THE ROW OVER THE UK STRATEGIC DEFENCE REVIEW: A COMMENT
"Defence cuts will have 'grave consequences' Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a “super CSR” (Comprehensive Spending Review). If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war. I am very grateful to Peter Ricketts and Jeremy Heywood for the help they have given officials who have worked strenuously to bridge a gap that is, financially and intellectually virtually impossible. I am concerned that we do not have a narrative that we can communicate clearly....
How do we want to be remembered and judged for our stewardship of national security? We have repeatedly and robustly argued that this is the first duty of Government and we run the risk of having those words thrown back at us if the SDSR fails to reflect that position and act upon it.
I suggest we start tomorrow’s discussion by asking whether we are really prepared to see Defence spending reduced to this level. The impact on capability, particularly in the maritime domain, would be more substantial than one might imagine from the paper.
Our decisions today will limit severely the options available to this and all future governments. The range of operations that we can do today we will simply not be able to do in the future. In particular, it would place at risk:
The reduction in overall surface ship numbers means we will be unable to undertake all the standing commitments (providing a permanent Royal Navy presence in priority regions) we do today. Assuming a presence in UK waters, the Falklands and in support of the deterrent is essential we would have to withdraw our presence in, for example, the Indian Ocean, Caribbean or Gulf.
Deletion of the amphibious shipping (landing docks, helicopter platforms and auxiliaries) will mean that a landed force will be significantly smaller and lighter and deployed without protective vehicles or organic fire. We could not carry out the Sierra Leone operation again.
Deletion of the Nimrod MR4 will limit our ability to deploy maritime forces rapidly into high-threat areas, increase the risk to the Deterrent, compromise maritime CT (counter terrorism), remove long range search and rescue, and delete one element of our Falklands reinforcement plan".
Dr. Liam Fox [UK Defence Minister] to Prime Minister David Cameron, in "Defence Cuts: Liam Fox's letter in full," 28 September 2010, in www.telegraph.co.uk.
"Such reductions are inconsistent with the government’s stated desire to retain Britain’s global reach. This requires a range of unflashy hardware. So while it may be possible to retain costly symbols of great power status, such as aircraft carriers and the nuclear deterrent, this can be achieved only by surrendering the substance of power.
Moreover, the Afghan commitment ensures that any review will be lopsided because of the need to maintain army numbers. David Cameron is understood to have ruled out reductions before the exit from Afghanistan. This means huge cuts to the navy’s surface fleet – axing the frigates needed to counter emerging threats such as piracy – and the air force.
Mr Cameron has thus far avoided getting drawn into the fray, but this needs to change. He must stamp his authority on the review and stop the infighting. This does not mean dismissing the concerns that have been expressed. Mr Fox is right to warn that the review must look beyond 2015, and assess the capabilities the armed forces might need in the longer term. Once surrendered, these are not easily recovered".
Leader, "UK Defence Review", 2 October 2010, in www.ft.com.
"The U.K. was lifted out of the European queue and we were treated as partners, unequal no doubt in power but still equal in counsel."
Clement Attlee [UK Prime Minister] to Ernest Bevin [Foreign Secretary] summarizing the results of his Washington visit in December 1950, 10 December 1950, in Alan Bullock, Earnest Bevin: Foreign Secretary (1983), p.824.
The importance of the row between the UK Defence Minister, Dr. Fox and the Chancellor, George Osborne, no doubt has various elements over and beyond those pertaining to Defence spending. Such as the fact that Dr. Fox is perceived (probably correctly) by both the Chancellor and his close ally the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron as being an unfortunate combination of politically maladroit and politically distant if not hostile to the 'Cameron projet' (on this point see: David Blackburn, "Forget the Culprit, the MoD leak suggests that Fox does not have Cameron's confidence," 30 September 2010, in www.spectator.co.uk). However, notwithstanding this somewhat important variable in the contention between the two parties, that fact of the matter is that if the proposed cuts to the UK military spending were to go through, it would have a most drastic effect on not only the UK's military strength, and it future power projection, but, it would most likely signal a quietus, and probably a permanent one at that, to the idea that Great Britain was any type of Great Power `a la Russia, China and France. Need one add that the fact that such liberal, bien-pensant voices, as the Financial Times, leader writer, and others as Philip Stephens, and the New York Times editorial board, provide clear enough evidence of the potentially drastic changes envisaged if the cuts were indeed to go through. Currently, the United Kingdom has the fourth highest defence budget on the planet (after those of the USA, China and France). It also currently has the largest number of aircraft carriers after the USA, and has the second largest navy after the USA (for all of these bits of information, see: James Hackett, ed. The Military Balance 2010, The International Institute for Strategic Studies). Presuming that something along the lines of the Chancellor's proposed cuts do come to pass, then it will be very much a case of fini la Angleterre as a not only one of the half dozen Great Powers, but, also one can very easily write off any idea of a Anglo-American, 'special relationship'. Which while more storied than substantive at times, did have in the Blair-Clinton & Blair-Bush years an important element of truth to it. As the British Ambassador to Washington during the beginning of the Bush-Blair years (Sir Christopher Meyers) commented in his memoirs concerning the relationship between the two powers:
"We may have been the junior partner in the enterprise; but the ace up our sleeve was that America did not want to go it alone" (in Sir Christopher Meyer, DC Confidential, 2005, p. 282.
Said 'influence' (for a differing view of the same, see Geoffrey Wheatcroft's book: Yo, Blair!), is ultimately dependent upon the UK's ability to project military power beyond its borders, and especially overseas to the more distant points on the globe. Absence of which, one can indeed speak of the UK joining in earnest the 'European queue', that Attlee spoke so condescendingly of back in 1950. The Europe that is of Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Ireland. All worthy and civilized countries, but none of whom one would think of being Great Powers in any real sense of the term.