Securing Britain in the Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review

The International Relations (IR) theory attempts to examine international relations from a theoretical viewpoint and offers a theoretical framework for analyzing international relations. Schoenbaum (2006) perceives the IR theory as a cultural practice through which unconscious and conscious ideologies are circulated via stories that appear to be factual. Stories such as idealism and realism, which are acknowledged and held consciously, are referred to as IR traditions. However, other stories such as “war is caused by international anarchy” and “an international society exists” are not acknowledged because there are no names for them and they are held unconsciously. These stories are usually referred as IR myths, which are often considered as forthright expressions of how the globe functions (Weber 2010). As a result, the IR myths are perceived to be the building blocks of IR traditions that explain the current state of the world and how it should be. If an IR theory provides an explanation of a given world view basing on IR traditions, then the IR myth is what makes that given worldview appear to be factual. Thus, Weber (2010) considers the myth function in the IR theory as a conversion of what is ideological into what appears to be empirical, natural and universal.

With an increasing interconnection of global networks, the citizen is perceived as the referent object of security. While new threats emerge causing substantial systemic disruption, which blur the differentiation between the external threats to the national security, it is apparent that the Homeland Security should play a vital role in ensuring that Britain is safe (Great Britain, Cabinet Office 2009). In the light of this view, this paper undertakes a critical analysis of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The SDSR perceives Britain’s security from a Cold War standpoint, which is rather a simplified consideration of the current dynamic global politics. Perhaps, Britain’s security strategy should shift from unsuccessful policies of past years towards embracing foreign policies that are based on sustainable security, diplomacy and disarmament.

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Brief Summary of the SDSR

The coalition government of Britain had the challenge of coming up with a security strategy for a nation that has faced with unanticipated demands stemming from foreign forces, natural disasters such as 2007 flooding, a nuclear weapon system that is almost complete, and all these problems amidst a financial deadlock. The National Security Council developed two vital documents, including the National Security Strategy and its successor the Strategic Defence Review; all were titled as “securing Britain in the age in uncertainty” (The National Security Council 2010). The SDSR evaluated the potential threats that Britain faces at present and provided an outline of the planned responses. The SDSR is somewhat conventional owing to the fact that it places emphasis on defence and disregards civilian capabilities. The SDSR maintains the conventional defence strategies and upholds the three distinct arms of the military including their respective flagship pieces equipment. In addition, the SDSR mentions multilateral and bilateral partners that include the United Nations and the European Union. Nevertheless, its priority is still on the nation’s relations with the United States and NATO, which clearly indicates the focus on Cold War priorities (The National Security Council 2010). At the end of the report, structural reforms are mentioned, although, they do not place emphasis on the defence sector; rather, the SDSR focuses mainly on forming new units aimed at tackling the new threats.

Critical Analysis of SDSR

Fundamentally, the SDSR is a form of a cost-cutting move; it safeguards the needs of the Afghan War and anticipates the future probability of a full-scale conventional warfare, which is consistent Cold-War-imagined-model (Hoyner 2011). The SDSR maintains Trident (the nuclear weapons system for the United Kingdom), although, the decision on replacement has been pushed forward to 2016. Upholding Trident also translates to retaining an entire set of naval capabilities that are required for its protection, such as the astute class hunter killer submarines (Rydell 2005). In addition, the SDSR will need large and expensive carriers. Similarly, the air force will need advanced aircraft. It is apparent that these systems have been formulated by drawing upon a linear trajectory from the past with each system offering a justification for the need to have separate military arms. The fundamental argument is that the advocacy for Cold War legacy systems will be a case of postponing the costs, especially after the decisions to maintain Trident will be made in 2016. In addition, Hoyner (2011) argues that, this is a case of putting many expectations on the military capabilities while at the same time ignoring the vital role that civilian capabilities play in defence. The SDSR also advocates for the alleged “value for money” measures and warhead reductions, which are all packaged to create the perception that Britain is a responsible nuclear state and makes substantial contributions to multilateral disarmament while cutting costs for the taxpayer. This kind of mythmaking has to be challenged on various grounds. First, the Trident approach is not consistent with the “value for money” because it has no value of military that presently costs at least ?2 billion annually to operate and at least ? 700 million in the following five years on its replacement. The only way that Britain can be considered as a responsible nuclear state is by acknowledging the legally binding obligations to destroy all of its nuclear weapons and embark on negotiations with respect to the global abolition treaty, which is a requirement set forth by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Rydell 2005). Countries lacking nuclear weapons assert that unless countries with nuclear weapons such as the United Kingdom continue refusing to accept their commitments as stipulated by the NPT and disregard any efforts aimed at eliminating their nuclear arsenals, then the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable (Rogers 2008). Hoyner (2011) maintains that reducing the number of nuclear weapons is not an effective step towards disarmament since it will only facilitate the qualitative arms race among nations.

Neither the full-scale warfare nor the Afghan wars are the probable contingences to be witnessed in the future. It is evident that the high degree of counter-insurgency of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is an exception, and resulted from the conventional military intervention. It is clear that there has been a substantial decrease in the number of wars following the end of the Cold War and the number of casualties. Quantitative analysis points out that Afghanistan and Iraq are outliers with respect to the method and intensity of warfare (Olav 2010). For the case of high-end warfare, Olav (2010) asserts that it is most likely to be suicidal for a nation like Britain to consider participating in such a war. In the event that the war takes place, then the outcomes are likely to be catastrophic. In such a case, the best approach for Britain to utilize is prevention rather than taking part in the war.

The SDSR also fails to create a capability that is needed for a type of intervention required in conflict resolution and preserving stability. Quite the opposite, the civilian capability to perform the humanitarian policing task has been reduced since the envisioning of the SDSR. For instance, the retiring of the current carriers and the ostentatious cost and scale of future carriers has eroded Britain’s small-scale expeditionary capabilities. Hence, it would be impossible for Britain to intervene in Sierra Leone as it did during 2001 without the current Harriers (Krieger 2010). However, these are the most probable contingencies in which Britain should make a substantial contribution and they are the contingencies that Britain has managed to develop an efficient capability to act together with the EU and UN (Rogers 2008). Tackling piracy, upholding ceasefires, genocide prevention, and the re-establishment of the monopoly of force in nations that are fragile are the tasks that are vital in ensuring that world is safe by strengthening protection against other types of threats such as organized crime, natural disasters, pandemics and terrorism. The purpose of the military in such incidents is primarily constabulary and policy functions in collaboration with humanitarian emergency capabilities. However, the SDSR is whittling way the capabilities to perform civilian interventions. Hoyner (2011) suggests the use of human security capability as part of the global responses in various life threatening incidents. The human security capability should entail both civilian and military capabilities including humanitarian and health experts, legal experts, policing and diplomacy among others. This should serve to substitute the armed forces and different arms of the military. In the light of this view, Hoyner (2011) proposes that the military component of this force should constitute an expeditionary capability comprising of civilian and military personnel operating in accordance to human principles such as protecting the people instead of defeating the enemy; operating under civilian command; and acting the rules of engagement in a manner that is more similar to policing than war fighting.

In order to have an insight as to why the United Kingdom continues to maintain its nuclear weapons system (Trident), which is similar to a cold war relic that has no military utility, it is imperative to analyze the political significance of the Trident in the context of the US-NATO military alliance. Hoyner (2011) considers that this will be helpful in evaluating the potential for the United Kingdom to move away from the unsuccessful policies of previous years and move towards embracing a foreign policy that draws upon the principles of sustainable security, diplomacy and disarmament. Complete disarmament is vital towards ensuring that the world is less dangerous and more secure. Upholding the Trident and its respective military capability needed for its protection is irrelevant to Britain at this time since the United Kingdom does not face a major state threat and existential threat to its national security, prosperity and freedom. This provides a good ground for opposing Trident and advocating for Britain to consent to the Nuclear Weapons Convention, which is a global treaty that has the primary objective of banning nuclear weapons completely and ensuring their elimination.

Conclusion

This essay has pointed out that the SDSR places emphasis on the view that risks linked to domestic concerns must be addressed on a global platform; however, the SDSR fails to create the capability that is required for this sort of intervention. First, retaining the Trident itself is a move that not consistent with the need to have a less dangerous and secure world. The Trident will require that Britain impose many expectations on its military, which is not consistent with the principles of human security, especially now that citizens are the referent objects of national security. The problem with Britain’s security that those in power tend to value Trident because of the value they place on the US-led NATO alliance. As a result, Britain is not a sovereign nation with regard to its foreign policy. By eliminating Trident and supporting the NPT, Britain would position itself as a leader in diplomacy and disarmament, and help in establishing new global political constituencies together with the 130 countries that are supporting a global abolition security and advocating for a more equitable and secure world.