Another guest post from AJ
It has now been almost a year since Prime Minister David Cameron, flanked by the Defence Secretary Liam Fox, announced the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) – a review that had been long in the waiting since 1998, and frequently called for.
While this review was always going to be difficult, with a heavily reported £30-6 billion black hole to plug, on top of Treasury imposed budget restrictions, could the Prime Minister have envisaged when he came into office how much of a long term and continuous headache the defence brief has become? The Arab Spring and the Libya effort aside, there have been some strategic and harsh cuts implemented over the past year with many more headline grabbing cuts to come – such as the Naval redundancies being implemented last week. This drip drip of bad news is starting to have detrimental ramifications with the public at large and traditional Conservative voters. It is suddenly conceivable that the public may soon back Labour on defence policy.;
The recent BAE cuts only serve to highlight the situation the Prime Minister finds himself regarding defence. Not only are members of the armed services, and 25 000 civilian MOD staff being cut, but the private sector is making swingeing cuts in localised areas up and down the country.
To look externally only serves to intensify the defence problem the PM is facing. We were told in June by Fox that the cost of the Libyan intervention would be absorbed by The Treasury. However it has now emerged that no additional funding will be made available for vital repairs and replenishments. This funding will now be diverted from the training and operation budgets of the armed forces which are already being hammered by cuts and redundancies. As Janes Defence Weekly (28 Sept) righty points out this raises huge concerns over the long term readiness of the armed forces going forward on a national and global scale.
This brings me to my next point regarding the UKs changing global presence., Jim Murphy, the Shadow Secretary for Defence used his party conference speech to focus on the armed forces. But he summed up the current global position effectively:
“Defence is becoming more expensive, more intricate and more unpredictable. The contest for clean water supply and population growth demand our attention alongside terrorism and cyber attack. In recent years we have seen states fail and in recent months we have seen governments fall. We are confronted by violent groups and malevolent individuals determined to do us harm. The pace of change is quickening. Wars amongst the people rather than across borders will be increasingly common. There are 27 States of Concern, from Chad to Uzbekistan. Today there is no opt-out. David Cameron is learning that on the job.”
There is therefore an increasingly dangerous global dynamic, yet worryingly there are a growing number of voices that are saying the UK is at a tipping point in the global scheme of things. The voices attest that our once superior power and position is waning; that the UK is relinquishing its global role in order to balance the books in time for the next general election in 2015.
This is an interesting argument, with many third party voices raising concerns, including the recently published United Kingdom National Defence Association report titled Inconvenient Truths, compiled by defence industry luminaries such as Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon and Sir Michael Rose. But the argument is made all the more forceful as these voices also come from within. For instance, Bernard Jenkins, Conservative MP and former Shadow Secretary of Defence (2001-2003), who has co-authored an influential pamphlet titled The Tipping Point: British National Strategy and the UK’s Future World Role; or The House of Commons Defence Committee, chaired by Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, which published, on August 3rd 2011, a strongly evidenced report entitled ‘The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy’
The commons select committee concludes that:
“The latest National Security Strategy is an improvement on earlier versions but we have major concerns regarding the realism of its statement of the UK’s position in the world and its influence. There is a clear contradiction in the short to medium term between the NSC’s statement “that Britain’s national interest requires the rejection of any notion of the shrinkage of UK influence in the world” and the Government’s overriding strategic aim of reducing the UK’s budget deficit. Despite the stated intention of rejecting any notion of the shrinkage of influence, our witnesses have forcefully told us that the UK’s global influence is shrinking.”
Similarly, the Bernard Jenkins pamphlet concludes:
“The United Kingdom is currently at a strategic tipping point. At stake is whether we wish to maintain our position as a global power with a global role, or whether we wish to become by default just another European country with only a regional one. A decline to regional-power status is not an inevitability; it is a choice, and one based upon erroneous assumptions about the nature of the geopolitical environment in which we operate, and the UK’s proper place within it.”
Is the UK flattering to deceive with its heavy and forceful involvement in Libya?
While Cameron may be taking plaudits for forcing the NATO agenda on Libya and pushing for a no fly zone, leading to the ultimate deposing of Gaddafi, many of the cuts that were due to come into effect were delayed for this war. For example the Nimrod intelligence gathering aircraft, which were all due to be scrapped remained in service for three additional months; as did HMS Cumberland, as well as a number of air-to-air refuelling aircraft and Hercules transport aircraft. There is a debate surrounding whether the UK could have been so forceful had the original cuts been delivered, rather than delayed; and to whether the UK would even have had the capability.
Either way, there are those that think the cuts are diminishing the UK power in the world and so far, a year after the cuts were announced and explained, there has not been a solid enough counter argument to allay these fears. These voices are growing louder; loud enough for Liam Fox to address this impending issue head on at the Conservative Party Conference.