With cuts to frontline policing, border guards and the UK’s diplomatic network expected to come later this week, the Government will have failed to provide the joined-up Security Review the country needs in response to Isis, Russia and cyber attacks
Yesterday’s Strategic Defence and Security Review was nothing but an attempt by the Government to fix the litany of mistakes they have made on Defence over the past five years. The Tories’ record is one of lamentable failure. Beginning with the rushed, Treasury-led 2010 Review, they delivered 14.1% cuts to the UK’s Defence budget over the last parliament, during which time the Russian Government increased theirs by 40%.
Since then the MoD has been dogged by ministerial incompetence, short-term decision making and waste. The Government has failed to articulate a coherent vision for the UK’s role in the world and has left the UK without key military capabilities, gaps that the UK and our Armed Forces are still living with.
The Government’s SDSR announcements hinge on the additional £12 billion available for new Defence equipment, which demands close scrutiny. The Review document suggests that the vast majority of the funds for this new equipment – £11 billion – will come from as yet-undelivered ‘efficiency savings’.
There are serious questions about whether reductions to the civil service on this scale are either desirable or achievable. Most importantly, if ministers do not meet the steep savings targets they have set themselves, the Government will surely be forced to break the clear promises they have made this week on equipment for our Armed Forces. As a result, the Government run the risk of creating a serious funding gap at the heart of this SDSR.
Furthermore, yesterday’s Review failed to confirm when the maritime patrol aircraft will come into service, with remaining technical concerns about their chosen option potentially causing further delays. The recent episode in which the UK was forced to rely on our French and Canadian allies to detect Russian submarines—one of many examples of such a humiliation in the past four years—reinforces the urgency of resolving this gap of ministers’ making. With the Poseidon aircraft reportedly not ready until 2020, at the earliest, the Tories will have presided over almost a decade without the country being able to patrol its own waters.
The 2015 SDSR also offered nothing but confusion on our Royal Navy fleet, with the Government failing to spell out properly what its strategy for the UK’s maritime Force is. In 2010 the Tories scrapped the Navy’s flagship–HMS Ark Royal—and now we learn they will shelve our current flagship—HMS Ocean—as part of this Review. The Government needs to come clean and explain exactly why it is retiring this key capability not only months after it was re-fitted, but years before the new class of aircraft carriers will be ready for service. It is becoming clear this Defence Review is a real hammer blow for the Royal Navy.
The Government also need to clear up the confusion that now surrounds the Vanguard Successor programme. They need to provide a breakdown of the new cost estimates the SDSR provided, clarify the new timescales for the Successor programme, and articulate the strategy underpinning this important decision.
Nor should we forget that the Army has shed 20,000 soldiers on David Cameron’s watch. With minor Government increases to RAF and Royal Navy personnel barely beginning to address the shortfall left by the 2010 review, the Government has singularly failed to make the strategic case for its Armed Forces reforms.
All this comes on top of the thousands of redundancies ministers have handed out to Forces personnel, and the severe changes to the pay and pensions of serving Personnel. This has led to a collapse in morale amongst our Armed Forces, who act bravely to defend the country and provide the security we all cherish. This week’s Defence Review raised the prospect of the Tories further ebbing away at the terms of service, which will be a cause of great anxiety amongst the armed forces community. It is clear that David Cameron is choosing to balance the books at the MoD on the backs of our Armed Forces.
A number of serious changes to the security environment since 2010 have led to an increase in the number and complexity of the threats facing us: from Russia; to Isis; to cyber-attack. With cuts to frontline policing, border guards and the UK’s diplomatic network expected to come later this week, the Government will have failed to provide the joined-up Security Review the country needs.
In order for the UK to address these challenges, we needed to see a Defence Review that placed our Armed Forces and security infrastructure on a sustainable footing and enabled them to face the challenges of the future. Instead, this SDSR singularly failed to address the ongoing capability gaps of their making, and raised many more as-yet unanswered questions around equipment and funding. In the meantime, it is our Armed Forces and the British people are still paying the price for the mistakes of the 2010 review.