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By John Reed

25 Mar 10. Historically, Labour governments have often been ‘good for defence’. Yet after thirteen years in office the best that New Labour could manage on Budget Day television was an admission that no decision could be made on 2012 defence funding until after the completion of the Strategic Defence Review that it promises if returned to office. Those with their boots on the ground in dangerous places may take the line that they are still waiting for previous reviews to deliver in full.
It may be inappropriate to try to second-guess the outcome of the upcoming SDR. What is clear is that it will have to be overseen by a minister with a Healey-like combination of intellect and political clout. Its predecessor has passed through the hands of a succession of ministerial pygmies and became trapped between a political rock (read ‘Treasury’) and some very hard places.

The ensuing mish-mash of UORs, interim solutions and seriously constrained procurements may provide a basis for projecting forces capable of overcoming elusive and amorphous (so-called ‘starfish’) adversaries operating from overcrowded conurbations and hostile coastlines. The fear is that a disconnect between Treasury and defence planners may have already impacted on the development of the capabilities that will be necessary to address the most complex challenges – not the least of which may be electronic and cyber attack.

For a brief period between the attacks of 9/11 and the onset of ‘shock and awe’ against Iraq it seemed that the UK MoD was determined to get to grips with the relationship between economic growth and defence spending. There were indications that the planners were considering the relative positions of the high rollers and the UK. Their conclusion may have been that the UK would find it increasingly difficult to retain its historically advantageous situation. In the event their world has been turned upside down and they have been pitchforked into the century’s second decade without the assurance of ring-fenced funding from any of the major political parties.

Cleaning up the mess that the pigmies have left in Whitehall requires a firm hand and will not be eased by the nation talking itself into a hung Parliament.

The foregoing is the personal view of the author and does not reflect those of any political party or other constituency of interests.

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