No UK Strategy in a Post EU Britain

31 Jul

…nor is strategy – despite the beliefs of George Bush and Jack Straw to the contrary – a synonym for policy.” (Professor Sir Hew Strachan, page 27, ‘On the Direction of War’ Cambridge University Press, 2014)

This short piece for Fromoverhere is based largely on a commentary sent to the Defence, Constitutional Affairs and National Security Strategy Parliamentary Committees as published on the DefenceSynergia website.


The United Kingdom (UK) has voted to leave the European Union (EU) which in turn has precipitated a change in Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) with the appointment of a new Prime Minister (PM) and Ministerial team. The UK’s EU and international allies, and enemies alike, are searching for clarity, if not advantage, from this paradigm shift in British Foreign Policy.

Therefore, it is difficult to imagine a more propitious time for UK ‘Grand Strategy’ to be articulated than now. Yet the indications are, that, as UK moves towards the EU exit, the process may be more fraught than need be simply because all departments of state ­ and it will require all departments of state to make EU Exit work coherently ­ have no clear idea what the national strategic aim is; only that the PM’s stated policy is to facilitate ‘Exit’.

So, for example, the final date for UK to formally leave the EU is dependent upon the date selected to initiate Article 50 of the EU Treaty, and the latter is uncertain. This situation has already lead to some departments of state not speaking with a single voice on the issue. The PM, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor envision a date when ‘the country is ready’ ‘there is no rush’ and the Secretary of State for EU Exit has stated that it should be ‘as early as possible’; indeed, across Europe opinion is divided. Yet no one in authority in the UK seems to be asking the question “what articulated national interest should we be working towards?” As Professor Rosa Brooks once told an audience in the United States of America (USA), “if you don’t know where you are going any road will do. This may have been okay for the Cheshire Cat but it is no way to conduct foreign policy”.

Grand Strategy and the National Interest

The objections of the recently departed PM, Mr Cameron, to fully articulate UK Grand Strategy in documentary form has been well trailed, therefore, his vision for Britain was never translated into higher level written policy for all Departments of State to follow. Indeed, a former minister of state in the Cabinet Office, Oliver Letwin, is on record as saying that he was a coordinator of policy, not strategy. However, the new PM has a duty (and a window of opportunity) to ensure that all her departments of state are focused on the same aims – her vision for Britain – by articulating her Grand Strategic Narrative and providing her Secretaries of State and Ministers, indeed the public and international community more widely, with a clear road map for the UK post­EU Exit. Such a course will provide a cohesive rationale for UK diplomacy and help to define an EU exit timetable calibrated to meet articulated national interests, rather than allowing UK Strategy to be dictated by events, or worse, becoming an uncontrollable hostage to fortune.

Therefore, now is the right time for HMG to rethink UK aims, doctrine and policy and put in place structures and mechanisms that can create a dynamic, and dare one say, optimistic, Strategy, having at its core UK domestic and international interests in a post­EU Britain. Underpinning these strategic assumptions must be our joint national and international security interests and the crucial interlinking role that UK foreign policy aspirations, HM Armed Forces, and industrial wealth creating base play in ensuring continued security and prosperity for the nation. And, as international markets rate UK as an important world player ­ even if some of our politicians err on the side of ‘hang on to nurse for fear of something worse’ ­ the wider international community will require a level of positive reassurance and certainty from UK if BREXIT global jitters are to be quelled in the short term.

Such a Strategy will define for all Departments of State, the nation and international community more broadly, the desired Destination (Aims), Direction (Policy) and Enablers (Resources) required in a post­EU Britain. An approach that is desperately required to settle international political and market nerves by offering clarity and certainty as to the thrust of UK’s future direction of travel. In summary, the determination of UK to articulate its Strategy to capitalise on, and grow, a flexible and robust economy whilst remaining internationally engaged and focused on reinforcing already established positions as a key global player and leader in international stabilisation, commerce and diplomacy.

Read the full commentary here.

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