Military flexibility, not crisis prediction, should underpin national strategy

21 November 2015

The Defence Committee publishes their report into Flexible response? An SDSR checklist of potential threats, HC 493 at 00.01am, Saturday 21 November 2015.


Britain should develop versatile Armed Forces capable of adapting to a range of potential crises, rather than trying to predict which of them will actually occur, says the Commons Defence Committee in today’s Report on the imminent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). Flexible Response? An SDSR Checklist of Potential Threats and Vulnerabilities identifies 6 potential threat areas and 5 general vulnerabilities against which the Committee intends to "mark the card" of the SDSR which is due to be published on Monday.

The Report challenges the Government’s methodology of assigning threats to three groupings, ranked according to the likelihood of them occurring as well as their potential impact. The Report states:

"We believe that the Government’s "tiered" approach to mapping the threat picture—soon to be set out in the National Security Strategy—is flawed in assuming that the probability of potential threats becoming actual ones can reliably be predicted."

The 11 potential threats and vulnerabilities are viewed, not as exhaustive, nor as likely to be predictable significantly in advance of the onset of a crisis, but as credible possibilities which any national strategy for defence and security must take into account. They are:

A. Threat Areas

  • Cyber-attack and espionage
  • Growing instability in the Middle East and North Africa
  • Increases in extremism, radicalisation and other enablers of terrorist activity
  • Non-state actors and hybrid warfare undermining the international rules-based order
  • Potential for conflict in the South and East China Seas
  • Potential for Russian aggression in Europe and the High North and possible dilution of the commitment to Article 5

B. General Vulnerabilities

  • Economic dependence on unreliable partners
  • Inability to react to sub-conventional threats
  • Inadequate training opportunities for UK Armed Forces
  • Lack of numbers in UK Armed Forces and gaps in capabilities
  • Lack of expertise in Whitehall

Each of these potential threats and vulnerabilities is analysed in detail in the Report.

Chair's comment

Defence Committee Chairman Dr Julian Lewis MP commented:

"Any worthwhile Defence Review and Security Strategy ought to cater for the potential dangers on our checklist. Yet, there is overconfidence in Government that it can reliably predict which threats will transpire. History has proven that this approach does not work.

The SDSR needs to deliver a structure for the Armed Forces within which they can react appropriately when unforeseen threats arise. That requires adaptable and flexible Armed Services underpinned by a wide range of high quality single-service, joint and multi-national training."

Further information

Image: Ministry of Defence

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