Understanding the value of defence

Union Jack on British soldier's uniform, photo by MoiraM/Adobe Stock


Defence delivers value to UK society in a variety of direct and indirect forms, beyond the immediate benefits of protection against security threats. Because various factors affect how different groups view the value of defence, researchers recommend six actions to help the UK defence establishment articulate a more compelling value proposition to multiple audiences.

What is the issue?

The value of defence extends beyond providing security to a nation. From driving innovation to supporting global trade, it also helps support the economy and brings a number of wider societal benefits both in times of crisis and in times of peace. Despite this, there is currently no common approach to measuring the value of defence, making it difficult to present a case for investment in this area when competing for limited public sector resources.

Recognising this, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) identified the need to develop a more coherent and compelling understanding of the ‘Defence Value Proposition’ to the UK, to enable defence to make a clear case for why it exists and what it contributes.

How did we help?

RAND Europe, as part of the Global Strategic Partnership, was commissioned by the MOD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre to examine the ‘value proposition’ of UK defence. The study aimed to provide a better understanding of why defence exists and explore how the value it brings to the nation can be better articulated across government, to partners and to the wider public. Researchers’ findings fed into the UK’s 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

What did we find?

Defence delivers value to UK society in a variety of direct and indirect forms, beyond the immediate benefits of protection against security threats. The UK Defence Value Proposition covers a range of interconnected components, each providing value in a different way:

  • Protecting the nation’s people

    Alongside protecting people at home and abroad, UK defence plays a role in supporting civil authorities during local and national emergencies. It also contributes to the protection of critical national infrastructure.

  • Insuring against an uncertain future

    UK defence works to anticipate future trends, to help identify both threats and opportunities that could arise for the nation. It also plays an important role in addressing security risks around new technologies and responding to new threats from environmental hazards and climate change.

  • Projecting global influence

    Having a strong defence helps to ensure a voice in global decision making, as well as the promotion of the nation’s values. UK defence is active in building key partnerships and enhancing its credibility to shape the behaviours of both allies and adversaries.

  • Contributing to international security

    As an international player, the UK contributes to the collective defence of its allies, helping to deter and prevent conflict and support a rules-based international order. This plays a key role in fulfilling the nation’s moral and legal obligations.

  • Supporting the national economy

    Defence provides a number of benefits to the economy, from securing the conditions necessary for trade to investing in research and enabling innovation. Defence also provides opportunities in economically deprived areas across the UK, investing in both people and skills.

  • Contributing to national identity and social welfare

    Defence plays a role in contributing to the shared identity of the UK, fulfilling ceremonial roles in public life and helping to underpin local communities. It also strives to safeguard the UK’s military heritage and promote civic and social integration.

What do we recommend?

Various factors affect how different groups view the values of defence, from evolving political contexts to personal circumstance. To help the UK defence articulate a more compelling value proposition to multiple audiences, this study recommends it should:

  1. Seek to better understand the needs, wants and fears of different audiences to guide the use and realisation of its value proposition.
  2. Promote a common understanding and messaging of the value proposition across the defence enterprise.
  3. Tell an engaging and relatable story and disseminate its key messages in conjunction with partners across and outside of government.
  4. Continue to gather evidence on measures of defence value, and a more robust understanding of the links between defence outputs and outcomes.
  5. Promote a mature recognition of the opportunity costs and trade-offs associated with investing finite resources in defence alongside other priorities.
  6. Demonstrate confidence in its own value, recognising that its role in promoting policy objectives may not always be well understood by those defence serves.