The comments of SecDef Gates regarding future US military operations, force structure, ethos, and so on, have been much in the news of late. On this side of the pond, with few concrete signs of who’s going to run the country for the foreseeable future, thoughts are turning once again to what the forthcoming defence review might look like.
The Royal United Services Institute is holding a one-day conference next month, The Future Defence Review: Time for Trade-Offs: SDR 2010, which looks to be asking most of the right questions:
Whether SDR 2010 will be a strategic defence review or a security and defence review, the current fiscal constraints dictate that the UK is at a watershed moment in its strategic history. In setting out parameters for a review, the Defence Green Paper addressed the UK’s global position and national priorities. In the coming months of the defence review, however, as a consequence of the financial crisis the UK government may find itself forced to make trade-offs over critical national strategic principles and priorities. This conference will debate such trade-offs which, among others, may include:
- Retaining appropriate national autonomy in defence capabilities versus providing capabilities to make a contributory commitment to coalition operations. This raises issues such as whether some capabilities are relevant to both tasks, and at what point along the scale of balance between either option there are capability consequences for one option or the other. A fundamental issue within this particular trade-off is the extent to which political desires to protect sovereign capacity may be limited by the realities of the financial circumstances
- Developing defence capability to support enduring and sustained engagement in interventions versus capabilities optimised to deliver strategic and operational agility. This trade-off could take the form of a ‘today’ versus ‘tomorrow’ or continental versus maritime trade-off
- Prioritising ‘home’ commitments (including contributions to NATO and European Union operations close to Europe, as well as domestic national priorities) versus interventions further afield on the international stage, ‘away’ from such domestic priorities
- Sustaining sovereign defence industrial capacity versus increasing collaboration with – or buying ‘off-the-shelf’ from – overseas partners. A critical issue here is any risk to the security of supply
- Maintaining forces with sufficient readiness levels versus force regeneration in times of crisis – in the latter case understanding the difference between ‘regeneration’ by surging capability from within the existing force structure, and the challenges (and risks) of ‘reconstitution’ after giving up a capability
- Focusing on commitments of national obligation, and the demands for national autonomy, versus operations of choice, and examining the extent to which capability options are defined by matters of obligation and to which obligation defines the need for national autonomy in capability
The conference also will address the question of whether the current political circumstances and requirements for fiscal consolidation will see the generation of a review which – in terms of its timescale, priorities and consequences – is inevitably tactical rather than truly strategic. This raises the question of whether a quick review dealing with the short term and driven by financial considerations will precede a more substantial review – and perhaps a more regular series of reviews – over a longer time-scale.
What would you add to this list? Have you any comments on the RUSI agenda? You know that the Ministry of Defence pays close attention to this blog, so perhaps here’s a chance to throw a few more thoughts and opinions into the ring, for policymakers and practitioners to chew over in the months ahead.