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In this article we shall explore the suitability of Defence Policy in the 21st Century by considering its design, application and relevance in todays modern era. But before we begin it is worth considering what Policy actually is and what is means for organisations?

Policy, according to the Oxford English dictionary is; ‘A course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organization or individual’ – very succinct and well put. In the case of businesses Policy could be expressed as ‘rules and principles which guide an organizations activities’.

Policy is implemented everyday throughout the armed services and should be inherent within everything the armed services does; like a stick of seaside rock the ‘rules and principles’ which guide our armed services should run through all of their activities and be present at any point throughout the various segments of the organisation as Policy should be inherent in everything and anything we do. In corporations and businesses, Policy is the byproduct of the senior management teams’ analysis of the organizations external environment and internal situation. What we mean by this (in a nutshell) is that those in the most senior positions would assess the future of the organisation by identifying where the future of the organisation lies (according to market needs and future trends) and then reflect upon the organisation’ internal factors such as its personnel (quantity, skill-sets, demographics, experiences etc.) along with the existing processes (the various activities the organisation conducts along with the methods it adopts to exercise its actions) and its equipment, systems and past performance. The characteristics of these ‘internal’ factors are then assessed against the aforementioned future needs of the organisation. This results in what is known as ‘Strategy’ being developed which details how the particular organisation is going to utilise and / or amend its internal factors (people, processes, system etc.) in order to continue meeting its current needs whilst also adapting to meet expected future needs. However, as history has proved; we can have the best Strategy in the world but without good Policy our people can often misplace their efforts – hence the need to have those all-important principles which guide the actions of our organisation on a day-to-day basis throughout its entire structure – like the stick of seaside rock!

But, taking us back into the MOD and armed services; Policy in the Defence industry is often identified in a cyclic, pre-determined period. For example; in the case of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review a series of principles and guiding actions / intentions were identified for the coming five years (i.e. the Defence Policy) as a byproduct of the ‘Strategic’ review of our nations Defence and Security needs.

However, is a Policy lasting five years suitable in the 21st century?  Let’s consider some factors which could influence Defence Policy on an emergent, daily basis: Politics – not just national politics, but international politics. With so many political uncertainties across the globe the emerging and changing needs of our capabilities to protect and secure our national assets and international interests will continually evolve. And how about society and the continually changing opinions of people in the 21st century – information is so readily available via so many means that ideas can be readily shared and opinions easily influenced on a global scale. One only has to be reminded of the widely available web-content which influences people to join terror organisations. And of course there is technology – with its continual advancement providing various enhancements and capabilities, not just for Great Britain or it allies but also our existing and emerging threats whom will adapt and modify the use of technologies on a continual basis, thus continually evolving their capabilities and the threat they pose to the Defence and Security of our nation. An example here would be the continual research and development of certain nations or regimes chemical and biological weapons programs resulting in new found methods for their application and enhancing the effects of exposure.

The question is; does a five (or so) year Policy really enable due consideration for factors such as these to be taken aboard and adequately considered in the Defence Policy making process? And how would such a resulting Policy enable our armed forces to effectively and efficiently manage such uncertainties and emerging threats? One solution is to identify, create and implement a Defence Policy which enables a greater degree of flexibility so as not to restrict or narrow the perspective of emerging threats and thus cater for uncertainties and eventualities. Though this approach would also rely upon a large degree of autonomy in the decision making of our top brass and the availability of equipment, personnel and other resources being readily available to enable our armed services to deal with such threats. However, one of the significant risks associated with such an approach is the lack of clearly defined principles and guidance which underpins Policy which would likely result in poorly coordinated effort across the armed services at various levels due to the lack of understanding and coordinated approach to exercising Policy on a day-to-day basis.

Another potential solution would be to revise Policy more frequently. However, this answer doesn’t seem practical because as discussed earlier; Policy is coupled with organisational Strategy which is the byproduct of an assessment of the internal people, processes and equipment required to meet current requirements and adapt to meeting future needs. Therefore, how could the MOD manage such rapid organisational change to suit rapid Policy change? The answer is that it couldn’t effectively do so, and neither could any other organisation I know of which is of comparative size and complexity as that of the MOD and armed forces. This potential solution would most definitely be a struggle to manage the balance required to successfully maintain both current and future operational capability requirements, and no amount of money would be able to provide an adequate fix to enable this solution to be effective.

The answer is that we need to identify a suitable balance between the two options, which is what our country’s Strategic Defence and Security Reviews aim to achieve. In the 21st century, almost any organisation faces the rapid emerging changes to its political, technological, sociological or financial (etc.) influences and the MOD and armed services are no exception. The only differences are the obvious considerations such as the MOD and armed services not being profit making organizations and serving a vast array of unique purposes in theatres across the world on a parallel basis whereas not every organisation is required to perform such breadth and depth of activities. Therefore, one must assume that the key to ensuring the effectiveness in future UK Defence Policy is to identify a Policy which enables a degree of flexibility balanced with clearly defined principles and guidance – which is a tall order indeed! And also, to ensure the future and emerging needs of the MOD and armed services are well identified and assessed, as without the Strategy being right; the Policy isn’t either, and without the Policy being right; the Strategy is ill-fated. A great deal of planning, consideration and a structured approach is needed to identify, design and implement effective Strategy and Defence Policy, and to get these right; we must take our time not to rush the process. If there was any ‘hard and fast’ way to identify, design and implement Defence Policy than I am certain it would be costly in the medium to long-term due to the unsustainability of the solutions the Policy would provide. And let’s face reality: Defence is an issue not to be taken lightly, and the decision making processes associated with identifying, designing and implementing our nations Defence Policy shouldn’t be rushed to satisfy any short-term needs, whether they be of operational or financial in nature.

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