The strategic defence and security review and the national security strategy

Written evidence from the Oxford Research Group

1.0 Introduction

1.1. In previous evidence to this committee, the Oxford Research Group (ORG) welcomed the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the decision to revise and update the National Security Strategy (NSS) as important opportunities to re-think UK defence and security policies at a critical time. Given the scale of the global security challenges faced by the UK it will be incredibly important that the relatively small window of opportunity provided by the somewhat rushed SDSR process for strategic thinking and critical reflection remains open into 2011. ORG therefore also welcomes this inquiry by the committee and will focus in this submission on one point in particular from the inquiry’s terms of reference: how the NSS and SDSR relate to each other as strategic and coherent documents.

1.2 Specifically this submission will focus on the gulf that has arisen between the threat analysis presented in the NSS and the policy response as outlined in the SDSR. While both documents offer some very useful ideas as to how the UK can move forward in facing a number of new and unprecedented security threats, on the whole, a much more fundamental re-think of the areas which are prioritised in our current defence and security policies will be needed if the UK’s long-term security and prosperity are to be ensured.

2.0 The Content of the NSS and SDSR

2.1 The NSS has made a significant attempt to clarify an increasingly complex global security environment and prioritise the immediate security threats to the UK. This is primarily done through a three tiered ranking system, agreed by the National Security Council, based on a combination of the likelihood of the risk arising and its potential impact. This is the result of the first ever National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA). The tier one (or most important) risks identified in the NSS are terrorist attacks, cyber attacks, major accidents or natural hazards (including pandemics) and international military crises between states which could draw in the UK.

2.2 Of the eight national security tasks and planning guidelines listed in the SDSR [1] , undoubtedly the first two will be critical to addressing the new and unprecedented drivers of insecurity identified in the NSS. The first is to "Identify and monitor national security risks and opportunities" (including improving the coordination of horizon scanning, early warning and analysis) and the second is to "tackle at root the causes of instability." The principle of addressing the causes of global insecurity as opposed to simply reacting to the symptoms of insecurity has become known as a ‘sustainable security’ [2] approach and is a welcome development in official UK defence and security thinking in recent years.

2.3 The single most important section of the NSS which relates to the principle of addressing the underlying drivers of insecurity is the following:

2.4 "Most developing countries’ economies will continue to grow over the medium term. In India, China and elsewhere development will lift millions out of poverty. But fragile and conflict-affected countries will benefit much less from future growth. The world’s poorest people live on less than $1000 a year. Around half currently live in Asia and half in Africa but by 2030 the clear majority of those living on less than $3 a day will be in Africa. Compounded by other drivers such as climate change and resource scarcity, this increases the likelihood of conflict, instability and state failure." [3]

2.5 This analysis points to an incredibly complex world in which the interconnected nature of these macro or ‘mega trends’ create a global security environment in which UK interests and even the UK’s own citizens face unprecedented risks. Many detailed studies, including the MoD’s own analysis, now show how climate change, competition over resources, marginalised populations and access to weapon technologies can combine to create new insecurities in the coming years. [4]

2.6 No government white paper can be expected to distil all the complexities of current world politics (and their implications for the UK’s national security) into one document, addressing everything in fine detail. However, both the NSS and the SDSR do not adequately comprehend the scale of two major issues, both of which have very serious implications for the UK.

2.7 The first is the degree to which the policies of the past decade of the ‘war on terror’ have failed to achieve their stated aims as well as the ways in which they have, in many cases, been counterproductive. While there is some recognition at official level that the interventions in Afghanistan [5] and Iraq have spiralled out of the control of Western attempts to establish peaceful and stable democracies (and that traditional ways of thinking about defence have limited applicability in situations of ‘hybrid-warfare’) [6] , the significance of this experience is still largely underappreciated, and this remains so in the SDSR white paper. The legacy of these two conflicts and the wider attempt to control the rise of radical Islamism primarily through the use of military force will have profound effects for years if not decades to come which needs to be factored into UK defence and security policies today. As the political scientist Mary Kaldor and US Lieutenant Colonel Shannon Beebe have put it:

2.8 "The War on Terror, as it was fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, unleashed a complex and lethal twenty-first century phenomenon on which the global networks of terror feed…the situation is actually much more dangerous than it was in 2001 – and in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, not to mention Central and Eastern Africa – the challenges are mind boggling. The effort to produce security using twentieth-century notions has actually consumed security for the twenty-first century." [7]

2.9 The second issue, which does feature more prominently in the NSS and SDSR documents but which is not framed in terms of a clear and present danger is the security threat posed by prolonged inaction on climate change at the global level. According to the analyst Nick Mabey, "current responses to climate change are failing to effectively manage climate security risks…there is no costless strategy of delaying action to manage climate security." [8] Since the release of the NSS and SDSR in October last year, the scale of the problem has become even clearer. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme released at the Cancun meeting of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2010 shows that a very serious gap still exists between what nations pledged on climate change 12 months before at Copenhagen and what is actually needed to avoid a 2 degree temperature rise. According to the report "emission levels of approximately 44 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) in 2020 would be consistent with a "likely" chance of limiting global warming to 2° C." yet pledges made in Copenhagen would in fact lead to a global emissions level of 56 GtCO2 leaving a dangerous gap of 12 GtCO2e. [9] While this report followed the release of the SDSR white paper, its findings confirm a scientific reality which was largely already predicted by many climate change and energy analysts. How the challenging security threats (as opposed to economic or environmental threats) of a warmer global climate are to be addressed at source – perhaps one of the greatest challenges faced by the current government – is nowhere to be found in the SDSR white paper.

3.0 The Remaining Gulf between the NSS and SDSR

3.1 Given the importance of the large-scale trends which the NSS identifies as being likely to drive insecurity such as a warming global climate, increasing competition over scarce resources and an increasing division between the global north and south, a gulf exists between the threat analysis of the NSS on the one hand, and the policy response of the SDSR on the other. It is telling that the media coverage on the day of the release of the SDSR white paper made almost no mention of these long-term macro trends and instead focused on the issues of Trident replacement, aircraft carriers/the F-35 strike aircraft programme and the numbers of troops that will continue to be available for the mission in Afghanistan. [10]

3.2 This is hardly surprising given that the majority of the SDSR white paper is spent on the traditional issues of ‘defence’, ‘deterrence’, and ‘alliances.’ This, despite the fact that the NSS identified a "large scale conventional military attack on the UK" as only a tier three threat. [11] This mismatch between the most likely drivers of insecurity (and particularly those which are expected to cause large-scale instability of a magnitude unmatched by other threats) and the traditional response laid out in the SDSR is the major challenge for the post-SDSR environment.

3.3 Two positive signs of progress should be noted. The SDSR white paper’s commitment to expanding the remit of the Stabilisation Unit in order to help prevent conflict and instability abroad is a very welcome development. [12] Yet much more detail will be necessary in terms of the scale and focus of the increase before it can be discerned if, and in what ways, this will help to address both the underlying drivers of global insecurity as well as off-set some of the negative effects of the ‘war on terror’ policies of the last decade. The second is the "extension to the remit of existing climate change governance structures to include management of the national security risks posed by the global impact of climate change and global competition for resources." [13] Again, this encouraging prospect is not bolstered by any detail of precisely how this is to take place nor has any detail been provided publicly since the release of the SDSR white paper.

4.0 Moving Beyond Conventional Thinking for Unconventional Times

4.1 One somewhat obvious and reasonably simple way of ensuring that future defence reviews are more aligned with the NSS is to keep their review processes separate and set the NSS first. The revised NSS released in 2010 includes some very complex and, to a certain degree, unprecedented (at least in terms of scale and immediacy) security threats. Dealing with these threats will require significant shifts in defence thinking and strategic planning and in some cases recalibration of personnel and force structures. It is highly likely that this degree of novelty and complexity in threat analysis will increase in future reviews of the NSS as the economic, demographic, climatic and geopolitical trends discussed above increase (a point recognised in the 2010 NSS). [14] Therefore, if UK defence and security policies are to keep up with these changes, the NSS should be reviewed (probably over a slightly longer time period than was the case between May-October 2010) and then announced before the SDSR so that the latter can be a truly coherent and strategic response to the NSS. A far greater degree of coordination between the two-yearly revision of the NSRA (as committed to in the NSS), wider revisions of the NSS and what is now (rightly) the five-yearly SDSR process will be required in the future.

4.2 A second recommendation relates to the identification of large-scale trends (such as a rapidly warming climate or an increasing trend towards deep socio-economic divisions on a global scale) as posing security challenges to the UK. These potential drivers of conflict are, by their very nature, the kind of factors that can cause loss of life and threaten UK interests by such magnitude that they warrant dedicated attention in an SDSR process. These are not the kind of threats that military analysts and strategic planners are used to considering when formulating defence policies. Therefore we need to move beyond listing the "physical effects of climate change" as becoming "increasingly significant as a ‘risk multiplier’" [15] or "Competition for resources" increasing "the prospect of global conflicts over access to them" [16] in a NSS without having a dedicated section of the SDSR white paper to outline precisely how these risks are to be mitigated in concrete policy terms. In particular, a future SDSR will need to deal more explicitly with how the defence and security goals of mitigating conflicts arising from these trends or drivers are to be aligned with the policies of other departments including the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Department for International Development, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) (eg. outlining how current climate change mitigation strategies both domestic and international, align with avoiding the security implications of an average global temperature rise of four degrees Celsius as outlined by the FCO). [17]

5.0 Conclusion

5.1 In summary, for the British public to have confidence that the Government is taking concrete steps to "tackle potential threats at source" [18] and "use all the instruments of national power to prevent conflict and avert threats beyond our shores" [19] , a great deal more work will need to be done in the post-SDSR period. For the moment, the SDSR white paper simply doesn’t set out "the ways and means to deliver the ends set out in the National Security Strategy" [20] in its entirety and therefore the two documents cannot be said to completely work together coherently or strategically.

5.2 The gulf that now exists between the NSS (as an exercise in threat analysis) on the one hand and the SDSR white paper (as the main reflection of the policy response) on the other must be addressed. For this to happen, a fundamental shift needs to take place from the current emphasis on controlling the symptoms of global insecurity such as terrorism, insurgency and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and instead towards addressing the deeply-rooted and underlying trends which drive fragility and insecurity.

5.3 In policy terms, this means a rapid shift from the use of fossil fuels for energy production and other measures to mitigate climate change and a new and ambitious effort to address the increasing sense of abandonment of the world’s poorest and most politically marginalised. The MoD, FCO and perhaps most importantly, the National Security Council will now need to outline exactly how these formidable tasks are to be achieved if the defence and security goals of the NSS (which includes "address[ing] trends that contribute to instability, as well as tackling risks directly") [21] are to be met.

Oxford Research Group is an independent non-governmental organisation and registered charity, which works to promote a more sustainable approach to global security. ORG has been building trust between policy-makers, academics, the military and civil society since 1982. ORG and its internationally recognised consultants combine detailed knowledge of security issues, together with an understanding of political decision-making, and many years of expertise in facilitating constructive dialogue. More information can be found at:

February 2011

[1] SDSR, 2010: pp. 11-12.

[2] See, Paul Rogers, Global Security After the War on Terror , Oxford Research Group, November 2009; for further information on this concept see: www

[3] NSS, 2010, p. 16.

[4] See Ministry of Defence, Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2040 , Developments, Concepts and Doctrines Centre, 4 th Edition, January 2010; Chris Abbott, Paul Rogers & John Sloboda, Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century , Oxford Research Group, June 2006 ; Gwynne Dyer, Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats , Oneworld, 2010.

[5] Steve n Swinford & Christopher Hope , “Wikileaks: No 10 Urged Commander to Play Down Afghanistan F ailures ”, The Telegraph , 8 February 2011

[6] See Rt Hon Liam Fox, "Deterrence in the 21st Century", speech at Chatham House, London, 13 July 2010 , p. 8, available:

[7] Mary Kaldor & Shannon D. Beebe, The Ultimate Weapon is no Weapon: Human Security and the New Rules of War and Peace , New York, Public Affairs, 2010, p .78

[8] Nick Mabey, “Facing the Climate Security Threat: Why the Security Community Needs a ‘Whole-of-Government’ Response to Global Climate Change”, Policy Brief, German Marshall Fund of the United States, November 2010, p. 2.

[9] United Nations Environment Programme, The Emissions Gap Report: Are the Copenhagen Accord Pledges Sufficient to Limit Global Warming to 2° C or 1.5° C ? A Preliminary Assessment , technical summary, p. 4, available: .

[10] See for example, James Kirkup and Christopher Hope , “Defence Review: Decision to Build New Aircraft Carriers M ade in Labour's 1998 Strategic Defence Review ”, 20 October 2010; Richard Norton-Taylor, “Strategic Defence Review Means End of Iraq-scale Military I nterventions ”, The Guardian ¸ 19 October 2010.

[11] NSS, 2010, P.27.

[12] SDSR, 2010, p. 46.

[13] SDSR, 2010, p. 66.

[14] NSS, 2010, p. 18.

[15] NSS 2010, p. 17.

[16] NSS 2010, p. 18.

[17] See

[18] SDSR 2010, p. 9

[19] NSS, 2010, p. 9

[20] SDSR 2010, p. 9

[21] NSS, 2010, p. 22