"I've decided that the era of cutting our defence budget must end and it ends now"
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 19, 2020
Dom Morris is a Conservative campaigner, writer, farmer and foreign affairs advisor.
It has been reported that Dominic Cummings has been visiting defence and security establishments in the last few weeks. This is of course in the run-up to the UK’s Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review. Cummings is fighting the security establishment “blob”; one that is obsessed with troop numbers and antiquated battlefield charges. Recently the Defence Secretary allegedly banned senior officers from talking about their respective services because of tribal one-upmanship.
I have never understood why organisations wishing to advance are sent on a “retreat”. I am beginning to feel the same way about this Integrated Review. An essential effort bringing together our defence, development and diplomatic capabilities into a single set of ends, way and means; the Integrated Review is starting to feel more like a (tribal) retreat than an integrated “advance”. Staring through the rear-view mirror at yesterday’s wars, we must look out over the dashboard and onto a new horizon that is more complex and more contested.
The same old lobbying messages are being churned out from the national security blob in advance of the Integrated Review. There are no innovative messages about transformation, just the same old: can the Queen Elizabeth Carrier take on China? How many soldiers makes an army, one division or two? Do we even need the Royal Marines and in what rig (*uniform)? Why do we need an airborne brigade?
Spoiler alert. It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it. And I suspect that Cummings knows this.
We are suffering from a Clausewitzian delusion that has indoctrinated our national security community. Clausewitz focused upon fighting adversary’s military forces in the physical domain (*battlefield) – his doctrine has led us to a groupthink focusing on a physical contest while our adversaries have moved on.
It is no longer just about soldier vs soldier, plane vs plane and ship vs ship. Our lightweight understanding of Clausewitz has seen an institutional subjugation to his work. The different arms of government and the military largely analyse, plan and deliver separately. From planning to measurement of effect (*results), we apply a 19th Century philosopher living in fiefdom and fealty, to complex 21st Century constant competition.
We are obsessed by troop numbers and a myopic campaigning approach predicated on change only happening on the battlefield – there is no accepted methodology for integrating politics, information campaigns and behaviour change capabilities into the blob’s campaigning machine. No rheostat to turn up our posture against Russia or China across the physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space in an orchestrated fashion – we need a graphic equaliser!
The world has changed and so too has conflict. There is no longer “home” and “away”, no longer peace and war. Our adversaries fight us every day across multiple domains, able to accept multiple failures but quickly reinforcing success. Russia Today, Salisbury, Huawei, vaccine disinformation campaigns. It you are shaking your head, read the Gerasimov doctrine. The Russians have been overt about the new covert. Piling resources, capabilities, and expertise into new, subtle ways of disrupting the rules-based system in order to escape its wrath on Crimea and Syria.
Our adversaries wish to contest, and, where necessary, defeat us on the airwaves and in people’s minds to avoid meeting us on the battlefield. And the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating these trends. Rather than finding and fighting our adversary’s military and security apparatus on the battlefield, we must contest and, where necessary, defeat their nation state to offer their populations something better restore global stability.
This endeavour is multi-domain and must take us far beyond traditional battlefields. What people see on social media has as much chance of changing behaviours as security forces on the ground (*war in 140 characters). Our immature doctrine has begun to recognise these domains; physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space. But we must be more radical.
Every commander in the military fears the Question Four (*has the situation changed?) moment. In the middle of an Integrated Review, has something fundamental to our success changed? In national security terms the answer is a profound “yes” and the Integrated Advance should recognise this immediately.
Nothing less than a transformative national security programme will prepare us for this new Covid world. An Integrated Transformation must bring together all her Majesty’s Government’s levers of power, orchestrated in an [AI]evidence-led fashion. For constant competition (*rather than liberal tides raising all boats) is here to stay and we are losing the peace, let alone winning the war.
Here are some quick wins to kick start an Integrated Advance:
1. Conduct a “Project Solarium” to inform the Integrated Review – Just like President Eisenhower did when things changed with Russia, lock Britain’s best from academia, practitioners, senior officers and techies in Downing Street until they come up with a punchy, transformative National Security Directive to create a new security architecture.
2. Build a National Operations centre to bring together the disparate departments into a 24/7 capability owned by the National Security Adviser – Presently departmental Sir Humphreys pull the strings aloft the National Security Council.
3. Embrace data and bring in the techies – Our analysis capabilities are third world. AI, information domain and cognitive capabilities must be prioritised.
4. Triple the Military Strategic Effects budget – We spend nowhere near enough on information and cognitive campaigning.
5. Sack some seniors – There is a risk aversion and a refusal to transform amongst some seniors. On a combat fitness test, those that lag behind get chopped. The stakes are higher here.
6. Promote techies – Send a signal to thrusters (*commanders tipped for the top) that it’s no longer teeth arm (*a military’s fighting troops) that get to the top. Show the chiefs of tomorrow that it is no longer just about heavy metal, they need to strap into a laptop.
7. Reward innovation and risk taking – Presently they are punished.
8. Open leadership positions across the national security community to Britain’s best in the private sector, academia and tech companies. The senior leadership are neither incentivised, nor rewarded for changing fast enough. Competition will change that.
9. Establish a National Security College – Cross-domain contest is not taught, there is no unifying doctrine. We don’t expect our soldiers to go to war without training, neither should our leaders.
10. Develop a single planning process across government to orchestrate multi-domain contest. Presently National Security Council decisions are enacted by departments planning in isolation, is it any wonder that cross-government plans don’t join up?
11. Transform the structures of Procurement through rapid cross functional teams – Adopt the American procurement/’worx’ (e.g. SOFWorx) programmes leading rapid innovation and pull through – connect the clever people, industry and the user (the soldier) to rapidly develop kit and capability according to user need.
Unless the Integrated Review turns into a Transformative Advance I fear that Sergeant Major Cummings will give Project Blob a reshow (*failure of standards on parade – do it again!)