Towards the next Strategic Defence and Security Review: Part Three - Defence Contents

3  New Threats

25. The clearest rationale for a complete rewriting of the NSS and the SDSR is the events of 2014 in Ukraine, Africa and the Middle East. These represent a fundamental change in the nature of the threats to the UK and in the character of warfare. Our successor Committee will need to ensure that the National Security Strategy acknowledges these fundamental changes, and responds accordingly. This requires a fundamental re-calibration of the threats to national security identified in the National Security Strategy and a corresponding re-assessment of the size and shape of the Armed Forces that the UK.


26. We have long been concerned about Russian expansionism—highlighting the invasion of Georgia in 2008 (from where Russian forces have still not withdrawn), the cyber attack on Estonia in 2007, and the annexation of Crimea and continuing operations aimed at destabilising and dividing Ukraine in 2014. The West's failure to respond to those earlier attacks encouraged subsequent Russian actions in Ukraine.

27. Our report on Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two—NATO noted Russia's use of extensive asymmetric and ambiguous tactics including psychological and information operations (in particular using Russian medium television channels broadcasting to Russian language minorities), economic attacks, cyber operations, and operations using proxies (armed civilian or terrorist groups operating without insignia or any official affiliation and working at times in association with Russian special forces). [10] These tactics have also been combined with the deployment of the most up-to-date Russian military hardware. Chris Donnelly, Director of the Institute for Statecraft, described Russian tactics as the integration of the use of force with the non-military tools of war, arguing that operations in Ukraine had been designed to

    […] break the integrity of the state […] before there is any need to cross its borders with an invasion force […] So we are seeing a form of warfare that is operating under our reaction threshold.[11]

28. He described the Russians as deploying a concept of war which involves

    constantly increasing the level of activity and getting us used to accepting it, so that we become like the frog in a bucket of water, warming up slowly and not realising that we are accepting more and more that we should not be. That is the danger, so first we need more intelligence, and secondly it is crucial that we revise our capacity for thinking and acting strategically.[12]

29. In our report on Re-thinking Defence to meet new threats, we considered whether there may be a case for re-assessing the costs and benefits of withdrawal from Germany.[13] We wish to highlight the following headline questions that have emerged from our scrutiny of the growing threat to NATO from Russia which we wish to see addressed in the next SDSR.

30. What capacity does the Government have to understand Russian motivations and strategy? What investment is being made in increasing this understanding?

31. What will the UK's long-term contribution be to the various NATO missions or organisations it is already supporting or considering supporting: the Baltic Air Policing Mission; the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force; Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and Headquarters MultiNational Corps (Northeast)—if tensions stay at their current level or continue to escalate? Does the UK have the capacity to provide this contribution?

32. What new investments will the UK be making in its conventional capacities in order to address new threats from an advanced military nation? In particular what new investment will it make in areas such as maritime surveillance, Chemical, Biological, Nuclear and Radiological warfare, and in Ballistic Missile Defence?

33. What steps has the UK taken to match the call from Sir Peter Wall, the former-Chief of the General Staff to "deliver a comprehensive carrier-strike capability; to sustain sufficient combat air squadrons to police our skies alongside our NATO partners; to expand cyber and surveillance and hone our special forces capabilities; to ensure that we can field a resilient land force at the divisional level, which means stemming the creeping obsolescence of the Army's manoeuvre capabilities"?

34. What steps is the UK taking to acquire and enhance the capabilities required to engage in ambiguous warfare?

35. Given the changing nature of the threats to the UK, has the SDSR re-examined the costs and benefits of the withdrawal of UK Armed Forces from Germany?

The Middle East and North Africa and the threat of DAESH

36. The second major threat facing the UK is from radicalised, terrorist-linked groups now controlling increasingly large areas of state territory in the Middle East and Africa. The most dramatic example of this is of course DAESH, which now controls a territory larger than the United Kingdom, and has attracted 20,000 foreign fighters. Again, the UK appears to have been unprepared for this resurgent threat, and its initial response seemedas we argued in The situation in Iraq and Syria and the response to al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq al-Sham (DAESH)—strikingly modest.[14] As with Russia and Ukraine there was a clear absence of intelligence and expert analysis covering the emerging situation on the ground, and a lack of a clearly defined UK strategy and mission.

37. This problem, however, extends from DAESH to also encompass our response to the situation in Yemen, in Northern Nigeria (where Boko Haram, at time of writing, controls large swathes of territory), in Afghanistan (where the Taliban has re-established a significant presence in the South and the East), and potentially in regions ranging from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa. Initial operations in Libya were, as we noted in our report, successful in preventing Gaddaffi's attack on Benghazi, and toppling his regime.[15] But the country is now in chaos, with a divided government, lawless militia groups, and a growing DAESH presence.

38. Any future SDSR should provide for the ability to conduct much more detailed analysis of the options available in such theatres. It should allow, for a harder-headed assessment of objectives (should they, for example in relation to DAESH, be objectives of containment or of destruction). It should also allow for the ability to analyse the risks inherent in the existing local government or occasionally US-led strategy. A dramatic step up in the level of defence engagement would be necessary to contribute to deeper human understanding of the challenges in the country and a much broader "comprehensive approach" coordinating efforts across Government to further the chances of a political settlement in the country. We emphasise the importance of working much more closely with key regional powers in finding a long-term political solution. We also called on the Government to do far more by way of responding to specific requests for assistance from the local Governments, whether in provision of counter-IED training, contributing to military capacity building; or, if necessary, providing money and materiel.[16]

39. In February 2015 we visited the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) on the island of Cyprus. The bases are supporting Operation SHADER, the current UK operation in Iraq, and provide the base for the Regional Standby Battalion involved in the aborted airlift from Mt Sinjar and later the training of the Peshmerga. The SBAs are an immensely valuable platform for operations in the Middle East particularly when the UK Armed Forces do not have carrier strike capability. They have the potential to play a key role in the UK's defence regional engagement strategy. Much further investment is required, beyond that already earmarked for the improvement of infrastructure of the bases. We expect the next SDSR to address the following questions:

40. What detailed analysis has been produced on the situation in these failed states with terrorist links? In Iraq for example, what analysis has been conducted of the Sunni tribes and Shia militia? How robust, and detailed is the analytical capacity available to the UK on the ground?

41. What exactly is the objective in Iraq or these other theatres, what is the UK strategy, and campaign plan? How does the UK assessment differ from or complement that of other coalition partners?

42. How many UK civilian and military personnel are to be posted to such theatres, including Iraq, outside Kurdistan? Will they be resourced and supported to be able to develop a deeper human understanding of the challenges in the country and a much broader "comprehensive approach"?

43. What steps are being taken to coordinate with key regional powers in finding a long-term political solution?

44. How is the Government responding to specific requests for assistance from the local Government?

45. What will be the scale of the UK's enduring commitment to operations against DAESH?

46. What steps are being taken to address shortcomings in the UK's analytic capabilities, ability to process intelligence and understanding of the countries of the Middle East? What steps are being taken to improve these capabilities in other regions of potential instability?

47. How will the Defence Engagement Strategy contribute to the monitoring of emerging threats in the Middle East and beyond?

48. What is the role of Cyprus in the UK's long-term basing for operations in the Middle East and, in particular, what thought has been given to the role of Cyprus in a strategy for the South East Mediterranean basin?

49. What is the UK Gulf Strategy?


50. During the course of this Parliament, we have closely followed the conduct of operations in Afghanistan, visiting the country in January 2011, November 2012 and October 2013, publishing three reports on the campaign as a whole.[17] Whilst the UK combat mission in Afghanistan drew to a close at the end of 2014, with full responsibility for the country's security passing to the Afghan National Security Forces, the UK's commitment to and interest in Afghanistan has not ended.

51. The MOD retains a substantial commitment to the country in the form of the Afghan National Army Officer Academy at Qargha.[18] The Department for International Development remains engaged in the delivery of programmes and other UK Government Departments are involved in a range of projects including state institution building, developing capacity in policing and justice and facilitating commercial development. We expect the next SDSR to address the following questions:

52. Given that we have withdrawn our combat troops before the completion of the two main tasks (the defeat of the Taliban, and the creation of 'an effective, credible, and legitimate Afghan state), what is the new mission in Afghanistan? Is it focused on a political settlement, retaining a strategic base, on containment, or on something else? Does the UK have the resources, and commitment to fulfil that new mission?

53. If the security situation in Afghanistan were to deteriorate, as it has in Iraq, what would be the UK's response? What demands would be made on UK Armed Forces? What is being done to mitigate this risk? What additional support would we be prepared to provide for the Afghan government if the Taliban, or possibly groups such as DAESH, were to significantly increase their presence in the country?

10   Third Report, Session 2014-15, HC 358 Back

11   Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two--NATO, Evidence Q266 Back

12   Ibid, Q286 Back

13   Tenth Report, Session 2014-15, HC512. Back

14   Seventh Report, Session 2014-15, HC 690 Back

15   Ninth Report, Session 2010-12, HC 950 Back

16   Seventh Report, Session 2014-15, HC 690 Back

17   Operations in Afghanistan, Fourth Report, Session 2010-12, HC554; Securing the Future of Afghanistan, Tenth Report, Session 2012-13, HC 413; Afghanistan, Fifteenth Report, Session 2013-14, HC 994.  Back

18   Ministry of Defence (AFG006) paragraph 9.1 Back

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Prepared 25 March 2015