Questions MoD must answer in planning next defence review (SDSR)

25 March 2015

It is essential that an entirely fresh National Security Strategy (NSS) is created before consideration begins on the next SDSR according to the Defence Committee's report published Wednesday 25 March 2015.

The inquiry

The Defence Committee have set out a list of questions the MoD and the NSC should ask themselves if they are to formulate a realistic Strategic Defence and Security Review that best serves the Defence requirements of this country.

The Committee decided, in 2013 that their inquiries should help to inform the next Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). This report summarises the contribution those recent reports suggest, and raises fundamental issues that any comprehensive and integrated cross-government SDSR needs to address.

It is essential that an entirely fresh National Security Strategy (NSS) is created before consideration begins on the next SDSR. This new strategy should involve a fundamental reassessment of the UK’s role in the world, in the light of the new and unexpected threats to National Security since 2010.

Chair's comments

"Coming up with an achievable strategy for our involvement in future conflicts will be more challenging than ever before. The threats to stability around the world change and re-emerge with startling speed. Our next SDSR must state how or when we might intervene to maintain stability overseas and it must focus more rigorously on the UK’s key military alliances and partnerships."

Key questions

The Report poses a substantial number of questions to consider. Namely:

  • What is the UK national strategy? Should it be global or regional in focus?
  • Does the Government maintain the assertion of no strategic shrinkage? If so, how is this to be achieved with Armed Forces that are reducing in size?
  • What regional partnerships should we develop to help to deliver the UK’s national security objectives? What capacity do our allies have to contribute to our security and what is the UK’s capacity to provide reciprocal support?
  • What capacity does the Government have to understand Russian motivations and strategy? What investment is being made in increasing this understanding?
  • What steps has the UK taken to match the call from Sir Peter Wall, the former-Chief of the General Staff to "deliver a comprehensive carrier-strike capability; to sustain sufficient combat air squadrons to police our skies alongside our NATO partners; to expand cyber and surveillance and hone our special forces capabilities; to ensure that we can field a resilient land force at the divisional level, which means stemming the creeping obsolescence of the Army’s manoeuvre capabilities"?
  • What detailed analysis has been produced on the situation in failed states with terrorist links. In Iraq for example, what analysis has been conducted of the Sunni tribes and Shia militia? How robust, and detailed is the analytical capacity available to the UK on the ground?
  • What will be the scale of the UK’s enduring commitment to operations against DAESH?
  • If the security situation in Afghanistan were to deteriorate, as it has in Iraq, what would be the UK’s response?
  • Has the Government consulted with key allies about the capabilities that the UK should maintain, and has it considered whether a full spectrum capability is still the optimum model for maintaining the UK’s standing with its allies?

There is a significant risk that ambiguous tactics will operate below the threshold of NATO’s Article 5 'attack' pledge (That an armed attack against a member would bring about a concerted NATO response). The Committee recommends that the adjective "armed" be removed from the definition of an Article 5 attack. Perhaps there would be an advantage in redefining Article 5 to specify that any attack, not just an armed attack, would be covered by the Article 5 defence guarantee.

Chair's comments

"These are some extremely hard questions to answer but only by considering the threats we face in the light of what we can afford or be prepared to do, can we produce a review of our defences that survives first contact with the enemy."

Further information

Image: MoD

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