New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: What a joy it is to follow two such pro-defence warriors as we have just heard [Tobias Ellwood and John Spellar]. As the years roll by, the contents of defence reviews get vaguer as their titles grow more convoluted. In my time in Parliament, we have moved from the 1998 Strategic Defence Review through the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence Review and the 2018 National Security Capability Review to the snappily titled Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy that we are discussing today.

Conducting such exercises in public will always be problematic. When a conflict is actually under way, it is folly to spell out our strategy, yet in between crises it is usually impossible to predict which potential conflicts will actually occur. If we want peaceful co-existence and our adversary does not, he has the choice of whether, when, where and how to attack. We, by contrast, must maintain a range of capabilities to deal with a wide spectrum of threats. Because an opponent’s intentions can change far more quickly than military capabilities, a democracy must maintain maximum flexibility to deal with the unexpected.

The spectrum of threats runs from nuclear and other mass destruction weapons through to conventional or hard military power, and then, via cyber-space and subversion, to disinformation – the latter three on an industrial scale thanks to the coming of the internet. The range of options available to democracies in the face of such threats runs from deterrence through to containment, and then to the dire last-resort alternatives of open warfare or submission to the attacker’s demands. If only deterrence could meet all potential threats, that would clearly be ideal, but while one can deter some of the most destructive methods of aggression, containment must be used to hold hostile states and aggressive ideologies in check until they evolve into something less virulent. In cyber-space, there is a role for deterrence by building resilience and ensuring that would-be attackers will face unacceptable and unavoidable penalties, while at the level of subversion, which is often commercial and financial, not just ideological, the role of good intelligence work is of paramount importance.

[Finally, the ability given by the internet for malicious individuals, organisations or state actors to broadcast falsehoods and mischief worldwide, anonymously if they choose, is a classic arena for containment. There is plentiful scope to limit, neutralise and even turn such poisonous activity back upon its initiators, by systematically countering lies with truth. The point of this necessarily brief contribution is to sound a warning against too much focus on any one segment of the spectrum of potential threats. When the Cold War ended and especially after the September 11 attacks, there was serious talk about an end to state-versus-state warfare. Everything in future was to be focused on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism.

Now the pendulum has swung back to state-based threats in cyberspace and indeed in space itself. These are, indeed, new threats. Often they are described as ‘21st Century threats’ – and rightly so. Yet, that does not mean that more familiar, and in some cases more lethal ‘20th Century’ threats have disappeared. The reason why the ‘Modernising Defence Programme’ had to split away the Defence element from the 2018 ‘National Security Capability Review’ was that the NSCR was declared to be “fiscally neutral”, so that every extra pound spent on countering threats in cyberspace, for example, would mean one pound less spent on the Royal Navy, Army or RAF. In that case, the main target was the world-class amphibious capability of the Royal Marines and their assault ships Albion and Bulwark.]*

As I have already in the past expressed doubts about the wisdom of holding strategic reviews of this sort in public, I will spend the remaining short period of time posing a few questions about the intelligence aspects. I would like to know from the Government:

  • Whether Defence Intelligence, in particular, will have the necessary agility and breadth to meet the newer threats on the spectrum. 
  • Can some detail on the operation of the National Cyber Force announced at the end of last year be provided in the context of the review? 
  • Will adequate investment be made in UK capability to operate in the so-called grey zone of disinformation and influence operations, which can be contained but are difficult to deter? 
  • Will such investments be funded by additional resources and not be at the expense of conventional capabilities needed to counter hard-power threats elsewhere on the spectrum? 
  • Finally, if the fusion doctrine set out in the national security capability review continues to move elements of national security policy into Government Departments not traditionally involved in such work, will parliamentary oversight of those national security elements be facilitated, and will my Committee be able to do its job in that respect?

[NOTE: The two paragraphs in square brackets at * were omitted from the speech delivered, in order to meet the 4-minute time limit on each speaker in this Debate.]