How the SDR Looks Post-11 September
11. Overall, our predecessors concluded that
the SDR had been conducted as an open and inclusive process and
that it had been a positive advance in formulating defence policy
for the future, providing a coherent framework for future planning.
Their criticisms were focused on home defence, the lack of detail
in discussing emerging threats under the heading 'asymmetric warfare'
and certain of the assumptions underlying the document such as
the role of nuclear weapons. Their report also noted that one
of the risks (in a short list) to our vital national interests
a terrorist group
and competent to carry out a sustained campaign within Britain
possibly using nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, that effectively
destabilises large sectors of society.
The report also noted the lack of discussion of asymmetric
challenges in the SDR, a lack of precision in discussing the trade-offs
necessary to make the UK's Armed Forces more flexible and mobile,
the need to deal with the problems of overstretch and over-commitment,
and an absence of any consideration of the dangers of weapons
of mass destruction being used against troops at home, or of liaison
with civil defence facilities for the protection of the civilian
Subsequent events have clearly validated those criticisms.
12. In its reply, the Government addressed the
issue of home defence and argued that it had made an appropriate
Home Defence was considered carefully in
the SDR, and the policy we have adopted reflects our assessment
of the current and future strategic environment. The key aspect
of that strategic environment is that the threat of direct conventional
military attack on Britain has receded to a degree where the warning
time for such an attack can be measured in years. Consequently,
we have concluded that it is possible to shift the emphasis of
our planning away from preparedness to defend against a military
assault on the UK towards an ability to conduct expeditionary
13. On nuclear weapons the Government noted the
Committee's call for a clarification of the question of the strategic
and sub-strategic role of Trident missile submarines and promised
to identify a "suitable early opportunity" to do this.
However, it failed to do so other than in a few "dribs and
and in its report on The MoD's Reporting Cycle 2000-01,
the Committee noted "we consider that the government
to address this issue more squarely".
The MoD did not respond to this call in its response to that report.
14. The SDR was followed by Defence Policy
2001 and The Future Strategic Context for Defenceboth
published in February 2001which updated the analysis that
underpinned the SDR's policy framework. The MoD committed itself
to updating the Future Strategic Context for Defence every
three or four years, in a process which would be "underpinned
by a programme of strategic analysis of the future security environment"
to be produced by the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre.
15. Defence Policy 2001 went even further
than the SDR in placing the threat to the homeland at the lower
end of the spectrum
We assess that, for the foreseeable future, it
is unlikely that a direct threat to the UK could re-emerge on
a scale sufficient to threaten our strategic security, whether
through conventional means or weapons of mass destruction.
Even in the Future Strategic Context of Defence,
which sought to extend the SDR's assessment out to 30 years, the
threat of asymmetric responses to conventional military capabilities
merited only two paragraphs and terrorism only one.
No conventional military threats to the UK were judged likely
over that period and home defence was barely mentioned. The then
Defence Committee urged the MoD to set out clearly its thinking
on asymmetric strategies at the earliest opportunity and warned
While the UK may be regarded as well geared up
to deal with traditional terrorist threats in general, new forms
of terrorism and other aspects of asymmetrical warfare
find us rather less well prepared.
16. The Committee also believed that the MoD's
approach to the production of policy statements was not as helpful
as it might have been, noting that
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
The Government did not accept this advice, saying
its approach allowed for information to be transmitted more effectively.