Defence Cuts - Letter to the Sunday Telegraph - 19 June 2011
Britain must reverse the defence cuts before it is too late. Leading military figures say Britain has carelessly thrown away its naval capability.
Sir – Controversy is growing over whether we and the few active Nato European allies can sustain the Libyan operation and bring it to a successful conclusion. This, together with the parlous state of our Armed Forces, and the threats to their morale, means that urgent reconsideration of Britain’s defence strategy and budget is now unavoidable.
The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) was a badly rushed and myopic exercise. It was driven more by fiscal considerations than a well-informed, objective review of strategy. It came on top of the steady and considerable ‘‘peace dividend’’ taken by the Major government, followed by 13 years of a Labour government that left the Armed Forces in disarray.
On top of this, the SDSR imposed further severe cuts and now, incredibly, yet more cuts are envisaged. Even if there had subsequently been no harmful international developments, the need for reconsideration would already be compelling.
But there have now been two major adverse changes. First, the ‘‘Arab Spring’’, which is already unsettling many Middle East and North African countries and is likely to intensify, is destabilising the region, with consequent effects on the price of oil and the world economy.
Second, America’s Defence Secretary, in his June 10 valedictory address to Nato, has made it clear that the American government, military and people are losing all patience with Nato Europe.
The future of Nato is being questioned, and is in jeopardy unless European countries significantly increase their defence budgets and play a full part in combat operations. Worse, on June 13 the Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted decisively to deny the US government funding for further Libyan involvement – even though the allies are already running out of missiles, ammunition, etc, and are expecting America to fill the gaps.
This may well become the most serious development for British and European security for decades. The twin pillars of Britain’s security since the Second World War have been the ‘‘Special Relationship’’ (what David Cameron and President Obama recently called the ‘‘Essential Relationship’’) with America, and the Nato alliance. Both are now at risk.
We believe the Government must therefore reassess Britain’s defences and security to take account of these major developments. The defence budget must be restored so that all three Services have the capability to defend properly Britain’s worldwide interests and trade, and fulfil Britain’s Nato obligations. It is vital to show America that we deserve the ‘‘Special Relationship’’, and to set an example to Nato Europe.
David Cameron, both as Leader of the Opposition and as Prime Minister, has consistently affirmed that the first and overwhelming duty of any government is the defence of the realm. Mr Cameron also vowed, when he became Prime Minister, not to persist with decisions that subsequently proved to be wrong, as he has courageously shown in several key policy areas in recent weeks.
We therefore strongly urge the Prime Minister to recognise the changed situation. He may well be right to increase foreign aid, but such aid can only reduce world tensions in the long run. It is no substitute for proper defence provision now.
A last point. The history of war, including all recent wars, shows that nearly all of them were unforeseen. The seven wars in which Britain was engaged over the past 30 years, from the Falklands to Libya, were all unexpected. And the unpredicted ‘‘Arab Spring’’ is sure to be only the beginning of more instability.
Under these circumstances, an accountant’s approach to strategy is bound to fail. All three Services need a general capability and proper contingency reserve to be fit for the challenges ahead. Given the long lead times – 10 to 15 years, sometimes more – for major equipment provision, and the need to recruit and train servicemen and women to use them effectively, what we spend now will determine our defence effectiveness in the 2020s and beyond.
Only provision based on wise foresight can ensure our long-term security. It represents the highest return on national investment we shall ever make.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon.
Lieutenant General Sir Henry Beverley.
Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham.
Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley.
Major General Julian Thompson.
Air Commodore Andrew Lambert.
Colonel Tim Collins.
Commander John Muxworthy.
UK National Defence Association, Portsmouth, Hampshire.