UK DEFENCE – IS ANYONE IN GOVERNMENT LISTENING?
By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
07 Mar 11. It is becoming increasingly clear that no matter how much pressure is brought to bear in terms of the SDSR plan to slash spending on defence that the Coalition Government is not for turning. By now you have heard it all, read it all and as each day goes by from now on you will see it all too – an absolute disaster unfolding before your very eyes. I have sadly already seen it too. Returning to the Royal Navy dockyard at Devonport last Thursday following a hugely rewarding three day period aboard Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans and that included a day on board the Type 45 Destroyer HMS Dauntless too I was to catch sight of the prematurely decommissioned frigate HMS Chatham [one of four Type 22 frigates that will as a direct result of SDSR all be retired by the end of April this year] being stripped of its stores and weapons. Having made comment on how both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force proved their respective worth in Libya only last week I will not repeat myself but it goes without saying that I along with many others of sound mind regret the reckless manner in which UK defence capability is being ditched. Is the government listening to the many voices expressing concern that SDSR cuts are going too deep and too far? In a word the answer is no and with both the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury at opposite with some of those charged with the direct and specific responsibility for managing defence it seems that no matter how loud the cries of anguish over cuts yet become that unless there is some kind of change in the overall public attitude and mood to defence I fear all pleas to David Cameron to think again on some defence cuts will for now fall on deaf ears.
It has not been my nature over the past ten months to criticise the Prime Minister so believe me when I say that I dislike doing so now. But in all honesty I can no longer hide my disappointment that whilst being very fully aware of the scale of the inherited deficit and debt problem that the Coalition Government needs to resolve we are in my view ignoring some of the most central requirements and responsibilities that a responsible government should have in terms of national defence together with the burden of international responsibility that of necessity we much carry. Moreover that I fret that the government strategy toward defence is motivated on a desire to move in the direction of public opinion. Whilst it is true that countless dozens of politicians, former defence chiefs, many other former and maybe still serving senior officers together with the many defence specialist and specialist press have taken a similarly negative view over cuts to that of myself the public has remained diffident on the whole issue of defence.
To some extent public diffidence toward the central issue of defence cuts may be understandable by virtue of what they constantly see in relation to proposed cuts in other areas that they see on TV screens, hear on radio and read in the press every day. The point is that in the public eye if cuts are being made to other services then as far as they are concerned defence must take its share of the pain. Maybe so but surely there are many other connotations to consider in terms of defence? More anon on that point but the point is to recognise that if the public is going in a specific direction then that is the way the prime minister will go.
To those of you that like myself believe passionately that defence should be the prime mover for any government the message is grim – this government isn’t for turning on matters of defence cuts. That will not stop the drums of common sense from being continually sounded but as we attack those in high office that we may feel are mainly responsible for the current unacceptable position we should take care to realise that it was the forebears of this government that created the overall