Speech: Chief of Defence Staff IISS speech

Ministry Of Defence

March 31
11:32 2021

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today at the beginning of your Defence Innovation Talks. It promises to be an interesting series and given the extraordinary pace of change these days there is no doubt that innovation and adaptation I think are essential.

Its reasonable I think to quote Charles Darwin, when one talks about adaptation. As he put it:

It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to best adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.

We live in a period of unprecedented change. Im going to make the assume that those of you who have tuned into today are familiar with our integrated operating concept, which we launched in September, which informed defences view of the Integrated Review, which our Prime Minister launched a couple of weeks ago, and of course the Defence Command paper, the supporting chapter on that, which was launched last week.

And I think collectively, these documents have delivered a most unusual opportunity. Indeed, I cant remember a time when the ends, the ways, and the means were more in balance. The ends being defined by the integrated review. The ways been determined, to some great extent, by our integrated operating concept, and indeed the means being the generous settlement that we received from the Government in its spending review in November last year.

Oddly, I also cant remember a time when the Chiefs of Staff Committee was more united, and I think thats been very obvious in the build up to the announcement of the three documents that I referred to.

Now, notwithstanding what Ive just said about the ends, ways and means being more imbalanced, of course we have to recognise that there is inherent instability at the political level, and whilst I think it is tremendous that weve got a multi-year settlement, which gives us confidence to plan and programme out to 2030. Theres always the risk of something, undermining it. But in principle, we have got the opportunity now to look to 2030, sure in the knowledge that we have a reasonably stable programme.

That means that we can accept some risk in our current force structure in order to create headroom to invest in our future force structure, and indeed to utilise the significant uplift weve had in research and development funding to look properly to the future.

Usually when you emerge from these sorts of reviews, you either have a tsunami of efficiency rolling towards you, or a black hole from year five onwards, or for that matter, a clutch of unfunded aspirations that someone has parked on a thing called a whiteboard.

The reality is that we dont have any of those things this time round, and that therefore I think gives us an opportunity to be able to write a defence strategy, not something that weve had that I can remember in my recent time.

And Im just going to quote from Anthony Cordesman who wrote of the DoD budget recently, that it doesnt tie spending to strategy in meaningful ways, nor does it show how a given strategy can be tied to a given region, real plans budgets, schedules, costs, and measures of effectiveness. He says it is an archaic line item budget, which is organised largely by major categories spending, such as personnel or procurement for individual services, defence agencies and military services.

And I think theres food for thought in that because I do think as we develop our defence strategy, we need to make sure that it goes beyond what I think is a very reasonable question that Anthony Cordesman poses about the DoD budget, and I guess the equivalent strategy. Now, I think, for us, in writing a strategy there are two big points that weve got to deal with - both those points are self-evidently interconnected, and theyre particularly interconnected by our definition and determination of the threat.

The first big point is that we need a new strategic culture, arguably a way of warfare for this era of constant competition.

And secondly, we need a modernisation programme that allows us to modernise at the pace of relevance, and I think those are our two big challenges.

So a new strategic culture for an era of constant competition, and being able to modernise at the pace of relevance.Picking up the first point on a new strategic culture. Im going to set it up and then draw some deductions about what I mean from that. First and foremost, the Integrated Review demands a more global posture that would see our Armed Forces engaged and committed, and less sitting, metaphorically, on their burdens and readiness as contingent forces.

In other words, theyre in use, and they are at readiness to be redeployed rather than to simply to be deployed. And that set out in our integrated operating concept, and its predominantly about making sure that weve got the military soft power being employed, underpinned of course still by our ability to war fight.

Now Id argue that this demands a very different culture. This culture for an era of constant competition is not something that we have been accustomed to over the last generation or two. I grew up in the bipolar world of the Cold War, we then moved to what was essentially a unipolar world where stabilisation and counterterrorism became our challenge, and we now find ourselves in this multipolar world of constant competition.

And, of course as I have said many times before, its populated by assertive authoritarian rivals. Who see the strategic context as a continuous struggle, in which all of the instruments of state craft can be employed to be able to achieve the effect, recognising that they aim to win without going to war, as we would define it.

But of course what they have also done is to invest quite thoughtfully in in capabilities that are designed to target our weaknesses and circumnavigate our strengths that has been obvious because they have been able to watch it play out in the new information domain of the last 20 years.

We therefore argued that we need a slightly different form of deterrence a modern deterrence which goes beyond the traditional terms of comprehension, capability, credibility and communication to introduce competition as something we need to be doing.

Now, this recognises that escalation management is a big challenge. It is becoming a bigger challenge because there is this risk of inadvertent escalation and, therefore miscalculation, and it is greater now than It was a few years ago. Firstly, because politics has become more bellicose, secondly because of the preponderance or regional instabilities and conflicts, and third because we now have these new weapons and these new domains like cyber and space, which are not regulated in the way the traditional domains are regulated.

I think it is easy taking on terrorist, which we have become accustomed to over the last 20 years, but it is quite another matter when you are competing with states, and that requires some thought.

On top of that the world becomes a more complex place anyway, with the challenges of climate change, population expansion and migration, extremism and pandemics as we have seen over the last 12 months questions about the Westphalian system, and of course about democracy.

My view would be that if we are going to execute what the IR demands of us we need a new strategic muscle. First and foremost, it is about integration of all of the instruments of state craft from ideology through diplomacy through to the economic instrument and all that goes with it.

We do that up to a point reasonable well through, the national security structures that we have and our national security committee, but the extent to which it is agile and dynamic and proactive given the environment I have just described I suspect some people might want to challenge and question.

If we are genuinely going to integrate to be able to compete then the way that is pulled together nationally is pretty fundamental to our ability to do it recognising that the military instrument is just one of the instruments that would need to be applied.

Secondly we need the structures and the tools to do this, and that is one of the reasons why we are investing significantly in our network of defence attachs and we are expanding it, we are making it very clear in career terms, its no longer a backwater, and we intend to have provide a global footprint that can provide genuine insight and understanding, sense and warn, but also hunt for opportunities; both in terms of where we can use our soft bar but also that plays into the national requirement for prosperity.

The next aspect to the muscle is we have to make judgements on our appetite for risk, and we understand the consequences of engagement. We also need to recognise that it requires strategic patience, well beyond the lengths of a single parliament. It requires prioritisation. We are a small-ish country which is not able to be globally present.

We also need to recognise that we are going to have to sustain it for the long term and this is going to be about depth not breadth. We are learning, and must learn, from the entanglements over the last 20 years. Then I think we need to recognise that this form of competition this form of modern deterrence this notion of competition at the heart of it may well require strategic communications that may well test the balance of traditional state craft.

In structural terms, much was made when we launched the Defence Command paper last week about security force assistance, but also the creation

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