Even as the international aid budget grows, the Ministry of Defence has been asked to find £1 billion in savings. The cuts must be made before this parliament’s Strategic Defence Spending Review has even taken place.
The Independent reveals military planners and analysts are always considering where they could find such savings, which are likely to come at significant cost to capability. One option is to delay capital projects, such as the delivery of the next generation of maritime strike aircraft from the United States, which are already due to be delivered years after the carriers being built to carry them will be finished.
The cuts are likely to severely imperil Britain’s standing among members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) alliance, as membership requires member states to contribute two per cent of GDP on defence, for the benefit of all. As the present budget for defence now hovers just above the figure, the cut is likely to take it below, a change which is likely to further frustrate the United States.
The deep cut to defence represents a third of all savings been asked of government departments, except international aid, the NHS, and education, and is a u-turn on his pledge made at the NATO meeting in Wales last year to not break the two per cent rule.
This is the latest in a line of back-tracks over election and manifesto pledges which seem to indicate it wasn’t only the coalition agreement that held the Conservatives back in the last government. Cameron already appears to have gone soft on a repeal of the hunting ban, a matter of crucial importance to the many rural voters who voted Conservative at the election and on introducing a British ‘bill of rights’.
Pledging to peel back European interference and the human rights act was crucial to the Conservative strategy in spiking UKIP’s guns, but with no mention of the move in this week’s Queens Speech, it seems the trail has now gone cold on human rights reform.
The budget cuts to the Ministry of Defence come before the government has even embarked on this parliament’s Strategic Defence Spending Review, formerly known as defence white papers, an event long anticipated with dread by generals and admirals as they have most often meant the axing of key defence projects. In the infamous 1966 defence white paper fleet carriers to replace ageing ships from the second world war, almost an entire class of destroyers, and the advanced TSR-2 tactical strike jet were all cancelled by Labour prime-minister Harold Wilson as part of his policy of Britain withdrawing from the world stage.
In 1960, the Royal Navy had over 150 destroyers, plus a significant number of cruisers and aircraft carriers. Today it has no cruisers or carriers at all, and only six destroyers. For a glimpse of how the Navy looked in the 1960’s, check out the government film 1400 Zulu