Like many national security strategies, Britain's just unveiled, 39-page “National Security Strategy: A strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty” raises some interesting observations about the world, but largely echoes the consensus that has emerged and is short of surprises. Still, since it will dictate spending in the coming years, it is a document that can’t be ignored.
In short, cyber and intelligence come out ahead. The document places less emphasis on state-on-state type conflicts. A conventional attack on the U.K. is merely listed as a Tier 3 threat. The four so called Tier 1 threats are:
- hostile attacks upon U.K. cyber space by other states and large scale cyber crime
- international terrorism affecting the UK or its interests (and a significant increase in terrorism related to Northern Ireland)
- an international military crisis between states, drawing in the UK, its allies as well as other states and non-state actors
- and a major accident or natural hazard which requires a national response, such as severe coastal flooding affecting three or more regions of the UK or an influenza pandemic
The government isn’t saying that those areas will absorb all the financial resources that remain available following tomorrow’s planned announced of a defense budget cut, but they clearly have the priority (for more on the likely cuts to come tomorrow, check our latest two Ares posts on the subject here and here).
The national security strategy spells out that protecting operational counter-terrorism capabilities in intelligence will be a priority, as well as developing an effective cyber security program.
What’s interesting is that whereas there are pockets in the U.S. increasingly concerned about space-war, particularly in the wake of China’s ASAT test in 2007, for the U.K. a “severe disruption to information received, transmitted or collected by satellites, possibly as the result of a deliberate attack by another state” remains, for now, only a second order threat. Similarly “an attack on the U.K. or its oversees territories by another state or proxy using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons” is mentioned only as a second tier threat. That could suggest that the hope of some missile defense advocates that the U.K. would start taking this mission area more seriously will have to await a future review.
The fact that a large scale conventional attack on the U.K. is viewed as only a third-order threat, as well as an attack on a NATO or European Union ally that would require a British response, is perhaps the clearest signal how this document tries to make a break from the past.