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UNITED KINGDOM (Paul Cornish)
Summary

The United Kingdom’s strategic culture is consistent with descriptive and contextual
understandings of strategic culture, and in a lesser manner with the instrumental one. However,
in the UK, strategy is most influenced by not having a fully-fledged strategic culture. The British
national strategic process is in the form of strategic culture giving way to strategic initiative.
The level of ambition of the UK is disproportionate to the medium-ranking economic and
military power status it currently holds. The gap between rhetoric and reality is wide and it is
most obvious in the National Security Strategy from 2010 where the national interest entails
maintaining the British influence on the international arena with few limits. In the incumbent
Coalition Government’s opinion defence and security are intertwined, a reflection found in the
ongoing cohesion of the NSS and the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review), as well.
Objectively, the Defence Planning Assumptions (DPAs) suggest that the UK’s armed forces will
be smaller and less capable than envisaged in the SDSR as a direct consequence of the status quo
– economic reality and military reality do not affect the level of ambition of the country.
In terms of the scope of action of the Executive, the royal prerogative acting - in the form
of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet - is being challenged from three directions. The ability to
declare war and deploy forces without backing or consent from the Parliament is affected by the
sheer complexity of the government in the UK. In order to elaborate on the NSS only, a serious
number of institutions, agencies and ministries collaborated, alleviating the monopoly held by
the Cabinet thus far. The second challenge comes in the form of the developing transparency of
the national strategic process, with strategies and acts reviewed and renewed on a regular basis
and several contributors to both the NSS and the SDSR, for instance. Thirdly, the royal
prerogative is to come to an end by means of having its power placed on a statutory footing, with
increasing Parliamentary oversight (i.e. the Iraq intervention in March 2003). Still, for now, in
matters of national security strategy and policy-making, the scope of action for the executive
remains extensive.
The same goes for the family policy orientation where the United Kingdom consistently
considers itself a respected stakeholder worldwide through its vision of a traditional great trader
(though numbers have decreased in the past years) and of a blossoming post-colonial state (by
means of the Commonwealth, Occupied Territories and such). The UK maintains the tradition of
its special relationship with the United States (currently under scrutiny and debates) which
greatly determines the vision towards NATO and the EU’s security and defence posture. The
support for NATO is unconditional whereas the CSDP is followed through if it entails the
European members of NATO contributing and collaborating more. Under these strategic calculi,
the signing of the Anglo-French bilateral treaties for 50 years represents the epitome of the UK
outlook: hard results delivered in a short amount of time. These treaties can have two effects, the
additional support for the transatlantic security partnership and, on the other side, the reduction
of the flow of oxygen to the CSDP.
In this context, the willingness to use military force plays an important, historic part.
Deployments of armed forces have been a tradition for Great Britain since 1945 with casualties
among the servicemen and women. Subsequently, there has been a decrease in the acceptance
that the military force might be an instrument of security policy for three main reasons. The level
of defence spending is on a descendent path since the Trident renewal program, the defence
equipment program and others have placed a strain on the already reduce budget. Also, the
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current tendency shows a more integrated approach to international security – prevention,
management and resolution of cruses and tensions due to the cost of military interventions. For
instance, in the SDSR the military tasks (a conventional attack on the UK by another state, a
conventional attack on another NATO or EU member) are regarded as posing the lowest priority
risk, in Tier Three from three. Lastly, the relationship between the armed forces, government and
society displays a traditional military professionalism with the army prone to interfere in
domestic politics. Nonetheless, since 1945 there were no registered interventions of the forces in
the government, although high ranking officials maintained their positions and peerage. All the
more, the ‘Military Covenant’ is where culture alone plays a direct role in portraying the soldier
as an individual to be respected and defended by society in social-contract type of relationship,
with rigorous assessment to ensure that poorly planned, under-staffed or unnecessarily risky
military operations will be avoided.
In conclusion, the cultural norm in the British strategic debate is that decisions and policy
are neither to be directed nor governed by a strategic culture. The UK has a historical inclination
for an enduring cultural context and a cultural dimension to this outlook that is more contextual
than constructed. The long-standing commitment to the US also entails an incessant mantra that
security and defence policy are matters for governments to decide, individually and then jointly.
Most importantly, the limitations on the recourse to armed forces stems from budgetary
restrictions and by the progress of a comprehensive/integrated approach rather than from a
cultural nationwide frame of mind. Likewise, the effects are experienced more at a personal level
than at the level of a national strategy.
The relationship between cultural context and national strategy is kept in a budding, undersized
and mainly non-instrumental condition. At present, the United Kingdom has more of a tactical
than a strategic culture.