Nerves at Catterick over troop numbers as defence review revealed: Toby Dickinson

DELAYED by coronavirus, the belated release of the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy should be a welcome sight for everyone who cares about the UK and about our security, freedom and relationships with the rest of the world.

What will be the future of the Army following the Government's latest review?

The successor to the 2015 National Security Strategy, the Integrated Review has some damage to repair: having proclaimed the UK’s desire to uphold the institutions of international order in the 2015 strategy, the Cameron government waited seven months before putting its foot through that plan with the EU referendum.

This Integrated Review is the first government document to seriously address the UK’s new position. Without quite acknowledging the UK’s part in bringing about the change, it rightly describes the international system as more fragmented and our interests and values more contested.

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While it may be true that “a defence of the status quo is no longer sufficient for the decade ahead”, Ministers and officials will have to think in detail about the implications of that assertion, which is not something that can be filed away for 10 years. The Government must, to quote General Allenby, “think to the finish”.

Boris Johnson has just launched the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

For our region, there are some positive elements to the Integrated Review. Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is described as the UK’s international priority.

Yorkshire is well-placed to both support and benefit from this objective through programmes like Drax’s carbon capture and storage and the continuing growth of offshore wind farms along our coast.

Maximising these opportunities will require us to continue to invest in and maintain a workforce with the right skills and in continuing to support innovation, something threatened by a potential £1bn cut in Government-led R&D funding this year.

In spite of talk of an Indo-Pacific “tilt”, the Government remains on the fence with its policy on China: an uncomfortable but prudential choice for now.

While Covid-19 will have prompted such a review by many organisations, businesses reading the Integrated Review may conclude that it would be equally prudent for them to ensure they understand the financial, reputational and practical dependencies and risks of their relationships with companies in China.

The forthcoming Defence Command Paper will bring more detail on the consequences of the Integrated Review for our armed forces.

There will no doubt be a weekend of some nerves at Catterick as the size and shape of the British Army seems up for debate again, and the state of its current and replacement armoured vehicle fleet finds itself the subject of Parliamentary criticism.

The Integrated Review announces that the Government will make the UK a “meaningful actor in space” (though we’ve heard similar pronouncements before).

RAF Fylingdales will no doubt find its profile growing over the next decade as the increasing congestion and competition in space make space situational awareness and – perhaps sooner than we think – space traffic control more important.

The Future Combat Air System for the RAF will have had £2bn in development funding by 2025 and offers opportunities for Yorkshire in R&D as well as in the supply chain in specialised areas like radar filters.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson describes himself as “profoundly optimistic about the UK’s place in the world and our ability to seize the opportunities ahead”.

However, as we used to say in Afghanistan “hope is not a course of action”, and this review will need sustained cross-Government and cross-sector effort, and funding, if the strategies it proposes are to succeed in the fragmented and competitive world it accurately describes.

Toby Dickinson is a policy adviser and consultant on defence and international security strategy. He served in the RAF from 2002 to 2018.

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