UK Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton address to IPPR, 27 April 2009
2009/04/27 - Institute for Public Policy Research Speech Delivered by SofS for Defence at Royal Society of Arts, London on 27 April 09.
I’m delighted to be with you today for the closing session of this important
conference on the UK’s National Security Strategy. Like to congratulate
the IPPR for the excellent work they have done in this area and for the
impressive interim report of its commission on National Security.
It is over a year since the launch of the National Security Strategy
– or NSS - of the United Kingdom last March. It tried to identify the
threats we face and brought together the agencies and departments in addressing
As a Defence Minister, you would rightly expect me to talk about the role of defence in national security and it is here that I want to confine my remarks today.
I am very grateful that the UK faces little direct state-led threat in today’s world. It is a luxury our parents and their parents did not enjoy.
However this does not mean we can afford to ignore this danger altogether. As with previous generations, our Armed Forces are the vital resource that will protect this country should we ever face this threat again in the future. For me, our national security depends on us guarding against all possibilities, and looking ahead – and not just at the world as it is today.
Let me say at the outset that I continue to believe Britain must maintain its independent nuclear deterrent in the decades ahead. It is likely to be as vital to our security in the decades ahead as it has been for this country for the past 50 years.
Of course I recognise the risk to the UK’s territorial integrity being threatened by another state has diminished exponentially since the end of the Cold War. That’s a good thing. And I welcome resumption of talks aimed at bringing about significant reductions in the stockpile of nuclear weapons. There is a real opportunity in the coming months to see a major breakthrough between US and Russia.
But the tough economic climate and the threat from international terrorism is leading some to say that Britain can no longer afford or need the protection provided by the nuclear deterrent that my generation enjoyed.
With respect, I think that view is fundamentally misconceived.
The world is experiencing unprecedented economic turbulence. If history has taught us anything it is that economic turbulence is soften followed by other changes. New balances of power. New tensions. New risks and threats. Ones that can quickly lead to instability and the potential for state based conflict.
It is a bold person who believes the UK will face a threat to its territorial integrity from another State in the next 50 years. But it’s a reckless one who rules it out. And I am not prepared to be reckless with our nation’s security.
Tough economic times do of course mean that countries have to make choices – real choices, hard choices. And this Government has made its choice: to continue to ensure that the cornerstone of our nation’s security policy is maintained through our independent nuclear deterrent. And at a cost of less than 0.2 per cent of UK’s GDP over the lifetime of the deterrent, this represents good value insurance in an increasingly changing and uncertain world.
But, today we must also contend with threats from organisations who pose not a challenge to our borders but instead our way of life. Whether they are groups operating in the UK, or in the border areas of the FATA, we need to find ways of disrupting their ability to recruit and function.
The military have a role to play in this – as do our security services,
police forces, voluntary organisations, and community leaders. Tackling
this requires us to work together across departments and across communities.
Defence plays a vital role in this as part of the Government’s comprehensive
approach, working with the FCO and DFID in places as diverse as Afghanistan
to Nigeria. In Afghanistan, we have over 8,000 troops doing a tremendously
difficult and brave job very well. Improving governance and helping in
the development of professional and accountable armed forces is something
our military do well. It is fundamental to getting a failed nation back
on its feet, and is therefore a fundamental tool in our fight against
insurgency and terrorism.
The New Chapter of the SDR we published in 2002 concluded that the Armed Forces had an important role to play as part of a cross-Government and international effort to counter international terrorism. It found that most of the military capabilities needed would be provided from the force structure that the 1998 Strategic Defence Review had set in train, but proposed further investment in intelligence gathering, and in network enabled capability.
For home defence, it suggested a raft of measures including the need to refine our air defence and maritime integrity arrangements. It recommended we establish stronger liaison arrangements between the Armed Forces and civil authorities and devolved administrations, and clarify command and control arrangements.
Over the past several years the MOD has implemented all these measures to contribute to the counter terrorism agenda.
And over this period the threat posed by international terrorism has continued to develop. We have seen a range of appalling attacks around the world in just the past year alone – from the attacks against hotels in Mumbai and Islamabad, to suicide bombers in Algeria, Iraq and Afghanistan. This, and the current SEVERE threat to the UK, put the terrorist threat into context.
Against that backdrop, the Prime Minister and my predecessor, Des Browne, set in hand in the summer of 2007 a programme of work to take stock of MOD’s counter terrorism and national resilience policy, plans, capabilities and organisation, and examine whether the defence contribution to CONTEST was appropriate or needed to be further adjusted.
The Prime Minister asked the former Armed Forces Minister, Adam Ingram, to lead a study to address this question, working with UK experts and consulting with key allies. This study reported last summer. I made a statement to Parliament in December accepting, in principle, all of the recommendations in Adam’s report, and saying that they would be developed and implemented.
Adam Ingram’s review reaffirmed the two key principles that underpin the MOD’s approach. These are: that contributing to national and international efforts to counter terrorism is one of MOD’s highest priorities; and that the defence contribution in countering terrorism should continue to be focussed primarily against the overseas terrorist threat, in order to keep the threat ‘at arms length’ from the UK.
We should never make the mistake of thinking that instability and terrorism abroad have little or nothing to do with us as a nation. We cannot afford to ignore the security problems in regions like east Africa or the Middle East. If left to fester they create regional instability and provide safe havens for terrorist groups whose grievances range far wider than local territorial disputes and lead to direct attacks on the populations of Western nations. That was the key lesson we learned from Afghanistan in 2001. It is essential that we recognise international terrorism as an international issue, and deal with it accordingly, in partnership with those countries most directly affected.
Looking at this overseas effort, the Armed Forces contribution therefore falls into three main areas.
First, there are strategic counter terrorism objectives associated with our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq mounted a vicious, callous campaign designed to undermine the new democratically elected Government of Iraq. Their campaign failed. The people of Iraq working with coalition forces rejected their presence and forcibly opposed what they were trying to achieve.
US and UK forces in and around Baghdad played a critical role in identifying, detaining and neutralising those who led and directed the murderous car bombing campaign that led to so many innocent citizens being killed in 2006 and 2007. You will be aware that it is a long standing policy of the MOD not to comment on our Special Forces. But I want to take this opportunity to commend their professionalism and courage in Iraq. Their efforts have saved countless lives and made a direct and lasting contribution to the improved security we see today in Iraq. Through that security, gained by the sacrifices of many brave men and women, we are today witnessing the development of a new vibrant democracy.
In Afghanistan, the challenge remains to prevent AQ from being able to re-establish sanctuary that could threaten the international security again. So far we are succeeding. AQ has been forced to scuttle across the border to seek refuge in Pakistan.
In the long term a sustainable solution to countering the terrorist threat will only be achieved when the democratically elected governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan are able to secure their borders and prevent international terrorists from operating. Until that point, AQ will continue to enjoy strong ties with elements of the Taliban and pay for their hospitality with lethal support for the Afghan insurgency. To achieve success against either group our counter terrorism and counter insurgency strategies need to be complementary.
In the future we need to have an open mind on how we can best conduct these complex counter terrorist operations. That is why I discussed with US Defence Secretary Gates in March the need to undertake a joint piece of work to understand the lessons from these recent conflicts, including Afghanistan, and what they tell us about the characteristics of future conflict, as well as what they mean for our bilateral defence cooperation in the future.
This is work we cannot put off. In Afghanistan we are witnessing a form of irregular warfare that threatens to tear up the rule book of traditional conflict. In confronting the asymmetry of violent Islamist extremism, we are confronting those whose motivations and actions test both the boundaries of military comprehension and humanitarian behaviour. The female suicide bomber. The innocent boy tricked into killing himself and British soldiers by pushing a wheelbarrow packed full of explosives.
Such threats strike a challenge to the core of how we operate in the field. It tests everything about us. Our people, their equipment, our interaction with communities in which we are fighting. It demands a comprehensive approach. A joining of political, military and economic effort. These are new challenges for our Armed Forces, but ones that I have seen at first hand in Afghanistan, that we are already rising to.
But we will need to go further. We must be ready to consider deep and wide-ranging changes to our Armed Forces – changes that will help our own people prosecute these kinds of campaigns even more effectively and safely in the future.
Earlier this month we saw real leadership from President Obama and Secretary
Gates in their ambition to set the US military policy on a new course,
rebalancing and reprioritising investment effort on a huge scale.
A rebalancing of investment in technology, equipment and people to meet the challenge of irregular warfare. If a country like the US, with all its vast resources and military strength has decided to prioritise, I believe the UK must do the same.
We need to decide the best balance for our Armed Forces over the next decade. A stronger and more structured role in supporting every aspect of the comprehensive approach to countering terrorism and bringing stability and order to parts of the world that threaten UK national security.
This could include greater investment in battle winning capabilities like our special forces which can help disrupt networks of terror that threaten our national security. UK special forces are amongst the best in the world. Capable, effective, respected and contributing massively to the defeat of AQ in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So there must be change here at home.
Our country can be rightly proud of the men and women who serve in our armed forces. They are truly exceptional people. Adaptability and agility is clearly one of their many great enduring strengths. A can do attitude. No challenge too great. No sacrifice too hard.
We need now to ensure that support to the front line and every pound we spend as a nation in support of our Armed Forces is equally agile and adaptable to the realities of modern conflict. I am committed to ensuring that this is the case. I believe there is still significant scope for achieving better value for money at the MOD and all its agencies. Work is already underway, and I will be publishing new proposals on reforming acquisition later this summer.
Our second contribution to countering terrorism overseas is the support we give to countries to help them prevent the growth of terrorism and to deal effectively with it when it emerges.
The MOD’s programme of capacity-building currently extends to 14 countries including Pakistan. Security forces trained by British teams continue to have successes in disrupting terrorist plots.
In many of these circumstances our support is not just about military effectiveness. It is also about demonstrating how military forces should operate under the control of democratically accountable governments with an understanding of, and compliance with international law.
The third main area of our overseas effort is our maintenance of the capabilities required to conduct precise operations against terrorist groups and individuals, in circumstances ranging from responses to hostage taking, through indirect and direct action against groups planning attacks against UK interests.
Our efforts overseas have made great inroads into dealing with the threat before it appears on the streets of Britain. But we also have to be prepared to work at home to protect our population and prepare for the consequences of any attack that we are unable to prevent.
The Armed Forces contributes to this domestic role in four main ways.
First, MOD holds a range of specialist capabilities at very short notice to disrupt terrorist attacks before they begin, or once they have started. These capabilities include air defence aircraft and the supporting infrastructure, maritime forces and Special Forces. The Armed Forces work closely with the police and security agencies to keep these plans up to date, and to exercise them regularly.
Second we provide distinctive crisis management planning support to Police and Security Service operations.
Third, MOD is closely engaged in planning for, and would provide potentially very substantial capabilities to support, consequence management in the event of successful attacks against the UK. Many of these wider capabilities would be useful for wider resilience purposes, such as flooding, as well as counter terrorism.
Finally, we assist with the protection of the UK against attack by terrorists, notably, through the provision of armed Ministry of Defence Police to guard certain key sites in the UK.
MOD also maintains a range of specialist capabilities for use in both overseas and domestic activities. For example, we contribute to the collection and analysis of intelligence on terrorist networks overseas, as well as groups who want to attack us in the UK. We also contribute to research and development to help identify solutions to the challenges posed by terrorism and insurgency. It is important that we leverage the Government’s research for counter terrorism wherever it resides.
In conjunction with Home Office, we have identified a series of common requirements, such as stand-off detection, the need to locate individuals in complex environments, which we are addressing jointly as priorities.
As described in the new CONTEST strategy, contemporary terrorist organisations aspire to use chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons. The MOD has significant expertise in this field, developed over generations spanning WWII, the Cold War which has now been adapted to combat the threat of terrorism. We apply this expertise to the full spectrum of CONTEST CBRN activities in support of a wide range of organisations from the police to the Foreign Office.
Everyone now accepts the blurring of distinctions between defence and security, domestic and overseas, and terrorism and insurgency will require Government departments to work ever more closely together.
I would just like to end with this observation. It is inevitable that as some of the old threats to our national security begin to fade, others will replace them. The world remains a dangerous place after all. And these new threats are in many senses, just as deadly and dangerous as those they have succeeded. They challenge our democratic way of life and the decent values we hold dear to our hearts. But we are not powerless. We can face these threats. We can defeat them. But to prevail there will need to be continuous evolution in our national security strategy. How we prevent conflict. How we devise and deploy military force. How we use other levers to our advantage.
From my perspective, the Armed Forces are integral to the fabric of the nation and will always be the ultimate defenders of our country and its people. They protect our interests overseas and play a key role here at home to ensure that we are as prepared as we can be to respond to security risks, be they natural disasters or terrorist related.
The bond between the armed forces and the nation has never been closer in my lifetime than it is today. This respect and admiration is not based on the triumphs of previous military conflicts. It rests on the achievements of this generation of soldiers, sailors and airmen in defending our country and the rights for which we stand. That is why we should all be confident that our security is in good hands.
Source: UK Ministry of Defence, www.mod.uk.