The Documents as Part of the
75. We have not had the opportunity, in the time
available, to consider all aspects of policy covered in these
two documents. Indeed, since The Future Strategic Context for
Defence warns that it
... does not represent a
statement of Government policy and should not be so construed
... it is more concerned with guidance on, for example, long term
trends which will guide priorities for development of our capabilities
This general approach is to be welcomed, as is the
MoD's willingness to expose its thinking to a wider audience in
this way. The trends this document points to, however, raise some
major questions for defence policy which will have to be addressed
in the medium- to near-term and which are not well-reflected in
the other documents offered to us by the MoD.
76. The general picture which emerges from The
Future Strategic Context for Defence is one in which 'No conventional
military threats to the UK are likely to emerge over the period
but in which there are increasing stresses in the general security
environment, caused by environmental, demographic and economic
Against this, fewer significant resources are likely to be available,
in real terms, for defence purposes over the next thirty years
and pressures on personnel, quality training, equipment modernisation
and operating environments are likely to increase.
The report is forced to deduce that UK defence policy will in
the future have to be prepared to be far more flexible in the
way it organises its research and procurement programmes,
be prepared to develop 'new doctrine and concepts of operation',
and 'adjust the balance of capabilities over time to exploit new
methods of operating'.
Not least, the report deduces that the UK must tread some very
fine political lines, such as the need to maintain maximum access
to US military technologies
while bringing 'greater cohesion to the European defence research
and technology programme'.
It will need to 'encourage more serious consideration of role
sharing and specialisation amongst allies',
and help maintain a balance of interests and capabilities between
a NATO which 'continues to adapt its role and capabilities' and
new arrangements for European Defence, around a European Union
which 'we might expect¼to
have well over 30 members' by 2030.
77. These issues are merely examples, and the MoD
has gone out of its way to stress that this document is not a
'statement of Government policy'. Nevertheless, they are, to say
the least, challenging long-term problems, some of which the government
is already addressing incrementally, whether it likes it or not,
by decisions being taken now. There is little in the other documents
we are examining which acknowledges the importance of current
decisions in terms of such longer term challenges. This is not
surprising, given the difference in focus between these various
documents. However, one of the distinct disadvantages of the
way the MoD now approaches the reporting cycle is the missed opportunity
to place a far-sighted (though discomforting) essay such as The
Future Strategic Context for Defence into a more general statement
of policy and resources. Producing separate documents to be read
in conjunction is not as useful a policy exercise, either for
the MoD or Parliament, as producing a single document which integrates
different issues and timescales.
78. We now return to the question of the Secretary
of State's invitation to us to comment on whether we would find
regular publication of a document like Defence Policy 2001
welcome. Our answer is yes, but qualified. We are concerned to
ensure that the proliferation of documents both within and outwith
the formal annual reporting cycle should not put at risk the ability
of Parliament and others to get a firm grip on the state of the
MoD's thinking, which is essential for effective accountability.
We remarked above on some of the shortcomings of the Expenditure
We consider there would be value in combining something like
the policy essay of Defence Policy 2001, and indeed elements
of the broader picture painted in The Future Strategic Context
for Defence, with the Expenditure Plans, and recasting the
format of that document to link resources allocated to key policy
areas more clearly. That would bring the challenge of linking
policy and resources applied more into focus, and would increase
both the usefulness and the readability of the Expenditure Plans
report, which in its present form makes only a modest contribution
to accountability and transparency.
79. If there is to be only one Defence White Paper
each Parliament, there is also a case for reconsidering its format.
In our Report last year on the annual reporting cycle we recommended
that the government consider
... replacing the Annual
Defence White Paper with a broader, cross-cutting publication,
placing security policy in the wider context, reflecting the ways
in which [the UK] seeks to influence events 'as a force for good',
and how [it] seek[s] to protect the UK and its interests and stabilise
the wider international security environment.
The Future Strategic Context for Defence
goes a considerable way towards meeting this request. It is a
good foundation on which to build. But it is not a policy document.
We would see merit in a White Paper, once a Parliament at least,
which carries the signature of at least the Secretaries of State
for Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Development, and
that of the Prime Minister, showing how the 'joined up' policies
of conflict prevention, crisis management and the maintenance
of peace and security are operating, and are co-ordinated, across
the whole of government activity.