West urged to 'hold its nerve'
The UK and its Western allies should "brace themselves" for the possibility of worsening security crises and must hold their "collective nerve" in facing future threats from the Middle East and Russia, a leading defence expert said.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, a research director at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) defence think tank and a government security adviser, believes the UK's ability to maintain its "favourable strategic position" faces a level of strain "not seen since the end of the Cold War".
In a paper exploring the options facing the government as it formulates the National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) later this year, Prof Chalmers urged that the UK should strengthen its partnerships with Europe and North America.
The government should focus on six principles when considering its security strategies, he argued - the UK being a "force for order"; helping to build peace in the wider Middle East; contributing to the deterrence of Russia; and being cautious about the UK becoming a "military pivot" to Asia.
He also proposed that the UK should maintain a "broad spectrum" force and invest in quality, even if that is at the expense of "mass"; and developing a new approach to Nato "burden-sharing".
Prof Chalmers said: "Together with its Western allies, (the UK) is facing multiple challenges from rising levels of instability and conflict across the wider Middle East, increasing levels of Russian assertiveness in its European neighbourhood and the possible implications of the continuing rise of Chinese economic power.
"Not least, the extended after-effects of the financial crisis mean that political developments in Nato and EU member states (including in the UK itself) could themselves be a source of geostrategic risk."
To respond to these crises, the UK and its allies should continue to be the "key anchor" around which international order is maintained, while at the same time building new partnerships needed to respond to the "continuing shift of global economic power towards Asia".
Prof Chalmers said: " Most of all, the UK needs to work to maintain and strengthen the European partnerships on which its security and prosperity depends.
"The grand strategy which it adopted in the 1940s, anchored on a community of fate between the countries of Europe and North America, remains the right one for the country today."
Those wanting a return to nationalism and the fragmentation of European institutions remain "on the fringes of politics", he said, and that as long as that position remains the prospects of the UK coming through this "difficult period" are good.
Prof Chalmers said policy makers will have to strike the right balance between "national protective capabilities" and the UK's contribution to international peace and security, a judgement which will impact on the kind of military the UK chooses to maintain.
And he called for a "mature burden-sharing debate within Nato" responsibilities, and for member states to be obliged to take part in significant Nato operations, with each country's contribution being "sensitive" to its own national situation.
He said: "For the UK, the size of its defence budget, together with its broader geo-political aspirations, means that it is able to make a more potent and flexible contribution to Nato than any other single European country (though France runs it close).
"With its resources limited, however, the next SDSR will need to ensure that effort is focused in those areas where they are needed most, not least in those where there are few other European states able or willing to help."