At first sight, these threats are diverse – almost improbably so. But on close inspection, they seem to have a number of common denominators. One of these common denominators is that none lend themselves to purely military action. Even the threat of conventional warfare is not something that the Ministry of Defence can counter alone. Whilst undoubtedly a overwhelmingly military affair, modern conventional warfare would also have a great deal to do with diplomacy and economic muscle.
With the possible exception of natural disaster, the Tier 1 threats are all likely to involve an enemy. But countering that enemy sustainably is highly unlikely to be something which the military can do alone. A much more complex – or multidimensional – response is required from the British Government. It is for this reason that the new Government in the UK has established a National Security Council. The idea is to anticipate, prevent and manage potential threats before they actually have the chance to target the UK’s welfare.
So what do the major threats have in common? One possible answer is poverty and social, economic and political exclusion. Whilst there is no doubt that the UK has some determined enemies, it is equally clear that these enemies are not, for the most part, other states. The threats facing the UK are so-called asymmetric. And to a large degree, poverty and exclusion are their recruiting sergeants.
So why has the the UK’s new national threat assessment centred so much on the symptoms – terror attacks and the like – and to a lesser degree on tackling the causes? Perhaps the answer lies more in a desire on the part of the UK military to protect itself from vicious spending cuts. But military personnel involved in countering the Tier 1 threats to the UK on the ground are very clear that military action alone is not the answer. They perceive a need to combine hard and soft security measures with development and humanitarian action. They point to the so-called “three block war” as evidence for the kinds of integrated capabilities that the UK needs to counter the threats it faces effectively.
So the simple approach is to identify where the threats faced by the UK originate, and to focus both military and development effort on them. But the evidence is that this does not work. For a start, the mere presence of foreign military forces probably promotes the fear of external overlordship. And as military personnel well know, the enemy in an asymmetric conflict won’t sit still – they run and hide, exploiting irritating minor concerns like national sovereignty and borders. Is the answer therefore to deploy development assistance where military force leads? Probably not. But there is a a good argument for ensuring that non-military means are fully integrated into UK military endeavour. The lessons of Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan seem not to stay learnt, despite numerous after action reviews and lesson identification processes.
By tackling social, economic and political exclusion generally, UK development interventions are directly targeting one if not two of the Tier 1 threats to the UK. But as with military action, they are not doing so alone. At present the UK seems to be tied up in a form of government defined by the interests of its constituent parts rather than by a higher order strategic direction. What is needed is what the military might term “effects based government”.
In order to be able to tackle poverty, the UK development programme needs to be able to work where the military does not; in countries and regions that do not – perhaps yet – pose a direct threat to the UK. The UK is safest in a world which values and acknowledges diversity. So we need to ensure that DFID is acknowledged as a vital contributor to UK national security interest; and its analysis and voice needs to be influential on the National Security Council.
After all, DFID is countering the future threats that the UK doesn’t yet know it faces. Development is a security issue; and security is a development issue. Now we just need a Whitehall that understands that tackling both is a short and long term game involving a wide range of actors – not just the boys and their toys.