Thankfully, Defence has not been out of the front pages this week.
Today comes the report of the Defence Select Committee, whose Chairman, James Abuthnot MP, said that the Committee was ‘worried the process was money-driven and not taking time to assess the threats to the UK’ which was ‘potentially detrimental to the defence of the country’. Concerningly, the Committee talked of an over-hasty, Treasury driven Defence and Security Review with a ‘lack of consultation with the public’ and defence contractors that was likely to lead to ‘serious mistakes’ being made.
On Monday (13.9.2010) news that the Obama Administration has recognised the dangerous signs from the Coalition that they are about to embark on catastrophic cuts in Defence spending on top of the damage done over 13 years of Blair and Brown (as I argued last week). The Daily Telegraph reports that:
‘It is understood that a senior American official recently called the MoD to discuss “concerns” about the prospect of an even greater spending gap.
‘Michele Flournoy, the under-secretary for policy at the Pentagon, telephoned Tom McKane, the MoD’s strategy director, to raise the issue. “The Americans are sympathetic, but it’s fair to say they have some fairly serious concerns about where we will end up,” said a Whitehall source.
‘Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, has also discussed the coming cuts with Dr Fox. It is understood that he has told the Defence Secretary that the US believes it is vital that Britain retains its nuclear deterrent and its extensive intelligence-gathering operations.’
The irony is that this comes from an Administration that has itself been attacked for following the ‘British example’ through proposing cuts in Defence spending. Dr Theodore Bromund’s description of the British experience is succinct and cutting:
‘The experience of these wars did not persuade the government that its policy was fundamentally misconceived; instead, it continued to emphasize efficiencies and to dribble out increases to fight the public relations fire of the day. It never treated defense as a serious issue requiring sustained, careful investment at a level that would not damage the nation’s economy, but also at one sufficient to sustain and train the forces of today while procuring for the force of tomorrow.
‘The results of this experiment did not justify the government’s policy. It turned out that it was extremely difficult to secure efficiencies in defense procurement, so while the cuts in defense spending were real, they were not compensated for by efficiency gains. Instead, the cuts forced delays in programs, increasing their overall cost while simultaneously piling up a procurement gap as the military of today consumed the funds that should have built the military of tomorrow.
‘As a result, by October 2009, the Ministry of Defense [sic] estimated its total procurement shortfall through 2038–39 at between £35 billion and £100 billion. This did not stop the government from taking credit for increasing defense spending after 2004, even though these increases did not close the growing gap between planned and required spending.’
It might have been hoped that the Defence Secretary would be using these reports, the papers that have been published, the abundent evidence of the damage done to the national interest by cuts on top of a funding gap of at least £21 billion (over 10 years) and the concerns of our principle ally to fight the Treasury tooth and nail. Sadly, the evidence of the Defence Select Committee suggests otherwise. The question is, when will the Conservative Party realise the danger to our country’s long term interests and revive, one hundred years later, the 21st century equivalent of its old cry “We want eight and we won’t wait”?
I was on The World Tonight on 5th October, speaking about the Defence cuts during the Conservative Party Conference (in the introduction to the programme and at around 22 minutes in).