18 November 2019

The nostalgias of a former empire… and the doctrines that keep them awake

Liviu Ioniţă

Great Britain’s declaration to exit the European Union came, three years ago, along with the promise to establish a relation stronger than any other current relation between the European organization and a third country, based on an economic and security partnership. However, when it comes to the materialization of this special relation, things seem a bit more confusing. Meanwhile there are more and more questions on United Kingdom’s alliances future, state’s unity (Scotland speculating on an independence referendum), or the peace process in North Ireland, once the Irish border issue was brought to the foreground, the Great Britain tries to reshape its commercial relations, even to project its power globally.

Image source: Mediafax

Strategically speaking, there were obvious signs of security and defence blockages

The National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) were first updated in 2015 and are about to be renewed in 2020, as the government thinks that it would match the Brexit process and the post-Brexit security environment.

The Joint Committee for the National Security Strategy (of both British Parliament chambers) has, however, a different opinion. JCNSS, whose responsibility is examining the character/ the appropriateness of the national security strategy and the analysis of this strategic document’s costs and policies, is warning that the London executive is not keeping up with the challenges against the United Kingdom.

At the same time, another structure from the Parliamentary surveillance area, this time The Intelligence and Security Committee, is urgently asking the executive its approval to publish a report on the Russian interferences in the British policy, completed since March.

“We did not make any decision on the moment we will make a new strategic review of the national security.  When we will do so, we will inform you.”

This is the conclusion answer of the British government, published on November 4th by The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy.

In the article that was made public (Revisiting the UK’s national security strategy: The National Security Capability Review and the Modernising Defence Programme: Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report), which was focused on issues presented by the Committee, but also executive’s position in that regard, JCNSS drew the attention on the subversion of country’s national security base, as consequence of:

- the growing strains on the UK’s relationship with the United States;

- the continuing uncertainty about the UK’s future security, defence and foreign policy relationship with its EU partners in the aftermath of the EU referendum;

- uncertainty about the UK’s position on China—specifically, whether it should follow the United States’ lead in regarding China as a strategic competitor, which needs to be contained militarily and diplomatically, or continue its policy of engagement with wider international support;

-the relative shift of power away from the West and its impact on the UK’s ability to protect its security and wider interests through the international system, including by promoting liberal political values.

The Committee draws British government’s attention on being accustomed to talk, in terms of national security, about a better game than the one they are actually practicing, and, if they want to convince others- home and abroad- about Great Britain’s positive and convincing role after their EU exit, then it must be more transparent on how it wants to approach the security challenges.

The “Global Britain” concept is meaningless against the current background of reduced diplomatic spending and under-powered defence. Its transformation into a significant strategy involves the reconstruction of United Kingdom’s hard power, meanwhile there are reinvested and unified the different soft power tools, which will need increased funds and rebalance between defence, diplomacy and assistance.

When creating the national security strategies, the government must return to the first principles on the national security strategy and make the difficult choices they have ignored for so long. It is necessary for the Great Britain to follow a better countered policy for the coming years, after its EU exit, because the key countries’ influence and direction, like US and China, are unpredictably changing.

Doctrina Fusion, a key element of the National Security Capability Review (NSCR), being an attempt to strengthen the National Security Council authority within the Government, in following its strategic priorities, but also in the flexible answer to national security threats, is not very clear on how government’s joint involvement with the private sector, allies and United Kingdom’s partners will be made.

Each five years, the government makes a strategic review of Great Britain’s defence and security necessities, an analysis wherein they are also publishing the military budgets and capacities. In July last year, the Cabinet has also considered, within NSCR, for the first time, the more and more complex and interconnected security capacities in Great Britain, and the cooperation and interoperability intensification between departments.

Doctrina Fusion, an initiative of the National Security Council, was launched as a central element of the National Security Capability Review, and it involves the integration of security and defence capabilities with the economic and social ones in the implementation of the National Security Strategy.

For the improvement of the decision making process, they have appointed some Senior Responsible Owners (SRO)/ responsible with fields from all government departments to lead the national security strategy and implementation groups (NSSCIG). These groups are focused on thematic/ regional areas of interest and risk considering, at the same time, the common elements of distinct fields. This way, they wanted to determine the involvement of many social sectors in analyzing the strategic priorities.

JCNSS thinks that, given that Great Britain needs appropriate capacities to fight the conventional and the hybrid threats in cyber security fields and the informational war, in a changing and complex security environment, the long-term plan for Defence, established by the Government in 2015, was never convenient and it was based on an inadequate optimism on the involved financial risks.

Modernising Defence Programme (December 2018) has rather raised more questions than finding solution and has left the Defence Ministry on standby. The Modernising Defence Programme and the National Security Capability Review (March 2018) have shown that the Defence funding is not actually the most adequate: the Treasury continues to not fund government’s defence ambitions properly, meanwhile the Defence Ministry has repeatedly tried to manage as effectively as possible the budget they got.

The Government should establish the way they will systematically cooperate with the private sector and United Kingdom’s allies and partners on each priority of the national security strategic policy and what will be the responsibility of the Senior Responsible Owners (SRO) and the National Security Strategy Implementation Groups (NSSIG) in the future reviews of the National Security Strategy.

According to the Committee, there is no solution to unify the security review with the defence ones, as NCR tried to do, if every penny spent in the field results being made in the detriment of another one.

The current periodical estimation on the strategic document are positive, but if the security and defence analyses will not consider the costs also, the results will probably represent a breach of the Doctrina Fusion.

If The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, which recommended the Government to immediately think on approaching the political and budgetary decisions, asking for bigger spending for Defence, has immediately raised some reactions, the material published by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee is not going public because of the executive chief, a gesture which is part of a series of previous governmental actions which stopped the effective parliamentary control of the security and intelligence services (Andrew Defty, professor at the University of Lincoln).

The National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review have ignored Brexit’s possible influences on the British strategic situation, but they analyzed a lot the Russian aggression and its consequences on the United Kingdom and the International Security. Concurrently with the Brexit debate, there was also a special attention on the Russian threat, the MI6 intelligence service reclassifying this threat, after being, for years, a secondary security issue (Nadiia Koval, UK Security Strategies and Policies after 2014).

The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), responsible with surveilling the MI5, MI6 and GCHQ’s activities has come up, since March, with a report consisting of relevant information for the voters (Dominic Grieve, president of the Committee).

Jonathan Evans, former MI5 director until 2013, was saying (in an interview for BBC) that the ministers should get ready to explain if the government has any reason why the report is not public yet.

It would only be about a 50 pages file, which would examine the Russian interference in Great Britain’s democratic process, especially the 2016 referendum, a report which Downing Street seems to want to keep private before the December elections (The Guardian).

These elections’ results will, most likely, place Great Britain between Dean Archon’s 1962 statement (Britain had lost an empire and had not found a role) and Theresa May’s 2017 one (The truly global Great Britain).

Translated by Andreea Soare