Are we being unfair on the SDSR process, I ask because it seems that it has descended into a bitch fight between deeply entrenched views based on single service perspectives. The Army seem to be suggesting that we don’t need carriers, the RAF are saying air superiority is more important than tanks in Germany and the Royal Navy are suggesting that CVF is the answer to whatever question seems to fit the answer.
I have bemoaned the lack of a well articulated Strategic Vision from an almost invisible Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary but a three things are worth noting.
- We are skint
- We are skint
- Did I say, we are skint
Perhaps it’s simply time to accept that in such drastic times we can’t afford a strategy and a series of tactical decisions are needed to create the breathing space in which we can sit back and formulate a coherent strategy for the UK’s defence and wider security needs.
If we have a short term strategy it should sit on three tactical legs
Afghanistan*, whilst it is true that a strategy should consider the time period after Afghanistan there seems an unseemly haste to almost forget we are engaged in a resource hungry operation that must have absolute top priority. This is an uncomfortable fact for the other services but can they really insist on more jets or ships at the expense of day to day operations, care of the wounded and other ‘current account’ events?
Cost Reduction, whether we like it or not and even though I think we could all make a convincing case for why defence should be spared the reality is that the defence budget is massively overheated and that is before we even consider a reduction. It does seem manifestly unfair that the NHS and especially overseas aid is ring fenced
On Ice, any decisions on major projects should simply be deferred. A more considered SDSR should take no more than 6 months, building on work already done and if this means stretching build programmes out then we just have to accept the cost increases and other down sides.
The Defence and Foreign Secretary’s should simply be upfront and drop the pretence that the ‘strategy’ in the SDSR is simply to get through the next few years.
We definitely need a new direction, if only to answer a number of capability questions but there is a wide held belief that the current top down budgetary focus has relegated any strategy to being an also ran.
We need to get the SDSR right, we owe it to the country and the service personnel we put in harms way to avoid making long term decisions based on short term problems.
I also wonder that if Liam Fox has ‘won’ the battle over funding it merely puts off those difficult decisions that we all know will have to be made
*I fully accept that all three services are engaged and contributing to operations in Afghanistan