Conservative Home

« Patrick Cusworth: Free speech does not mean that we are therefore encouraged to promote or support those who preach a dogma of hate | Main | John Leonard: Strengthening and sanitising our democracy »

Bernard Jenkin MP: A defence policy for the UK that matches commitments and resources

Jenkin_cwf_launch Bernard Jenkin has just authored 'A Defence Policy for the UK: Matching Commitments and Resources', published by Conservative Way Forward.

The MoD Performance Report’s “overall assessment” of its ability to “Generate forces, which can be deployed, sustained and recovered at the scales of effort required” is “unlikely to be met.”  We not only need about £15 billion extra in the defence budget (about 50 per cent more), just to maintain present capabilities and equipment programmes, but the government – any government – needs to understand the nature of real nature of the choice.  Defence policy has become divorced from the demands placed upon the Armed Forces by foreign policy.  Either we bulk up our defence or opt out of a global role.  If foreign policy demands intervention, the Armed Forces must be funded accordingly.  Labour’s attempts to subcontract UK foreign and defence policy to international institutions have manifestly failed.

When, in his Guildhall speech, the prime minister advocated the UK’s role as “hard-headed internationalism”, the BBC not unfairly asked what “soft-headed internationalism” might look like.  Though Mr Brown is anxious to distance himself from his predecessor, this is the same muddle which afflicted Mr Blair.  His foreign policy was characterised by the infamous ‘open mike’ incident, “Yo Blair!”  The embarrassment was not that President Bush appeared to forget the prime minister’s first name.  Rather it was that Mr Blair’s suggestions about the Middle East were just dismissed.  As he found over Iraq, in the end “internationalism” lacks leverage.

Labour’s so-called ‘ethical’ foreign policy failed to define the UK’s global role.  The 1999 Kosovo campaign was a one-off, but Mr Blair seized on it as a new basis for military intervention, in one of the non-sentences that became his rhetorical signature, “A just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values.”   Globalisation required “a new doctrine of international community” under which, “In the end, values and interests merge” – not a comment that would impress even a lower-sixth student of philosophy.  In the US, there is today a new realism about foreign policy, with some now advocating an “ethical realism” to be based upon old-fashioned enlightened self-interest, in tradition of Edmund Burke.  British foreign policy should comprise less messianic preaching of values: more listening and accommodating of others’ legitimate interests alongside our own.  Good results matter more than good intentions.  It is more intellectually honest to admit that the British national interest, above all, is what should underpin UK foreign policy, rather than some spurious doctrine of international community.  This is actually rather obvious.  British governments are elected by the British people to serve the British people.  Policy may well be designed to serve wider international interests, but it is pretence to suggest that we do not put our own interests first.

British foreign policy must protect our interests as the pre-eminent European global trading nation.  We have strong historic connections with both today’s greatest power (the US) and with new great powers emerging (China and India) and the old Commonwealth. Our language, soaked in British values of freedom and free enterprise, has become the global vernacular of trade and diplomacy.  In defining our global role, it would be rash to rely on others to maintain the international peace and security on which the global system depends.  Who would step into the breach?

The MoD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre has produced a 30-year forecast for global security.  30 years is a sensible time horizon for defence planning.  Competition for resources will intensify.  A 20 per cent population increase, shortages of food and water and the worst effects of global warming are all likely to be concentrated in the least stable areas of the world, which is also where most of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels are concentrated. Conflict, terrorism and emergencies will increase, as will the pressure to intervene.  Increased assertiveness of states like China, India and Iran, alongside a decoupling of the US and Europe, stagnation and aging in the EU and the further decline of the UN will contribute to greater trans-national and inter-communal conflict.  There is also always the potential for the unexpected such as a mega-volcanic event or deadly disease pandemic. 

There is little here to encourage any expectation that the UK will be able to drawback from a global military role for decades to come, particularly if we wish to exercise leverage over the US.  At the time of the invasion of Iraq, the UK was providing some 30 per cent of the combat power on the ground.  By next spring, the prime minister envisages that we will be providing less than 2 per cent.  What sort of leverage is that? 

The first question any military commander asks, when confronted with a new military task is, “What have I got?”  The next question is, “And how long have I got?”  The build up of military capability, whether of people or materiel, takes years or even decades.   Even at a time of low threat, that means maintaining capabilities which would take too long to develop in the event of an unexpected crisis.  We must maintain each of the three service arms at a critical mass, in order to ensure that their doctrine, professionalism, culture and pride are maintained, and to spend on the essential, big bits of kit – such as aircraft, ships and helicopters – which have long lead times.  But the cost of technology, equipment and salaries are all going up faster than inflation.  The estimated three-year shortfall from the latest spending round is some £1 billion, so  defence chiefs are being forced once again to maintain the downward pressure on personnel numbers, making the problems of overstretch worse. 

The government’s assurance that the costs of operations are all funded from the Treasury reserve also masks the reality.  All three services are required to cannibalise equipment from non-operational units before accessing funds from the Reserve.  Thus, the next Brigade in line for Helmand has only six up-armed LandRovers for training, instead of 210. Moreover, much of the cost of extra helicopters or armoured vehicles must be squeeze out of future manpower, the mothballing of more ships, and the delay or cancellation of major items in the equipment programme. 

Virtually everyone now agrees that this cannot go on, but governments, present or future, must face the consequences and act accordingly.  For the Conservatives, this may mean that more for defence takes priority over tax cuts, though in the longer term, defence increases will be part of the “sharing of the proceeds of economic growth”.

Related link: Thatcherite CWF launches hard-hitting campaign to highlight Britain's under-equipped military


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.