The 21st century didn't turn out quite as we expected. If we thought that after the collapse of the Soviet Union we would all live in a post-conflict, peaceful world governed by international agreements enforced by UN missions, we were quickly disabused by the horrific events of September 11, 2001. As former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan so well stated:
“We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further – we will realize that humanity is indivisible.”
The fifteen years that have passed since then only reinforce the growing importance of flexible, effective, and well-led armed forces ready to protect Europe and North America. We have always taken pride taking pride in the quality of our British Armed Services and their ability to take on missions both alone an in cooperation with our allies; but as the security environment of the early 21st century becomes ever more complex, we must heed the urgent advice of our Chiefs of the armed forces - that our troops must be able to function in a “full-spectrum environment” including both real and virtual worlds, located both at home and abroad. Of course, as active officers they must remain above the political fray and will not comment directly on an issue such as the UK's membership of the European Union. However it is telling the General Sir Peter Wall, former Chief of the UK General Staff, came clearly in favor of Britain remaining in the European Union when he declared that “[c]ommon threats need common solutions, so we are better protected inside the EU. Agreeing sanctions against Russia would have been far harder if we were outside.” There is every reason to think that Sir Peter Wall’s firm belief in the necessity for the UK to remain member of the EU for our security and safety is shared by the current Chief of the General Staff, Sir Nick Carter.
Sir Nick Carter delivered the keynote speech of the September 2015 Defense and Security International Exhibition (DSEI) in London, where he emphasized the need to rethink modern warfare in the context of a new doctrine of integrated action reevaluating how we fight and how we lead. He then focused on the four key points that the British Armed Forces need to work on. They must be able to fight smarter; to be better prepared; to break the tribal barriers still dividing our armed forces; and to pay particular attention to the armed forces effect on their audience - that is the larger public in Britain and abroad. In addition he made the interesting observation that the army has to learn how to change behavior through non-kinetic means - that is without using the actual force of weapons – through persuasion and cooperation.
Sir Nick Carter’s comments were amplified by Major General Richard Semple, the Army Chief Information Officer, who focused on the emergence of a single information environment requiring us to seamlessly interoperate with our allies and partners abroad as well as to put in place an open service architecture allowing our military platforms to connect and combine perfectly with other platforms. Finally General Sir Richard Barrons, the Joint Forces Commander, addressed the 21st century's “big new idea” in the field of defense and security: that of the necessity of an effective and efficient exploitation of information and the emergence of information-centric operations. He explained that today real-time intelligence comes from the exploitation of open-space big data capable of giving us a competitive edge to understand better and act quicker than our enemies.
These speeches as well as those of the other chiefs of the Armed Forces present at the 2015 London DSEI all converged on the same theme: the rise of a “full-spectrum environment” where cooperation, coordination, and information sharing between us and our allies becomes a prerequisite for success in military operations rather than just an option. The emphasis all three above-mentioned speakers put on a seamless integration and cooperation with our partners and allies only reinforce Sir Peter Wall’s comments about the importance of Britain remaining a full member of the EU and of course of NATO. A win by the ‘leave’ the EU side in the upcoming Brexit referendum could in effect put in grave danger the ability of our Armed Forces to achieve these new aims in the 21st century full-spectrum environment we now live in. It would most likely result in a growing British inability to function in cooperation with our EU partners as well as with our NATO allies - given the fact that the very integrity of the United Kingdom would be put in question with Scotland's likely separation and independence - combined with the real likelihood of a disillusioned and inward looking United States moving further away from Europe and continuing its already begun “pivot towards Asia”.