Opinion: A more realistic approach to Defence policy

defenceThe Liberal Democrat Working Group on Defence came out last month with its policy paper “Defending the Future: UK Defence in the 21st Century”. Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats made a detailed submission – praised by members of the working group – which also shows some alternative paths for the party’s defence policy. We suggest it is well worth a read before the party’s new defence policy motion comes up for debate at this Autumn’s party conference.

The Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats’ paper calls for a more thought-through, long-term and realistic strategic approach by the Government, including defining more precisely Britain’s role in the world, a reform of security and defence-related institutions, the constant update of the threat assessment, the creation of out-of-area alliances to share military burden, ways for less expensive procurement, the capacity to regenerate of military forces quickly in time of war – and much more.

One of the issues is that – for better or for worse – we believe that nuclear deterrence will continue to play an important role in the security of our realm. Although the Cold War ended a generation ago, the world has not become a safer place, nor has the threat from nuclear weapons to Britain and Europe gone away. Countries that do not have the same values as ours either continue to have nuclear weapons or are busy trying to acquire them. Russia is modernizing its very large nuclear arsenal and delivery means. Iran’s ballistic missile capability can already reach the outer edges of the European Union and – if it goes nuclear – has the potential to lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, impacting heavily on European security.

Other non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction are also being produced, including the capability to weaponise outer space. The United States is less committed to Europe’s defence than it used to be. As the only other European country with a nuclear deterrent, France needs to be involved more in our thinking. All these facts cannot be ignored, especially as the world becomes increasingly unstable and Europe continues to lose its military advantage.

The creation of a significant British cyber warfare capability is long overdue and might even – in the very long term – be able to replace the nuclear deterrent. It would, by its very nature, be non-nuclear; easily well hidden by being dispersible; non-lethal if desired; and escalatory rather than solely a weapon of final resort. The development of such a capability would also be highly beneficial to maintaining the competitive high tech edge of British industry.

We need to have explored all avenues to have an effective defence policy which is credible to our electorate. Otherwise our defence policy will be used against us by other political parties especially in the lead up to the 2015 British General election. We need to be wiser than that. The Lib Dems should set up a permanent group of experts with defence and security experience from within its ranks to develop our policy further and promote it with confidence to the British electorate.

* George Cunningham is Chair of the Lib Dems Abroad Steering Committee Twitter: @GFCunningham

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Let’s start with a commitment that Britain will stop attacking other people’s countries.

  • A Social Liberal 27th Aug '13 - 5:48pm

    Well said Jedi

  • A Social Liberal 27th Aug '13 - 5:57pm


    Your link to the paper goes instead to the BELD

  • Tony Faithfull-Wrigh 27th Aug '13 - 7:40pm

    Well said Chris, it’s time Europe had it’s own mind on intervention or military actions abroad.
    The time has come to cut the apron strings attached to the US Government. For too many years we have been tainted with the meddling mess’s of the US.
    Europe should have it’s own multi-national Air,Sea and land force. And develop a European nuclear deterrent.
    We have successfully worked together on many projects, this would be to all our mutual benefits.

  • Tony I agree wholeheartedly.

  • George Cunningham 17th Sep '13 - 12:04am

    The weblinks do work. They link to my article about our submission on the BELD website. At the bottom of that short article is the link to the submission itself, which is clearly highlighted. Have a read. It’s wider in scope than the working group report (except the welfare of the armed forces where the working group hasdone a great job ).

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