NICHOLAS SOAMES'S SPEECH IN DEBATE ON DEFENCE AND SECURITY REVIEW (NATO)

Ministry of Defence
Debate on Defence and Security Review (NATO)
Monday 2nd, March 2015 
House of Commons
 
Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): May I start by warmly congratulating the Chair of the Defence Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), on what I thought was a masterly speech, both in detail and in content, and with which I agree entirely?
 
I think I can leave out the stuff about how we all agree that defence and security is the most important responsibility of any Government, because we all know that is the case and, by and large, we all agree on it, but the character of conflict has changed profoundly and new threats have arisen. As we look to the future and prepare for it over the next several years, we really must prepare ourselves to meet some very different challenges.
 
As in any other area of our public obligation, if we have a strong economy—and we do—that will enable us to build strong armed forces and obtain the structure we need. There is absolutely no point pretending that it would be sensible, wise, prudent or in the national interest not to commit to spending the 2% target. Indeed, I would go further and say that failing to do so would be a terrible slur on Britain’s honour.
 
The question of the threat is quite clear. Threat consists of capability and intent. So what threatens us, our way of life and our prosperity? The world wars and the cold war of the 20th century were waged between states or by sponsored surrogates. They defined our capabilities. The emerging challenges of the 21st century that threaten us, our way of life and our prosperity are not so much Médecins sans Frontières, but Menace sans Frontières. They are transnational forces such as fascist theocracies, little green men, organised crime and cyber-anarchism, and they are not defining our defence capabilities; they are merely defining our attention—and a short attention span it is, too—while our political and public intent is watered down and neutered, since today, alas, perception is reality.
 
The world is increasingly connected—iPads, iPhones, the internet and social media—but it is not at all well informed. The power of propaganda, mischief and misinformation allows faceless entities to shape the debate and, alas, our will. Our current narrative, I regret to say, is clumsy, outdated and thoroughly outmatched.
 
This last century we sought capability dominance that would overmatch our enemies, and in the round we achieved it. This century has already demonstrated possible enemies who have successfully achieved capability avoidance and are moving our best defences rapidly towards capability irrelevance. For example, strategic deterrence kept the world from war for 40 years because it deterred. Today the threat of use in North Korea and even the threat of ownership in Iran allows small nations to gain great leverage with tactical capabilities, whether real or perceived. Frankly, neither country is seriously deterred by our strategic forces, and the future holds every possibility of small-scale tactical nuclear use.
 
The operating environment has shifted from one of near certainty, in the cold war, to a period of uncertainty, in the war on terror, and it will move further left towards the unknown. In that space, investment in people and technology, with genuine blue-sky thinking and leading-edge research and development, will be absolutely essential while maximizing our existing equipment and capabilities through innovative integration. Colossus and Ultra shortened the second world war by two years. Who foresaw and invested in those as war weapons in 1939? Our universities and science laboratories provided the knowledge and advancement that allowed us rapidly to blend national expertise to defeat Germany. I recommend that anyone who has not yet seen the “Churchill’s Scientists” exhibition at the Science museum to do so. Today, robotics, advanced computer studies, telematics, teleonomics and bioscience offer the same, but they are not seen or really much supported by defence.
 
We must express the new defence challenge in terms that people can understand. There is of course a need to have contingent forces capable of operating to the old threat of war or proxy war, but that should not be the main effort. The present challenges require us to prepare for how we anticipate them to evolve, using current capabilities adapted and integrated for best use in the near term.
 
The future threats to our country are truly wicked, and they continue to evolve and challenge us. Investment in people and advanced science, in close collaboration with our closest and most reliable ally in this field—the United States—should determine the course that defence must now take.