The UK’s New International Defence Engagement Strategy: “Every engagement short of actual action”

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…

happy humphrey

Yes, Minister!

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6 thoughts on “The UK’s New International Defence Engagement Strategy: “Every engagement short of actual action”

  1. Andy Young says:

    It is absolutely amazing the stuff that comes out of MoD main building that attempts to be ‘Strategic’ when in reality they mean’Operational Job’s for the Boys’. Lets face it, if any of us know our history and actually understand the real purposes of Armed Forces, there is only one element that really does Engagement (“activities short of combat operations to achieve influence”) on a regular basis, and that is navies. But, and lets face it, even that is something that has been retreated from over the past 50 years on the basis that it is not ‘punchy’ enough, which leaves documents such as this flapping in the wind without support. The only way we are going to firm up this ‘Defence Influence’ malarky is through Education of the Officer Corps as to the true purpose of Power (particulalrly in the Maritime sector where Security, Welfare and Honour have long been acknowledged); enagagement with the Foreign Office, NGOs and the wider community, including industry, through placements and embedded personnel; and finally by exploiting the combination through selecting personnel for roles on the basis of previous, established and effective success, not on ‘broadening’ experience. Defence Engagement could be an effective Strategy, but at the moment neither our Doctrine or culture are sufficient to do it justice.

    • Person says:

      …there is only one element that really does Engagement (“activities short of combat operations to achieve influence”) on a regular basis, and that is navies

      You don’t think training foreign armies / police counts? (And is a nice little earner?)

  2. Andy Young says:

    Training is only one small part of the Engagement spectrum; it deals solely with Security, and principally at the tactical level (individuals and manoeuvre units). All armed forces do it irrespective of creed or flavour. However, Armies, Air Forces and Navies all exist for very different reasons; the former two are big sticks to be used, preferably abroad, when Politik has failed to achieve the desired National Ends. Navies are different; they exist across the spectrum of Diplomacy, Economics and War. They are the only truly Strategic (in that they interact with all levels of the Nation’s other instruments of power) asset in the armed forces arsenal. This is particularly true of maritime nations reliant on global trade, fisheries, off-shore mineral and fuel wealth and supplies, coastal protection (either from or against criminal actors such as narcotics, arms and people smugglers etc) and that, due to the nature of the environment they operate in (the Sea), are susceptible to natural hazards. Armies do not fulfil this brief, especially not by the mere act of training others. They do not regularly conduct policing operations in support of national or International Law (ATP North and South, enforcing UN trade and arms embargoes?); they do not poise in International territory; they do not actively support economic interests (counter-piracy?) and are seldom first on the scene when natural disasters strike (remember the Boxing Day Tsunami?). When armies and air forces exist for and do all of these things, and are able to switch seamlessly between them 365 days a year, then they will be fully embedded in Engagement practices.

    Maritime Strategy and Doctrine are integrated on this issue; navies exist for three purposes: Warfighting, Maritime Security, and Influence. Armies do not.

  3. Interested party says:

    Maritime Strategy and Doctrine are integrated on this issue; navies exist for three purposes: Warfighting, Maritime Security, and Influence. Armies do not.

    Warfighting – Type 45s @ £1Bn ea and little to show for offensive weapons. Loss of organic fixed-wing. New carriers at the expense of surface units and to be deployed without fixed wing at the start.
    Maritime Security – ASaC aircraft to be shelved and numbers of aircraft to reduced minimising the ability to maintain comprehensive (as available) surpic to enforce relative security. Benign environments only (see warfighting). Loss of MRA2.
    Influence – reduction in fleet size has challenged the ability to complete ATP north and south. Loss of standing patrols and global deployments threatening at least the FPDA.

    I’m being particularly harsh but the Navy is able to function as you say in principal and lacks so reality. The fact is “soft power” has gained credibility as it is a term that the politicians can use without fear of spending money (well, hopefully reducing) and allows to appease when required to the toleration of decency and public appetite.

    It also allows for double spending. That is a government can spend in Dfid for the benefit of its overseas and liberal credentials and “legitimately” call it for the benefit of defence therefore reducing defence spending on hardware.

    Armies have one over-riding ability. That is when wishing to achieve decisive policy resolution in a conflict, you need boots on the ground. Something forgotten by those who have previously sought technology as the answer (something that will come around again with UAVs) and those that believed the bomber(missile) would always get through, ICBMs notwithstanding.

    The military has always sought to stay within the fighting area of diplomacy. But as the dead German said it is an extension of politics. And therefore we should look at a range of options that cater from the detering, through prepping for and the prosecution of. But for this we need to educate the British policy why we go to war and what we have the Armed Forces for and who they belong to eventually.

    From this we will rationalise what we spend and make the Armed Forces understand that they are not sacred. We will need to preach both a peaceful message and prepare to fight and, of course, if successful have weapons that are not used.

    But if we are to have defence engagement we need to spend money on intelligence and diplomacy. And we might need to cage the Daily Mail when a few ferrero roches might prevent the next war.

  4. Andy Young says:

    @ Interested Party. To deal first with the top-line of your reply:
    I said Strategy and Doctrine (the Ends and Ways) were integrated; I didn’t say they were funded (the Means).

    I also said that navies were also retreating from Defence Engagement too (read first comment) for exactly the reasons you articulate later (“we need to educate the British policy why we go to war and what we have the Armed Forces for and who they belong to eventually. From this we will rationalise what we spend and make the Armed Forces understand that they are not sacred.”)

    My point is this; the Defence Engagement Strategy glosses over at best the fact that, in Britain at least, navies have always conducted Defence Diplomacy and influence. It is, alongside commerce/industrial protection, part of their raison d’etre. A true Strategy would recognise this and fund accordingly, as you state. But it requires both the Policy makers and enactors/enablers (the Politicians and RN Officers) to understand the true purpose of navies; Warfighting is What we do, not Why, and is the result of a failure to engage effectively.

  5. Interested Party says:

    Andy,

    Thank you for taking the time to reply.

    I think we agree, although forgive my cynicism. Therefore Navies are capable of it but whether they do it or not is another matter. Another point to add then is the distinct difference in staff training received by naval officers compared to the Army. Longer and extra courses and a recognition to place Army officers at the seats of power demonstrates that at least one service understands the need. The recent IISS brief on future Army 2020 firmly placed the need to be the land expert to government in the case of civil aid etc. A minor point but one that acknowledge where the future power will lie. Which underlines your point of the Politicians and RN Officers understanding the true purpose of navies.

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