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FDR BadgeThe Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), published on 19 October 2010, intended to set out the strategic context, operational posture and capability requirements for the United Kingdom Armed Forces to 2020 and beyond.

The government’s intention was to set the Review in the wider security context of a revised National Security Strategy (NSS). Ownership of the Review lay with the newly formed National Security Council.

The first Defence White Paper since the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, SDSR’s grand strategic intent was to deliver ‘a major re-structuring of the Armed Forces’, taking ‘tough decisions which will result in some scaling back in the overall size of the Armed Forces and the reduction of some capabilities that are less critical to today’s requirements’ but taking also ‘the bold decisions needed to adjust [UK] defence plans to face the realities of [the] ever-changing world’. The Review presented an opportunity for a strategic reconsideration of present, emerging and long term threats and challenges to the UK and its interests.

Although the February 2010 Green Paper conducted useful groundwork, given the urgent need for a Comprehensive Spending Review the new Coalition Government had just five months to make hard choices and to take key decisions, sparking accusations that in the event the Review was inevitably rushed and that the constraints of the ongoing war in Afghanistan imposed a short term perspective. Since the publication of the Review, a number of crucial studies have been initiated and their conclusions will affect longer term strategic options.

Thus, the debate continues as to where the UK will be in its grand strategy in the longer term. In effect, government has postponed the decision deadline on some significant strategic questions to the 2015 fixed period review to which all major parties are committed. As the MoD now enters its next financial Planning Round, this conference addressed some of the more notable unanswered questions, including:

• Force structure – what are the implications of some of the capability decisions taken on the balance of the UK’s force structure now and to 2020 and beyond, what are the capability implications of continuing operations in Afghanistan and have UK military capabilities in key areas now sunk below the threshold of strategic significance?

• Budget cuts and defence expenditure – although the Ministry of Defence (MoD) finally received only a 7.5 per cent budget cut in real terms, much of its future plan remains unfunded and ongoing operational challenges will continue to drain resources. This section will also consider the development of the defence reform workstreams, their financial implications and their strategic impact. In sum, this section will ask whether the numbers add up.

• The international context - the NSS and SDSR both focus on adaptability and partnering, and many of the UK’s key partners have shown close interest in SDSR’s conclusions. Thus, what are the effects of the Review on the UK’s position and role in the strategies of these partners?

• Reform of the MoD and the Armed Forces – this session will look at the UK’s broad defence reform activity, the emerging defence industrial policy and ongoing developments in acquisition processes. It will also look in particular at the force structure review of the British Army.

Despite the larger number of issues persisting after the Review, and notwithstanding the likelihood of the day’s discussions ranging more widely, the conference will focus debate these issues in broad terms to allow a greater level of discussion.

Participants included:

Nick Harvey MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces

• Major General Richard Barrons CBE, Assistant Chief of the General Staff, Ministry of Defence

• Professor James Bergeron, Policy Advisor, Striking Force NATO

• James Blitz, Defence and Diplomatic Editor, Financial Times

• Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Professorial Research Fellow in British Defence and Security Policy, RUSI

• Rear Admiral Charles-Edouard de Coriolis, Defence and Naval Attaché, French Embassy to the United Kingdom

• James Fanshawe CBE, Defence Adviser, Allocate Software

• Camille Grand, Director, Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique

• Dr Andrew Hilton, Director, Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation

• Daniel Keohane, Senior Research Fellow, EU Institute for Security Studies

• Paul Johnson, Chairman, The Institute of Fiscal Studies

• Tom McKane, Director General Strategy, Ministry of Defence

• Julian Miller, Deputy National Security Adviser, Cabinet Office

• Commodore Bob Tarrant Royal Navy, Director Naval Staff, Ministry of Defence

• Professor Trevor Taylor, Professorial Research Fellow in Defence Management, RUSI 

• Dominic Wilson, Director, Strategy and Resources, Ministry of Defence

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