This pledge is positioned in the manifesto alongside various commitments to maintain the size and capability of the UK’s armed forces. However, unlike many of those related policies, which are mainly concerned with the ability of the armed forces to engage in combat operations, this policy is to “expand our reach”.
What does “expand our reach” mean? Well, it’s a phrase that comes from the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which sets out the government’s vision for “secure and prosperous United Kingdom, with global reach and influence.”
The way the government intends to “expand our reach” was subsequently laid out in February 2017, in the International Defence Engagement Strategy. That was before the election, but it’s still relevant as it introduces the concept of “defence engagement”. Defence engagement is defined in the strategy as:
“…the use of our people and assets to prevent conflict, build stability and gain influence. It is a major component of making defence international by design.”
Now let’s talk about how much progress has been made. In the Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2017-18, the second National Strategic Objective is to “Project Our Global Influence”. The report outlines key achievements under this government in the attempt to “influence through international defence engagement”. Notable examples include:
- The design and build of the Common Missile Compartment is an exemplar of US-UK defence co-operation
- Offered 2,240 International Defence Training places to other nations
We know there are challenges for the armed forces in terms of recruitment and retention (see related policies below), and some observers in this field have raised concerns about “the vague definition of Defence Engagement, the lack of clarity on budgetary commitments, and the lack of details on specific projects and programmes”.
However, overall the government has taken action under the terms of its own definition, and provided enough evidence for us to consider this ‘in progress’. To move it to ‘done’ we’ll need more detail from the Ministry of Defence, and confirmation from independent sources, as to precisely how our reach around the world has expanded. Follow this policy for updates.
Expand your fact file, get the details
- UK’s International Defence Engagement Strategy – Gov.uk
- Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2017-18
- The True Cost of Defence Engagement? – Oxford Research Group
- 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review – Gov.uk
- Ministry of Defence – Gov.uk