The conduct of the defence review is doing damage

The intense public lobbying by all three services, leaked letters and the parade of unacceptable options for cuts amidst a culture of secrecy does not make for a good review. Given the need for a wide ranging debate about the UK’s needs, options and capabilities, it might have been better to have called for evidence and invited public hearings to look at the main issues before Ministers came to make conclusions. Alternatively, the documents needed to be held secure and confined to just a few people if the aim was to have a review conducted in secret without leaks.

It will be a pity if the defence Review is driven by current needs in Afghanistan. Of course this government must provide all support and equipment it can for the remaining months of our troops in the Middle East, but it should not regard fighting a war there as normal or an essential future requirement. Better still, we should be seeking to accelerate the transfer of responsibility to Afghan forces, and getting our troops out of combat duties well before the deadline of 2015.

UK defence should have three main aims. The first is to be able to defend the home islands against any possible attack. The second is to make a contribution to expeditionary warfare, peace making and policing through NATO. The third is to ensure maritime protection of our main trade routes and our overseas territories and less powerful friends.

Defending the UK requires a nuclear deterrent, as all three main political parties believe. It requires a substantial navy with air protection, to ensure that no-one can threaten invasion by sea or air. Modern defence may come to rely more on unmanned weaponry and on smart and stealth weapon systems. The UK should retain its involvement in the development of sophisticated weapons systems that rely less on men and women risking their lives to offer credible defence.

The second and third also require a substantial navy with air support. The expeditionary capability requires a mixture of carrier based task forces with possible long distance air support operating from appropriate bases. Maritime patrolling relies on sufficient ships, sometimes needing carrier assistance,sometimes just needing helicopters carried on board smaller vessels.

Of course a highly professional and well trained army with special forces is also important. The army units provide the core of any Uk defence on land, and provide the bulk of the fighting force taken on any expedition. It is difficult to see why we still need an army of 20,000 in Germany as part of this pattern.

These issues need to be thought through before the question of money comes up. Fortunately the defence budget is one of the smaller ones, and the overall level of public sepnding is rising, so it should be possible to support strong defences for the UK built around a realistic view of what we can and should do.

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23 Comments

  1. A.Sedgwick
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Largely in agreement with one proviso we should never commit our troops abroad again except in protecting our citizens in commando rescues or territories e.g. Falklands.
    In short our defence needs should come first and the cost second. Overseas aid and the NHS will not exist if we are blown to smithereens.

  2. THE ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    "These issues need to be thought through before the question of money comes up"

    QUITE.

    Why cannot our government be as lucid in their thinking, planning and utterances?
    Mr Cameron must quickly discard distractions and get a firm grip on this before the forces of vested interest wreck the good intentions of a thorough and long overdue defence review.

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    One thing is for sure: we will be preparing for the last war and will be taken completely by surprise by the next one!

    • John Maynard
      Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      Of course.
      When was the last time tanks decided a battle ?
      What possible use are hundreds of super expensive "multi role" (expensively piloted) fast planes ?
      Aircraft carriers probably became obsolete soon after the Falklands war.

      We probably need submarine launchers of cruise missiles and small unmanned attack aircraft, but that's just pie in the sky.

      • John K
        Posted October 1, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        Good grief, everyone's an expert aren't they?

        When exactly did aircraft carriers become obsolete after the Falklands? 1983? 1984? I assume you know, and are not just talking out of your backside. You really ought to let the navies of the USA, France, Russia, India, Spain, Italy and Brazil know that they are using an obsolete weapon system. I'm sure they'd be grateful for the information.

        I presume you think that aircraft are obsolete as well, since the only function of an aircraft carrier is to carry aircraft wherever they are needed? The clue is in the name. Since aircraft must be obsolete, it follows that every air force in the world can now disband. Or is there just a chance, a tiny possibility, that you don't know what you are talking about?

    • Kevin Lohse
      Posted September 30, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Dear Mike, I would suggest that we are already in the next War – the enemies are strategic terrorism from several scources, internal and external, at Home, and the ongoing battle against regime change hostile to our interests abroard.

  4. ferdinand
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I am becoming increasingly annoyed by the labour misuse of the word 'investing'.
    To invest infers a monetary return. Governments rarely invest, they only 'spend'. It is interesting to observe that when Labour decide some things may need cutting back they call them 'spending cuts' after having introduced them as 'investments'.

    • P H
      Posted September 29, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      When ever I hear Labour talk of "investment" I think of money being poured down the drain perhaps via a few marginal labour seats.

  5. APL
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    JR: "The intense public lobbying by all three services .."

    The military and force projection requires a foreign policy. If we ask the Foreign secretary he has just told us his overriding concern is 'global warming'! Perhaps we should ask one or other of our European partners where we want our young men and women to die?

    The fact is you would think the Foreign secretary would have an opinion about foreign and defence policy, has Hague made a single speech on the topic since taking the role?

    What is the United Kingdoms foreign policy, is it even distinct from the European Unions foreign policy? Perhaps we should be asking Baroness Ashton rather than Hague?

    Why is the Foreign secretary waffling on about global warming when there is a defence review in process?

    • THE ESSEX GIRLS
      Posted September 30, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      To our surprise Mr Hague is proving one of the big disappointments. Like the PM he may have had personal issues on his mind but they go with the territory for us all.

      On August 13th we blogged in response to Mr Cmeron's comments in Pakistan and JR’s piece asking for the Foreign Secretary to stand up against the proposed E150m EU fine failure to feature their flag:

      "Why Mr Cameron won't you castigate your European partners who continue to waste billions of your taxpayers' pounds on maintaining a vast and wasteful bureaucracy unsuited to the trading world of today and tomorrow?

      Why are you supporting the new network of enormously costly European Foreign Offices throughout the world?

      Perhaps the contributions from this site can be used to good purpose John?

      THE FINE TO WHICH YOU REFER IS INDEED A FINAL STRAW AND
      YOUR CONTRIBUTORS WILL BE HEARTENED THAT YOU HAVE ASKED MR HAGUE TO RISE TO THE CHALLENGE"

      We've heard nothing reported since and believe that William Hague has lost his way. Very sad.

      • Alan Jutson
        Posted September 30, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        In Opposition, its all talk about what we would do if we were in Power.

        Then when In Power, nothing but silence.

        It seems to go with the territory.

        Not for you John, but for those who are Cabinet Ministers who seem very silent on many matters.
        Let us hope that they are just about to make some announcements.

  6. Trev
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    its interesting that you a right winger says that the review should not be based around Afghanistan – since this seems to be the basis of Fox's leaked letter. And Fox is seen as a right winger.
    Your conclusion is sound as well – but there is no evidence that this is not what is happening.

    What you seem to be saying is that we can afford carriers but need a smaller army. I think one carrier is for the chop and quite a number of fast jets. Sadly the carrier programme we have inherited is far too big for our needs and I think originated from the last govt seeking to silence the navy has it messed around with our armed forces.

    I reluctantly think we need to combine the bulk of our armed forces into a US Marine Corps type force.

    • Kevin Lohse
      Posted September 30, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Dear Trev. could the Carrier mess have anything to to with the promises to build by the last Government being inextricably linked with Scottish elections?

  7. Robert
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    You are right about the relatively small importance of the defence budget – I believe its roughly only a quarter of the social security budget. When troops are in action they should be given maximal support so the concerns about spending-related military morale are entirely justified. However, I would emphasise your ongoing theme – the public service in general and the military in particular needs to procure services and equipment in a much more competitive way.
    PS. Why is it called the defence budget? Apart from a couple of times, since WWII it would more properly be called the offence budget.

  8. Andy
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Is the parliamentary party going to sit back and watch as the chancellor destroys our navy and turns it into a coast guard? The leaks suggest the complete opposite will happen to what you suggest John.

    The Naval service is the only one that safeguards British interests worldwide, be it territories, commerce or people. Is this government going to sacrifice British interest just to enable us to have 10,000 troops fight on in a desert when we've already committed to pulling out for next to little British gain?

  9. James Strachan
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    All the proposed cuts are at the sharp end.

    But the real waste and inefficiency is in procurement and Ministry of Defence administration – and probably in excessive amounts of real estate around the country.

    Captain R.G.Sharpe (RN) was in command of a submarine lent to help in scenes for a James Bond film. He commented on the film crew's expenditure. He said "It was money spent with a profligacy that I was not to see again until I became involved with the MOD Procurement Executive".

  10. Trev
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Reform of procurement is the main issue for the MoD.

    People should get real – we are not the only country with worldwide interests – why is it only we need 2 aircraft carriers and 10 billion – 10 BILLION! worth of hyper expensive super sophisticated fancy jets?

    We need a small armoured formation and an army mobilised to produce top quality special forces at the sharp end and that is what we should offer in future deployments/crises.

    Smaller carriers and versatile ships capable of flying off Harrier type planes as well as helicopters. Flexibility..

    ideally we should adapt the carriers if possible to be smaller and to have catapults and fly US F18's. We do not need as many RAF Typhoons. Counter insurgency requires much cheaper lighter planes.

    We can make immediate savings without in any way decimating our defences and make room for long term reform.

  11. Robert Taggart
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    Pax Britannia… England, Scotland, Ulster, Wales + Gibraltar, Falklands. That should be quite enough !

  12. austin
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    The most lucid and ratioanal analysis of Britain's defence needs to date. It is a shame Mr. Redwood is not part of the government.

    • Mark Demmen
      Posted September 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Seconded. Wasted on the backbenches.

  13. Neil Craig
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Military victory almost always goes to the technically superior side, almost irrespective of numbers. If Afghanistan proves an aberration, as I trust it will, we have very little need for ground forces. We should be spending on the technology .____ An Israeli/US group has built a vehicular lasar which can destroy shells in flight & can obviously do the same to aircraft – the possible extrapolations of that should be obvious. Domination of the high ground of space is also becoming vital & we could be putting impact weapoms in ornit (the proposed Thor system). The Chinese recemtly showed the cabability to surface a submarine in the middle of a US carrier fleet showing they can sink carriers virtually at will. The carrier is an obselete vehicle & we should not be endangering saiors by building more, instead a submarine navy is the way ahead.____Britain is probably the 4th military power in the world in spending terms but it seems to be used more for flag waving & providing jobs than for any coherent purpose. If that is to coninue we would serve our own security far better simply by scrapping the lot & putting the money into building nuclear plants & commercial infrastructure.

  14. Phil C
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    It is absoluetly inexplicable that we have forces stationed in Germany. At the very least their return home should save foreign exchange and boost the British economy.

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted September 30, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      Here, here, here !

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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