This blog has pointed out that European nations can hardly expect to be taken seriously on issues of Asian security and defence unless they have a greater military presence there. This may be about to change.
British Chief of the Defence Staff (General Sir David Richards) spoke on 17 December 2012 at RUSI (full text here, or watch him here), and let slip a detail on the future of the British Army that is of interest for those concerned with European involvement in Asian Security. Speaking of the future shape of the British Army, he described ‘adaptable brigades’ to sustain enduring operations and routinely develop partnerships and knowledge around the world, specifying that:
“In Africa, brigades would be tasked to support key allies in the east, west and south whilst another might be given an Indian Ocean and SE Asian focus, allowing for much greater involvement in the FPDA, for example”.
FPDA refers to the Five Powers Defence Agreement between the UK, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore whereby the five states will consult each other in the event of external aggression or threat of attack against Peninsular Malaysia (East Malaysia is not included as part of the area of responsibilities under the FPDA) or Singapore.
Gen. Richards gives a bit of strategic context for this proposal of ‘adaptable brigades’. It seems to be based on the idea that our security cannot be territorially isolated, so we need global presence to generate hard and soft power combinations. At least this is what I read into the following extract:
“9/11, and the 7/7 bombings in London show that we cannot choose our battlefields as we once did.
The world is not a safer place and the distinction between home and abroad is strategically obsolete. Today it is part of a continuum.
We cannot just stand by and hope we are ignored and danger passes us by. A
s the Foreign Secretary said in September last year: “the country that is purely reactive in foreign affairs is in decline”.
Responses may be based on either soft or hard power, but to divorce the two is strategic blindness. Soft power is not a substitute for strength. On the contrary, it is often based on the credible threat of force, either to support a friend or deter an enemy. Hard power and soft power are intertwined.
It is not enough to provide aid or speak kindly. Our friends want to know we are there when it counts, not just fair-weather friends. This is the confidence hard power brings. It drives equipment sales and thus industrial growth, as well as diplomatic treaties, just as it has for centuries. But hard power also does more than this: it dissuades.”
It is logical, it is consistent with UK Foreign Policy initiatives, and it implies something new: that there will be a British hard power presence in Asia again.