Thursday, October 08, 2009

Cutting defence spending is a mistake

The BBC is reporting that the Tories want to cut defence spending by 25%. This is foolish. Defence spending (as a proportion of GDP) is already at its lowest point since the 1930s.

The MOD has, like it or not, already made huge spending cuts - the 1992 recession, the Strategic Defence Review in 1997, and through Gordon Brown's well-known aversion to defence while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, its budget has been slashed by around 50% in real terms in two decades. Other departments have picked up the "slack" and blown the cash on... what?

One must remember that we are fighting a war at present, and that like no other department in government, the MOD has personnel killed by the enemy almost every day.

I agree with Dr Liam Fox that there are far too many staff in Main Building and, in particular, at Abbeywood, both uniformed and civilian. Defence procurement is a horrendous mess, and - literally - billions have been wasted through inefficiencies.

That money should be spent on equipment, not slashed from the budget.

The MOD is, at best, struggling to pay for its commitments. Lord Drayson's Defence Industrial Strategy has been almost completely side-lined, Bernard Gray's damning report into defence procurement has been buried, and it's likely that cuts will come to "big ticket" projects if the budget is cut further.

I don't support the view that Afghanistan is "the war", it's just "a war". While support and equipment for front-line troops (which is generally a euphamism for the army) is vital, and Dr Fox has rightly pledged to maintain the spending in these areas, there are strategic challenges for which we are completely unprepared.

We're hopelessly underprovisioned for both strategic (C-17/A400M/Hercules) and tactical (Chinook/Merlin) air-lift, long-range strike (strategic bombers, aircraft carriers), defending commercial shipping (T-23s are good, but there aren't enough to go around and FSC is already late) and ground-based air defence; we'll lose our suppression/destruction of enemy air defence (SEAD/DEAD) capabilities fairly soon, sacrificed on the altar of "stealth".

We cannot put enough boots on the ground, jets in the air or boats in the water to handle even the small conflicts we find ourselves in. If something like the Falklands kicks off again, we probably couldn't handle it. Our most-similar neighbour, France, already spends more (as a proportion of GDP) than us, and President Sarkozy has guaranteed this for the future. We should not cut back our defence spending as a response to the sort of economic problems which are likely to cause wars, not avert them!

Defence of the Realm is the first duty of government.

Without that, there is nothing to govern.

- KoW



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