23 Jun 15. In what I can only imagine to be only the first of several somewhat underhand moves to come that will enable the Secretary of State for Defence to claim next year that Britain is continuing to spend the minimum agreed 2% of GDP on defence we learned yesterday that the cross-departmental Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and that is perhaps better known as the ‘Conflict Prevention Pool’ is now to have all of its £1bn plus budget assigned to the UK defence budget.
CSSF funding is made available for various peacekeeping, conflict avoidance, diplomatic, educational and other missions and it has been a great addition to the concept of defence diplomacy as well. The concept has been very successful and in my view CSSF should, just as its predecessor Global Conflict Prevention Pool organisation had, be seen as an important part of the role a nation such as Britain, still the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world, should be expected to play in terms of international diplomacy and effort to maintain peace, harmony and global stability.
So what is at stake? With a budget of £1bn we are being warmed up to accepting that the budget for CSSF will, instead of being funded by various government departments as hitherto, future be funded entirely by the MOD even though only around £450m of the outgoings can be properly linked to defence. The point is that the sole burden of responsibility is being placed on defence for expediency and purely political reasoning. It is yet another example of policy based on a total lack of strategy.
That the whole of the ‘conflict pool’ budget is to be moved onto the defence budget and away from the previous well method of cross governmental Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department of International Development and Home Office funding is not the primary issue here. It is the way, the manner and the poor reasoning and logic as to why this is being done.
I suspect that the Cabinet Office and Treasury are kidding themselves if they believe for one moment that we are not already well aware that the real and only reason for making this change is to dress the headline defence budget number up in order to be able to claim that next year Britain will still be spending 2% of its GDP on defence. The reality behind the intention lies in the intention that having beefed the top number up will allow the Government to take yet another big swipe at real defence spending in the months ahead.
I am almost bound to conclude that if my assumption is correct we seem to have sunk to yet another new low in the lack of understanding and respect that our Government has for defence and that in our eyes should always be prime responsibility and priority for any government.
I guess that this latest underhand move pushing CSSF onto the defence budget is meant also to pave the way for adding the £0.7bn international aid budget on as well. Such moves and ideas leave me almost speechless and I am bound to wonder what they might try next? Might, for instance, they soon try and add the budget for police onto defence as well and what about the cost of guarding our prisons?
Those that have read recent defence commentaries from me will know that I am no real fan of one aspect of what governments signed up to at last years’ NATO summit in Wales. I refer to the agreement to work toward spending 2% of GDP on defence. It is not that I disagree with a figure of 2% figure being the minimum responsibility that member states should be spending on defence but moreover that as GDP is itself a moveable feast a better way of ensuring that we spend sufficient on defence would be to agree that each nation spends 7% of its annual budgeted public expenditure on defence. To me that would be a far more fair and workable arrangement for member states to sign up to.
Managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office together with the Department for International Development (DFID) the Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP) and its later transformation as the Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) had originally been set up late in 2000 as a means of facilitating cross departmental coordination aimed at realising a more strategic and cost effective UK approach to conflict prevention and reduction.
Now to include seats at the same table for the Home Office and Intelligence Agencies as well in June 2013 the Government announced that it would provide more than £1bn in 2015/16 for the replacement CSSF to build on the success of what had been previously established and to deliver better outcomes and priorities as laid out by the National Security Council.
The primary activities of the original GCPP and what is now the CSSF include conflict assessment, supporting peace initiatives, promoting safety and security, supporting fair and accessible justice systems, professionalising security services, demobilising, disarming and reintegrating soldiers, building capacity of civil society organisations, research and evaluation to adapt agreed process activities in response to changing circumstances.
Over the past fourteen years GCPP/CSSF have been used to great advantage in the Balkan region, following the earlier war, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia and elsewhere. The security aspect focuses on analysis and policy development, technical assistance, capacity building, transferring of expertise and learning to countries undertaking reforms, providing cross departmental analysis on security sector issues and building a holistic global network to exchange information. To this can be added raising awareness, working with the United Nations, EU, and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and also the Council of Europe and other government and non-government organisations to strengthen responses at an international level.
You get the picture I am sure and there is no doubt that much good work has been done since GCPP was set up and funded all those years ago. At the heart of diplomatic effort and in part defence diplomacy there is certainly an extremely good case to be made for its continued existence. But, as the structure was from the outset designed to be part responsible to Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and having additional responsibility to both the Home Office in terms of security and the Ministry of Defence in terms of defence diplomacy I take the view that the status quo of how the current CSSF is funded required no alteration.
Speaking about the change in budget responsibility for the Global Conflict Prevention Pool to the BBC News website the former Minster for International Security Strategy, Sir Gerald Howarth MP said that “it was not fair to include contributions to the Conflict Pool in defence expenditure”. “We are” he said “facing a far more dangerous world than we did in 2010 and [this move] looks like [what] the government is doing is raising a whole series of accounts and saying we didn’t include those in the defence budget in the past but in order to make up the 2% [of GDP to be spent on defence] and satisfy people like me, we are going to raid these accounts adding that “while it may be perfectly legitimate under NATO rules it would not allay concerns among sections of the British military and foreign allies about the UK’s ability to fulfil its commitments on the world stage”.
Sir Gerald is well known for speaking his mind and being open and honest about it. In this case I completely agree the sentiments he has expressed but would go one stage further and say that it is underhand and completely dishonest for any governments to play with defence. It is demoralising for those in the military too and it removes what little credibility they would feel still existed in government. I am personally quite ashamed to think that this move will be followed by other moves intended to make out that Britain will after all be able to say that it is spending 2% of GDP on defence next year.
Whoever leaked the intended change in budget responsibility of GCPP to defence was quick to tell us that NATO had agreed. Well, with Britain being the second largest contributor to NATO behind the US I guess that NATO was hardly in any position to say no. And no doubt it will say that it agrees to the clearly planned change that will follow when the dust has settled moving the International Aid budget onto defence as well.
It is a sad nation and a sad government that sinks to such depths when it comes to defence of the realm. But I suppose that it is a sad reflection of what we as a nation have become. I cannot account for why a government seeks to deceive the population that we have adequate levels of defence capability in the UK and I will have no truck with lies and deceit and will continue to expose this wherever it raises its ugly head. Whilst I will always accept that affordability has to be an issue and praise the government for what it is doing in that respect I will never accept further damaging of defence to be an acceptable answer to the problems we suffer.
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