The UK’s SDSR: an international approach to national security
7 Dec 2015|

Close up of £20 notes

Last week Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled the UK’s latest Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). As usual it was numbers in terms of money and kit that caught the media’s attention. But the bigger story for me was the UK’s commitment to be ‘international by design’ in our approach to national security. So while the SDSR makes it clear that the UK will retain and grow its defence capabilities, it also envisions working alongside allies wherever possible, from our established ‘five eyes’ partners—Australia, the US, New Zealand and Canada—to European countries such as France and Germany, and like-minded powers in the Indo–Pacific region, such as Japan and South Korea.

I was also delighted to see the reaffirmation of the crucial role played by the UK’s ‘world class’ Diplomatic Service in the promotion of our interests and projection of our influence overseas (though as a career diplomat you might expect me to say that). And our Australian interlocutors have welcomed the prominence given to Australia in the Review, up in lights in the ‘global allies’ section, with a meaty paragraph devoted to our strong bilateral defence and security relationship. Quite right too.

It’s also worth noting that for the first time, the Review incorporates the UK’s National Security Strategy (which was previously a separate document). By bringing the two together, I believe the UK is better able to present a clear vision for a secure and prosperous UK with global reach and influence.

On the machinery of government side there are some developments that might be interesting to colleagues in the Australian public service, particularly the increased use of cross-government units that bring together staff from departments that have crucial roles to play in delivering our vision. My own department, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, will be hosting joint units on Euro-Atlantic Security and Peacekeeping, while our colleagues at the Ministry of Defence will host Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation and the Home Office will be home to the Counter-Terrorism Strategy unit. The key point, of course, is that wherever those units are hosted, we’ll be working together to tackle the complex problems that the current global security situation presents us with, helped by decent allocations of new funding.

Now, back to those numbers. The SDSR commits to spending £178 billion (around A$370 billion) on new defence equipment over the next 10 years. That equipment includes our full allocation of 138 of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and nine Boeing P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Both of these, of course, will be in service with the RAAF as well, presenting excellent opportunities for greater interoperability and joint training efforts.

At sea, the Royal Navy will increase in size for the first time since the Second World War (much to the delight of our Defence Adviser, Commodore Richard Powell RN). We will build eight of the highly advanced Type 26 Global Combat Ships equipped with the latest leading-edge Anti-Submarine Warfare technology, as well as developing a new class of lighter, general-purpose frigates. Keep an eye out for a new shipbuilding strategy to come sometime next year.

Our land forces will also benefit from the establishment of two new rapid deployment Strike Brigades equipped with the latest Ajax vehicles.

The less visible but hugely important side of our defence and security efforts will also be strongly supported by this SDSR, with funding for our Special Forces doubling (an extra £2 billion), a £1.9 billion investment in cyber capabilities and increased funding for the intelligence agencies. And we will retain our strategic nuclear deterrent through the purchase of four successor ballistic missile submarines.

All of these investments are only possible because of the strength, dynamism and flexibility of the UK economy. The combination of our economic security—we’re the world’s fastest growing advanced economy—with our commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence and 0.7% of GNI on development makes Britain a powerful force for positive change in our turbulent world.

I hope that gives you a taster of what it’s all about. If you’d like to read more, the SDSR was also released alongside a review of UK aid and of course, the government’s wider spending review.