Dr. Hugo Rosemont is Assistant Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College, London.
This week Kings of War and CCLKOW are happy to introduce a new author to the audience and participants, with Dr. Hugo Rosemont discussing British security policy, budgets and priorities as a key part of the impending General Election. Marking something of a departure from the usual, in this case our conceptualization expands beyond defence to consider the implications for policing as well as other facets of the security machine. Although the most obvious nexus lately among these worlds is in the unfolding stories of citizens leaving to join foreign extremists, the wider universe of human and contraband smuggling, money laundering, cyber crime and other transnational “crim-sec” activity is demolishing the neat sense of separation between these state functions which had arisen under modern administrative practices. While it is folly to redefine every problem according to a security framework, it is equally dangerous to ignore the relationship among these sectors and their influence upon the broad terms of security because of bureaucratic boundaries. In governmental policy, I think Hugo is correct to identify the absence of more holistic thinking and approaches as a serious gap in thinking on security. And although the focus is, at the moment, upon the United Kingdom, with an election impending in the US next year these issues will resonate as well. So, enjoy the article, give a thought to the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW. — Jill S. Russell
Whilst some people might look at the treatment of foreign policy, defence and security issues during the 2015 UK General Election campaign as a farce, is it not now becoming something much more akin to a tragedy? Several commentators have rightly pointed out (for example, here and here) that, with the exception of only a few issues, these topics have not featured prominently during the campaign. This is disappointing for a few reasons.
First, where it has taken place, debate in these areas has focused almost exclusively on the status of the UK political parties’ varying (non?) commitment to allocate 2% of UK GDP to defence expenditure, in line with the country’s stance on the associated NATO guideline, with a sprinkling of discussion emerging more recently on the national security credentials of party leaders, and on the prospects for renewing the country’s nuclear weapons capability. Most notably, the Prime Minister received a high profile grilling on the first issue in a BBC leadership interview last week – his performance was subsequently critiqued by many analysts, including the editor of The Spectator.
The 2% question is a critical issue and it is important that both politicians and public opinion are flushed out in particular around their level of commitment to the UK meeting the NATO guideline (full disclosure: the present author shares the belief of many people – including the 33 Members of Parliament to have signed an Early Day Motion on the issue – that the next Government should commit itself to the NATO figure). But the current, understandable emphasis on this matter is now beginning to do us all a disservice because it leaves little room for consideration of the parties’ approaches to other national security issues. In particular, it is striking how little contemplation there has been to date around some of the more eye-catching security policy ideas to have been proposed in the parties’ manifestos, and indeed on their relative silence towards some of the most urgent issues. With respect to the former, for example, why has there not been a deeper level of interest or more mainstream media attention towards such issues as:
– The Conservatives’ plan to ‘hold’ a National Security Strategy later this year
– Labour’s proposal to abolish elected Police and Crime Commissioners
– The Lib Dems’ belief that intervention is justified by a legal ‘and/or’ humanitarian case
– UKIP’s proposal to establish a new Director of National Intelligence for the UK
– The Scottish National Party’s idea that nuclear weapons are morally offensive
Second, whilst opinion will be likely to split on whether any or all of these ideas are good, bad, or even ugly, unfortunately there is an even bigger problem. It is the apparent lack of detail (consideration?) from the parties on how under their leadership – or as a result of their involvement – the next UK Government would approach such serious current issues as winning the battle of ideas underpinning the radicalization of British ‘foreign fighters’ inclined to travel to Iraq and Syria, and notably in respect of other ongoing crises in, for example, Yemen, Ukraine and Libya. Additionally, a serious connection has seemingly not yet been made by any of the leading contenders in respect of how they propose to handle what Professor Vernon Bogdanor calls ‘The Crisis of the Constitution’ and the impact that policy in this area might have on national security – including the integrity of the country, and its long-term economic prospects. Judging by the manifestos, there also appears to be an ongoing failure on the part of all parties to develop creative solutions for engaging the private sector in addressing many of the most complicated issues the UK faces, upon whom it now depends in numerous areas of national security.
Third, it is concerning that more attention has not been paid in the pre-election discussions to how the next Government should develop its overall approach to national security considered in the wider sense. In other recent election campaigns, most notably in 2010, UK voters were spoilt for choice in being provided with detailed and creative new thinking from the parties (should they want it) around how policies, structures and processes would be developed and implemented by way of a genuinely ‘joined-up’ approach to national security. There have been few such discussions this time but, happily, Charlie Edwards (the author of National Security for the Twenty-First Century, an important pamphlet that originally advanced the need for a ‘holistic’ UK national security strategy) and Calum Jeffray of the Royal United Services Institute have recently co-authored an excellent new paper that adopts such a broad perspective with its analysis on the future for research and development for security and intelligence purposes. It must be hoped that this prompts the UK security and political community into again considering alongside defence the importance of what the coalition Government has called ‘wider security’ issues. For now, it is worrying that, with the possible exception of some attention to limited aspects of police reform and the future powers for monitoring digital communications, deeper discussion on non-military security issues has been largely absent from this campaign to date.
There is clearly very limited time now before 7th May, so the emergence of a renewed emphasis on security issues might be difficult to achieve. It also has to be recognized that, in contrast to high profile proposals on domestic priorities such as health and education, it has often be observed that policies on defence, security and foreign affairs are simply not the same kind of ‘vote winners’. But a case can also be made that two straightforward changes in approach would help to improve the level and quality of the discussions. Firstly, in parallel to any ongoing scrutiny of their policies on defence, the parties could be encouraged (if not pressured) by national security journalists, academics, and any other interested parties, to clarify whether (and how specifically) they would propose to work with partners to develop and fund their approaches to non-military security risks such as terrorism, organized crime and cyber insecurity, at home and overseas. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly at this stage, all those with an interest or voice in the current UK defence funding debate should consider resisting the temptation to add further fuel to the fire on the 2% issue, as important and tempting as it is, or at least contemplate raising in the debate the merits (and importance) of discussing other proposals and obvious (often non-military) security priorities facing the UK.
The reality is that we now have a good idea of where the parties stand on the 2% defence spending issue, however satisfactory or unsatisfactory positions on this matter may be seen to be. Clearly this will need to be revisited after the Election but, in the meantime, it is imperative that answers are also now sought on how the parties would approach other pressing security concerns, including in respect of how (if?) non-military security risks would be genuinely considered in any Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) process held under their watch.
It is against this backdrop that it is hoped that the following questions will help to stimulate some more varied discussion on the future shape of UK defence and security policy in the remaining few weeks of the 2015 General Election:
1 How useful is the 2% NATO guideline as a measure of UK national security capability?
2 How much should the next Government spend on other security capabilities (e.g. cyber, counter-terrorism policing, intelligence etc.)?
3 What ‘security’ issues should/shouldn’t be covered in the 2015 SDSR?
Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.