Following Government approval earlier this week, the Minister with responsibility for Defence, Mr Paul Kehoe TD, has now published the White Paper on Defence – Update 2019. This Update is the first in a new fixed cycle of defence reviews which the government decided to introduce when it approved the White Paper on Defence in 2015.
Speaking yesterday, Minister Kehoe stated:
“Publication of this Update marks a significant milestone in the government’s approach to defence policy. The security environment is not static. The government have committed to regularly updating the security assessment and to refreshing consideration of implications for overall policy responses, associated tasks, capability development and resourcing. The Update affirms the fundamentals of our approach to defence policy that were settled when the White Paper was approved in 2015.”
The Minister noted that the updated security environment assessment concludes that while the essential aggregate level of threat facing this State has not altered in a way to justify increasing the overall stated level of threat, the position has developed and changed in the period since 2015. Threats in the cyber domain, and from espionage, are assessed as increasing since 2015, while the wider political global environment is now more complex and uncertain. All of these aspects are addressed in the Update, as are important recent developments in relation to national security management, including the establishment of a National Security Analysis Centre, the appointment of a Director and progress towards development of a National Security Strategy.
The Minister also reflected on the good progress that has been made so far in implementing the commitments made in the White Paper:
“Since commencement of the White Paper implementation programme, a total of 95 separate projects have been identified for completion over a ten-year period and the Update has involved a review of progress with each of the 95 projects. I welcome the fact that, at this point, a total of 42 White Paper projects have now been initiated and, of these, 15 have been fully completed and closed, with others due to close shortly.”
In relation to important human resources issues that have emerged in the period since finalisation of the White Paper in 2015, and which are fully reflected in the Update, the Minister noted:
“The HR challenges faced by the Defence Forces are not unique to Ireland’s military and can also be observed internationally. Nevertheless, the government is committed to achievement of a strength level of 9,500 personnel and recognises that this will require unrelenting attention into the foreseeable future. A broad range of initiatives to address these matters are underway. The government’s High-Level Plan to implement the recommendations made in the Public Service Pay Commission Report on recruitment and retention issues will continue be a key focus for me in this regard.”
Finally, the Minister referred to the multi-annual capital programme, launched as Project Ireland 2040, which has increased the overall level of investment in Defence and provides for €541m. in capital funding over the period to 2022.
In terms of equipment, the Minister stated:
“I am pleased to point to the range of new equipment already delivered or in immediate prospect, including new Armoured Logistics and Utility Vehicles, upgraded Armoured Personnel Carriers, Naval Service Ship replacement and renewal, and acquisition of new Fixed-Wing Utility and also Maritime Patrol aircraft for the Air Corps. As demands on capability, at home but especially abroad, continue to become more sophisticated and dynamic, I welcome the fact that the new Equipment Development Plan, currently being finalised, provides an updated process to identify and prioritise continued equipment investment over the medium term and I look forward to further announcements in this regard.”
In relation to infrastructure, the Minister added:
“There have been very important modernisation projects completed in the last few years and many are ongoing, all contributing to capability. However, there is continuing potential for additional investment in military facilities and, with this in mind, a focussed five-year infrastructure programme will be launched in January 2020. This will provide the means to channel available funds to where these will have the strongest impact, while acknowledging the potential for additional investment.”
The White Paper on Defence, approved by Government in July 2015, provides the strategic and comprehensive defence policy framework for the period up to 2025. This policy framework is designed to be flexible and responsive given the dynamic nature of the security environment and enables the Defence Organisation (comprising the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces) to be adaptive to changing circumstances and to use resources as efficiently as possible.
Within this context, the White Paper contains the government’s decision to put in place a fixed cycle of defence reviews. These are common internationally and give assurance that policy remains up to date and relevant to changing future circumstances. The White Paper provides that these reviews are to have a three-yearly cycle, with every second review being more comprehensive in nature and styled a Strategic Defence Review.
Completion of the first such review, the White Paper Update, was led by the Minister with responsibility for Defence while the review process was managed throughout by a high-level civil-military Steering Group. An inter-departmental/inter-agency Defence and Security Environment Assessment Group was also established to review and update the security environment assessment. This Group was led by the Department of Defence and also comprised representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach; Justice and Equality; Foreign Affairs and Trade; Communications, Climate Action and Environment; as well as the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána.
The Update was undertaken while Brexit has continued to evolve. The Update notes that the precise security implications of Brexit remain hard to predict, albeit that the overall setting in which security resides may be adversely impacted. It is not clear, at this point, that any particular implications call for a defence response beyond what is committed in the White Paper. Prudent planning remains the essential relevant focus against the backdrop of the current position on Brexit, and the responsibility, in the first instance, of the Department of Justice and Equality, along with An Garda Síochána, for internal security matters and the Revenue Commissioners for customs issues.