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Fox sees more arms exports as part of way out of defence spending squeeze

FOX LARGE NEW Earlier today the Shadow Defence Secretary spoke to the Royal United Services Institute about key themes of the Strategic Defence and Security Review that will be initiated as one of the first acts of a hoped-for Tory government. Key themes are highlighted below:

Britain must have unilateral capacity: "We cannot accept the assumption in the Green Paper that Britain will always operate as part of an alliance. We have unique national interests and have to maintain the capability to act unilaterally if required."

Recent conflicts may have been land-based but 92% of our trade is dependent upon sea lanes: "A time when the threat of disruption on the high seas is increasing is no time for Britain to become sea blind... We must be able to defend our 14 overseas territories and, of course, the main focus is on the Falklands. The recent legislation passed in Argentina attempting to exert Argentine sovereignty over the Falklands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands and the British Antarctic Territory is completely unacceptable. The Falkland Islands are and will remain British."

Strong message on Trident replacement: "Defending the UK also means maintaining key strategic tasks like a continuous at sea submarine based minimum credible nuclear deterrent."

We must be able to fulfil our NATO obligations: "We must be able to come to the aid of NATO allies in a significant way under our Article V obligations—like we did immediately after 9/11 with Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavour."

The USA and France will remain Britain's principal military allies: "We will need to be able to project power on a strategic level alongside the United States and France. Without doubt the United States and France are our two most important defence and security partners. A future Conservative Government will continue to build on these relationships."

There must be special investment in intelligence and special forces: "We must be able to enhance UK influence by leveraging our natural national advantages – like intelligence and Special Forces. We must understand the diplomatic and economic value of maximising defence exports and the goodwill generated by joint training exercises or expanded training capacity for overseas officers."

Saudi Arabia will be consulted on Britain's defence strategy [Honestly!]: "We will continue to work closely with countries with shared mutual interests and geo-strategic importance, like Norway and Turkey or Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. We will invite these key partners to make submissions to our defence review and will welcome contributions from those who see Britain as a key strategic partner."

We need the capacity to tackle new technological threats: "Other threats may seem remote but if they became a reality would have a devastating effect on our way of life: biological weapons proliferation and their use by terrorist organisations and other non-state actors; nuclear terrorism and dirty bombs; and the use of an electromagnetic pulse device which could destroy all electronic and communications infrastructure over a distance of hundreds of miles. All of these need strategies to deal with them."

Reform of procurement is urgent: "This year’s Major Projects Report recorded an in-year cost increase of £1.2bn alone– and that’s just the 15 largest programmes.  It’s easy to see that with a compound unfunded liability of over £3bn a year, the MoD finds it very hard to make ends meet."

More defence exports: "The Conservative Party will use defence exports as a foreign policy tool and we will seek to increase Britain’s share of the world defence market."

Lots of good content here but I have three reservations:

  • Why are we consulting the despotic Saudi Arabia about our defence?
  • What controls will be put on the drive to increase defence exports? Will we sell to authoritarian regimes?
  • Spending is already scheduled to fall by around 10% in 2010/11 in real terms, to about £36.9bn. Ringfencing NHS spending implies that the defence budget will have to be cut something like 20-25% further, even on the government’s inadequate spending cuts plans.  A 20-25% cut in defence spending from £36.9bn would take it to £27.5-£29.5bn.  The last time UK public spending was at this low level, in real terms (not as a proportion of GDP – in real terms) was 1950. [BTW: The NHS budget has risen 33% in real terms just since 2004/5.]
Tim Montgomerie


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