Re-thinking UK Defence and Security Policies

The threat analysis contained in the UK National Security Strategy points to a complex world in which the interconnected nature of ‘mega trends’ create unprecedented security challenges for the UK in the years to come. Responding to this will require a fundamental re-think of old assumptions and practices in defence and security policy. This project is aimed at promoting a re-framed UK defence debate and providing useful interventions in policy discussions. 

The present combination of a constrained defence budget and and an increasingly complex global security environment presents an important opportunity to re-think the UK’s defence and security policies. A comprehensive Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and a new National Security Strategy (NSS) were released in October 2010; major constraints on public spending have sharpened questions about how money is spent on national security objectives and what ‘national security’ means. At the same time, operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the so-called 'war on terror', the UK's response to the 'Arab uprisings' in countries such as Libya and Syria and the current focus on extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa, have all raised difficult issues to be addressed in the lead up to the next SDSR and update of the NSS, as well as a national election, in 2015.

The development of the phenomenon of what is now termed ‘hybrid warfare’ (a potent mix of traditional conflict, terrorism and insurgency) presents an enormous challenge to the armed forces and civilian defence planners – a challenge that demands new thinking and honest reflection as to the appropriateness of current security paradigms based on traditional ideas about the use of force. The spread of deadly technology, in particular the materials and knowledge used to produce nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, also constitutes a clear danger to British citizens both here and abroad.

Yet if countering such threats is to be the guiding objective of British defence and security policy, then a concerted effort to refocus efforts away from simply responding to today’s crises and towards addressing the underlying trends which produce these threats over the long-term must be made a top priority. Such an approach would prioritise addressing the underlying drivers of insecurity and conflict, which, while being largely global in nature, directly threaten the UK’s national interests. ORG identifies these drivers as climate change, increasing competition for resources, a dangerously widening gap between the rich ‘minority world’ and the poor and marginalised ‘majority world’, and the ever increasing spread of deadly technology.

This project focuses on generating new yet practical thinking on how UK defence and security policies can best be recalibrated to face the real threats to global security over the coming decades. Specific project activities have included:

  • Publishing a briefing paper titled Reviewing Britain’s Security which analysed the transition between the Labour and Coalition governments in relation to the UK’s National Security Strategy as well as discussing options for the three controversial issues of Trident replacement, the aircraft carriers and procurement policy 
  • Holding sessions of ORG’s UK Policy Group in the lead-up to the release of the NSS and SDSR and in the aftermath of the first six months of the Arab uprisings
  • Submitting evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee 2010 inquiry on the SDSR 
  • With the support of the Dulverton Trust, holding a workshop on 16 September 2010 that brought together senior figures from the civil service, the military, industry, academia, think tanks and NGOs to engage in creative but focused thinking on how the concept of sustainable security can begin to be operationalized in UK defence and security policies
  • Engaging with the major political parties during review processes of party defence policy between 2010-2013
  • Submitting evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee 2011 inquiry on the NSS and the SDSR
  • With the support of the Network for Social Change, holding a workshop on 13 September 2011 on the role of the UK defence and security community (including policymakers, analysts and journalists) in responding to the security implications of climate change
  • Engaging with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on its work on the international diplomacy around climate and resource security, including the major conference held in March 2012
  • Submitting evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee 2013 inquiry on the next SDSR in 2015
  • Submitting evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee 2013 inquiry on the UK's response to extremism in North and West Africa


Richard Reeve

Richard Reeve is the Director of Oxford Research Group's (ORG) Sustainable Security Programme and ORG Coordinator. Richard has particular expertise in Sub-Saharan Africa, peace and...

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Professor Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers is Oxford Research Group's (ORG) Global Security Consultant. He has worked in the field of international security, arms control and political violence for over 30 years.


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Dr Benjamin Zala

Benjamin Zala is a Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Leicester, UK, where his works focuses on great power diplomacy, rising powers in the global order and global security...

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