RUSI: "Has The SDSR Secured Britain's Place In The World?"

The following text from a STRATFOR (independent US think tank) report (don't have a link due to the nature of the source) provides and interesting (and surprisingly upbeat) US interpretation on the strategy behind the SDSR;

October 20, 2010


The government of the United Kingdom has unveiled a new National Security Strategy and a Strategic Defense and Security Review -- the former on Monday and the latter before Parliament on Tuesday. At their core, both documents are about reductions in budget and in force structure in an attempt to bring British defense spending in line with fiscal realities. This is the result of a crisis in the United Kingdom that has been building for nearly two decades, and the cuts these overarching reviews mandate have been a long time coming. The realm has been wracked for years by every manner of dire presentiment about the future of the British military (something for which British tabloids have an uncommon knack).

The cuts are indeed set to be severe, but with an eye toward calibrating the British defense forces for the uncertainty the 21st century presents. The National Security Strategy explicitly defines British national interests, identifies specific threats to those interests and prioritizes them. The Strategic Defense and Security Review actually chooses between different weapon systems and capabilities and mandates specific cuts to pursue the National Security Strategy with the resources available.

"Serious strategy cannot founder on uncertainty. It must manage that uncertainty, and do so with the politically viable resources and means available."

These definitions, priorities and choices -- and their application to specific cuts -- will all be subjected to great scrutiny (some of which will come in subsequent STRATFOR analysis). As strategic statement after strategic statement has shown -- particularly since the Cold War -- the devil is in the details, and issuing reports like these is a far cry from actual implementation. But there is an important element of all this that has been all too rare in the last two decades precisely because it has been difficult: strategy.

When 50,000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks were poised west of the Ural Mountains, the predominant existential threat to the British state was clear. The existence of a single adversary that dwarfs all other competitors narrows the possible scenarios and sharpens the focus of military thinking. Some of the most difficult strategic questions like defining a specific adversary were not only already answered, but also seemed almost carved in stone for the foreseeable future.

Without such an adversary, in a world of uncertain threats and fundamentally new threats like the military and terrorist exploitation of cyberspace, clear, well-founded strategic thinking -- an inherently difficult exercise -- becomes extremely hard. There has been no shortage of post-Cold War and post-Sept. 11, 2001, and July 7, 2005, defense reviews, strategic statements and white papers. The one common theme may have been "uncertainty," a word that has become a significant crutch in strategic thinking -- all too often there has been more equivocation and less clarity, and more emphasis on the variety of potential threats than on concrete solutions.

Perhaps one of the most misinterpreted statements of the often-misinterpreted Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz was his assertion that war is a continuation of politics by other means. What he meant by this, at least in part, is that the political objective -- and the resources and effort that politics permit to be applied in pursuit of that objective -- must all be in concert with the military means.

Serious strategy cannot founder on uncertainty. It must manage that uncertainty, and do so with the politically viable resources and means available. This necessarily entails clarity, prioritization and choice. Without that, one is left with a laundry list of threats and a laundry list of capabilities required to defend against them. That is not a strategy, and he who attempts to defend everything defends nothing.

While the efficacy of the British strategy and the strategic choices outlined Tuesday can and will be debated, it is a strategy -- one that could conceivably result in a stronger, more agile and safer United Kingdom. But the importance of bringing military spending in line with fiscal reality -- and the strategy necessary to guide the cuts required -- has been done here in a clear, concise and articulate manner. That is something with applicability far beyond the British Isles.

Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.

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