Improving the engagement of UK armed forces overseas

Generating a sophisticated understanding of complex operating environments
Research paper Published 26 January 2022 Updated 5 May 2022 ISBN: 978 1 78413 501 0 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135010
British soldiers taking part in practise exercises in Kenya.

Will Davies

Defence attaché, British Army

The Integrated Review highlighted the need for the UK to adopt innovative approaches to international engagement. While state threats – most prominently from Russia and China – are an important consideration for the UK’s defence planning, the increasing global security risks that stem from rising poverty and inequality, violent extremism, climate degradation and the forced displacement of people are critical.

An increased forward presence of UK armed forces is central to this strategy. This ‘persistent engagement’ is a way to compete with threats to the UK below the threshold of conflict, deepen understanding of complicated environments and influence the global landscape. To achieve this the Ministry of Defence (MOD) must develop an engagement capability that can operate effectively in weak, unstable and complex regions prone to violent conflict and crises.

This will require the development of a cohort of military personnel with enhanced, tailored levels of knowledge, skills and experience. Engagement roles must be filled by specialist operators rather than generalists with mainly combat experience. This will likely require a review of selection, training and management policies and much will depend on strong and overt advocacy by senior leaders within the MOD.