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In 2017, We Need To Work Together As The World Falls Apart

12/01/2017 16:52 GMT | Updated 12/01/2017 16:53 GMT
Ben Birchall/PA Archive

If 2016 proved anything it that is the current international situation is becoming less stable and predictable. In 2017, with our global institutions weaker, the re-emergence of an antagonistic Russia and the continuation of unconventional terrorist threats, the picture is not particularly rosy.

In addition, climate change and migration are growing issues and, of course, there is the Brexit factor to consider. The post-war global order is at risk and if we are to tackle this, it will only be achieved multilaterally.

The work that our armed forces carry out on our behalf, proves that as a team, they are the best. Yet with spending down across NATO and the UK conventional armed forces the smallest in the P5, our armed forces are facing serious deficiencies and we do not currently have the capability to address the range of threats.

Whilst UK deployments of the early 21st Century have largely been asymmetrical conflicts with elements of peacekeeping, counter-terror, and nation building. In 2016, global affairs have shown the possibility for rapid upheaval.

To ensure the UK is able to insure itself in an unstable world, we must do everything possible to build our international alliances and re-evaluate current defence policy in light of fast-changing global circumstances.

So what can be done to mitigate some of these issues?

Alliances for intelligence need to be secured. The rise of "hybrid-warfare" means that cyberspace should be considered an additional, non-kinetic strategic space. Informational systems and institutions must develop resilience against cyber-attacks and the effects of anti-satellite warfare. 'Lawfare' - the strategy of using law, rather than traditional means, to achieve an operational objective - is likely to be used more prominently.

The UK has smaller physical capabilities than comparable countries but spends more money on defence. We should consider less future spending on enormously expensive pieces of equipment, as our adversaries only have to knock out one to hurt us enormously. Instead, an increase in spending on equipment and forces prepared for a range of scenarios, up to and including large scale mobile warfare.

Without a doubt unarmed ships, planes and even submarines will become established, for some situations, as a vehicle or carrier of choice. We have seen this recently in Iraq and Syria, but these must not be thought of as low cost alternatives, there is always a team of skilled analysts behind every sortie as well as the crew themselves.

Investment in Research and Development must be increased, working in conjunction with both universities and private contractors. Falling behind adversaries in terms of numbers or spending may be fine if the UK is ahead technologically, but a disaster if outnumbered and outgunned. USA invests huge amounts of money through DARPA and ARPA programs.

The UK must retain the ability to respond to Russian actions in the Baltics in a resolute but proportionate way and ensure safe and open trading routes across the global commons, especially in South China Sea, and Arab Gulf.

Finally, we were top of the soft power league both in 2010 and 2015. This position was deserved and in our current situation no bad thing. But we need to use our diplomatic and soft power wisely to ensure allies take defence seriously. The challenges faced by the UK are global and collective self-defence is cheaper and more secure than all the alternatives.

So when the 2020 Strategic Defence and Security Review team sits down to look at its direction, it will need to look at our defence policy in the light of possible future conflicts, highlighted above and not only in light of counter-terror operations. With a clearer idea of our economy in the post Brexit world there may be a need to review and possibly reduce our expenditure commitments of 2015.

Baroness Jolly is the Lib Dem shadow defence secretary