In 2005, the United Kingdom undertook it’s most recent strategic defence review, its attempt to visualise how the global strategic landscape will develop over the next ten to twenty years. Armed with this review, elected officials and civil servants then made plans for our future, placing orders with defence contractors, laying out reorganisations of the armed forces.
But time is revealing that this approach has two major problems. The first is political: because our role in the world can be changed and reset according to the needs and fancies of politicians and civil servants, vital defence projects are cut or changed mid-construction in the name of expediency. For example the order for the much needed Type 45 destroyer, not only an important tool for maintaining Great Britain’s global presence, but an absolutely vital tool for defending our new aircraft carriers, have been cut down to eight, limiting the use of the new aircraft carriers and rendering large parts of the fleet redundant. The rationale behind this decision stems from the political priorities of a government which endlessly calls upon the armed forces to carry out it’s foreign policy agenda, but at the same time refuses to allocate the money necessary to sustain those commitments.
The second problem lies in the review itself, in its failure to properly understand the emerging global environment. While Great Britain should look to have maximum flexibility in dealing with foreign and defence issues, British politicians and civil servants need to be honest - with us and themselves - as to the possible scope of Britain’s activities. With such limited resources being spent on foreign and defence policy, our role will invariably need to be bolstered by the involvement of other powers, and our approach to situations must be timed perfectly to afford us the best chances of success. The consequences of this not happening can be seen in Iraq, where while the situation appears to be improving for the British, it has emerged that part of that improvement has relied on a deal made with the Mehdi army. That the British armed forces felt so limited and so isolated that they needed to find alternative means to stabilise Basra is a worrying development. A clearer definition of our global role and global intention would have gone some way to preventing this unfortunate necessity.