British defence may face a multilateral future

The future mission of Britain’s armed forces may lie in assisting and reforming multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and NATO, according to a new report published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

14 October 2009

Presenting a 'radical new model' in advance of a forthcoming defence Green Paper in winter 2009 and an expected defence review in 2010, Multilateral Choices to Security: Choices for Defence argues that Britain must refocus its defence sector in response to a 'dire need' for international FDR3intervention to prevent and stabilise conflict in the developing world.

The paper argues that Britain's support for multilateral security is central to its credibility and influence, cautioning against reductions in its military contribution to global institutions in the wake of the fiscal crisis and operations in Afghanistan.

'If there are more cuts to such commitments, the UK will be left in the untenable position of sitting at the top tables in New York and Brussels to preach but not to practice,' Andrew Rathmell, the report's author, warns.

Accordingly, several recommendations are made for increasing the defence contribution to Britain's multilateral security policy:

  • Britain's armed forces must play an 'active role' in promoting improved norms in global security, maximising the UK military's 'considerable soft power influence' among its allies and partners;


  • The UK should help to create 'a global cadre of trained civil-military planners and staff officers' among the UN, NATO, the EU and the African Union, helping to integrate the international community's response to rebuilding countries after conflict;


  • British defence policy should aim to build capacity in other institutions and partners, rather than relying solely upon its own assets.

The paper adds that international peacekeeping faces 'severe strain' as it strives to meet demand with diminished resources and often unnecessarily duplicated assets. 'Many of the missions launched, whether under a UN, EU or other flag, are intended as political tokens - not mandated, resourced or prepared to deliver the peace and stability that is their stated intent'.

'At a time of relative plenty we were able to afford this redundancy and inefficiency within the international peace and security architecture. No longer. With the system under severe strain and the fiscal tsunami about to hit the UK's and other developed nations' budgets, we need to concentrate on squeezing inefficiencies out of the system.'

The release of the latest Future Defence Review report - the third in the series - coincides with RUSI's conference on Preparedness, Posture and Risk Management in Meeting Future Defence Challenge, held in London on 14 October 2009.

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