RUSI SURVEY: UK needs ‘radical reassessment’ of its position in the world according to 88% of defence and security community

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The British Defence and Security Election SurveyThe UK needs a ‘radical reassessment’ of the position it wants to play, and is able to play, in world politics, according to 88% of the defence and security community surveyed by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Released ahead of the foreign affairs leaders debate on Thursday 22 April, 'The British Defence and Security Election Survey', asked 2,024 people from the defence and security community whether they agreed or disagreed to six key statements covering the US-UK 'special relationship'; Trident; operations in Afghanistan; terrorism; differences on defence between the main political parties; and the UK's position in the world. The six statements were:

  • The UK needs a radical reassessment of the position it wants, and is able to play in the world. 88% (1776 respondents) agreed with the statement, 7% disagreed (146 respondents) and 5% (102 respondents) were undecided.
  • Current operations in Afghanistan play an intrinsic part in maintaining the UK's security. 57% (1146) agreed, whereas 34% (693) disagreed and 9% (185) undecided.
  • The security and political benefits to the UK of the Trident system clearly outweigh its diplomatic and economic costs. 53% (1072) agreed, 34% (689) disagreed and 13% (263) undecided.
  • The UK's interests are best served by maintaining a special relationship with the United States, ahead of all other strategic partnerships. 58% (1189) agreed, 32% (643) disagreed and 10% (192) undecided.
  • Tackling terrorism will continue to be the most immediate security priority for the next government. 81% (1639) agreed, 12% (241) disagreed and 7% (144) undecided.
  • When it comes to defence, there are some significant differences between the main political parties. 55% (1113) agreed, 23% (475) disagreed and 22% (436) undecided.

Analysing the survey findings - and comparing them with the defence and security policies set out by Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg that appeared in the latest RUSI Journal - Professor Michael Clarke, RUSI's Director, said:

"The RUSI survey provides welcome support for some party leaders' key positions, but will make uncomfortable reading on others.

"The Prime Minister talks about continuity in the way the UK's defence role is conceived and executed. Drawing on the UK's 'willingness to change and adapt', Gordon Brown states that the Government pays constant close attention to a complex and fast moving security landscape, learning 'hard lessons' from our experiences. According to this the reassessment process is, in effect, ongoing. The Government is already on top of the problem. But this is not the view of the vast majority in the RUSI survey. The Conservative leader, David Cameron, has nothing to say in this article about the national role the UK should play but leads, instead, on the policy making changes a Conservative Government would initiate. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, may be nearer the view of the survey when he says that this election, 'is about Britain's place in the world'.

"On the other hand the survey generally supports the way Gordon Brown assesses the relationship between terrorism at home and policy overseas. His view of the National Security Strategy and its 'span across domestic and foreign spheres' appears to be in line with the trend of specialists' thinking. So too is the view of both Gordon Brown and David Cameron that Afghanistan is, in some sense, a 'must win' campaign. Nick Clegg merely calls the Afghan strategy 'hopelessly under resourced', but both the Conservative and Labour parties seem to be nearer the mark of the survey by expressing it in strategic terms.

"All three leaders outline their parties' policy on the nuclear deterrent. The Prime Minister describes why the Trident system is to be regarded as 'out of scope' of the forthcoming Defence Review. This is only slightly more assertive than David Cameron who states that 'we need to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent' alongside a 'need to counter the growing menace of nuclear proliferation'. Nick Clegg challenges both these assertions, chiefly on cost grounds and the fact that the nuclear deterrent is dependent on US infrastructure. He will find some comfort in the RUSI responses to the way in which the question was asked - as an overall cost benefit calculation. Some 34% of the survey do not seem to regard Trident as a good deal for UK security. But the Labour and Conservative leaders still know that they have a clear majority of the informed public - 53% - behind their nuclear stance.

"Given that the respondents to RUSI's survey are self selecting - they are not a representative sample of the country as a whole but constitute the defence and security community in the broadest sense - their replies were in some respects very surprising."

To view the survey findings in full, including the defence and security policies outlined by the three party leaders, please visit

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