Integrated Review – an approach to national security

Here I offer some thoughts on the integrated review. They’re fledgling as you’ll see, but they are intended to start a debate on how to achieve a coherent approach to managing security threats. The intention is to set out a broad vision, as it were, for managing UK security rather than address every aspect of security. So this blog is small on space, tech, civil contingencies and cyber, but big I hope on crafting the fundamentals of national security when you’re a small nation on a big planet of global threats.

Pandemics can sweep the world in weeks, causing not only physical harm but economic harm as well; civil wars and insurgencies in the Middle East can instigate enormous migration events, destabilising international institutions in the West; and we face long-burn existential threats to stability and prosperity such as climate change, problematic demographics and energy insecurity.

We don’t have a choice about tackling these threats. And we can only tackle them with others. Central to my argument here is the idea that we should base our approach to security not on the changing character of warfare, or specific technological advances, but instead on the social – on the unchanging ways humans build relationships, craft alliances, persuade others to follow, gain leverage, and how they steel each other for action. The UK will have to constantly construct, renew, and craft the alliances, coalitions and institutions that will be needed to manage not only long-burn latent threats, but also more immediate and dynamic threats.

The sands are shifting.

To start, I present some first principles and some conclusions that I feel fall from them. I then (based on the conclusions) present the idea that any future approach to national security should be focused on the threat of instability as a northern star to help guide policy-making and resource allocation.

I then set out my argument (again based on the conclusions) for how instability can be tackled via the harnessing of international collaboration. I suggest a course of action to create the political platform necessary to influence, persuade, and lead collaboration based on carving out a visible global Role, and strengthening the Resolve of NATO member states (distance still matters a lot). Although I feel strongly that this review should be about far more than defence, I present what I think this would mean for it at the end.  

First principles

Clarity of thought must run through the UK national security approach like a stick of rock. I propose that the Integrated Review goes back to first principles to create the firm foundation on which to base a comprehensive approach to managing security threats. This approach is different from strictly “starting with the threats” since threats are only meaningful when weighed against value and context. I argue that the first principles are:

  • the UK is part of the fabric of a globalised planet Earth, it is not really an island.
  • the UK is a Union and this Union can no longer be taken for granted.
  • the UK is physically small, but quite wealthy.
  • the UK is a modern service economy, with a significant aviation and advanced manufacturing base all tightly coupled and dependent on widespread and varied critical infrastructure and skills supply.
  • like every other modern state except Israel, the UK fertility rate is far below the replacement rate.
  • the UK faces a very wide range of significant security threats, most of which are wickedly complex, inter-related, difficult to understand and manage, and non-military.
  • the UK like any other state, is unable to manage on its own the most serious threats to its security such as climate change.
  • the UK remains exceptional in that it continues to have a significant (but based on size and military spending unwarranted level) of involvement and influence in current international institutions.
  • the UK exists in a world undergoing an uncomfortable re-balancing back toward the Asia-Pacific region.
  • at the same time the world is undergoing the associated slow but steady shift in how many key states interact with and participate in existing international institutions as their utility degrades in their eyes.
  • Russia perceives NATO and the presence of the United States in Europe as a threat. It is a relatively weak power but an opportunistic and agile one with a potential pathway in the Baltic States toward rapidly unravelling NATO and bringing about the disengagement of the United States.
  • the UKs traditional key ally, the United States, will continue to have significant interests in Europe, but it may see exponents of a Pacific First strategy finally, likely narrowly, win the debate, especially if NATO should baulk at its collective defence obligations.
  • the UK will continue to adopt a broadly conservative fiscal policy and seek to manage its fiscal risks down, necessitating financial prudence in the medium-term.
  • domestically, a high demand for highly skilled workers (a high skills equilibrium) is a key driver of prosperity. Defence projects on air, sea and land generate high demand for highly skilled roles.
  • Defence and security reviews from the past that focused on a narrow field of specifically chosen threats, and then sought to prescriptively structure defence and security machinery to focus overwhelmingly on mainly those threats, have failed.

Actions falling from the first principles

From these first principles, I argue fall the following conclusions:

  • the UK must work with other states and harness them to our common interests as a way of managing the most significant security threats.
  • there is a need for the UK to preserve its exceptional influence within the current and changing “ruled based international order” and its military and security alliances.
  • the UK must go further than influencing existing institutions. It must where needed build and craft new alliances and be a leader in the creation of new collaborative orders and institutions including whatever might replace a rules-based international order.
  • financial reality requires the UK to preserve its influence and take on leadership roles largely within existing means – it should capitalise and build on the significant and already funded strengths of the Conflict Security and Stability Fund (CSSF), the UKs R&D base, and the political capital from its overseas development aid (ODA) spend.
  • the UK needs a clear ‘northern star’ to help cut through the enormous complexity of the threat picture presented to policymakers and to guide political decision-making on how to manage the messy, interconnected and wickedly complex threats in a coherent and effective manner.
  • the Integrated Review will need to recommend reforms beyond the MoD. To tackle security threats that cut across borders, regions and Government departments, reforms will have to be at the Whitehall level to allow for focused strategic action and the most efficient and effective use of limited resourcing.
  • the potential for an opportunistic Russia to unlock the US from Europe and fatally undermine NATO means the UK should make it a priority to deter, disrupt, and if needed respond to Russian destabilisation and armed activity in the Baltic states to ensure the integrity of NATO.
  • modernising the UK armed forces should be visibly aligned with the domestic “levelling up” policy agenda with the potential for large defence industry orders to create and sustain prosperity driving high-skill equilibrium in UK regions and nations.
  • the UK should adopt a “resilient” threat management posture, focusing on creating the conditions for responding flexibly to emerging threats and not primarily define and respond to artificially defined threats isolated from their complex drivers.

I discuss what this means below. Firstly, I discuss the development of a clear “northern star” to slice through complexity and act to guide political decision-making and policy on threat management. I argue here that the concept of “instability” would serve such an end.

Secondly, I present the kernel which I believe should be at the heart of a new national security approach: harnessing international cooperation by both preserving existing political influence and by the taking on of leadership roles where change is needed.

Thirdly, I present a broad course of action that should help create the platform the UK needs to have to harness collaboration, preserve influence and take on leadership roles. I argue that this course of action should be based around the themes of “Role & Resolve”.

Role would address the global dimension. It would see the UK shift existing resources and build on existing strengths as part of a more strategically coordinated and directed pro-active global role. This would be founded on its significant and world-leading strengths in R&D and ODA, with a more limited scope for global military intervention centred on air and naval power, and specialist ground forces.

Resolve would address the Russian threat to the Atlantic alliance. It would see the UK strengthen deterrence in Europe primarily by re-generating a significant land combat capability to put up the necessary political collateral to reinforce NATO credibility and strengthen the resolve of its member states to deter or respond to Russian opportunism. This would mean considerable change for the Army, described below.

None of these are new ideas in their own right. What I believe makes this a strong proposition is the combination of:

  • clarity of ends, ways and means with a clear national approach to managing the widest range of threats.
  • an approach that is focused on our “centre of gravity”: our relationships with our military and wider allies.
  • an approach focused on people and places.
  • a more strategic and sensible division of labour between civilian and military interventions based on proven global strengths – directed and coordinated at the national level and aligned with domestic economic objectives.

A northern star: the threats presented by instability

Reality is messy, interconnected and often complex beyond understanding.

When risks and threats are defined, they are artificially scooped up from their surrounding web of causes, consequences, and interconnected pathways and placed on a pedestal, to be “managed”, as labelled. For example, in the current National Risk Register the following risks are defined: coastal flooding, inland flooding and severe weather – all might be driven by climate change. But what drives climate change? Poverty? What drives poverty? This presents the challenge of deciding to what should policymakers minds be applied? Attempting to manage the “active” risk (the one most visible and proximal, i.e. coastal flooding) risks not ever getting to grips with the more latent, less visible, more distal drivers of the risk (such as poverty driving practices that drive climate change).

At the same time, how the risk or threat is defined is crucial. Again, the National Risk Register offers a tragically ready example: Pandemic Influenza. If the risk had been defined instead as a “pandemic” this would have driven a different management of it? Or if it had been defined as “Pandemic Influenza or Respiratory Disease”?  

As can be seen, even the language and typology of risk and threat management is involved, complex, subject to contention and difficult to naturally understand. What’s a risk? A threat? A cause? A consequence? A hazard? A factor? Frankly, it depends on the professional body or standard you ask. This is not useful to politicians.

Faced with a mire of global and domestic security risks, the UK needs a clear, easily understandable conception of the threats to its security that reflects the complexity of threat management. This conception should encapsulate the widest range of “distal” risk factors as possible and must clearly understandable and recognisable to laypeople if it is to be effective as a northern star.

A key (but certainly not sole) focus of UK national security strategy should be on tackling instability – seeking to manage the inevitable impending changes in international institutions, systems, and global relations.

Instability should be considered the primary threat to the security of the UK.

The focus on instability captures a wide multitude of latent, long-burn and active man-made, great power and natural risks to UK security. Crucially, it also easily recognisable – politicians and policymakers recognise it when they see it. By conceiving instability as a threat, it also facilitates the upstream management of all the factors that are driving it before they crystallise or develop further. Instability is a useful idea in national security strategy.

Real world manifestations of instability include enormous population movements that drive further instability even within strong western institutions; economic dislocation; and making it difficult to impossible to tackle global long-burn threats such as climate-change and energy and food security. Stability rather than instability also makes it harder for competitive and opportunistic states such as Russia to engage in disruption by exploiting division and making a move.

Creating the political platform for preserving influence & harnessing cooperation

As the Chief of the Defence Staff recently explained to the Defence Select Committee, “it is allies and our relationship with our allies that is our centre of gravity”.

To achieve stability it is far better and easier to work with allies within the common frameworks that already exist expressly to facilitate its achievement, rather than create, build and negotiate from scratch new alliances, agreements or institutions each time – this is the promise of the Word Trade Organisation or the UN Security Council for example.

The UK Integrated Review must therefore create the platform the UK needs to not only influence the existing “rules-based international order” and its military alliances, but to also take a lead amongst states when it is necessary to craft new institutions and alliances to maintain stability.

If we cannot tackle our gravest security threats alone, and we must harness international collaboration, then it follows that the Integrated Review must give our statesmen and stateswomen the platform they need to build political consensus and to persuade others on the international stage.

This is arguably the greatest challenge for UK national security – how can a small state on the periphery of Europe earn the right to be heard and have the clout to lead where it needs to to maintain stability and deal with other threats?

This means that the somewhat ephemeral political dialogue must be anchored firmly on a course of action that generates the necessary clout amongst states – a UK national security approach must generate tangible real-world effects that are highly visible, scaled, and because of resource constraints, focused to make a real difference where needed. These effects must go far beyond the military domain to reflect the incredibly broad set of risks the UK and other states share.

Below I describe the means and ways to achieve this.

Means: a £60+ billion National Security Fund

The role and resolve course of action is ambitious. However, behind it lies a considerable level of potential resourcing.

To illustrate, at the headline level the 2020-21 UK budget made available some £60 billion in revenue and capital expenditure for the MoD, DfID, the FCO and the Single Intelligence Account. To this can be added approximately £8 billion more in public R&D funding (not including the spending of the devolved nations) with the R&D figure expected to grow to £12 billion of public funding in a few years (and which the UK Government appears to still be committed).

Whilst resourcing levels may fall in the short-term due to the Covid-19 response (or may indeed rise due to the Covid-19 response) into the longer term, in aggregate they are likely to remain relatively stable in my view.

This level of resourcing, nationally coordinated, strategically directed in aggregate, and aligned as far as possible with domestic economic policy, represents a sizeable foundation of resourcing on which to build the political platform needed for preserving influence and harnessing collaboration. In terms of size, it is (in aggregate) the third largest combined revenue and capital level of resourcing in the UK budget, after only education and NHS revenue resourcing. Arguably this is an under-estimate of the total resource envelope.

To achieve the coordination and focus needed to get the most effect from this considerable level of funding, and to recognise the interlinked and coupled nature of activity that would create the political platform described, I propose that the resourcing of the MoD, FCO, DfID (FCO when disbanded) and the SIA be allocated via a new £60 billion National Security Fund, to be distributed on the basis of discussions within the National Security Council which would be reformed to allow it to discharge this role. This would allow a flexible shifting of resourcing to where it was required each financial year.

There is scope here to considerably expand the National Security Fund with additional resourcing to be allocated to other Government departments and agencies with other roles in relation to security and threat management such as the Environment Agency and the Coast Guard. But it could start “small” as proposed here. 

From the National Security Fund would be crafted:

  • a global role anchored on a wider definition of ODA spending and the UKs R&D spending – a total of some £30 billion in public funding; and the maintenance of Tier One military and security capabilities. Underpinned by the nuclear deterrent, this would be the investment in the right to be heard on the world stage.
  • a regional role in Europe focused on the destabilising threat of Russia in the Baltics. This role would be anchored on the Army, which would focus on re-generating a powerful land component assigned to NATO intended to strengthen the credibility of deterrence and to fight if the time came. This commitment would in essence be the British Army, a level of collateral intended to signal UK resolve and thereby strengthen NATO resolve to defend the people and places of NATO member states.

I now discuss in more detail the “role and resolve” approach.

Role: the UK Security, Stability and Aid Agency

Role is the most ambitious and complex course of action – intended to preserve influence and harness collaboration.

It is based on whole-of-state approach, with a civilian pillar based on the existing UK strengths of overseas development and R&D, and a military pillar, based on the maintenance of Tier One military capabilities to generate the required political and diplomatic cachet as well as to allow military interventions where strictly necessary.

The intent is to:

  • create a pro-active, high profile global role for the UK in tackling the underlying drivers of instability, along with a more limited air, naval and specialist ground contribution to tackle the security consequences of instability; and
  • becoming world-leaders in developing solutions to long-burn security threats such as climate change and energy security which make the UK a coveted and valued partner and collaborator.

Becoming a world-leader in developing solutions to long-burn security threats is something the UK, thanks to its investment in a very high-quality research and development base and an Industrial Strategy based on an ambitious level of resourcing, is already doing in many areas. It is already funding work on the ‘grand challenges’ of AI, an ageing society, clean growth and future mobility. In addition, there is the Global Challenges Research Fund, part of the UKs existing ODA spending commitments, which focusses on the drivers of instability and long-burn challenges.

It is not empty ambition or hyperbole for this to be an achievable and successful vision for the UK, in many disciplines and sectors it is already happening. My proposal seeks to align this success further with overseas development aid, further cross-pollinating the two to make a real and valued contribution to tackling instability and long-burn challenges that is globally recognised.

This course of action brings to bear two ambitious targets that are driving investment:

  • Current UK policy is to fund overseas development aid to the tune of 0.7 per cent of GDP. This yields around £14 billion a year in revenue and capital funding.
  • It is also current UK policy to reach an R&D investment intensity of 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027 which will eventually involve some £12.5 billion of public funding (leveraging much more private funding).  

Infrastructure and educational attainment are two key drivers of productivity and economic prosperity, along with innovation. By adopting a more flexible definition of ODA to allow significant spending on key infrastructure and educational attainment abroad, and cross-pollinating this activity with R&D activity, the UK can play a clear, highly visible and I argue effective role in building stability and tackling long-burn global challenges. This significant investment of resourcing in “civilian” activity will often need to be undertaken in places requiring force protection and security activity – I argue that this activity should coordinated with but shouldered by other states, again potentially funded via a wider definition of ODA spend and where needed via bodies such as the UN.

Where the UK invests significant financial or security resources overseas in the name of establishing stability, especially its armed forces, funding should be centrally channelled into an expanded Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF), managed by a new Government Executive Agency of the Cabinet Office: the UK Security, Stability and Aid Agency (UKSSA) which would also coordinate activity in-country. This Agency would operate as the central coordination node for any UK international intervention effort in the same vein as PJHQ operates for deployed UK military forces. It would bring together and coordinate both civilian and military assets and be able to present to the Cabinet Office or other stakeholders a complete picture of all UK activity in its assigned area (military and civilian) along with an associated theory of change justifying their employment and activities. UK Government Departments and the armed forces would post into UKSSA.

Tier One status: earning the UKs right to be heard

The intermeshing of state and non-state-based threats will require continued international cooperation, often in the form of lose or novel formal or informal military and non-military coalitions of the willing to deal with specific threats or emerging situations.

It is in the UKs interest to be influential and persuasive in not only building coalitions where necessary, but also in influencing existing institutions such as the UN to legitimise actions it takes in its own and common interests – the diplomatic effort to gain UN resolutions in 1982 is an excellent example. This requires the UK to earn the right to be heard and also requires it to justify its right to sit at the top table of institutions such as the UN Security Council when its size may no longer warrant it.

The political platform required to do this will rest in some part on the UK possessing the accoutrements of a serious military power, as well as its activity and the resourcing of its Role course of action described above. The military contribution to crafting this political platform should be conceptualised as the UK being a Tier One state.

This term is a political and planning tool, shorthand for possessing powerful, highly visible real-world military capabilities that carry cachet and garner respect amongst national leaders. In this sense it is not a checklist, nor does it necessarily require a particularly balanced set of military capabilities – it is about military capabilities generating political effect as well as military effect.

They earn the UKs right to be heard.

I propose that the following list of platforms / capabilities is the minimum required to achieve this political effect.

  • The maintenance of the UKs continuous at sea deterrent.
  • A Royal Navy with a proactive forward deployed maritime security presence, a continuous sovereign carrier strike capability, and nuclear attack submarines.
  • A Royal Air Force equipped with 4.5 and 5th generation aircraft that utilise a portfolio of complex precision strike weapons that can break into and operate in airspace contested by a peer, and powerful airborne intelligence platforms.
  • A world-leading intelligence capability with coveted intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities, linked into exclusive information sharing structures such as Five Eyes.
  • A respected and feared Special Forces / Commando grouping able to be inserted and extracted around the globe.
  • An Army with the ability to deploy brigade, divisional and theatre / corps level HQs to command coalition forces even where the UK does not provide a significant ground or combat presence itself.
  • The generation of a Joint Force 20xx including the key air, naval and ISTAR assets discussed above and a resilient Army division deployed as a powerful operational grouping, interoperable with a range of allies.

This once again is not significantly different from the stated ambition now, and there remain stubborn affordability problems even without the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. What conceptualising Tier One status in this manner achieves is a means of prioritising military capabilities – those that fall outside the above minimum Tier One requirements may become candidates for deletion, reduction or gapping until after a financial recovery occurs. These could include some elements of the RAFs helicopter force, the Royal Navy’s LPD platforms and the Army’s light infantry battalions. This is not an argument for stripping the armed forces of these capabilities – previous defence reviews that took too focused an approach failed when unanticipated events occurred – rather it is an exercise in understanding what the armed forces are required to do to support political ends and how to prioritise resourcing over time.


Resolve is focused on NATO and in particular the Baltic states. I argue that the Baltic states represent a clear pathway for Russia to achieve the dissolution of NATO and the exit from Europe of the United States. With an opportunistic Russia potentially able to strip away the key UK collective defence framework and remove our key ally, I believe this represents a high likelihood, high impact threat to the UKs security, requiring particular efforts to manage it down.

The presence of ethnic Russian populations near Russia offers both the casus belli and cover for Russian destabilising activity. This map clearly demonstrates the potential for Russia to engage in ambiguous and opportunistic acts for and against people and places (in the guise no doubt of self-determination). Should Russia do so, and NATO member states falter on the dilemma presented to them at the critical time, trust amongst member states, and NATOs uniting creed of collective defence will be obliterated overnight, and with it, the idea and utility of NATO.

A wider conventional sea-air-land conflict is far less likely. In a clash over people in specific places, a widening of the conflict by Russia into the northern Atlantic and into other NATO states in the northern or southern flanks is much less likely – Russia is opportunistic but it can also be operationally timid. A wider conflict where Russian actions would be overt and stripped of any ambiguity would be far more likely to galvanise wide global opposition, and see its military strengths offset against what remains in aggregate very powerful NATO naval and air forces. In these areas I argue Russian activity is likely to remain “sub-threshold”.

Conflict (as opposed to “grey zone” activity) with Russia will therefore be hyper localised, initially perhaps ambiguous, but always centred around people and place, and therefore centred on the ground domain.

Just as in the Cold War when political imperatives demanded NATO adopt the arguably militarily irrational strategy of Forward Defence in West Germany, so the same political dimension will demand a Forward Defence of the Baltic states – if barricades go up and little green men appear in even one Estonian town embroiled in a confusing and messy political struggle, NATO will only survive by driving through those barricades. It is on this commitment to defend every inch of soil and every street that trust in collective defence and therefore NATO credibility and utility rests.

Should NATO detect Russian activity, it must have the resolve to protect the places and populations impacted. And should Russian opportunism present the potential for a Russian fait accompli as in 2014, NATO must have the resolve to defend or strike back. The remedy is as ever, political resolve, and political resolve is, very simply, a product of power and strength.

I propose therefore that the UK takes on a key role in strengthening NATO resolve, principally by offering its Army to NATO, both as a powerful operational grouping to defeat Russian or Russian supported forces dug into localities in the Baltic States, but also as an “index of our will” and gesture of shared risk in an enterprise of collective defence which is a keystone to our security.

Should a dilemma present itself, the willingness of the UK to deploy a heavy division and to take part in the initial fighting until that division was exhausted would be a powerful factor in NATO decision-making and NATO resolve.

Under this course of action, the UK would offer the capability most likely to be equivocated upon at the decisive moment – closing with and destroying the enemy.

This would be complemented by an offer for the RAF to raise a new squadron of Tranche 1 Typhoons manned by Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian pilots based permanently in one of those states.

But it is the Army that would see the largest changes as it re-rolled to focus its strategic effect on the Baltic States by re-generating itself to fight a peer enemy in a hyper-localised, high intensity clash centred on population and place. This would see the Army largely divest itself of its global role and a good part of its mass to re-equip itself. The deletion of its theatre-entry role would also release the resourcing tied up in the joint-enablers which in any case is of inadequate scale.   

What does this mean for the armed forces?

First and foremost, it is necessary to consider what operations and tasks the UK should expect its armed forces to perform under the approach I have outlined above. I argue that with broadly neutral changes to resourcing, there will need to be some level of re-balancing across the armed forces – reductions in resourcing in some areas, to strengthen others. It is vital this re=balancing is in-step with a r=ebalancing of the tasks and operations, so difficult choices must be made.

Based on the need to create the political platform discussed at length above, and the need to strengthen NATO resolve, the UK should adopt the following principles to the employment of its armed forces:

  • The UK should not routinely operate ground combat forces at battlegroup level and above beyond Europe, nor commit significant ground forces in a regional conflict outside of Europe / Africa. Outside of Europe, the UKs routine contribution to ground operations should be limited to specialist infantry, logistic enablers, and special forces, with this turn focussed on Africa and the Middle East. Where ground security is needed on any scale this should be provided by other states.
  • The UKs contribution to stability on land should therefore shift to the civilian UKSSA Agency. This will allow resourcing to be freed in the Land (and Strategic) Top Level Budget as discussed below.
  • The RAF, RN and RM should be the UKs primary contribution to global operations, operating much as they do now to conduct tasks such as freedom of navigation, maritime security, air movement, ISTAR and precision strike. These forces should be the UKs contribution to a regional conflict outside of Europe / Africa, including the Middle East and Pacific.
  • The UK should not conduct forced theatre-entry operations on a scale larger than a company sized raid. Theatre entry should always be permissive above company level. This will allow resourcing from the, in any case, already insufficient joint enablers required to undertake that task.
  • The UK should be prepared to conduct significant ground and air combat operations against a peer enemy in hyper-local urban and rural environments in the Baltic States, in the vanguard of a NATO force fighting a regional conflict.
  • The UK should shift the activity of grey zone / sub-threshold operations including strategic defensive and offensive cyber to civilian and security agencies. 

In terms of broad priorities for resourcing, this would see the armed forces focus on:

  • Maintaining Tier One capabilities (itself enormously expensive)
  • Maintaining a heavy division as the ground element of the Joint Force for operations primarily in Eastern Europe
  • Protecting the UK and providing military aid to the civil authorities

A policy to engage in the above types of operation and to prioritise the above capabilities would see the most significant changes occur for the Army (impacting both the Land TLB and Strategic Command TLB), although here the RN would also dispose of both LPDs with no replacement.

The alignment of the Army’s equipment recapitalisation programme with the domestic economic policy of levelling up via a defence industrial strategy that sought to protect and create highly skilled jobs would help solve the dilemma of “modernisation versus affordability”.

The Army would also lose personnel mass via the deletion of a third of its infantry battalions to free up resourcing for re-equipping a significant land operational grouping based around a heavy or indeed medium division.

In detail this would require:

  • the recapitalisation of an armoured or medium division of three brigades, supported by an attack helicopter brigade, a GBAD brigade, and an additional precision-fire artillery / ISTAR complex of brigade size. The division would be traditional in structure to ensure its resilience with each brigade comprising an armoured regiment, a recce regiment, and three mechanised or armoured infantry battalions. It would also comprise a self-propelled gun brigade. This would, at the headline level, require the re-capitalisation of the Army’s armoured vehicle fleet, as well as GBAD capability and the Royal Artillery. This should be based as far as possible on domestic manufacturing capability, or licensed production of evolutionary platforms. A tri-service force should be constituted to ensure the Division is able to be moved by air, rail, inland waterway, and sea as rapidly as possible. A battlegroup would always be forward deployed.
  • the reform and regeneration of the Regular Reserve to ensure it is able to rapidly reinforce NATO assigned units.
  • the re-generation of a Corps or second divisional HQ element.
  • the deletion of the second-strike brigade. The first brigade being re-rolled back into one of the armoured brigades set out above. This would also assist in freeing resources to re-generate the armoured division.
  • the deletion of 16 Air Assault Brigade, its constituent units broken up to create a strengthened Special Forces Group of two Commando units based around parachute battalions, as well as a Tier One SF unit (keeping the SAS label). The third parachute battalion would reform and be assigned to NATO as part of a mobile NATO light infantry force akin to the Cold War AMF(L), able to tip the balance and calculus of risk rapidly in other parts of NATO territory.
  • to further assist paying for the recapitalisation of the division, and to firmly embed its new role, one-third of the Army’s infantry battalions would be deleted (including the Gurkha battalions), and a Corps of Infantry created to assist in career management and retention. This would leave sufficient battalions for the armoured division (9x), 2x specialist infantry groups of 3x specialist infantry battalions each, the 2x Army Commando units, the NATO assigned rapid-reaction battalion, plus 2 battalions for Cyprus and one for public duties which would become further shared amongst Army units and be routinely tri-service.
  • The ability of the two specialist infantry groups to generate tactical deployable brigade HQs for coalition operations and the ability to generate a second tactical divisional HQ element.

The result would be a smaller Army in terms of personnel, more focussed on a core role with an equipment programme made more coherent and deliverable thanks to that clear role. At the same time, for the wider global Role mission, the Army would remain capable of deploying Tier One capabilities based on SF and Commando units on an enduring basis and provide brigade and divisional HQs to command partner ground forces. In extremis the Army could deploy its heavy division as part of the Joint Force, but with the inevitable lag in deployment time. 


In this blog I have set out first principles and conclusions that fall from them. I have used these to offer an overarching, whole-of-state approach to UK national security strategy. This approach is anchored on a northern star of tackling instability around the world including in Eastern Europe and aligns existing strengths, funding streams and domestic economic policies to create a political platform that would allow the UK to preserve its influence and craft new alliances and institutions as the world continues its rebalancing toward the Pacific region.

In a world of constrained and limited resources for the armed forces, the above allows for a clearer policy on what types of operations and tasks the UK should expect its military to conduct, and a clearer basis for prioritisation of funding. Whilst I argue much of the current armed forces structure would remain, there would be significant changes to the Army to tackle the Russian threat and shift global stability operations to a civilian footing. The Army would lose a significant part of its routine global role and refocus its strategic effect on Eastern Europe, at the same time shrinking in size to enable the recapitalisation of a heavy or medium division.

This has been intended as a thought exercise in crafting a coherent approach to national security. It has not been possible to address every issue (for example organised crime, terrorism etc), nor is it taken for granted that creating new alliances and institutions is a simple task. But if we want to tackle global threats that do not respect sovereignty or borders – then we must work with others and give ourselves the tools to lead and influence in our interests to protect our people, places and prosperity.  We don’t have a choice.

6 thoughts on “Integrated Review – an approach to national security

  1. “the deletion of its theatre-entry role would also release the resourcing tied up in the joint-enablers”

    what does this mean in terms of units/capabilities?

    great article, right on the money.


    1. Hi mate, missed this one. Never assumed my blogs were good enough to get comments!

      What I meant by that was if you lose the need to do a parachute drop, you no longer have to fund the other enablers to make it happen or you can use the resourcing for other things ie don’t need the logistic support, A400s to do the drop, all the supporting C&C and air defence suppression etc etc


  2. A very enjoyable read but I disagree with a number of analytical and intellectual points in your post.

    1) Jumping from a macro framework to fixating on Russia, a regional threat

    You quite rightly try to look at national security within a holistic framework especially with your £60bn “National Security Fund” and that holistic approach is fundamentally a good mental lattice to think about national security. You then proceed to jump straight to a regional challenge: Russia and Eastern Europe which then informs your desired reforms in the military. In other words, what you really want to talk about is Russia and it seems you then reversed engineered to creating a wider set of “principles” to provide a ballast for your actual policy desires.

    2) Tackling instability doesn’t make sense

    What does “tackling instability” actually mean in practice? I’m serious about this question. It is intellectually arrogant to assume that instability can be tackled: we live in a world of Knightian Uncertainty. Pretending that we are in a period of “stability” and “instability” makes elementary analytical errors.

    For example, people point to the 1990s as a period of “stability”. Really? The 1990s sowed the seeds of today’s instability:
    – growth of cyber connectivity which is great but heightens societal vulnerability to offensive cyber warfare by state and non-state actors
    – Russian economic collapse which sowed the seeds of grievance politics against the West
    – rise of Islamist extremism in the Middle East and unchecked in wars in Bosnia and Chechnya
    – creation of the Eurozone in the European Union which lead to economic stagnation in many European countries from 2008-onwards leading to heightened populism in many Western European countries
    – freer trade which outsourced “middle earning jobs” to developing nations leading to the rise of a large block of discontent in many developed countries…

    I can go on in this vein for a while but the point I am trying to make is that instability is a fact of life: it is how you deal with it that determines whether or not you are a success as a person, company or country. Instead of “tackling instability” without defining what that means, you should argue that the UK is a nation state that lives in an unstable world and that national security framework is to ensure the nation state survives or thrives.

    3) Lack of cyber/space and critical interest analysis

    These can be split but I will combine them together. I do not know your background but I was surprised at how detailed your proposed reforms to the military can be (to tackle your particular bugbear of Russian aggression) yet leave out the framework of what exactly is the key vulnerabilities facing the UK. This brings in cyber and space because as the 4th and 5th battle spaces these are absolutely critical to maintaining and enhancing the standard of living for the UK.

    In short, what are the areas you are missing from your macro analysis:
    – the UK is a highly connected island nation state off the corner of the Eurasian land mass
    – maintaining channels of communication and supply is critical to the survival of the nation
    – that cyber and space represent two new avenues to cut the UK off: the equivalent of the Germans in WW1 and WW2 using their U-boats to choke off supplies of raw materials to the UK
    – therefore any national security analysis must include cyber and space as the premiere categories for the survival and continued enhancement of the standard of living of those who live in the UK
    – that there are particular chokepoints beyond cyber and space, including the Straight of Hormuz and other areas where the flow of goods including energy, are absolutely critical to be secured for the continued survival of the nation state
    – that therefore any military/non-military force must be able to address threats in those regions e.g. Iran.

    Ironically, the analysis you applied to reforming the military can be easily applied to ensure that other critical supply chains are kept free from interference. I am just astounded that you didn’t bother to investigate any further. Again, I assume it is because you wanted to focus your attention on Russia rather than looking at Russia as one actor amongst many that threaten the stability and safety of the United Kingdom.

    Overall, whilst the above sounds like a harsh criticism it is not intended to be so. Your analysis about reforms is designed to break through status quo thinking in order to get the UK ready for the next decade-plus. The biggest problems and one of the biggest pluses with the UK is that there is such a deep and rich history and pride with the various elements of the armed forces and other non-military national security organisations that it can be difficult to break with the status quo and advocate for change. It is obvious that change is needed and blogs like this can spur the right discussions amongst the right people.


    1. Thanks for engaging. I’ll address some of your points – many of which I feel are based on not understanding my arguments.

      “You then proceed to jump straight to a regional challenge: Russia and Eastern Europe which then informs your desired reforms in the military”

      But I don’t. I spend more than half the blog talking about the wicked threats to national security that cross-borders. As I explain, Russia is a high impact threat (with moderate likelihood) – it therefore cannot be ignored in any threat analysis. I’d rather the UK could focus far less on this source of mischief and on the more long-term and existential threats. The whole point of the UK contribution to NATO in my approach is to manage the threat down and keep matters sub-threshold. That is the point of deterrence.

      “It is intellectually arrogant to assume that instability can be tackled: we live in a world of Knightian Uncertainty”

      Not at all. Most of the world exists in a broadly stable framework of Westphalian states. The point of the northern star was to act as a heuristic for Government policy and action. To be useful it has to be understandable. Talk to the prime minister about Knightian uncertainty and you’ll be asked to speak plain English. Instability is suitable as it is recognisable, drives further threats to UK security and is itself driven by deeper latent issues that are the actual matters that need to be addressed – it is a prescription to tackle the disease not the symptoms. I’ll presume you have no experience of policy making or interacting with policy-makers.

      “Instead of “tackling instability” without defining what that means, you should argue that the UK is a nation state that lives in an unstable world and that national security framework is to ensure the nation state survives or thrives”

      This is a frankly meaningless point to make from the point of view of policy making. It’s bordering on a tautology. The world is unstable, the UK needs to thrive in an unstable world – well where do we go from there?

      “In short, what are the areas you are missing from your macro analysis:
      – the UK is a highly connected island nation state off the corner of the Eurasian land mass”

      I wonder how carefully you’ve read my piece. I literally said the above.

      And again I think you miss the point of the piece – the piece is about setting the conditions for the UK to be able to flexibly manage any threat – via collaboration and influence. It is a resilient posture, not an anticipatory one. This is one of the central features of my argument.

      “I am just astounded that you didn’t bother to investigate any further.”

      Please don’t be “astounded” on a blog that was written in my spare time as an amateur commentator and thinker. Perhaps if you’d like to source some grant funding for myself I can do justice to every single aspect of security. And I said as such in my blog very plainly.

      “Again, I assume it is because you wanted to focus your attention on Russia rather than looking at Russia as one actor amongst many that threaten the stability and safety of the United Kingdom.”

      Quite the opposite. As I said above, most of the piece focuses elsewhere, indeed the point of the Army contribution to the Baltic’s is precisely so the rest of the machinery of UK security can take a more global outlook. My proposal also sees very little of the aggregate resourcing of £60 billion fielded against Russia. In fact, if you read the piece carefully you’ll detect the underlying foundation of the piece which is an argument for engaging more in Africa – but not via military means – via a far more holistic approach that goes beyond the military and even further beyond “aid”.

      The main point of yours that I’ll take away is perhaps the need the think more carefully about communicating what is meant by instability. However, the more complex that definition becomes the less useful it is as a heuristic to help policy-making in an incredibly complex planet.

      But I do agree with you, this is the sort of thinking (whether people agree on the points or not) that needs to happen in the IR.



  3. Really excellent think piece with much to commend it. I doubt that the outcome of the Integrated Review will be nearly as radical or coherent. More kicking the can down the road I suspect – but let’s see… I just managed to get our ‘outfit’s’ response to the ‘Call for Evidence’ in on Friday evening before we hit the wire. With just 4 weeks to turn responses around during peak leave season, one could be forgiven for thinking that HM Government did not wish to receive well thought out, evidenced submissions. Also, not published on the main Gov News and Comms site – only found out about it thanks to Sir H! (Hat tip…). Regarding the Baltic States, I doubt that a credible forward or any other defence could be mounted. During the Cold War, the West European theatre was considered too shallow for a war of manoeuvre or defence in depth. Forward defence only worked because it formed part of an extended deterrent posture underpinned by a very low nuclear threshold (remember all the machinations with CND, Greenham Women et al when Pershing 2 and Cruise missiles were introduced to fill in the missing rungs on the escalation ladder?). These days US, UK and French nuclear postures have been scaled back to little more than survivable retaliatory capabilities. Good job that, militarily, the Russians are a relative shadow of what they were in Soviet days. However, they still have some potent capabilities and, if they wanted to take the Baltic’s, they probably could. Can’t see The Donald, or for that matter, Kamala pressing the button over such a small slice of real estate. Therefore the NATO deployments in the Baltics are, in reality, probably little more than gestures of solidarity even if buttressed in the manner you describe (UK heavy armour at scale would need to be forward deployed to be of any use in time – but where would you put it? Also it’s creation and deployment would be seen by the Russians as a ‘provocation’ in its own right). So we are, indeed, relying on Mr Putin’s timidity. However, he is, as you rightly point out, a skilled opportunist and player of a weak hand – thriving on chaos. Looking at what is going on in the Eastern Mediterranean at the moment with what was once considered a cornerstone of NATO slipping away before our very eyes (Erdogan’s ‘Blue Homeland’ fantasy) and potential for a new civil war in the Lebanon, there is plenty of chaos inbound – ‘Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war’!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great article! Much to think about …

    I think I am with IRD above ref the Baltic states… damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If a heavy armoured division is the core of the army, and it’s meant to deter a hyper localized conflict in one, two or all three of the Baltic states, then as IRD asks, where will its deployed battle groups be based ? We currently have one Multi-national Enhanced Forward Presence BG in each of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and one in Northern Poland near the Sulwaki Gap. So would you replace our current contribution to BG’s in Estonia and Poland with heavier armoured forces, or would you pick a country and focus there, because NATO might not want that ? Perhaps the Army Commando (Para) “tier 2 SF” are actually what you need to be perm deployed in the Baltic’s. Not tanks, but highly professional light infantry who can interdict “little green men” crossing borders, assist local army and security units in “hyper localized” ops that might not go beyond RPG /ATGM / light mortars and MANPADS, because the Russians could supply these to local “dissidents” while plausibly denying state level interference ? Is blanket clearance by HMG for a Army Commando unit to have a “shoot to kill” ROE perhaps more of a deterrent playing on the “timidity” of Russia (they don’t seem operationally timid to me after Syria) while also playing the pragmatism of Russia – they are not going nuclear (or invading Poland) over 8 dead “Private Military Contractors” from Moscow ?


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