UK Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon’s pre-SDSR lecture

Andrew Drwiega, Tangent Link’s consultant attended a lecture given by the Michael Fallon at the Royal United Services Institute on Tuesday 22 September. Here is a precise of his speech:

On Monday 22 September the UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon gave a lecture to members of the United Kingdom’s (UK) Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Whitehall, London.

Billed as a pre-Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) overview, Fallon began by agreeing with a comment made recently by the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Sir Nicholas Houghton, which noted that the world had become a more dangerous place. Fallon added that was certainly true since the previous SDSR in 2010.

Fallon firmly stated that “the rules based international order on which our security and prosperity depend is being tested by this global upheaval.”

The tests, he stated, had been shaped by three overlapping crises: regional upheaval following the Arab Spring; the civil war in Syria; and the rise of religious extremism personified by the growth of ISIL (so called Islamic State).

He also highlighted the breakdown of African governments in northern Africa which has led to instability resulting, at least in part, to mass migrations from the African coastline towards Europe.

Russia’s aggressive foreign policy also came under attack from Fallon. He openly accused “a revanchist Russia of re-heating the Cold War, menacing its neighbours and using hybrid warfare to pursue its goals.”

UK’s Security Priorities

Fallon said that there were three main priorities for the UK government:
the protection of its citizens although this was becoming ever harder taking into account terrorist acts such as the beach massacre in Morocco) and the rise of home-grown terrorism.
The need to rapidly response to crises. Fallon observed that the number and frequency were increasing “so we are keeping crisis response arrangements between departments under constant review to ensure that they are as good as they can be.”
There was a need to reinforce the rules based international order which should be done gradually, safely and with regard to UK interests and values.

The Ministry of Defence needed to work with Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign Office to assist fragile and failing states. Further, the UK needed to continue to use its influence as a leading member of NATO, the UN Security Council and the European Union and work closely with its international allies, crucially adding that this meant “being prepared to intervene militarily where that is necessary.”

Fallon praised the SDSR 2010 and said that action’s taken then – meaning the cuts and reduction of the defence budget deficit which had been around £35 billion – had resulted in the UK having a more agile and flexible force. Of course all its military arms had also been reduced in size, numbers of personnel and units/assets that could be fielded. But Fallon pointed to new equipment investment mentioning the Ajax armoured vehicle, the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and the new F35 fighters). He claimed that the government’s 10 year, £163 billion equipment plan meant that defence was properly funded which would ensure high end capability across the UK’s forces.

SDSR

Fallon said that time had been taken to get the SDSR right with cross-government consultation, consultation with other nations and military partners, as well as the involvement over over 100 institutional experts across the UK. Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) papers had added information into the strategic picture ahead. He added that it was not simply a five year plan until the next expected SDSR in 2020, but was looking ahead over a decade.

Fallon stated that the three most important elements were to be more international, efficient and innovative.

International by design – the key to this said Fallon was “to make the most of our global partnerships. That means more training, force generating and operating in multi-national coalitions in pursuit of shared goals – especially in NATO – the cornerstone of our defence.” NATO is seen as a force multiplier in terms of national influence. He suggested that mass on the battlefield was best achieved through cooperation with allies and partners. He suggested that would mean an increase in training and force generation.

Fallon also talked about identifying a collective response to threats from hybrid warfare “where aggressors use proxies and cyber attack to blur the lines between what is, and what is not, considered an act of war.”

Talking of the states within the Gulf Cooperation Council, he said: “we now consider our defence footprint in Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as a strategic whole, thinking decades not years ahead.”

Efficient – The commitment to 2% of GDP to be spent on defence meant that future savings should be recycled back into frontline capability. But he was aware that more from less still applied: “We need to deliver more value, flying hours, sea miles, deployable units from the force structure that we have and we need to reform ways of working.”

Innovative – Fallon pointed to the need to build a culture “more ready to take risks and more open to change.” The requirement was to “speed up the integration of new technologies, adopt new operating concepts and incentivise modern working practices.”

Conclusion

The SDSR is expected towards the end of the year and between now and then Fallon said that he and other officials were “preparing (a) series of major strategic decisions for ministers to take which will shape the UK’s approach to national security in the period ahead.”

The government is bound to continue the focus on high-end capabilities and to continue its policies of acting in coalition with allies wherever possible. To win back the social media war against extreme messaging from adversaries who are quick to recruit and radicalise supports as well as spread disinformation, Fallon said there was a need be ready with a “faster truth”, something the establishment has not been getting right.