SDSR 2010 was was widely reported to have been beset with last-minute horse-trading, backroom deals and a general air of inter-service backstabbing that, ultimately, benefited neither the services or the nation. This time around there has been a wide recognition that the same behaviour cannot be repeated and so far, the leaks, rumours and fighting seem to have been contained or nonexistent.
Whilst there would have been likely some finishing touches the bulk of the decisions and their underpinning financial and operational analysis would have been completed some time ago.
The SDSR is a political document first and foremost, and anyone that thinks other is naive. SDSR 2010 was primarily about the deficit the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition had inherited from the previous Labour Government. The narrative was the need to fiscal discipline, filling the £37 Billion black hole (that incidentally, 5 years later, has still not been adequately identified) and closing the book on Afghanistan chapter. Painful decisions like the withdrawal of the Harrier fleet and cancellation of Nimrod MRA4 were couched in financial terms, drawing a thick black line to the deficit.
The political narrative for SDSR 2010 was clearly different.
Underlying it all was still the need to reduce the deficit but it was much less a powerful voice in the ensuing debate. Crimea, Ukraine, our Baltic NATO allies, security across NATO’s Southern borders and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa were seen as equal challenges.
Challenges that did not require the deployment of ground forces in the Middle East, the thinking was, the public had got that T-Shirt, and didn’t want another thank you very much.
SDSR 2015 was going to balance the need for deficit reduction with multiple threats, each of those threats requiring a very different approach. Security was back on the agenda, despite the dubious manner in which the NATO 2% of GDP spending would be met, the political intent was clear, it would be met. The big ticket MMA, Carrier Strike, Successor and Frigate projects were seen as likely winners and the Army, big losers, despite the commitment to not reducing regular Army strength.
Then Paris happened.
As Harold McMillan might have observed;
Events dear boy, events
Events mean that it is looking increasingly possible that some form of accommodation with Russia will become a political reality, in return for a joint approach to ISIL. Russia’s intervention in support of Assad (mostly) and against ISIS has to coin a phrase, been a game changer. They have demonstrated political and strategic ambition and boldness that has eluded the West in the region, no doubt, the bear is back in town. They have also amply demonstrated military agility and reach beyond what many Western analysts and politicians though possible. It may all be a bit glass jawed, but one cannot fail to be impressed.
If France manages to get a UN Security Council resolution through, with the support of Russia and China (now both victims of ISIS), then the political and military landscape for Syria and Iraq will look very different than they do now.
A post-Paris UK poll suggested that over 60% of the people asked would now support a ground offensive to destroy ISIS, in France, applications for the armed forces have tripled, and even senior USAF officials are now publically stating the air war can only go so far in achieving the goal of an eradicated ISIS. Although ISIS are shrinking due to improving coordination between the Kurds, Iraqi and other groups, and the ongoing support from NATO and Russia, they are now at their most dangerous.
Which brings me back to SDSR.
As I mentioned above, SDSR is a political document and a political process.
There may be a few digs at the clown show that is the current Labour Party defence team but any more would be misjudging the mood of the nation considerably.
An ongoing attack in Mali, considerable loss of life in Africa, Yemen and Libya serious problems and continuing threats to Europe from ISIS mean Donetsk or Riga is not on the public mind.
Russia is seen to be a considerably lower threat than Islamic terrorism.
If SDSR does not address this public perception, it will be seen as out of touch and a pointless exercise, it may well already, in fact, it would be inconceivable if it didn’t.
My question though, to what extent is it being revised, decisions reversed, tweaks made and priorities changed?
Some, none, or a lot?
Normal jogging or weekend working?