Hutton: The role of the Armed Forces in protecting national security

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07:56 GMT, April 29, 2009

British Defence Secretary John Hutton gave a speech last night to the Institute for Public Policy Research in which he spoke about the role of defence in Britain’s national security.

Over a year since the launch of the National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom which identified the threats faced in the UK and brought together the agencies and departments in addressing them, Mr Hutton said that the Prime Minister has committed to publishing an update of the strategy in the summer and he added:

“At a time when there is pressure on public resources we need clarity about what adds value, a clear sense of priorities when it comes to the use of precious military resources, and a recognition about where the UK itself can best make an effective contribution.”

Speaking about the role of the British Armed Forces in protecting Britain’s national security, Mr Hutton said that a crucial part of the strategy was preventing and countering terrorist activities in failed and fragile states overseas such as Afghanistan. He spoke about how that is being achieved:

“The New Chapter of the Strategic Defence Review we published in 2002 concluded that the Armed Forces had an important role to play as part of a cross-Government and international effort to counter international terrorism.

“It found that most of the military capabilities needed would be provided from the force structure that the 1998 Strategic Defence Review had set in train, but proposed further investment in intelligence-gathering and in network-enabled capability.

“For home defence, it suggested a raft of measures including the need to refine our air defence and maritime integrity arrangements. It recommended we establish stronger liaison arrangements between the Armed Forces and civil authorities and devolved administrations, and clarify command and control arrangements.

“Over the past several years the MOD has implemented all these measures to contribute to the counter terrorism agenda.”

Mr Hutton referred to a programme of work begun in 2007 to take stock of MOD’s counter terrorism and national resilience policy, plans, capabilities and organisation, and examine whether the defence contribution to CONTEST (the Government’s counter terrorism strategy) was appropriate or needed to be further adjusted: “The review reaffirmed the two key principles that underpin the MOD’s approach. These are: that contributing to national and international efforts to counter terrorism is one of MOD’s highest priorities; and that the defence contribution in countering terrorism should continue to be focused primarily against the overseas terrorist threat in order to keep the threat ‘at arm’s length’ from the UK.

“We should never make the mistake of thinking that instability and terrorism abroad have little or nothing to do with us as a nation,” he added.

“We cannot afford to ignore the security problems in regions like East Africa or the Middle East. If left to fester they create regional instability and provide safe havens for terrorist groups whose grievances range far wider than local territorial disputes and lead to direct attacks on the populations of Western nations.

“That was the key lesson we learned from Afghanistan in 2001. It is essential that we recognise international terrorism as an international issue, and deal with it accordingly, in partnership with those countries most directly affected.”

Looking at this overseas effort, Mr Hutton said that the Armed Forces’ contribution to this falls into three main areas:

* First, there are strategic counter terrorism objectives associated with the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan which include countering Al Qaeda.

* Second is the support given to countries to help them prevent the growth of terrorism and to deal effectively with it when it emerges.

* Third is the maintenance of the capabilities required to conduct precise operations against terrorist groups and individuals, in circumstances ranging from responses to hostage-taking, through indirect and direct action against groups planning attacks against UK interests.

Expanding on these Mr Hutton said that to help with the campaigns abroad such as countering Al Qaeda, a rebalancing of investment in technology, equipment and people to meet the challenge of irregular warfare was needed:

“We need to decide the best balance for our Armed Forces over the next decade. A stronger and more structured role in supporting every aspect of the comprehensive approach to countering terrorism and bringing stability and order to parts of the world that threaten UK national security.

“This could include greater investment in battle-winning capabilities like our Special Forces which can help disrupt networks of terror that threaten our national security.

“UK Special Forces are amongst the best in the world. Capable, effective, respected, and contributing massively to the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“So there must be change here at home. Our country can be rightly proud of the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. They are truly exceptional people. Adaptability and agility is clearly one of their many great enduring strengths. A ‘can do’ attitude. No challenge too great. No sacrifice too hard.

“We need now to ensure that support to the front line and every pound we spend as a nation in support of our Armed Forces is equally agile and adaptable to the realities of modern conflict.

“I am committed to ensuring that this is the case. I believe there is still significant scope for achieving better value for money at the MOD and all its agencies. Work is already underway, and I will be publishing new proposals on reforming acquisition later this summer.”

On supporting countries to help them prevent the growth of terrorism he said: “The MOD’s programme of capacity-building currently extends to 14 countries including Pakistan. Security forces trained by British teams continue to have successes in disrupting terrorist plots.

“In many of these circumstances our support is not just about military effectiveness. It is also about demonstrating how military forces should operate under the control of democratically accountable governments with an understanding of, and compliance with, international law.”

Efforts overseas have made great inroads into dealing with the threat before it appears on the streets of Britain, Mr Hutton said, adding that we also have to be prepared to work at home to protect our population and prepare for the consequences of any attack that we are unable to prevent.

The Armed Forces contribute to this domestic role in four main ways he said: “First, MOD holds a range of specialist capabilities at very short notice to disrupt terrorist attacks before they begin, or once they have started. These capabilities include air defence aircraft and the supporting infrastructure, maritime forces and Special Forces. The Armed Forces work closely with the police and security agencies to keep these plans up to date, and to exercise them regularly.

“Second, we provide distinctive crisis management planning support to police and Security Service operations.

“Third, MOD is closely engaged in planning for, and would provide potentially very substantial capabilities to support, consequence management in the event of successful attacks against the UK. Many of these wider capabilities would be useful for wider resilience purposes, such as flooding, as well as counter terrorism.

“Finally, we assist with the protection of the UK against attack by terrorists, notably through the provision of armed Ministry of Defence Police to guard certain key sites in the UK.

“MOD also maintains a range of specialist capabilities for use in both overseas and domestic activities. For example, we contribute to the collection and analysis of intelligence on terrorist networks overseas, as well as groups who want to attack us in the UK.

“We also contribute to research and development to help identify solutions to the challenges posed by terrorism and insurgency. It is important that we leverage the Government’s research for counter terrorism wherever it resides.”

In conclusion Mr Hutton said: “From my perspective, the Armed Forces are integral to the fabric of the nation and will always be the ultimate defenders of our country and its people. They protect our interests overseas and play a key role here at home to ensure that we are as prepared as we can be to respond to security risks, be they natural disasters or terrorist-related.

“The bond between the Armed Forces and the nation has never been closer in my lifetime than it is today. This respect and admiration is not based on the triumphs of previous military conflicts. It rests on the achievements of this generation of soldiers, sailors and airmen in defending our country and the rights for which we stand. That is why we should all be confident that our security is in good hands.”
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