Defence and Security in the UK which considered aspects of the response to the events on 11 September 2001.  The concepts and principles which it discusses are of central importance to an understanding of how our Armed Forces will operate in the future.  But, if these are to be given practical effect, our Armed Forces need the resources and people to deliver them, and as the recent operations in Iraq showed, we are already pushing the Services to the limit.’

In the Summary to the report the committee states:

The New Chapter to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) was published in July 2002.  It was rooted in the events of 11 September 2001 and focused on the threat of strategic effect terrorism. It also discussed the impact of technological change on the military.

On home defence and security the New Chapter proposed a number of improvements in liaison functions in Land forces command in the UK. There was no new role for the regular Armed Forces. Instead the Reserves were to be called upon through the creation of volunteer reserve Civil Contingency Reaction Forces. We welcome these, but have concerns over the implications of their establishment on the normal activities of the volunteer Reserves. The coherence of this aspect of the New Chapter was also undermined because the consultation process with the volunteer Reserves continued beyond publication of the New Chapter itself.

The New Chapter asserts that overseas operations will be a more effective use of the military in fighting terrorism than home defence. But we found little evidence of a proper discussion of how to strike the right balance between operations away and at home.

The UK is well placed to exploit the opportunities of networking sensors and strike capabilities in military operations. Now the MoD has to show that it can do so through developing doctrine and through training, for all members of the UK’s Armed Forces. It also needs to address important consequent equipment implications that flow from networking. The New Chapter highlighted a number of existing equipment programmes and some new developments, mainly in sensor technology. But, as experience with the Watchkeeper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle programme already demonstrates, even in these areas, ambition continues to run ahead of delivery and we have seen little evidence of the urgency that the MoD claims to be devoting to acquiring these new capabilities.

We are also concerned that the New Chapter will put further strain on the UK’s already stretched Armed Forces. This is particularly true of those groups of personnel who provide the support essential to any operation, known collectively as ‘key enablers’.

We welcome the MoD’s assurance that military action will always be consistent with international law. But we have found some confusion regarding the law in respect of pre-emptive or preventative uses of armed force against terrorist threats.

We conclude that the MoD’s determination to limit the scope of the New Chapter to the specific threat from international terrorism, when some of the issues raised clearly have a much wider relevance, has made the outcome untidy and unbalanced.  By trying to avoid the broader picture the MoD has in fact drawn attention to the many areas where developments since 1998 are making the original SDR look increasingly out of date.  It is disappointing that what has emerged is in fact a rather modest development of policy: in effect, a steady evolution of the same doctrine of fighting at distance as was set out in the SDR.

The full text of the Report will be available on the Defence Committee website at: