A complete overhaul of the strategic planning for Britain’s defence forces is needed, according to Britain’s oldest conservative think tank.
In a new report, the Bow Group has called on the Government to implement a much more wide-ranging long term strategic review of defence spending, in light of the rapid shift in global affairs currently taking place.
The British government is currently undertaking a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to set spending priorities for the next Parliament until 2020. But Henry Malins, the author of the Bow Group’s report, has warned that it must not be allowed to become simply a “glossy PR document” with limited strategic worth.
He welcomed Chancellor George Osborne’s recent pledge to commit Britain to NATO spending targets of 2 percent GDP on defence, but argued that the time was ripe for a full scale strategic review of that spending, not least as newly included spending lines such as war pensions have the potential to render the headline spending target meaningless.
“The Chancellor’s recent commitment to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence for every year of this decade has already done much for the UK’s international standing, but we now need to ensure that the money translates into increased military effectiveness by conducting the SDSR properly,” Malins said.
He continued: “I am concerned that a review developed in haste over the summer to meet an Autumn publishing deadline, without sufficient consideration of the range of inputs needed for such a complex exercise, will become little more than a glossy PR document with limited genuinely strategic content.”
Mr Malins has highlighted a number of measures that could be undertaken to ensure that the review is worthwhile, first and foremost the clarification of Britain’s strategic objectives. He also urged the Ministry of Defence to question whether current funding is adequate to cover those aims.
“It is also essential to understand the impact of any decisions made on our industrial base, and our long-term ability to maintain our technical skills base and operational sovereignty. These aims could be achieved by delaying publication until 2016 to ensure that enough time is taken for the depth of analysis required, by real engagement with academia, industry, MPs, key allies and other relevant groups.”
In addition, he urged: “leadership continuity and commitment within Whitehall and Westminster are essential if the SDSR is to have a meaningful impact.”
Conservative Member of Parliament Sir Edward Leigh has backed the Bow Group’s report, insisting that the Strategic Review should be more than simply a “dusted off” version of the previous 2010 review. He has said that the opportunity to conduct an extended review, taking into account the UK’s national objectives, operational sovereignty, and the views of stakeholders including our major allies, must be seized as it would do a great deal to enhance the UK’s international standing and security.
Defence spending has come under increasing scrutiny thanks to the pressures being put on the armed forces by developing situations in the Middle East, North Africa, and on the eastern borders of Europe. Within the last year troops have been deployed to both Iraq and Ukraine to help train local fighters in military matters; others have helped to build watchtowers in Lebanon to halt the march of ISIS. More recently British pilots have taken part in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
Peter Smith, The Bow Group’s Research Secretary said: “The Conservatives have promised to develop a full SDSR in the light of the worsening security in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There are many serious challenges facing the UK and the West in the coming decade. Harry Malins has outlined a set of clear and practical recommendations which would have a meaningful impact on the effectiveness of the ongoing defence and security review.”
Their Chairman, Ben Harris-Quinney, added: “The Conservative Party has long put defence and care of veterans at the top of its policy priorities. For the first time in 25 years the Conservative Government now has the opportunity to set a long term foreign policy agenda, and give our armed forces the stability and security that comes with setting out a clear durable vision for the future of Britain’s defence.”