Dom Morris is a Fellow at the Centre for Grand Strategy at KCL and has worked in war zones around the world, most recently in Ukraine.
Checkpoints often felt the most likely place to be killed as a Brit in war zones until Ukraine, where the opposite became true. The smiles, the ruffling of [Boris Johnson] hair and the heartfelt thank-yous appear as soon as my British Passport does.
The UK’s role in identifying Vladimir Putin’s weak points, enabling the Ukrainians to get after them (i.e: supplying next generation light anti-tank weapons) and driving the West to follow suit is something that we should be immensely proud of. And we must do this again, on a global scale. For the world has changed, but many in Westminster and Whitehall will accept neither it nor the preparations and reforms required.
The invasion of Ukraine swept aside the consensual world order, ushering in an era of realism underpinned by strategic competition. Whilst Ukrainians valiantly push Putin to a bloody ‘score draw,’ globally he has taken control food, fuel, and fertiliser – imposing colossal costs upon Western citizens that we may be unable to bare.
Western governments are demonstrably more vulnerable to ‘regime change’ than Russia: time is on Putin’s side. Without the maintenance of a cohesive Western Alliance we cannot defeat him, so we must ruthlessly protect our Western drive for immediate victory in Ukraine.
And all is not lost. Britain’s contribution in Ukraine has been strategic and substantial. The response of key UK politicians, civil servants and military commanders serves as a vision of how we must approach defence, diplomacy and development challenges around the world: institutionalising this grand strategic transformation across departments must become the new norm. Here are ten [relatively] quick strategic wins for the new Prime Minster to undertake:
- National Security must give way to Strategy – The threats facing the UK are now strategic in nature, not driven by security. Make the next National Security Adviser politically elected, answerable to you and re-titled as the National Strategic Adviser. National strategy is above all a political endeavour: one elected person must own this and bring a holistic approach to monitor and advise on it, before bringing disparate departments together to respond. A National Operations Centre will be required to serve as Whitehall horsepower, providing strategic analysis, planning, orchestration of activities and measurement of success.
- Appoint a Minister for victory in Ukraine – One Cabinet Minister must be solely responsible for the UK’s efforts. They must stay from now until the end of the war. The Chilcot Inquiry necessitates this. Anything else is short-changing Ukraine.
- Establish a Ukraine Task Force with money and teeth – Under a single commander, a Task Force must integrate and orchestrate the [sometimes siloed] efforts of defence, diplomacy and intelligence activities into something greater than the sum of their parts. Whilst departments have run fantastic tactical lines of operation, they run the risk of never exceeding tactical outputs and becoming syncopated (like the woodwind playing a different score to the percussion). There must be one, single, cross-government ‘conductor,’ owning a single campaign for assisting Ukraine to deliver Putin’s failure.
- Design a single Ukraine Campaign Plan with contingencies – Whilst it’s not sexy, there must be a single campaign plan with an independent measurement framework to quantify success, measure progress and prepare contingency plans. These should include a) How to fight the grain out of Ukraine when Putin reneges on the diplomatic deal. Why would he take his foot off the throat of the Ukrainian state’s ability to trade, especially when it pushes up the price of Westerners food and fuel? b. Prioritising the Black Sea: the West has neglected the support of Ukraine’s maritime capability. Sat in a ‘bathtub’, the Black Sea Fleet is there for the taking. Neutralising Russia’s Black Sea fleet would enable the export of grain and open up a new front for Ukraine beyond the Kherson offensive. c) Nuclear escalation – however unsavoury it may be, we must prepare contingency plans for tactical nuclear warheads deployment. Signalling that we will go hard, early is a must and is being resisted by our elite who still drink the Fukuyaman Kool-Aid. d) Offset Russian actions beyond Ukraine – We must have on the shelf options ready for if and when Putin moves somewhere else in the world, i.e: the Balkans, the high north or Africa. These contingencies must integrate the efforts of all levers of state and cannot sit in isolation in separate departments.
- Make Strategic Net Assessment a centralised, cross-government function – As in the Cold War, we need UK strategic assessment computing 24/7 in this new era of constant competition. The Ministry of Defence’s newly established Secretary of State’s Office for Net Assessment is a fabulous start. we must turbo charge this initiative, making it a cross-government capability. Grand Strategy is no longer a military endeavour, it must embrace new tech, industry provision and economic statecraft.
- Revolutionise our deterrence framework – Our deterrence framework is unfit for twenty-first century constant competition and a hyper-tech arms race. We must rewrite the UK’s Deterrence Doctrine: deterrence is too poorly understood among our civilian and political leadership, and too narrowly experienced in our military leaders. Cold War deterrence frameworks, whilst better than what we are doing presently, must be updated for twenty-first century competition which spans more domains (e.g., cyber and information), and incorporates hyper-tech and is geared for a ‘faster’ world.
- Bring back the Special Operations Executive – Ukraine has highlighted the need for a new way of competing with our adversaries and globally imposing costs and dilemmas against their efforts. This must integrate special forces, intelligence capabilities, clandestine partnering with allies and economic statecraft. To bring this capability to bear in a unified, enduring manner we must place them in one organisation.
- Reaffirm Our Indo-Pacific ‘Wilt’ –Britain’s Integrated Review is renowned as a leading piece of grand strategy aspiring to integrate our nation’s levers of power into one effort. The challenge has been in Whitehall’s pace of delivery, especially the Indo-Pac tilt. The new Prime Minister must reaffirm the tilt and routinely measure Whitehall’s progress against clear strategic outcomes. The persistent presence of key assets and personnel in the region would drive this outcome.
- Professionalise and Integrate Economic Statecraft – Whilst understandably our Russia sanctions were created in haste, we must not hurt ourselves again in the next crisis. A colleague reminds me that 40 years of economic disarmament have left us incredibly vulnerable to Russia and Chinese economic aggression. We must halt this now, creating a cohort of leaders and a government fluent in economic statecraft.
- Build AUKUS++ in the Indo-Pac and beyond – AUKUS is a fabulous advancement in the UK’s Grand Strategic approach. Bolting on more components and capabilities to this agreement will strengthen our net position against China in the region and encourage our partners to become more assertive.