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Speech: Secretary of State offers an insight into UK defence thinking


War Hero
It’s good to see so many of you here today and I’m proud to know that we have some 50 nations represented in this room.

Today is a chance for me to give you an insight into our UK defence thinking at present.

But it’s also an opportunity to pick your brains.

Great challenges require great military minds

…and when we have so many brilliant brains in the room

…we can’t fail to come up with some solutions.


Let me return to the challenges we’re facing.

As our National Security Strategy identified not long ago.

…the world is becoming more dangerous and uncertain

…with the interconnected threats we’re facing

…increasing in scale, diversity and complexity

Our strategy identified a number of issues likely to preoccupy us in the coming decade

…increasing terrorism, exemplified by Daesh

…the resurgence of state based threats, such as Putin’s Russia

…and the rise of technology, especially cyber

…which as the attacks on TV stations and banks in recent months show…poses a very real threat.

Taken together these dangers are destabilising the rules based order and undermining our security and prosperity.

In the past few months we’ve been also reminded of other interrelated issues putting our system under further strain.

Rogue nations like north Korea are testing nuclear weapons

…and a huge migration is spilling into the Med

…and testing Europe’s commitment to free movement


In response to these challenges the UK government set out a comprehensive strategy with overriding national security objectives:

  • protecting our people
  • projecting our global influence
  • promoting our prosperity

To deliver those priorities we’ve chosen to invest in bigger, bolder defence

…spending 2%, to grow our budget year on year

…and using an augmented £178 billion equipment plan

…to fit out a larger joint expeditionary force backed up

…with new carriers, more F35 earlier, maritime patrol vessels, successor submarines and Ajax Armoured Vehicle.

I’m sure you’re up to speed on the contents of our National Security Strategy.

So let me make 3 points about our approach


First, it’s about being more active.

We need to be able to respond to multiple threats on many concurrent fronts.

Last year we took part in more than 20 operations in 19 countries.

This year we’re maintaining that operational energy.

UK’s Typhoons will be back in eastern Europe for the third time

…policing Baltic skies

We’ll be intensifying our efforts in NATO exercises

… sending more than 1,000 troops

…to support Exercises Anaconda and Swift Response

…based in Poland and the Baltic states

We’re playing a major role in defeating Daesh.

And following the decisive Parliamentary vote, our planes are now striking the terrorists.

In Syria as well as Iraq.

We’re also leading the coalition’s strategic communications work as well

…exposing the evil nature of the extremists

At the same time we’re doubling UN peacekeeping effort.

At Christmas I was in Nigeria meeting our forces helping the government it is fight against Boko Haram.


Secondly, our approach is about becoming more integrated.

At a time of increasing demands

…when the threats facing us as a country transcend departmental boundaries

…we’ve recognised the need to take a “whole government” response

…co-ordinating effort across Whitehall departments

That’s why we conduct not strategic defence reviews but strategic defence and security reviews.

…combining our National Security Strategy

And it’s why we now have bodies such as the National Security Council

…providing collective strategic leadership across Whitehall

…on national security and crisis issues

Our integrated approach isn’t just illustrated by new structures

…but by our response on the ground

Look at the way we dealt with Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Our armed forces built treatment centres

…that were staffed by NHS volunteers

…delivering life saving care.

While staff from our development department and FCO

…alongside our charities

…got out into the villages

…to educate local people about prevention.

Significantly, this work and our Afghanistan operation made increasing use of stabilisation units

…combining civilian and military effort to build stability overseas

In fact, we’ve come to the view that defence and development are two sides of the same coin.

You can’t tackle extremism without tackling the instability that feeds it.

Which is why we’re the only major country in the world not just meeting the NATO target.

…but spending at least 0.7% on development

And we’re now applying our integrated template to the policy arena.

This year we’re creating a number of new policy making and delivery Joint Units.

…bringing together diplomatic and defence expertise to develop and implement UK policy for NATO and for EU Common Security and Defence Policy

…joining up defence and the FCO to formulate UK policy on UN peacekeeping missions

…and consolidating our approach to arms and counter proliferation into a single place…here at MOD.

Battle of ideas

But perhaps the most interesting area where this joined up approach is being employed

…is in the battle of ideas

Today we’re seeing countries and religions

…who feel they have been denied their due place in the world

…becoming increasing assertive

…looking to redraw the map and aggressively impose their views

So our security depends as much on winning the argument as it does on winning the fight.

That requires unity of purpose

…and a total cross government response

This is precisely how we’re now tackling Islamist extremism.

We’re not just looking to target the terrorists

…shut down their online presence

…stop their financial support

…and prevent their fighters crossing our borders

We’re looking to call out their extremist narrative

…supporting reforming voices within the Muslim community to put a moderate perspective

…stopping the apologists from painting this as a clash between Islam and the west

…and preventing the fusion of religion and politics…followed by the swift slide into radicalisation

But we’re also looking to do something else.

We’re looking to make our case

…as a proud nation with much to offer the world

A nation that offers its citizens

…freedom from discrimination

…religious tolerance

…and opportunity for all…whatever your class, creed or colour


Yet we face a significant barrier in getting our messages across.

Our enemies

…unencumbered by truth

…are able to use social media

…using other cyber tools to instantly pump out their malignant messages

…to distort evidence in a Babel of voices

…while we are hampered by our need to check every fact

So we’re having to develop better strategic communication that allow us to deliver a faster truth.

Taken together our new integrated approach is revolutionising defence and government.

My military colleagues are now having to get used to the sensation of feeling somewhat less independent.

On the other they’re revelling in getting a seat at a bigger table

…guaranteeing them greater influence

National resilience planning is one such area.

Instead of just being called out when the storm hits

…military planners are being embedded in key government departments

…so their vital expertise is plugged into the contingency solution


My third point continues the theme of integration.

But it is about integration at an international level with allies and partners.

We can’t deliver our national security goals and tackle global threats without their support.

So the UK is now looking to become international-by-design

…and work far more closely with our allies and partners.


You’ll see us…in the coming year…doing even more to modernise NATO…the cornerstone of our defence

At the last NATO summit I attended in Wales

…Barack Obama and David Cameron called on the alliance

… to address the lack of investment…

…danger of equipment obsolescence

…and need for faster response

Since then seven nations have pledged to increase their spending and put together rapid reaction force

…with the UK setting the pace

…committing to 2%

… and leading the Spearhead Force in 2017.

But as we look ahead to the Warsaw conference in a few months’ time

… big challenges remain

We need to galvanise the alliance

Not only do we need it to live up to the commitments made at the last summit.

Not only must we provide a strong response to Russia

… and decide how NATO can respond to threats on its Southern flank.

But we have to make sure NATO continues to evolve and adapt, military, politically and institutionally, so it’s capable of dealing with whatever is thrown at it.

In particular, we have the grander…no less vital task… of reinventing deterrence for the 21st century.

Making sure it can deal with

…not just with traditional military aggression but the hybrid challenge…of war waged through proxies

…and cyber attack, which blurs the line between military and civilian


The UK isn’t just committed to NATO.

We’re pressing for a more coherent European security architecture

…that sees the EU and NATO properly coordinated

…with both playing to their strengths

We’ve seen the effect EU economic sanctions have had on Russia

…and the security co-operation that followed in the wake of Paris

We’ve also seen the EU and NATO make good progress on strategic communications and countering the hybrid warfare threat.

But we must sure this new found sense of coherence continues

Worldwide footprint

Besides upping our impetus on the multi-lateral front

…we’re also expanding our worldwide footprint to ensure we can continue having a global impact

When the problems arise we need to be able to react quickly.

That’s why we’re leading on the Joint Expeditionary Force.

… with our Baltic, Danish, Dutch and Norwegian friends

…allowing us to rapidly deploy a specialist force in the event of crisis.

And our fleet of foot will also be significantly enhanced through our UK/France Combined Joint Expeditionary Force which stands up this year.

Meanwhile, our partnership with the US and Germany… in the Transatlantic Capability Enhancement and Training initiative (TACET) which will improve our understanding of the situation in the east and again improve our ability to respond.

Projecting power is one thing.

But we also need to be able to project the influence that can spot trouble down the track

…and head it off before crisis turns to chaos

We’re working hard right across the world.

We’re building a naval base in Bahrain to magnify the support we can provide across the Gulf.

We’re doing more in Asia, getting more out of our forces in Brunei working with Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand to improve our 5 powers defence arrangement and engaging regional allies such as Japan and India

We’re reinforcing our on-going engagement with south American defence partners.

And we’re now creating British Defence Staffs in the Middle East, Asia Pacific and Africa

…giving us an enduring footprint across those regions.

Conclusion: questions

But talk of defence diplomacy brings me back to you.

If there’s one thing more important than money or kit to international work

…it’s dialogue.

Only by sitting down together

…discussing the issues we face…in an academic forum such as this

…can we hope to come up with some collective solutions

So in a break with the traditions of a speech

…which require you to ask me questions at the end

…I’d like to pose you a few questions first.

Developing some of themes I’ve discussed.

How can we develop a 21st century deterrence posture with a clearer understanding of the types of activity that can threaten a nation?

How can we ensure an effective collective response to such challenges?

And how can we work together to put out that faster truth so necessary in winning the great battle of ideas?

As with any diplomatic engagement, getting an immediate answer isn’t the point

Having the conversation is what counts.

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