The FCO and MOD have recently published the UK’s International Defence Engagement Strategy. This document is a subsidiary of the NSS and the SDSR and is a move to align the various ‘non-combat’ activities of the British Armed Forces (and other Defence entities) with the overarching policy priorities of the government.
What is ‘defence engagement’? According to the joint FCO/MOD paper, it is “the means by which [the UK] use[s] [its] defence assets and activities short of combat operations to achieve influence”.
As Rob has noted in his recent post, bureaucratic progammes work best when they are guided by clear political direction. Of course, nothing, Dear Reader, is that straight forward. Sometimes that happens; often times it doesn’t. A corollary to this general principle is that just because something is promulgated with a title containing words like ‘direction’, ‘policy’, or ‘strategy’, that doesn’t mean that they contain any such thing, nor do they necessarily serve to provide the requisite clarity required of them.
According to the website’s PR-style launch statement, “The strategy sets out how non-operational defence assets and activities will in future be allocated to better contribute to wider governmental objectives and goals in the future.” Well, a read of the document makes it clear that it doesn’t set anything out. It speaks about priorities, but leaves things vague enough to allow for ‘business as usual’–ad hoc reactions to external events, constrained by the overarching Damoclesian sword of austerity. Likewise, when it talks about ‘risks’ it makes actual mention of neither risks nor of mitigation. Similarly, the section on ‘measurement and evaluation’…well, you get the picture.
What purpose this document will serve is hard to divine. It certainly doesn’t provide direction and cannot serve as the basis for any real action. But then again, when asked if HMG has issued its strategy for the future, everyone can answer in joyful chorus…Yes, Minister!