The previous articles in this series have looked at Britain’s Great Power potential through the prism of its key strategic abilities. The prism itself is the RUSI FDR policy papers that particularized the doctrines; Global Guardian, Strategic Raiding, and Contributory, which alongside the Strategic Deterrent neatly encapsulate the core ambitions of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. This series of articles has also accepted the précis of the third RUSI paper which outlined the coming cuts that will need to be made if Defence is to live comfortably within its current budget. The thrust of this article is to ask the question; should we not expect more if that is what Britain’s strategic interests demand?
This perhaps is the greatest flaw in the the RUSI and IPPR FDR policy papers; that they run scared of post-recession austerity under the presumption that politicians won’t have any interest in properly funding Defence at a time when the electorate is howling at them to reduce deficits and lower taxes.
It is here that the United Kingdom National Defence Association has proved particularly refreshing, with their consistent and forthright argument that Defence is underfunded and cannot continue to guarantee Britain’s safety if the situation is not rectified. Their most recent paper; UK Defence Needs carries this position admirably:
According to the present Prime Minister:
“The first priority of any government is to provide security for its people.”
If this means anything it is that defence provision must be directly related to the threats to our security; that is it must be threat driven not budget driven.
Yet, sadly, his political rhetoric has not been met by his economic largesse. Defence spending, at just 2.2% of the UK’s GDP, has never been lower. The cash budget allocated to defence is half that spent on loan interest payments, half that on education, half that on health and half that on the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. It is even (roughly) half the budget for the Department of Work & Pensions.
It is notable that the Conservatives also claim that any future Defence Review would be policy driven rather than budget driven, but you will forgive this blog some small scepticism over that absolute sincerity of the statement.
The document goes on to say:
The Review must assess how and where the country will be allied. Is the future strategy to be found in a re-worked NATO, based on a trans-Atlantic collective security or, as the IPPR contend upon an EU orientation. What would our future allies offer, and what, in turn, would the UK be expected to contribute? When and where would Britain have to act alone?
Here the UKNDA are in agreement with RUSI, and in direct opposition to the IPPR contention that Britain’s day of independent action are over. This blog agrees that Great Power status demands independent strategic capability, and that Great Power status is a priceless asset to possess, therefore a coalition future a-la the Contributory doctrine sells the country short.
The Review must be entirely honest in fully recognizing that that most of Britain’s wars in the last 100 years were unforeseen, including all of the last five wars since 1997 (Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan). Hence, whatever levels of assurance the Review team attach to their strategic threat assessments they will need to be clear that the most likely challenges the UK will face in the next 20 years will continue to be entirely unexpected, surprising and unfunded. Whatever capabilities and force levels that have been elaborated, it will be vital to have sufficient margin in all three services to meet the unpredictable.
This is a clear argument to retain Britain as a broad-spectrum Great Power, in opposition to the RUSI strategy of narrowly focused power projection. Neither argument is contradictory given that they work from different base economic assumptions, however this blog recognises the inherent wisdom of both arguments. Force must not be diffused to the point where it no longer represents a strategic capability, and yet to narrowly focus on too few capabilities could be very dangerous in an uncertain future.
The issue of transparency. Once the range of threats and their counters have been elaborated then the electorate must be fully informed and the appropriate resources made available by statute of Parliament. Defence provision cannot be subject to short-term political fiat – merely a wish-list conjured up by a Treasury defence team to meet regional employment or other economic criteria. The whole country must sign up to the methodology of meeting Britain’s strategic needs. Never again must defence be a milch cow for profligacy elsewhere.
This point is an unambiguous statement of distrust in the political parties to make good on their promise of a policy driven Defence Review. This blog also has grave doubts about the commitment of politicians to properly fund Defence, especially when the global financial crisis gives them such a convenient excuse for cutting spending and controlling budgets.
Based on the principle that there are no votes in Defence, we can be certain that politicians will continue to view Defence as a handy pot of money to dip into for the pet-projects, and given that the Defence of the Realm is supposed to be the first duty of the sovereign nation state, this blog proposes the following:
1 Legislate a minimum peacetime Defence budget of 2.5% of GDP
Was 3.5% in 1990, was supposed to remain at 2.5%, now down to 2.2% of GDP
2. Have a standing parliamentary commission to determine if we are in fact at peace
And to mandate the appropriate increase if we are not; prevents under-resourcing
3. Legislate all operational costs to be reviewed authorised by the standing committee
Prevents the Treasury clawing back UOR money, or ignoring attrition as an operational cost
4. Provide a ten year boost to defence spending in order to make good a decade of underfunding
Would allow the Defence procurement budget to be brought back on track, and therefore relieve pressure on wages
Turn the argument on its head; by all means have a policy-led Defence Review, but underpin it with an economic floor through which the Defence budget will not sink. Currently only UKIP have made such a policy commitment, but this blog would be delighted to see the mainstream parties steal its clothes.
Further on in UK Defence Needs a very important point is made:
Facile comparisons such as ‘hospitals or guns’ need to be replaced by true cost-benefit analysis. What, for example, is the marginal increase in benefit from another £1bn spent on a Health Service of £82bns compared with that same £1bn spent in a seriously underfunded defence budget of well under half?
Or, conversely what are the real implications of £1bn removed? The debate will need informed leadership from the highest level so that principles can be properly adhered to and then capabilities honestly resourced and guaranteed. It is undeniably true that we can have Armed Forces much smaller than those that we have now, but at a heavy strategic price and increased risk. What we can no longer afford is to pretend that the risks to our security are few and easily controlled, that we can shelter under another power’s umbrella, that a state’s ‘intentions’ are more important than its military capability, and that we can send too few armed forces into a battle, any battle, for which they are untrained, under-equipped or unsupported.
The logical fallacy that it is inconsistent to support reduced government spending whilst at the same time calling for increased Defence spending must be challenged, and it must be challenged by pointing out how small a portion of total government spending Defence now represents.
Here we get to the meat of the argument; how much, and for how long:
The further good news is that while the much needed efficiency drive in the MoD gets under way, capable of saving perhaps £3bn-£4bn per annum, the Strategic Review will also take place. While that review will almost certainly identify the need for net increases in defence expenditure – much cheaper than running otherwise serious risks and suffering large economic losses – such increases – given the nature of defence expenditure programmes – can mainly begin only slowly from 2011. They are likely to be of the order of £4bn-£5bn in the first year, rising to perhaps £12bn in the third year (2013) and then levelling out. By then the worst of the recession will be over and economic growth will have resumed, making the expenditures both more bearable and affordable. Thus the justifiable interest of both the Treasury and MoD should be capable of being met. The long-term security of Britain can still be met provided that there are no more ill-considered short-term cuts, that undeniable shortfalls are quickly met and an absolute commitment given to provide whatever resources the Strategic Review shows to be necessary.
The twin pillars of Britain’s defence since World War II have been the Special Relationship with the United States and the NATO alliance to which Britain’s contribution has been second only to that of America. Unless we restore our defence capability both the Special Relationship and NATO cohesion are at risk, which would leave us seriously exposed.
There is a last and particularly important reason for Britain to raise her defence contribution and make it once again the top national priority. Britain is one of the leading nations below the big superpowers of America and China. If Britain does not raise her defence funding – then we must be prepared to give up our Security Council seat at the United Nations.
My real worry is that the UKNDA are being very optimistic about how much extra cash the politicians will allow to slip through their grasp in the name of a ‘policy-led’ Defence Review, a fact compounded by their optimism over how much strategic capability can be maintained even with that level of increase. They risk winning the battle but losing the war, as the increased budget allocation would be spread too thinly around the three services, and as a consequence capabilities watered down too much to retain strategic significance.
The UKNDA wishes to fund the SDR98, which is a noble goal as it was a very sensible document in its objectives, but if you split the difference between RUSI’s pessimism and the UKNDA’s optimism you still fall far short of 2.7% of GDP, especially when one considers this budget was barely adequate before a decade of underfunding, and a decade of unplanned wars are taken into consideration.
To bring this back to the strategic capabilities exposed by the RUSI prism, we have:
- A large, broad spectrum army capable of fighting protracted and high-intensity wars.
- A naval capability that allowed rapid over-the-horizon forced-entry engagements.
- Ability to conduct theatre level operations out of area, with the C4ISTAR that entails.
- A Strategic Deterrent that for reasons of history brings significant political influence.
RUSI argue that it will be possible to maintain two of the above on a budget of £35b/year, with the implicit assumption that one of those two will be a strategic deterrent.
UKNDA argue that we need to keep all four strategic capabilities which will require the defence budget to increase to around £45b/year and grow healthily from there on in.
Jedibeeftrix makes the following argument, based on principles brilliantly illustrated by Critical Reaction:
Compared to any other state with our pretensions, we face no fundamental challenges. France faces Germany, Germany faces Russia (and France, and her sense of herself), Japan faces China, China faces America, and America, well poor, hegemonic America seems to face the world. But Britain faces no one.
Looked at this way, we’re the envy of the world, for whose geopolitical prospects are easier? Even in Western Europe, who seriously can compare British freedom of action with the permanent, existential dilemma of French foreign policy (toujours Berlin, or never Berlin?) or the stasis occupied and neutered Germany still can’t escape from?
For a foreign policy of choice, we need a defence policy that reflects and underpins that Heaven-sent freedom of opportunity. The Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales might well be justified on paper as devices to ‘project power’, but what they really represent is the ability, if chosen, to act alone.
It might seem paradoxical in the context of a foreign policy that should strive after inaction to preserve the ability to act above all else, but in truth, it is the same Tory impulse throughout: when we don’t need to act, we shouldn’t, but when we do, we must, as the very cornerstone of our patriotism, ensure that we can.
As long as there is a strategic deterrent conventional war against the British Isles is an impossibility, this is further reinforced by a Royal Navy that can ensure conventional threats cannot even enter home waters. The logical extension of a strategy the includes the navy is an expeditionary structure, as described by the RUSI doctrine termed Strategic Raiding. There is however a need to maintain a more plural capability to preserve key war-fighting skills, and here we enter the realm of the UKNDA analysis with its call to spend on Defence that which is necessary to preserve Britain’s strategic interests.
Where this blog differs from UKNDA is its pessimism in persuading a country recovering from recession to fund the SDR 98, and where it differs from RUSI is its scepticism that becoming so narrowly focussed on two key abilities will maintain our influence in the halls of power. There is a case to be made for preserving at least three of the four strategic capabilities, and for asking the electorate for an increase in Defence spending to do so.
Update – 28/04/10
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Menevia, Tom Burns, showing a clarity of vision that our political masters clearly lack:
He said: “To our politicians and civil servants I ask these questions: When will Afghan institutions rise out of the dust to take responsibility for their own affairs?
“When will there be a surge in funding to achieve this and for ongoing military vehicles, more and better helicopters and better intelligence – all of which are so badly needed?
“If this were done surely this will mean fewer lives will be sacrificed in the future.”