General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, has laid bare his vision and interpretation of the future for the Armed Forces through his "prism".
Here is the full transcript of his lecture to the Royal United Services Institute in London last night, together with extended footage.
"First of all, like most of you I am clear that the single biggest strategic risk facing the UK today is economic rather than military. Over time a thriving economy must be the central ingredient in any UK Grand Strategy. This is why the euro zone crisis is of such huge importance not just to the City of London but rightly to the whole country, and to military planners like me.
"Seen through my prism the world looks especially unpredictable and unstable. Let’s look at just some of the factors in our Grand Strategic analysis...
"Greater US military focus on the Pacific meaning less emphasis on Europe and her problems. For the first time the Pentagon has specified that its Main Effort will be South East Asia. I know this does not mean it will turn its back on Europe and NATO but countries this side of the pond need to think through what this means to us.
"A hugely complex transition and withdrawal from Afghanistan; the destabilising effects of Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the Middle East; the risk that the Arab Awakening leads to fissures and internal conflict that could be exported, including militant Islamism. They have diasporas reaching back to this country as does Pakistan, another state struggling with instability.
"What is happening in Syria is in many experts view becoming a proxy conflict between Shia Iranians and Sunni Arabs. In the process of protecting its borders, a key NATO ally, Turkey, is intimately involved.
"How do we respond to China potentially becoming the world’s dominant economic power over the next 40 years? What impact will China’s need to keep its population content have on us? Equally what will the rise of the other BRICs mean for us? Natural allies or hostile competitors?
"What impact will fiscal restraint and slow recovery have on European defence capabilities? Just 5 out of 28 NATO allies spend the target 2 percent on defence.
"However much we rightly seek to accommodate each other’s legitimate aspirations, all this will lead to greater competition for raw materials and the risk, at a minimum, of ‘bumping into other states’ as they too seek to sustain economic growth. Then there is population growth and, in some countries, decline; what does this mean? Add global warming; terrorism; piracy and international crime to list just some, as the late and much lamented Richard Holmes might have said, of the ‘problemettes’ on my plate. And that is before another Holmesism ‘Bastards HQ’ inevitably intervenes to further complicate our calculations! Oh and on top of all that, the Armed Forces will, with great pride, play a role in ensuring the security of the Olympic Games."
"So how do we respond to this unstable, unpredictable future? The Secretary of State said only last week: 'In this volatile age it would be a bold man who would plan for military idleness.' To the contrary, as he inferred, we expect persistent and varied challenges to our national interests to continue and have planned accordingly. The SDSR rebalanced British Defence and Security for the next decade. Those decisions, which did reduce capability in some areas albeit in part to build up capability in others, will still leave us powerful relative to our allies. We were the first to accept the implications of the global economy. We clearly won’t be the last.
"All Western nations, including now the USA, are changing their defence structures. We may have to prioritise more ruthlessly now that we have fewer ships, men and planes but we will still be, in comparative terms, a front rank player in the NATO Alliance. In global terms we spend the fourth largest amount on Defence. And the Alliance will remain the most powerful military pact the world has ever known; far ahead of its nearest comparable potential adversaries.
"And as the SDSR anticipated, in part for this reason, alliances will be increasingly important. NATO is the bedrock of our security. It has guaranteed peace in Europe for 60 years and, as Libya and Afghanistan demonstrate, enables us to project power efficiently in concert with others to pursue our national interests. NATO provides the structure for joint and combined operations. Those who wish to participate can do so using existing protocols and command establishments. It is impossible to replicate this quickly.
"And as the world evolves, so new groupings will emerge. The most obvious is our alliance with the French. In November 2010 Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy signed a treaty that has this year has already demonstrated its worth. It is much more than the Entente Cordiale of a century ago. It is a vehicle for positive joint action. Libya sealed this for us and demonstrated the benefits to Britain, Europe and NATO of having a solid Franco-British core.
"I look forward to continuing to work closely with my good friend Admiral Edouard Guillaud and I know my officers and men look forward to building-on the already solid contacts they have with their French counterparts. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full transcript (and video footage) on the BFBS website.