Unfortunately, there was a whole pack of elephants; the crushing nature of the financial crisis, a blatantly obvious EU agenda, The Falkland Islands, criminal MoD incompetence, ongoing operations in Afghanistan and crippling service rivalries.
I am surprised there was room for any discussion at all; the room chock full to the brim with elephants.
The Financial Crisis
The size of a budget deficit is difficult to visualise but it’s big. This, coupled with the projected future overspend in the Equipment Programme and the ‘Libdem Trick’ movement of the Trident replacement into the Core Budget meant that significant budgetary adjustment was an inevitability.
However, one must question the Governments values if it thinks that making 12,000 personnel redundant whilst increasing the overseas development and EU budgets by significant amounts tallies with their much-trumpeted repair of the military covenant.
Forget the issue of weakening defence whilst contributing to contraception programmes in Africa or space programmes in India it is the rank hypocrisy that sticks in my craw.
Whatever your views on Afghanistan it is beyond comprehension that anything that hampered the operations would proceed. If we are to draw down in the 2014/15 timeframe then quite rightly we must absolutely concentrate resources on achieving a sensible outcome.
What that sensible outcome might actually be is, of course, another huge debating point but here seems to me to be a rather unseemly and unpleasant move to sweep Afghanistan under the carpet and get on with the business of buying shiny new toys, sorry, looking strategically at future threats.
Despite the significant contribution of the RAF and RN (Including RM), it is the Army that is most heavily engaged in operations in Afghanistan and therefore the RAF and RN would have to bear the brunt of the cuts in the SDSR.
Always present and always corrosive the shrinking budget brought out the worse in the senior and ex-senior people.
Where we needed vision and leadership we go squabbling.
Now the process is finished, for now, perhaps they should reflect on their conduct.
It isn’t helped by vitriolic, one-sided and bitter ranting in other online resources either. Perhaps instead of getting bothered, we should simply ridicule this hysterical ranting but it should serve as a lesson for 2015, where budgets are likely to be cut even further.
The European Union
For many people that voted Conservative the continued love affair of the party with the European Union is difficult to reconcile. The Liberal Democrat policy on greater EU integration is well known but for a Conservative government to backtrack on issues such as a referendum, budget increases and transfer of power would seem to explode the myth that they are cool on the EU.
A reduction of Greater EU defence cooperation was signalled in the election run-up but the SDSR has delivered more, not less.
David Cameron in his speech made the point that the UK still has the world’s 4th largest defence budget but that is nothing but a sick joke because the true value of a defence budget is not what one spends but what it buys.
The MoD’s criminal negligence has resulted in so much waste it truly is astonishing but I do have some sympathy for the MoD, not that much mind, but some. The department tries to spin multiple plates, the need to maintain sovereign manufacture and design capabilities, political interference and long term crystal ball gazing.
Is it any wonder that with so many competing influences the end result is often so bad.
The SDSR would be completed against an unchanged backdrop, the same old vested interests, be that dashing fellow in red trousers, the industry lobby or plain old regional politics.
The South Atlantic
This isn’t a real elephant but depending on what paper you read might be a mouse or a prehistoric giant woolly mammoth so I thought I would cover this in this section.
Most of the hyperbole about the SDSR and those bemoaning the loss of Harriers and, surface vessels and naval aviation capability usually gravitates to retaking the Falkland Islands.
How could we defend the Falklands comes the shrill cry?
I actually think the South Atlantic and southern Africa will become a strategically important area in the future so I don’t want to totally discount the issue but the clue to how we could defend the Falkland Islands is in the same sentence, defend that is. I am sure most sensible people would agree that it is better to prevent than cure, better to deter than react and better to defend than attack.
Since 1982 the Falklands Island Defence Force and UK forces have been working out, practising and generally perfecting how to defend the islands and given the collective expertise and experience one might think they might have a pretty good idea how to do it.
Let’s just imagine Argentina sets its mind to retaking the Islands by force, the scale of the challenge is immense. They would first have to build up their capabilities from their current woeful state. Assuming they can do this without the CIA, SIS and Wikipedia not noticing they would have to get past an advanced air defence radar, patrolling Royal Navy vessel, Rapier FSC installations, the small matter of 4 Typhoons at Mount Pleasant airfield, the Falkland Islands Defence Force and roulement Army battalion. Within a matter of days, we could have an additional squadron or two of Typhoon, AAR, SIGINT, AEW and additional ground forces.
The existing ground forces would be augmented by forces comprising one of the most battle-hardened and generally ‘nails’ army forces anywhere on the world.
No matter what the noises coming out of Brazil or Venezuela the fact is, Argentina would be on their own.
So, unless the Argentine forces have a TARDIS and can dematerialise in the middle of Port Stanley and MPA with 4 or 5 thousand Cybermen there is no possible way they can do anything but harass the odd trawler.
Let’s get real.
All Them Elephants
Let’s face it, it was almost impossible to generate a sensible review that had anything vaguely strategic when the room was so full of elephants.