UK DEFENCE (10) – DEFENCE AS THE CORE RESPONSIBILUTY OF THE GOVERNMENT
By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
23 Sep 10. “It is folly for the Sheep to vote for Vegetarianism if the Wolf abstains”. Those that would allow Britain’s defence resources and capability to be cut to dangerously low levels would do well to heed the lessons contained in the above proverb. So too in my view should those who in the military and concept seek that our society should become far more risk averse even if these are most often the very same people who seek someone to blame when something goes wrong. They should be told in no uncertain terms that our enemies also have a vote too and that no matter whether they be terrorist or other known adversary enemies or those that would in future be our enemies will be watching each and every move that we take with regard to how we structure future defence capability. They should also remember that we predict the end of conflict at our peril and that we have a very long history of failure now in our ability to predict not only where the next conflict might be but also whether we actually have correct levels of capability to handle it.
As I look at the process of SDSR, the methods and approach that is based purely on cost as opposed to threat and that no matter how one looks at it is clearly being rushed through at the behest of the Treasury my concerns continue to grow. Will the result of this rushed SDSR process mean that we no longer have adequate levels of resource for our armed forces? Are we at risk of basing too much of what we decide on the short term requirement, basing too much of what we might in future require on the current war in Afghanistan and ignoring longer term defence requirements? Probably we are. Given the steady cut in defence spending as a proportion to GDP over the past thirty years from 8% to just 2% now and maybe 1.7% post SDSR given the increased level of threats we face have we not already gone far to far down in terms of what we put into national defence and for meeting our many NATO and foreign obligations? Undoubtedly we have in my personal view.
In any discussion covering UK defence capability, necessary and maybe long overdue changes that will as a direct result of SDSR result in significant reductions of both manpower and equipment across all three of our armed forces one will uncover the parochial argument from some parts of the military that at all costs specific capability must be protected. This is of course most often done for all the right reasons such as recognition of the specific affect cuts might have on the existing mission. I make no apology for placing Air Power and Deterrence as being the two single most important facets of defence capability in my book. Neither do I make any apology for giving considerable support to the defence industrial base in light of how the results of the SDSR process will seriously damage what remains of the UK defence manufacturing skills base. I am of course an ardent supporter of defence exports, of NATO and yet whilst fully recognising the brilliant deterrent role that Trident has achieved I am for now neutral on the timing of its replacement save for the damage that delay will do to an already very weak skills base.
It is all too easy to ask the question whether one actually needs to USE capability for it to be justified. It is also true that the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy have over the years had much capability that they never needed to use in anger. But the real point to this argument is to recognise that you do not have to USE capability for it to be justified. It is there just as it should be, as a deterrence or to put it another way, to be seen walking softly whilst at the same time seen to be carrying a big stick! In the skies we do this by carrying significant airpower capability – technology that is also our asymmetric advantage. In the seas and oceans around us we do this by be