Britain’s defense secretary said that by deepening its existing Five Eyes intelligence alliance and seeking to partner with other Asian countries, it would “send a message to China.”
That’s according to Ben Wallace, Britain’s defense secretary in conversation with ConservativeHome as part of the Conservative party’s annual conference, which ends on Oct. 6.
“We would absolutely continue to explore more working with new partners in Asia and deepening our Five Eyes,” Wallace said.
“Mutual signalling about standing by each other is really, really, important for us in sending a message to China.”
Currently, the Five Eyes alliance is between Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
“I’d absolutely consider doing more with it and in fact, we’re already working around some of those Asia groupings that allow international observers or indeed partner status,“ Wallace said.
“That’s really the best way to do it,” he added.
Wallace also spoke extensively on the “real challenge” of the changing nature of modern warfare and the need to help vulnerable countries build resilience against common adversaries.
“The thing that’s really emerged in the last 10 years is a proliferation of capabilities … encryption used to belong [only] in the realms of very few powerful modern defense capability countries,” he said.
He highlighted the importance of strategies enacted “before we get into a battle” to “avoid the conflict development.”
“If we can use cyber and information operations or indeed training and assistance for the resilience of those host nations to prevent them tipping over into chaos or to being unduly influenced by an adversary,” he said.
“We should work sub-threshold—we should do much more of that below armed conflict,” he added.
Wallace said that if Britain helped train the armed forces of some African countries, for example, and helped them with cyber defense and anti-corruption measures they would be less vulnerable to being undermined by other countries with malign intent.
“I think that’s where a lot of our future defense is going to be,” he said.
Asked if the country’s need for a new generation of soldiers equipped with cyber skills could be thwarted by a younger generation objecting to elements of military history, Wallace said there was no shortage of applicants.
“GCHQ have led the way with the National Cyber Security Centre,” he said.
“People recognise if they want to stay safe online in the civilian world … cyber is a growing industry and whether that’s defense or whether that’s for security or trade, I think there is a whole generation of young people who want that to be their future.”
He added that he has “already signed off” on a “cyber pay spine within the armed forces.”
“You can go up it and get your promotions up it and you can be a specialist in cyber in the same way you can be a specialist in medical or other disciplines,” he said.
“It shows that not only is there a need for it but also that people are engaging with it and we have had no shortage of people wanting to do that role.”
Integrated Operating Concept
Wallace’s comments on the changing nature of warfare come following the unveiling last month by Sir Nick Carter, Britain’s defense staff chief, of the Integrated Operating Concept for the British Armed Forces as they respond to the “ever more complex and dynamic strategic context.”
“The nature of war remains constant: it is visceral and violent … and it is always about politics,” he said in a statement.
“What is changing is the character of warfare, which is evolving significantly due to the pervasiveness of information and the pace of technological change.”
Carter’s comments echo a statement by the ministry of defense last month that “[g]lobal players such as Russia and China continually challenge the existing order without prompting direct conflict, operating in the expanding grey-zone between war and peacetime.”
Asked how he thought the defense would fair in the forthcoming government spending review Wallace was cautiously positive.
“We’re in the middle of an economy that has effectually gone on pause because of COVID … we’ve seen massive decline in economic growth and huge spending obligations on the government,” he said.
He said the ministry of defense is currently experiencing a shortfall of £13 billion ($16.8 billion) which will have to be found in the next four years. He said he is optimistic. “I’ll be making a case for the armed forces, the conservative party is always a great supporter of the armed forces,” said Wallace.
Alexander Zhang contributed to this report.