Opinion: Funding defence

HMS Astute Arrives at Faslane for the First TimeDefence Secretary Phillip Hammond has made headlines by suggesting the MOD and the armed forces should be spared any more significant cuts in the future spending review, instead suggesting the cuts should come from the social welfare budget instead.

The problem is… I partially agree with him; the defence budget is already the bare minimum required to meet the UK’s international commitments. It has not only received its share of austerity cuts under the Coalition but was underfunded under Blair and Brown leading to a budget “black hole” which also had to be dealt with. Worse the international picture is increasingly uncertain; the US has announced a refocusing or pivot to the Pacific, the threat of Islamic terrorism in Africa, and the global financial crisis has brought instability to the International system while leading to cuts to defence budgets.

However, squeezing more significant cuts from the welfare budget, particularly as pensions and elderly benefits are politically off limits, would appear impossible without causing extreme hardship to the most vulnerable in our society. However, there are alternative options which can, and I believe should, be considered before the welfare budget.

1)      More Defence Co-operation

The UK and France are increasingly co-ordinating and co-operating on defence issues, as the recent C-17 flights and British Army Mali training mission testify. More can be done in this regard across Europe, and NATO. There is a tradition of pooling resources and specialising capabilities.

2)      MOD budget savings

Before eyeing the welfare budget, the MOD should look to spend its own budget more efficiently. Even with the improvements to defence budgeting and procurement under the Coalition, savings can still be made, as shown by recent NAO and Commons Public Accounts committee reports.

3)      Joint Funding

The right wing think tank Civitas and David Cameron recently suggested setting aside some of the budget of the DfID for military equipment or operations which could be used for disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and peace-keeping. In certain circumstances, I believe joint funding could be possible. For example, maybe the replacement for RFA Argus, the joint casualty treatment ship, could be funded by the MOD and DfID? Both the US and China have used their hospital ships for Medical Diplomacy cruises and disaster relief.

4)      Reduce our International responsibilities.

It is often said that the UK is no longer a super power, the Empire is gone and it should cut its cloth to its purse. I completely agree. However, the demise of the UK can be greatly exaggerated. We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, among the top ten global economies, and a leading member of the EU and NATO. Despite what many Tories and UKIP believe, we cannot hide away from the world on our little island, particularly as we are a major trading nation. None the less, we need a national debate about what global responsibilities we can and should be prepared to accept.

5)      Trident

As I have already mentioned on this site, the decision to place the cost of renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent (technically, the submarines carrying it) in the main defence budget has placed unnecessary pressure on the budget. My suggestion of a multirole submarine may not save as much money as scrapping Trident altogether but should save some money and add capabilities to the UK’s armed forces.

The list of options above is not exhaustive but does give an idea of possible solutions to adequately funding the defence budget without further hardship to the least well off, while possibly providing a basis for a credible and defining Liberal policy for the spending review.

 

* Gareth Jones is a post-graduate in International Relations from Swansea university and was an active member of the Swansea and Gower Liberal Democrats for nine years before recently moving to Maidenhead

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10 Comments

  • Geoffrey Payne 5th Mar '13 - 12:20pm

    We should scrap Trident altogether and not replace it. The scenarios in which we might possibly need a nuclear deterrence are far fetched and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. We should pare down our military spending to German levels, th e UK is no more vulnerable than they are so why should we pay more than they do? We face bigger threats to our security from global warming yet somehow we also spend more money on the lesser threat.

  • Geoffrey Payne 5th Mar '13 - 12:21pm

    I meant to write ” always” and not “also”

  • Gareth Jones 6th Mar '13 - 11:37am

    @ Geoffrey – I agree the need for Trident is much less now- deterent is like dancing the Tango, you need a partner
    However, the current international scene is in flux and I believe people will be more likely to support a scaling back of the nuclear deterent – putting the nukes in the cupboard – rather than a full disarmament.

    http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-a-submarine-for-all-seasons-30657.html

    I agree we need to expand the scope of what we mean by security and defence. For example, a security argument for renewable energy, based upon less reliance on foreign fuel supplies and reducing global warming.

    @Jedi – Thanks for commenting. As you know 2% is the minimum requirement for NATO membership so would be a logical budget target.

  • Matthew Green 6th Mar '13 - 12:04pm

    Defence has a had it too easy for too long, and become too used to a blank-cheque mentality. This is best seen in the shocking state of procurement. What is alarming about procurement is that so many past governments have claimed to have sorted it out…but as soon as the attention is off all thoose smooth lobbyists come out again, and national securty is used to obscure transparency. The Defence establishment must learn frugality, and the only way they will is if budget pressure continues to be firm.

  • Gareth Jones 10th Mar '13 - 3:55pm
  • Gareth Jones 10th Mar '13 - 4:01pm

    I am a regular reader of Defence with a C, The Thin Pinstripped Line and Think defence. I recommend them to anyone with an interest in Defence matters.

    http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/

    http://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

    http://defencewithac.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

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