VCR 8x8 programme [framework Romero/MDE].

▲ VCR 8x8 programme [framework Romero/MDE].

COMMENTARY / Salvador Sánchez Tapia

After a gap of eight years since the publication of the last one in 2012, on 11 June, the President of the Government signed a new National Defence Directive (DDN), marking the beginning of a new Defence Planning cycle which, according to agreement as established by Defence Order 60/2015, must be valid for six years.

The essay of the DDN 20 is a laudable effort to bring National Defence up to date with the challenges of a complex strategic environment in continuous transformation. Its essay also offers an excellent opportunity to build along the way an intellectual community on this important issue, which will be fundamental throughout the cycle.

This article provides a preliminary analysis of the DDN 20, focusing on its most relevant aspects. In a first approximation, the official document follows the line, already enshrined in other Directives, of subsuming the essentially military concept of Defence within the broader concept of Security, which affects all the capabilities of the State. In this sense, the first difficulty that the DDN 20 has had to overcome is precisely the lack of a statutory document similar to the DDN, drafted at the level of National Security, to illuminate and guide it. To tell the truth, the void has not been total, since, as the DDN 20 states in its introduction, there is a National Security Strategy (NSS) which, although published in 2017, has served as reference letter in its elaboration, despite the evident lack of consistency between the strategic scenarios described in both documents.

In this respect, it is precisely worth noting the lack of specificity with which the new DDN defines the strategic scenario, compared to the somewhat greater specificity of the ESN. The DDN 20 draws a vague, almost generic scenario, applicable almost unchanged to any nation in the world, without reference to specific geographical areas; an accumulation of threats and risks to security with an impact on Defence, none of which appears to be more likely or more dangerous, and to which is added the recognition of changes in the international order that once again bring the possibility of major armed conflicts closer.

Such an approach makes it difficult to subsequently define defence objectives and guidelines for action and, perhaps for this reason, there are certain inconsistencies between the three parts of the document. It is striking that, although the document raises certificate, somewhat hastily, the possibility of the emergence of COVID-19, the possibility of a pandemic not being triggered is not considered in the description of the strategic scenario, something that, on the other hand, is included in ESN 17.

Along with the description of this scenario, the DDN 20 is interspersed with a series of considerations of a programmatic nature, which are in themselves positive and relevant, but which have little to do with what is to be expected in a document of this nature, designed to guide National Defence planning. In some cases, such as the promotion of the gender perspective, or the improvement of the quality of life of staff in its dimensions of improving living facilities, reconciling professional and family life, and reintegration into civilian life once the link with the Armed Forces has ended, the considerations are more typical of the Policy of staff of the department than of a DDN. In others, such as the obligation to respect local cultures in military operations, they seem more subject typical of the Royal Ordinances or another subject code of ethics.

Undoubtedly motivated by the COVID-19 emergency, and in view of the role that the Armed Forces have assumed during it, the DDN emphasises the importance of partnership missions with and in support of civilian authorities, something that is inherent to the Armed Forces, and establishes the specific goal of acquiring capabilities that allow for the partnership and support of these authorities in crisis and emergency situations.

The management of the pandemic may have highlighted gaps in response capabilities, shortcomings in coordination instruments, etc., thereby opening a window of opportunity to make progress in this area and produce a more effective response in the future. Nonetheless, it is important to guard against the possibility, opened up by this DDN, of losing sight of the central tasks of the armed forces, to prevent an excessive focus on missions in support of the civilian population from ending up distorting their organisation, manning and training, thereby impairing the deterrence capacity of the armies and their combat operability.

The DDN also contains the customary reference letter, which is necessary to promote a true Defence Culture among Spaniards. The accredited specialization is justified by the role that the Ministry of Defence should play in this effort. However, it is not the defence sector that needs to be reminded of the importance of this issue. The impact of any effort to promote Defence Culture will be limited if it is not assumed as its own by other ministries Departments , as well as by all State administrations, being aware that it is not possible to generate a Defence Culture without a prior consensus at the national level on such essential issues as the objectives or values shared by all. It is perhaps on this aspect that the emphasis should be placed.

Perhaps the most controversial point of the DDN 20 is that of financing. Achieving the objectives set out in the document requires sustained financial investment over time to break the current ceiling of expense in defence. Maintaining the Armed Forces among the technological elite, substantially improving the quality of life of the professional staff -which begins with providing them with the equipment that best guarantees their survival and superiority on the battlefield-, reinforcing the capacity to support civilian authorities in emergency situations, strengthening intelligence and action capabilities in cyberspace, or meeting with guarantees the operational obligations derived from our active participation in international organisations, for which, moreover, a commitment has been made to strengthen them by up to 50% for a period of one year, is as necessary as it is costly.

The DDN 20 recognises this in its final paragraph when it states that the development of the document's guidelines will require the necessary funding. This statement, however, is little more than an acknowledgement of the obvious, and is not accompanied by any commitment or guarantee of funding. Bearing in mind the important commitments already signed by the Ministry with the pending Special Armaments Programmes, and in view of the economic-financial panorama that is on the horizon due to the effects of COVID-19, which has led the JEME to announce the arrival of a period of austerity for the Army, and which deserves to be listed among the main threats to national security, it seems difficult that the objectives of the DDN 20 can be covered in the terms it sets out. This is the real Achilles' heel of the document, which could make it little more than a dead letter.

In conclusion, the issuance of a new DDN is to be welcomed as an effort to update National Defence policy, even in the absence of a similar instrument that periodically articulates the level of Security Policy in which Defence Policy should be subsumed.

The emergence of COVID-19 seems to have overtaken the document, causing it to lose some of its validity and calling into question not only the will, but also the real capacity to achieve the ambitious goals it proposes. At least it is possible that the document may act, even in a limited way, as a kind of shield to protect the Defence sector against the scenario of scarce resources that Spain will undoubtedly experience in the coming years.

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