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Dr Fox and the Philosopher's Stone: the alchemy of national defence in the age of austerity

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The history of British defence reviews has been one of repeated disappointment: a cycle in which policy failure is followed by a period of inertia, giving way to an attempt at a new policy framework which is then misimplemented by the defence leadership. Each failed defence review therefore sows the seeds of its successor. With this in mind, in 2010 the new coalition government embarked upon an altogether more ambitious exercise: a strategy review comprising a National Security Strategy and a Strategic Defence and Security Review. This article suggests, nevertheless, not only that the 2010 strategy review looks likely to follow past performance, but also that it is coming unstuck at an unprecedented rate. This is a pity since the 2010 review had much to commend it, not least the adoption of a risk-based approach to security and defence policy-making. What is the explanation for this outcome? Is it that the British have, as some have suggested, lost the ability to ‘do strategy’, if ever they had it? The authors offer a more nuanced understanding of the policy process and argue that the coalition government in fact has a very clear and deliberate strategy—that of national economic recovery. Yet the coalition government cannot allow national defence and security to fail. The authors conclude with an assessment of the options open to the defence leadership as they seek to address the failing 2010 strategy review and suggest a variety of indicators which will demonstrate the intent and seriousness of the political, official and military leadership of the Ministry of Defence.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Holds the Carrington Chair in International Security and is Head of the International Security Programme at Chatham House.

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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