Nick Harvey MP writes: A hard look at defence spending

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.  
I disagree.
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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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Martin Willcox 3rd Aug '11 - 7:12pm

    The “strategic” review was in fact nothing of the sort. It is not just the level of expenditure that needs to be considered, but also the type of forces that we require. The 21st century already looks much more like the 19th century than the 20th century – and that implies that we need to place far more emphasis on mobility and the ability to project power globally. That should mean cuts in the Army in favour, in particular, of the Navy. That would, of course, have been politically difficult whilst the Army is paying such a heavy blood price in Afghanistan – and so the carriers and Harriers were sacrificed instead. I call that expedient, not strategic.

  • You’re closing Leuchars, not only will this destroy a struggling local economy but will likely mean that a safe Lib Dem seat, that of Ming Campbell, will be lost to another party – probably the SNP, who at least look out for Scottish interests.

    Are any major bases being closed in Conservative seats?

  • A voice from Lothian 3rd Aug '11 - 8:10pm

    g – The closure of Leuchars is clearly as shame, but since one of the UK’s five multirole Brigades will come to Scotland and will be based at Lossiemouth, Arbroath and Leuchers and that is likely to mean mean an HQ in Leuchars + the return of both the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and 4 Scots from Germany there will be more MOD jobs in Scotland after these changes.

    Oh and there is no major MOD base in the only Scottish Conservative seat.

  • A voice from Lothian,

    I hope so. This part of the country is desperate for investment and jobs.

    And I don’t think Ming’s seat will be yellow come the next election, like Osborne’s energy tax which helped destroy the Lib Dems in the NE, it seems the Coalition intend to make Scotland a two party state, SNP and Labour.

  • Daniel Henry 3rd Aug '11 - 8:31pm

    (Being pedantic, if the SNP won the seat would still be yellow!)

  • jenny barnes 3rd Aug '11 - 8:36pm

    “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,”

    I joined the party partly because it was the only major political party that opposed the neo-colonial US led adventure in Iraq. I can only feel betrayed that now the LDs are in government they choose to embark on a neo-colonial adventure in an oil-rich Middle Eastern state. Spare me the protect innocent lives guff. It’s their country, not ours…and it’s not turning out to be so easy, is it? Clue: wars never are.

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Aug '11 - 10:32pm

    @jenny – had we not intervened how many people do you think gaddafi would have killed in benghazi and the other rebel areas. You would be happy with that presumably.

  • @jenny barnes

    LDs are not against interventionism for the sake of it, Paddy Ashdown was a big advocate of intervention in Kosovo, I believe. The party as a whole is against it when there is not a good reason for it. In Iraq, there wasn’t. In Libya, there was, even though there were good reasons not to do it as well.

  • jenny barnes 4th Aug '11 - 9:59am

    Just like Iraq. I’m not disputing that Saddam was an unpleasant dictator; equally so with Gadaffi. And so is mugabe and assad, and many another. It’s not our business to go round policing the world, and you have to wonder at the motivations as to why the government decide to intervene in state A and not state B. Random? or could it possibly be anything to do with oil?

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