There are three questions Britain must consider concerning international institutions given their centrality to British strategy. What does Britain want institutions to do? What will be the future strategic and future operating environment (FOE) in which institutions will function? What must Britain bring to the institutions to ensure their effectiveness and London’s influence over them? The three questions underpin two strategic truisms; Britain’s influence over international institutions will be directly proportionate to the political and intellectual capital Britain invests in them, and Britain’s political capital will only be realised if supported by hard power.
If Britain stays in the EU, its first aim must be to keep security and defence firmly under national control, even if limited defence integration takes place between smaller EU member-states. However, to achieve such a goal when non-Eurozone Britain is so marginal to EU politics will demand of the British a military force that is unequivocally Europe’s leader and thus most powerful. Moreover, only by confirming Britain’s position as Europe’s strongest military power will London confirm NATO as the central institution for the security and defence of Europe, preserve American commitment to Europe and ensure British influence in and over Europe is commensurate with the national interest.
It is hard to over-state the damage Britain’s 2010 defence cuts did to the international institutions Britain holds dear. Indeed, British strategy will only leverage influence through international institutions if institutions are not seen as mechanisms to compensate for cuts, particularly defence cuts. Indeed, to generate such influence at this critical juncture, London must invest institutions with real power. The need is pressing, as the three most important institutions for Britain – EU, NATO and the UN are all in deep trouble in one way or another.
There are three axes of influence that British strategy must pursue. First, Britain must remind European partners that there are others with whom Britain can act. Second, the British must remind allies and partners that membership of either the EU or NATO is a contract in which British support for the security of allies and partners must be matched in return by the real support of allies and partners for Britain’s security needs and responsibilities. Third, Britain must actively seek to influence new partners by using its institutions as frameworks for strategic relationships that possess a clear commitment to the just and effective application of both coercive and non-coercive security policy when needs be.
Central to British strategy must be the maintenance of Britain’s status as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Indeed, even though the UN itself is dysfunctional, it remains the world’s supreme international political authority. The UNSC is not an executive committee but rather a security council upon which only the world’s most capable military powers hold permanent seats. For the foreseeable future Britain will remain one of the world’s top five military powers and Britain’s armed forces must be consciously and purposively maintained as such. Permanent membership of the UNSC also places Britain at the heart of influence networks such as the G8, G20 and G all-the-rest and is thus critical to British influence.
NATO is in deep crisis and in need of radical overhaul. The Alliance is still configured for a past world which has been masked by over a decade of operations in Afghanistan that will soon come to an end. The agenda of the September 2014 NATO Summit, due to take place in Britain, will consider the Alliance beyond Afghanistan and little less than a NATO 3.0 will suffice to re-establish a link between the strategic political and military mechanism that is the purpose of the Alliance and the future operating environment. However, before any such radical overhaul of the Alliance can take place, Britain must finally abandon the idea that NATO means one for all and all for one. Different member nations need different things from NATO and in future will offer different things.
Three topics will dominate the summit – the need for military capabilities, the need for connected forces that can think, talk and act together and co-operative security with partners, most notably the EU, but also with partners the world over. The one thing that will not be discussed at the summit will be the radical re-structuring of the European military effort to provide credible hard power influence at affordable cost, towards which Britain should be leading Europeans. For Britain this is critical as NATO provides invaluable structures and military standards and will remain the most likely enabler and force generator of credible military coalitions.