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Expert Comment: Army to increase number of reservists

0165 Dr Michael Mulqueen Monday 12 November 2012

Dr Michael Mulqueen, Director of the Centre for Applied Research in Security Innovation and Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Politics, History, Media and Communication, looks at government proposals to increase the number of military reservists.

The proposal by the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, to expand and further professionalise military reservists is open to the narrow interpretation of being an attempt to cover gaps in UK Armed Forces that were created by strident cuts. The argument survives closer scrutiny although not necessarily in ways which support ready cynicism. If carefully but imaginatively done, Mr Hammond’s policy drive could both stimulate gains of military efficiency and drive forward innovation-led growth in the UK economy.

Attributes of the ‘paradigm shift’ to which Mr Hammond refers include reservists as the repository of certain skills that are too expensive for the full-time services to develop or maintain. This measure alone will be welcome relief for UK taxpayers who remain burdened by escalating defence outlays. Consider a forecasted £6.46 billion for six Type 45 ‘Daring’ destroyers. This figure masks an increase of 29% (£1.5 billion) on the original budgeted cost when the main investment decision was taken. Notwithstanding lingering UK public attachment to the Armed Forces, expenditure of this scale in the absence of clear and present threat is raising for many governments and their peoples awkward questions of military relevance. Think of the hospital and school extensions being sacrificed with each £1bn spent. Think also of the austerity cuts being made to these public goods all around Europe.

Driven by this concern of relevance, military leaders internationally are awakening to new roles which their services play. Such roles can exist alongside traditional military ones but lay greater emphasis on economic well-being and especially job creation outside of the traditional military supply chain. By helping to generate employment, military organisations increase relevance and limit the national security risks inherent in long term, mass unemployment and poverty. At the Centre for Applied Research in Security Innovation (CASI) at Liverpool Hope University, this shift towards a more econocentric security rubric is being closely studied and theory, method and language to underpin it, is being quickly developed under an agenda we term Security Innovation. We are working alongside military, intelligence, international investment, economic development and educational organisations and companies.

Progress made outside traditional roles requires lateral thinking of a scale often difficult to advance in the sealed-in environment of a military organisation.  Mr Hammond’s proposals, by leaving open a route to expand the problem solving gene pool available to UK Armed Forces, is, in this context, a clear step forward. So too is an investment of £1.8bn over ten years in the three reserve services. At issue, however, will be whether the relationship between the Armed Forces and the organisations and companies from which the new recruits will come, will be truly ‘open source’. This is critical because for a sustainable, optimal partnership each side needs to be able to specify and solve problems facing the other, in ways that have so far been scarcely imagined. Concomitantly there is the question of whether the newly minted part-time personnel will have sufficient voice to critically define and fix problems as well as sense and seize opportunities where military and civilian intellectual capital can work more profitably. After all, innovation is driven by users:  UK Armed Forces and the economy will benefit if those users in uniform are truly enabled to innovate.

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