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International Defence Engagement Strategy

Volume 558: debated on Thursday 7 February 2013

I am making a joint statement with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Together we wish to inform the House that the Government are today publishing the “International Defence Engagement Strategy”. Implementing this new strategy will maximise the contribution that defence can make towards the achievement of our foreign policy objectives.

The national security strategy and strategic defence and security review (SDSR) in 2010 set out our goal to bring together and use all the instruments of national power in a co-ordinated and coherent manner, ensuring that the sum of our efforts to safeguard our security, extend our influence, and build our prosperity is bigger than its component parts.

The international defence engagement strategy sets out how defence assets and activities fit within this goal, and how they can better contribute to wider Government objectives. It looks out over a horizon of 20 years to identify both the major risks that we will face and opportunities that we will have.

In implementing this strategy we will use our network of defence attachés and other defence representation overseas, together with our diplomatic network and the Defence and Security Organisation of UK Trade & Investment, to ensure that we are developing the right relationships and achieving the right influence for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

On occasion, we will cement these relationships in the form of a treaty, as we did with France in 2010. But the influence we can achieve through defence engagement goes far broader than this. This strategy therefore includes traditional defence diplomacy activity of senior-level visits and international defence training; Ministry of Defence contributions to regional stability, conflict prevention and stabilisation activities; security and non-combat operations; and MOD support for defence and security exports. The scope of this strategy is ambitious and it will be implemented in conjunction with other related Government initiatives, such as the building stability overseas strategy, the Gulf initiative and the emerging powers initiative. The implementation of the international defence engagement strategy will build on existing relationships and on work already under way, but we will also be making some significant advances in the development of our relationships with some states.

We have already taken steps to ensure that we use our defence engagement to promote our values through contributing to the institutional capability of other nations. We will have an accredited non-resident defence attaché for Burma next month and will establish a defence section in our Embassy in Rangoon later this year. The Burmese Government have taken some very positive and welcome steps towards reform which we should assist. The Burmese military continues to play an influential role in government, so we will use military to military dialogue where we can, complementing diplomatic and development efforts, to encourage reform and support democracy. During her meeting with the Prime Minister in June 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi specifically recommended the appointment of a defence attaché to Burma as a key channel for engagement with the Burmese military.

We are increasing our efforts to support security and justice sector reform and capacity building, which contribute to regional peace and security. We will be opening a defence section in our embassy in Libya this year. During the transition in Libya we established a defence advisory team to assist the national transitional council in developing their organisational and planning capacity. This team has remained in place post-conflict, to support the democratically elected General National Congress. The defence section will build on relationships established by them. Also, we have recently established a defence section in Juba in South Sudan. We are working alongside other Government Departments to assist this newly independent state to establish national institutions and implement security and justice reform, contributing to regional security in a relatively unstable region.

Similarly, when the British embassy is opened in Mogadishu this year we will be establishing a defence section there, enabling us to provide a greater focus for our support to the Government of Somalia and to AMISOM, the African Union force in Somalia, as they make progress in driving out al-Shabaab. Importantly, taking advantage of our transition from combat operations in Afghanistan and the resulting increase in available forces, we are exploring innovative ways of using some army capabilities on a wide range of defence engagement tasks and intend to pilot this as the army restructures its adaptable brigades. We will exploit our recent operational experience, develop our capabilities, our cultural understanding and language training, and demonstrate our commitment and support for our allies and partners including the UN, NATO and EU.

We recognise the importance of developing our bilateral relationships with emerging powers—nations we see as growing long-term partners in regional and global defence and security issues. The international defence engagement strategy allows us to focus our efforts, and as examples of this over the last two years we have signed defence co-operation and defence technical arrangements with Japan, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Turkey and Brazil. Supporting our Gulf initiative and security in the middle east region we have intensified defence co-operation across the region and we are increasing our training and exercise activity with Gulf nations throughout 2013.

We are continuing to develop our bilateral relationships more broadly, and have recently signed defence co-operation agreements or memoranda of understanding with Canada, Norway, Denmark and Mongolia. Since the SDSR in October 2010, the UK has signed no fewer than seven new defence treaties and over 50 new memoranda of understanding and other subordinate agreements which contribute to our network of international alliances and partnerships in line with the vision set out in the SDSR. The most recent new agreement is a defence co-operation treaty with Australia, signed in Perth on 18 January 2013. This will see our two nations co-operating on a range of defence-related topics such as cyber security, defence reform, personnel exchanges, equipment and science and technology.

We are deepening our relationships with long-standing allies.

The United States will remain our pre-eminent security partner, and our armed forces continue to work closely together operationally. The UK currently stations over 750 British defence personnel in the US, conducting a broad variety of activities. These include a wide range of senior personnel serving in advisory or command positions in US headquarters. Approximately 200 British officers are on exchange with all four of the US services, developing capability and increasing interoperability. As close allies the US and UK host each other’s forces in order to conduct training, be prepared to forward-deploy when necessary, and in many cases conduct current operations. In November 2012 alone over 500 UK military personnel visited the US to conduct a joint exercise with US counterparts.

We are pursuing a programme of enhanced bilateral defence co-operation, focusing on areas of mutual benefit such as carrier-strike, cyber, space, land forces interoperability, science and technology, defence education, intelligence and the nuclear deterrent. These will be progressed through regular strategic dialogue at the most senior levels, supported by a reorganised British defence staff, United States.

Following our signature of the UK-French defence co-operation treaty in 2010 we have been increasing our bilateral defence activity with France. In spring last year we established the British defence staff in France in Paris. We set up five new strategic exchange officer posts with France in September 2012 and will establish a further five posts by 2015. We are increasing our joint exercises. This was exemplified by the Corsican Lion exercise last October, building towards the final validation of the concept of the combined joint expeditionary force in 2016. Our ambassador in Paris, Sir Peter Ricketts, has been consulted during the preparation of the French livre blanc security review and has offered advice drawing on the UK experience during our 2010 strategic defence and security review (SDSR).

We have rewired the existing defence attaché presence in Europe to establish three “networks” covering the Nordic/Baltic, central Europe and the western Balkans which will enable us to have a more strategic approach. We will also work increasingly closely with our northern European neighbours through the Northern Group of 12 nations established at UK’s initiative in 2010 to improve understanding on common security issues and identify opportunities for enhanced co-operation.

Recognising the importance of international defence engagement to wider Government objectives, on current plans we have reprioritised our existing budgets to dedicate a further £2.5 million in 2012-13 for this purpose. From 2013-14 this reprioritisation will enable a further £3.5 million on top of existing resources to be available to pursue these activities, for the four years of the defence planning cycle.

In such a cross-cutting area of work it is important to ensure that we have clarity of governance. We have therefore established a new high-level defence engagement board which will consult with and take guidance from Foreign and Commonwealth Office and MOD Ministers, the National Security Council and the National Security Adviser, and provide updates to them. It is jointly chaired at director-general level by FCO and MOD, and includes membership from across Whitehall.

We have deposited a copy of the strategy in the Library of the House. It is also available on the FCO and MOD websites.