Defence Secretary calls for more 'cyber', close international cooperation to reduce conflict

News by Tony Morbin

"We need more cyber to protect us in cyberspace, more sigint, more electronic warfare and special operations capabilities ...will mean we should work even more strongly with the US" Defence Secretary

“We need to ask how we can do more to collaborate with the US and Five Eyes to build wider alliance and resilience in areas where we are currently being tested. Our adversaries are constantly probing and damaging us. From the hybrid dangers emanating from Russia, China and Iran in the grey zone to the danger our adversaries are posing to us in space," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Atlantic Council in a speech in Washington yesterday.*

He added: "The need for more cyber to protect us in cyberspace, more sigint, more electronic warfare and special operations capabilities will mean we should work even more strongly with the US, pushing back the malign intentions and exposing aggression wherever we find it. None of us can meet the challenge with persistence alone.”

The underpinning rationale was that: "The UK and the US should care about conflict and stability overseas, based on a moral imperative, a force for good, to reduce the loss of life and human suffering and indirectly enable a more prosperous, inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world *

Wallace adds that: “Alongside considerations of our defence posture, technology will always be a key feature, and therefore it’s going to be the heart of our Integrated Review. As our adversaries strive to whittle away our leading edge, we need to modernise faster, getting ahead of the curve in everything from space and cyberspace to AI and Big Data. 

“Our Integrated Foreign, Security and Defence Review will ensure that we understand tomorrow’s threats as well as today’s. It will help cement our status as a forward-looking and outward-reaching nation willing to shoulder responsibility and take the lead where our interests are at stake. We intend to carry out a full 360-degree exercise examining what we do and how we do it. The review is working on four main work streams: the Euro-Atlantic Alliance; Great Power Competition; Global Issues and Homeland Security. And it’s very important to us in the United Kingdom that our allies contribute to this process. The US, NATO, allies and industry - their views will be vital.

As context, Wallace noted that at the end of the cold war our adversaries did not seek to reap a peace dividend, but studied our vulnerabilities, stole our technologies and invested where we did not. He cited the  Russian Chief of the General Staff, Gerasimov, himself said: “The rules of the game have changed.” and that they are now using proliferation, misinformation and proxies – state and non-state – to extend their interests.

Wallace said that some states have responded with isolationism and others with  appeasement so: “While some nations in Europe are every day attacked by Russian cyber state actors, they hide it from their own populations, and instead reach out to Moscow, rather than seeking to change their behaviour.”  But countries such as Ukraine or those of Scandinavia, who live with hybrid warfare every day, do not accept their neighbour’s malign activity. Nor do those in the Pacific whose right to freedom of navigation is challenged by China..

Wallace suggests that preventing conflict is one of the main ways a country like the UK can exercise its power for good in the international system. Including via  engagement with other great powers at the top table, for example, the United Nations Security Council.

He notes that having left the European Union, the UK will still remain strongly committed to a world in which the Western values of justice, tolerance and liberty are free to flourish. “That’s why our contribution to security – whether on the European continent or further afield - remains iron-cast. The security of Europe is vital to the UK’s security.

"That will not change simply because we have left the political union of the European Union. And of course NATO remains the foundation stone of that security. Our best means of countering Russian malign activity and hostility. And the United States will always be the indispensable actor in our Alliance. Britain will always aim to deploy and fight in all terrains but at times we, and our allies, will need do so without US force protection or ISR capabilities particulalry in counter-terrorism operations or in theatres where we face sometimes more direct threats."

An example of the UK building its own capability is today’s announcement that £179 million funding is being made available in Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) to be managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).  

EPSRC supports about 11,000 doctoral students through DTPs, Centres for Doctoral Training and Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology (CASE) studentships. One of its four pilot projects is defending the UK through novel cybersecurity and defence systems research: the University of Southampton will develop the skills of current and former defence and security staff, armed services personnel and police through new research focusing on cybersecurity and control systems for autonomous systems like drones.

*Abridged from original speech.

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