the UK's Interests?
95. Interests are not of course always consistent,
and may even be contradictory. One problem is to distinguish between
direct and indirect threats to UK interests. In addition to consequences
that are felt directly by the UK as a result of an upheaval at
some other part of the world, the effects of external events may
also be mediated through their immediate impact on other countries.
The UK may not be in the line of fire but if allies and partners
are hurt, then it might suffer as well. As the Minister of State
at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said, for example
In terms of why Kosovo matters
to Britain, I think it is clear that there is no direct and immediate
threat to Britain's own national security from the situation in
Kosovo, but that there is a generalised threat to the security
For a state that has invested so much over the twentieth
century in building up collective approaches to security problems,
this is a significant consideration, as the SDR makes clear.
But it is not only the security of Europe, in its widest sense
that is at risk in Kosovo. So too is the credibility of NATO in
its newly developing role, and so too is the effectiveness of
the United Nations.
96. It may be too much to have expected the SDR to
define categories of interests sharply, but it might have been
hoped that it would give some clearer guide to a set of criteria
against which instabilities in other parts of the world may be
judged against the key question whether or not this country is
in a position to respond in a significant way. Our military capabilities
and current commitments will, of course, be a decisive factor
in any such choice.
97. In general we define our vital interests, the
defence of which are considered to be inescapable commitments,
by reference to territorial integrity and constitutional independence,
and the freedoms associated with democratic government and, to
a lesser extent, an open economy. Risks which threaten these vital
interests constitute a short list of scenarios: a resurgent and
seriously aggressive Russia; an assertive, crisis-prone China
picking fights with its major neighbours;
a country able to place the United Kingdom within range of nuclear-
or chemical-tipped ballistic missiles; a terrorist group, perhaps
covertly state-supported, sufficiently motivated and competent
to carry out a sustained campaign within Britain possibly using
nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, that effectively destabilises
large sectors of society.
98. There are other fundamental interests which,
unlike those vital interests outlined above, are not immutablethough
they may change only slowly. Those fundamental interests might
be defined as those which would justify a national mobilisation
of resources to pursue or protect them. The country may even go
to war for the sake of such interests. For example, the government
appears to define the North Atlantic Alliance as one such interest,
since it is a means of securing our national defencewhich
is a vital interest.
The coherence of civil society, continuity in constitutional practice
and the maintenance of the rule of law are similarly fundamental
interests, but by and large their protection requires policies
to ensure that laws are enforced, that most people most of the
time can go about their business without fear or disruption, and
that there are no extraordinary inhibitions on the conduct of
when non-constitutional means to political ends are followed,
as in the case of the IRA and other para-militaries, then this
represents an instability which does threaten these interests,
and for the protection of which we may deploy military means,
although policing will, in most circumstances, be the preferable
solution to the military approach in the first instance. Even
where the latter course is adopted, political solutions still
need to be sought and encouraged rather than ignored.
99. Internal instabilities in other states have the
potential to affect the UK's fundamental interests, even if only
some countries, criminal syndicates, a local mafia perhaps with
international links, represent a direct challenge to the state.
One of the consequences of instability in the Central and Eastern
Europe and the Former Soviet Union has been to create new criminal
groupings with considerable wealth and potential influence. In
states unable to resist such groupings a cycle of decline may
develop, with power shifting from legal to illegal organisations
and with politicians, police forces and the military becoming
corrupted. The SDR implies that international criminal groupings,
benefiting from weak home states in which they can establish themselves,
will increasingly be seen to represent a substantial, insidious
security challenge which has the potential to destabilise governments,
exacerbate regional conflicts and which represent a challenge
to the authority of the international order.
Nonetheless, less emphasis appears to have been placed in the
UK than in the USA on asymmetric threats that can arise for the
kind of reasons we discuss elsewhere in this report.
100. There was a time when the British identity was
so bound up with the imperial mission, that its expansion and
preservation was seen as a truly vital interest. We sought to
establish whether the defence of the remaining UK Overseas Territories
is an example of an interest that may no longer be regarded as
inescapable. Both the international mood and the strategic climate
have changed since the 1950s to render the remaining Territories
a mixture of areas for which we feel a moral responsibility and
in some cases where we have a usefulif not vitalstrategic
asset. The Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
made clear that the position of Gibraltar was non-negotiable
as did the Secretary of State for Defence,
who confirmed the same position in relation to the Falklands.
The Minister of State also described our obligations to the other
Overseas Territories as being on a par with those owed to "Greater
London or any other part of the United Kingdom".
The SDR states that, 'we face no significant military threat to
any of our Overseas Territories',
and the Supporting Essays categorise 'threats to Overseas
Territories' as one of the 'lesser risks' specifically for which
'we would not expect to maintain additional forces or capabilities
...' While, the
main thrust of policy in relation to the Overseas Territories
will presumably continue to be helping them, like other small
but independent nations, find 'local solutions' to local problems,
we should not forget the lessons of the Falklands Conflict. The
unconditional guarantee of security to all the UK's Overseas Territories
is a significant potential military commitment.
101. The relationship of the UK with its Overseas
Territories should, however, include an element of mutual obligation,
and where Overseas Territories allow themselves to become homes
for gangsters or their money, or where their political systems
clearly fail to pass the tests of democratic accountability and
respect for human rights, they might be pressed to recognise that
they risk forfeiting any security guarantees. The Foreign Affairs
Committee urged that the new government
... demonstrate its commitment
to the inhabitants of the Dependent Territories and to the rule
of law and good government in those Territories.
102. In general external instabilities do not threaten
the UK's access to food, fuel and raw materials. Either we have
the potential to be self-sufficient, or the alternative sources
of supply are so various that a cartel could not be effectively
established nor a transportation route effectively disrupted.
As the SDR recognises, the one exception here is oil and the sensitivity
of the oil market in general to potential closures of the pipelines
and sea routes out of the Gulf.
103. The sources of instability that affect our fundamental
interests, therefore, are often driven more by how we, our allies
and partners choose to react to particular crises, rather than
the crises themselves. The UK has the choice to disengage from
the crises presently besetting Europe. And yet the fact that the
UK does not disengage from such crises is evidence of the
importance of the more indirect and abstract interests mentioned
above; such crises are a risk to the UK's fundamental interests
because they threaten the central assumptions of Europe's, and
the world's, post-1945 security structures.
104. There are, nonetheless, many issues in which
the UK may have a legitimate interest but which it does not pursue
in any substantive way because the costs are simply disproportionate.
The UK may have a capacity to 'make a difference', but no vital
or fundamental interests are seen to be at stake. For example,
there have been a number of instances of instability in Africa
leading to great suffering and calls for humanitarian action.
But as the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
... peacekeeping in Africa
is not about making friends. It is about making sure there is
a capacity for action to be taken where peace is jeopardised ...
we work very hard ... in ... African states to allow them to respond
directly to crises ... it is very unlikely that there would be
direct military action by Britain in the event of conflict breaking
out in Southern Africa, so in terms of effective action ... a
local response is the rational and credible one, Britain playing
[a] role to build that capacity is a sensible way of approaching
As the experience of Bosnia shows, it should always
be borne in mind that the very act of introducing British forces
into a situation transforms any crisis from the UK's perspective
into something more fundamental, because, if nothing else, the
safety and reputation of the UK's Armed Forces are then at stake.
105. Instabilities relevant to the UK's concerns
come in all shapes and sizes, from regional flashpoints, to domestic
crises in other societiesincluding those of our developed
partners to those threats which are more complicated than
dangerous because they have the power to create rows among allies,
to global developments arising from the growth of modern technology
and communications. In the present world in which political power
cannot always contain the effects of social and market forces,
political change is occurring very rapidly. There appears to be
a proliferation of the sources of instability. Though any of these
risks might develop into a threat to the UK's interests, the country
has for the foreseeable future a considerable amount of discretion
about how vigorously it tries to guard against these developments.
The SDR is taking place in a generally favourable environment
for Britain, but if the government wants the UK to 'make a difference'
in the world, then the Armed Forces will have to be capable of
responding to threats to a range of marginal interests, and some
more fundamental or vital ones, over a number of years. We consider
some of these risks to the UK's 'interests' in more detail below
223 Essay 2, para