Today the Commons defence committee published a report criticising the MOD for decisions taken in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The report claims that recent defence budget reductions will leave our Armed Forces unable to execute the operations the Government sets for them post-2015.
It is true that the MOD is reducing numbers of service personnel across the Army, Navy and Air Force and indeed the MOD has altered the equipment programme, which led to the deletion of Nimrod and Harrier. But these tough decisions were necessary in order to address the black hole in the defence budget, as well as to set ourselves on course to advance the modern force structure we outlined in the SDSR.
Future Force 2020 will provide a flexible, adaptive posture that can respond to whatever 21st century threats may come along – from state on state conflict to the effects of climate change resulting in humanitarian crises. This force structure will allow us to continue our internationalist approach, punching above our weight as a key member of NATO and the UN Security Council; it is neither a weakening of our overall military might nor a retreat into our shell.
As Lib Dems, we have long recognised that there are times when military intervention is necessary and just. Lib Dems supported the intervention in Libya to protect innocent life, were among the first to call for evacuating casualties and civilians during the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006 and in 2000 we supported sending British troops to Sierra Leone. Situations like these may in future arise again and we will again be compelled to avert or alleviate a humanitarian disaster. We feel a moral responsibility to take part in international coalitions of the willing to try and maintain world peace and to defend our own interests in the meantime.
But we need resources to do so.
Last month Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that spending on equipment will increase by 1% above inflation each year after 2015 – a real term increase by over £3 billion between 2015 and 2020. This is a good start, but the Treasury will need to take a hard look again at defence spending as we approach 2015. As current projections indicate, UK defence spending will increasingly fall closer to 2% of GDP by 2015 – the minimum defence spending required by NATO of its member states. And we risk falling below 2% thereafter unless real terms increases materialise.
The economic situation we find ourselves in and the defence budget deficit are staggering. Our service personnel and their equipment are being worked hard. But we are demonstrating our strong capabilities in Libya and Afghanistan, and we will ensure our Armed Forces will continue to have the support and equipment they need to carry out their missions.
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