The telegraph made headlines this week with an article claiming that the Army would be facing a cut of up to 20,000 troops after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving manpower cut to circa 80,000 in the period following 2015. This has come as a surprise to some quarters given the vagueness of the SDSR itself, not least because of the constant reference to the heavily quoted number of 94/95 thousand troops alongside repeated references to the ‘aspiration’ of the 2020 force structure. It should not have been a surprise.
Notwithstanding ambiguous quotes in the SDSR document there were plenty of caveats.
It should not be news to anyone that the Defence budget was a shattered ruin by the beginning of 2010, when the Gray report revealed an unfunded 10% budget deficit over the coming decade, in addition to Treasury insistence on Defence funding of the acquisition costs of the Trident replacement which represents a further 2.5% cut, and, a Treasury demand for a 7.5% reduction as part of the Defence contribution to balancing the country’s shattered public finances. And yet people are surprised at the huge number of capabilities and platforms that got axed at the SDSR……….
Why? Did we not all spend the preceding twelve months consuming a non-stop diet of horror stories?
Malcolm Chalmers is the author of the latest RUSI paper on Britain’s Future Defence Review, and his interest in this paper is to seek a balanced force against the tide of coming cuts. His concern would be to de-emphasise legacy skills whilst preserving a regenerative capability on the understanding that while they are not crucial now we live in an uncertain world, and as such we must insure against the unknown.
First and foremost it is recognised that we are overspent, over-tasked, likely to witness Defence budget reductions, and must therefore reduce the scale of our capabilities.
George Osborne has announced that Britain will emulate Canada in its actions to eradicate the budget deficit, and attempt to recreate the miracle of transforming a nine percent deficit into a surplus with three years. This will be achieved, according to Mr Osborne, by a “once in a generation” revolution in public services, instigated by the question; “what needs to be done by government and what we can afford to do”. Be in no doubt, if the Canadian experience is anything to go by, department budget cuts in the region of 20% will lead to nurses and teachers getting the sack in addition to the ‘faceless’ quangocrats that the public love to hate, but the result will be worth it.
At a time when Britain was facing a future trajectory that ends with a national debt of 400% of GDP with 27% of government spending to be dedicated to paying off debt-interest in the same period, we can only look at Canada’s example with admiration as they power out of the global financial crises with a GDP growth of 5.3%.