The Shangri-La dialogue, advancing military-to-military cooperation

Speech by Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Defence.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Defence.

Thank you John.

And thank you to IISS for bringing us together once again for this prestigious gathering.

It’s a real pleasure to be back here in Singapore.

And I’m delighted to be taking part in the dialogue on a platform with my Japanese and Malaysian colleagues.

Since we met in this venue last year, much has happened in the world that has impacted upon our security and stability, not just here in the Asia Pacific region, but also in Europe;

…in particular, the current crisis over Ukraine, following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

But while we, and our western allies, are having to look afresh at the security implications closer to home of renewed Russian aggression, it remains very much in our interests to be engaged in the Asia Pacific region.

As a maritime nation and a country which still relies upon the world’s sea lanes for the delivery of 95 per cent of our trade; as a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangements, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and one of the world’s strategic nuclear powers…

…despite our geographic distance, the UK has a strong stake in the stability of this region.

We have committed ourselves to developing much closer economic, diplomatic and defence ties with countries across Asia.

We believe that the rise of an economically strong and stable Asia is good for the world, helping to reduce poverty and deliver the expansion of international trade and the strong economic growth that has proved so elusive for many since the financial crisis began.

With 60 per cent of the world’s population, the balance of economic power is shifting inexorably towards the Asia Pacific.

And in the wake of that economic growth, we are seeing significant investment in military hardware and capabilities, which will lead to a shift in the balance of military power too.

Challenges of military modernisation

Significant military modernisation is taking place across the region, not just in China, although the substantial and continued growth in the Chinese Defence budget and the significant development in the capabilities of the PLA is, perhaps, the most obvious example. That growth brings obvious potential threats, but also creates opportunities.

The development of more capable forces, if combined with the political will to deploy them in support of operations to uphold international law and contribute to peace and stability…

…brings with it the potential for greater burden sharing in policing the global commons.

But we also have to be clear that military expansion, proceeding apace while historic disputes over territory such as those in the south China and east China seas remain unresolved….

…has the potential to become a source of distrust, suspicion and misunderstanding, or a driver of populist nationalism all of which, in turn, can lead to miscalculation and, in the worst scenario, instability and conflict.

As the old adage goes, great power invokes great responsibility, and those countries that are, or aspire to be, great powers have a duty to take seriously their responsibility towards other nations in the region…

…to be candid about their intentions, to be transparent about their motives, and to be more open about their capabilities.

As the major military powers in the region increasingly look to develop their ability not only to protect their domestic interests but also to project power well beyond their shores…

…the proximity of their respective forces, and the frequency with which they come into contact, is bound to increase.

Without that candour, transparency and openness between nations and their armed forces, the risk of unintended conflict will also rise.

And it’s in delivering that candour, transparency and openness that, in the UK’s experience, defence engagement and military to military cooperation has such a significant role to play.

In the same way that formal and informal economic and trading ties between nations, built up over time from the first trade delegation or first export order, gradually develop the cultural understanding and expert local knowledge that facilitate future economic links on a much greater scale…

…so the ties and channels of communication established from the steps of defence engagement, often small in scale and in uncontentious areas such as language training or military medicine, can lay the foundation for the deeper and more formal cooperation that develops greater mutual trust and understanding.

Secretary Hagel articulated in his recent speech to the PLA National Defence University in Beijing, the need for a “new model of military-to-military relations” between the US and China, based upon three tracks:

  • sustained and substantive dialogue
  • practical cooperation, where interests converge or align; and
  • managing competition and difference where they do not, through openness and communication

I believe Secretary Hagel’s model, with transparency and communication at its core, points the way, not only for this region, but for reducing the risk of conflict everywhere.

That is why, in spite of Russia’s actions, and their significant differences, we have consistently urged Russia and Ukraine to establish a meaningful dialogue to de-escalate the current crisis as the first step towards a diplomatic resolution.

And perhaps we can dare to hope that managing competition and difference through sustained dialogue could become the new paradigm for Asia Pacific security.

Advancing practical military cooperation

But in parallel, Secretary Hagel’s second track, advancing practical cooperation, offers the prospect of building confidence and understanding through military to military relationships and it is this aspect on which I want to concentrate the remainder of my remarks.

For the UK, as a member of NATO, the world’s most successful military alliance…

…and as a party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements, which remains the only multinational defence structure in the Asia Pacific, now in its 43rd year… Military Cooperation with allies and partners is at the heart of our planning.

But as we prepare to return British forces to a posture of contingency, after more than a decade of enduring, high-tempo military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan…

… and we contemplate the possibility that next year could be the first for a hundred years (since the outbreak of the First World War) that British troops have not been engaged in combat or counter-insurgency operations somewhere in the world… “defence engagement” is a strand of soft power projection, is becoming embedded within in our defence doctrine.

So that, in addition to what we traditionally term our “committed” and “contingent” postures, we are seeking to develop a third, “engaged” posture which makes active use of our standing forces in peacetime to contribute to global stability through partnering, engagement and upstream conflict prevention and capacity building. As well as supporting multi-lateral humanitarian efforts, such as the response to Typhoon Haiyan, and the search for MH 370.

Indeed, we have now set out a deliberate strategy to enhance and expand our “defence engagement” around the world.

And we see that that defence engagement taking different forms according to the nature of our relationship with the countries concerned, but falling broadly into three categories:

The first group is made up of those nations with whom we are closely aligned in terms of values and interests, many of them countries with whom we have either formal or informal defence commitments, most obviously our NATO allies.

The core task for our engagement with these countries is to ensure we retain, and enhance, the capabilities and the levels of interoperability necessary to ensure we can fulfil our commitments and defend our interests if the need arises.

That is why, for example, we are creating a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force with France, an early entry force which will train and exercise together, capable of facing multiple threats up to the highest intensity, and available for bilateral, NATO, European Union, United Nations or other operations; on course to achieve full operating capability in 2016.

The second grouping is those countries with which we have not, historically, enjoyed close defence relations, and with whom our interests may not always coincide. Yet we judge it is in our mutual interests to build closer relations through defence engagement, seeking areas where we can work together and build cooperation and in doing so, reduce the scope for misunderstanding in the future.

In this region and elsewhere, we are successfully leveraging our substantial combat experience, our hard earned lessons of defence reform and the pre-eminence of our defence education establishments to build and sustain these relationships.

But our experience is that it’s best to start small, in the first instance, cooperating in relatively uncontentious areas and then to build.

So, for example, China and the UK have put in place a programme to deliver an English language training facility within the Chinese Peacekeeping Centre; in military medicine, we are seeking to share best practice through exchanges between our military medical institutions; and we are building regular exchanges between the UK’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, and the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences to enhance communication and build mutual understanding of our respective military doctrines.

And the third grouping consist of those fragile states where it is in our national security interests to assist with building the capacity of security forces to ensure that they do not become sources of regional instability or ungoverned spaces from which international terrorists can operate.

Across the spectrum of potential partners, the full range of our defence engagement and military-to-military cooperation is aimed at delivering a more stable, peaceful, predictable and, therefore, more prosperous world.

In addition to the defence attaches promoting defence engagement from over 70 British Embassies and High Commissions around the world, British troops are currently engaged in more than 30 different countries around the globe, deepening our interoperability, building capability, supporting peace efforts and enhancing relationships with their military counterparts. We are playing our part in encouraging greater candour, transparency and openness through defence engagement and enhanced military to military relationships.

And it’s a model I would urge others to adopt. As the Asia-Pacific region continues its economic rise, and as nations in the region continue with their military modernisation programmes, it is in the interests of every country to seize the opportunity for greater cooperation and engagement….

…..to help prevent conflict in the first place…

…..to reduce the risk of miscalculation through unfamiliarity during periods of tension…..

….and ultimately to enhance interoperability with allies should the need for operations arise.

The range of potential flashpoints and the number of sources of potential conflict is certainly not diminishing.

But it is far from inevitable that they must lead to regional instability.

Firm commitment to dialogue; “engagement” as a mainstream strand of defence policy and a focus to managing differences will help ensure not only that the Asia Pacific region continues its hugely successful economic growth, but that it takes its rightful place as a serious contributor to global security.

Thank you

Published 3 June 2014