Green for Go? Mixed signals from the December 2010 MoD Green Paper
RUSI Analysis, 4 Jan 2011
By Professor Trevor Taylor, Professorial Research Fellow, Head, Defence, Industries and Society
The muted reaction to December’s Green Paper reflects the complex nature of the challenges it highlighted
By Professor Trevor Taylor for RUSI.org
The Ministry of Defence published its Green Paper on 20 December 2010, and the first thing to note is how little press coverage it received, especially in comparison with the great attention devoted to its predecessor, the Defence Industrial Strategy of 2005. Editors may well have felt that the world was wearying of defence analysis after the onslaught on UK defence management launched by The Times the week previously and the debates on the wisdom of the appointment of Bernard Gray as Chief of Defence Procurement, but more likely is the absence of simple messages in the Green Paper that would have made for appealing headlines.
What the top of Government perhaps wished to see as the lead message of the Green Paper, 'that our default position is to use open competition in the global market, to buy off-the-shelf where we can', is offset and perhaps overwhelmed by the multi-faceted discussion which follows. As the Green Paper also observes, 'there are ... specific characteristics of the defence and security sectors that can inhibit the market or make it inappropriate, for reasons of national security, to use open competition to meet our needs'. The UK has never in the past pursued a simple policy of normally buying from the international market, nor indeed, to this author's knowledge, has any other country with the industrial capability or potential to do otherwise.
The Green Paper is an intelligent document which shows that, across the MoD, there is awareness of the challenges and dilemmas that make defence (and wider security) research, acquisition and industrial policy such a challenging area. Two of the three principles of Core Policy, however, must be recognised as little more than mundane, in part because they make no sense at all if their thrust is reversed.
'Principle 1: The UK Armed Forces, the wider National Security Community, and the Law Enforcement Agencies must have the capabilities they require to protect the UK and its interests ...'
Would any government ever say anything different? What administration is likely to base a policy on the guidance that the armed forces and their colleagues may not always be given the capabilities they require?
'Principle 3: These capability and technology requirements are subject to affordability and the means of fulfilling them must demonstrate value for money.'
Again, would any government start from the position that such requirements would not be subject to affordability - is Principle 3 not a major qualification of Principle 1?
In today's environment, it is predictable that the MoD would not wish to write even a consultation document (i.e. a Green Paper) which explicitly committed the MoD to spending money in particular areas . It is hence not surprising that the document provides little discussion of the extent to which largely UK industry was mobilised to prepare UK forces for every individual military operation that governments have chosen since 1982. Every reader will take encouragement or worry from particular sections of the paper, but there are few people in industry or even in the governmental research sector who will feel unambiguously reassured by the document. Two very positive signs, however, are:
- a) the readiness to recognise the interwoven natures of defence and security technologies, their multiple links in turn to the broader commercial world, and the need for more joined-up governmental behaviour in this area; and
- b) the at-least tacit admission that the government's capacity to be an intelligent customer is under threat and needs some nurturing.
A three-month consultation period now begins, giving industrial groups, thinks tanks like this one, and other interested parties a chance to respond to the many difficult and detailed questions listed at the close of sections of the Green Paper. But whatever emerges in the White Paper, it must not be overlooked that the implementation of decisions through the setting-aside of research funds and individual procurement decisions will be central.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.
Further Analysis: UK Defence, Defence Spending, UK, Europe