RUSI: UK's defence strategy at a 'watershed'

The major political parties need to present a clear long-term vision of the United Kingdom's standing in the world at the next general election; regardless of whether the defence budget is cut, the nation faces hard strategic choices in the immediate future, according to a Future Defence Review Working Paper from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). 

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2 October 2009

'A Force for Honour: Military Strategic Options for the United Kingdom', suggests that Britain is at a 'watershed' and makes the case for a 'broad political consensus' on future defence assumptions with strong and conscious electoral support ahead of the difficult decisions to be made in the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review.

Facing the reality of huge economic uncertainties and the 'current affordability crisis' the new RUSI report, written by Michael Codner, presents five strategic options for the UK's future military posture. The options are posited within two broad strategies.

The first strategy, concerns maintaining current levels of defence spending in order to retain a high intensity combat and deterrent capability; but also risks a rationalisation of capabilities. Under this approach, the paper argues, policy makers must make the hard choice between a land forces focused 'global guardian', building on the present demands for counter-insurgency in Afghanistan; or a maritime led 'strategic raiding' policy, which looks to longer-term security challenges.

The second broad strategy, which entails significant reductions in defence spending, would fundamentally challenge assumptions about Britain's strategic thinking. If the options under this strategy are to be considered, Britain's armed forces would be reduced to limited stabilisation operations and duties specific to the UK's territorial defence. Described as 'the Contributary', 'Gendarmarie' and 'Little Britain' options, these choices would 'imply a relinquishment of aspirations to sustain global influence'.

With all major political parties  committed to carrying out a new Strategic Defence Review after the next general election, 'A Force for Honour' warns that now is the time for political leaders to outline a clear long-term vision for Britain's armed forces, and to begin a full debate on the UK's standing in the world.

To view the new report in full click on the following link, 'A Force for Honour: Military Strategic Options for the United Kingdom'. To learn more about the Future Defence Review Working Paper series, please visit


  • 1. For interview bids and further enquiries please contact Daniel Sherman
  • 2. A copy of 'A Force for Honour: Military Strategic Options for the United Kingdom' can be viewed online at
  • 3. Michael Codner is Director of Military Sciences at RUSI. His work and that of his department covers all aspects of the nature, creation and purpose of military forces. Before joining RUSI, he was a Defence Fellow at King's College London and a lecturer in strategy and operational art at the United States Naval War College as a Royal Navy Officer.
  • 4. Forthcoming Future Defence Review conference: Preparedness, Posture and Risk Management in Meeting Future Defence Challenges, 14 October 2009. For more information, please visit
  • 5. RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.

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