Alphen, Netherlands. 21 February. A brief survey of Britain’s world reinforces the challenges the country faces and the need for effective national strategy. Be it the threat posed by terrorism or states, the relatively benign world-view in the 2010 National Security Strategy seems already out-dated. There is clearly a growing need to compete effectively in the global race with states, which, in turn, suggests a new strategic mind-set is needed, together with a re-organisation of state tools and the commitment of appropriate resources.
Furthermore, the fusion of terrorism, global flows of illegal funding in support of such groups also raises the spectre of terrorists armed with mass-destructive power. Such a threat is not immediate but cannot be discounted and would act as an asymmetric leveller, forcing states such as Britain to seek a balance between a credible defence against such groups, and sufficient expeditionary military power to deter, disrupt and, if necessary, reach out and destroy. If that happens, then counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and counter-intelligence would then need to merge and Britain’s security effort organised accordingly.
At the inter-state level, effective non-proliferation regimes enshrined in international organisations such as the UN, will, and must, remain central to British strategy and yet they are fraying and could fail. At the very least, Britain must work to continue to ensure the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other multilateral arms control regimes and slow the spread of nuclear weapons, but what if a state breaks out? If that happens, which frankly seems only a matter of time, the need for effective nuclear deterrence could well again become pressing, however ghastly that sounds.
Facing up to the challenges in Britain’s world will be challenging, but it is a challenge British strategy must grip. The problem is that Britain suffers from an overly one-dimensional view of threat – terrorism – important though that threat is. Not only is Britain in danger of ceding the strategic space in Afghanistan to the enemy, it has become overly focused on that enemy. As a result, Britain is failing to properly consider the large ends of grand strategy in the round and the large means that could need to be devoted to them in the coming years, given the growing pressures in the international system are not just about failed states and failed ideas. Power is back. Only if Britain’s leaders have the political courage to scan Britain’s strategic landscape and see it for what it could be, rather than what they hope, will the country begin to place security and defence in its proper context.
Indeed, the list of risks and threats discussed herein is by no means complete. There are also tensions in the Arctic High North, concerns over the security of the Gulf States, Baltic insecurity, conflict in the Horn of Africa, piracy, human and drug trafficking, trade insecurity, organised crime, the frictions caused by a rapidly growing world population - the list goes on. The challenge for Britain and its allies and partners will be to see these challenges in the strategic round, not as a series of iterative one-offs, which is, of course, the political temptation.
Clearly, the scope, extent and nature of change is challenging traditional British concepts of security and defence and demanding creative approaches to conflict prevention, response and consequence management. It is change that will also demand of leaders a determination to influence events not merely to react to them, and it is this challenge that British leaders schooled in politics rather than strategy will face in the coming years. However, to meet that challenge, London must think anew about British power and influence and to what ends they are applied and how.
Partnership will, of course, be central to British strategy. However, such method will only be achieved if Britain has the power to be an attractive partner and sufficient societal and governmental cohesion to act as a leader. Therefore, to compete effectively in the global race, the British must first have a sound grasp of the scope and extent of change and a clear understanding about where best to focus the British strategic effort. At the very least, Britain must re-develop a sound capacity to scan the strategic horizon, rather than merely react to the headlines of the moment.
Only then will the British establish a proper appreciation of the extent and nature of the power shifts taking place in the world. Only then can the fashioning of British security policy, from which national strategy flows, be properly made with any confidence. Such a response will need to be radical, rather than incremental. Such an appreciation will also necessarily lead to a range of assumptions and policy choices that will fashion Britain’s political, security, diplomatic and military effort into the future.
Given the nature of power in today’s world, how it is measured and quantified, both as an absolute commodity and relative capability, statecraft will be critical. Ultimately, soft power is nought without credible hard power. Therefore, how Britain conceives, makes and exercises strategy in the coming years will be critical. In the twenty-first century, only a clear-headed view of Britain’s place and power in the world will enable Britain to compete effectively in the global race and secure its interests, values and people.