Sir Nick Harvey writes…Difficult questions for all parties on defence spending

Today in the Commons I sat through impressive speeches from across the benches echoing concerns about the UK’s expenditure on defence – principally, our predicted failure to meet NATO’s 2 per cent of GDP target on defence spending in the approaching financial year.

There was little expectation that defence would become a big election issue, but less than two months ahead of polling day all the parties share the headache that a commitment to maintaining the 2 per cent target looks frankly impossible. With the assumption that further cuts will have to be made across the board, there are serious implications for the kind of role the UK wants to play in the world and how we are going to defend our global interests.

The numbers paint a bleak picture. A recent report from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) projects that the UK will spend 1.95 per cent of GDP on defence in 2015-16 – just shy of the 2 per cent target re-confirmed at the recent NATO summit in Wales. It only gets worse: on current budget projections, this will dip to 1.85 per cent in 2016-17 – a shortfall of £3 billion off the 2 per cent target. If in 2019-20, the last year of the next Parliament, we were to meet the 2 per cent commitment, an additional £6 billion would have to be found.

And all these gaps are computed before any cuts to defence which might emerge in this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review, where no party has yet been able to promise to protect defence spending.

This leaves big question marks hanging over Future Force 2020: the vision for the Armed Forces outlined in 2010’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The SDSR took unpalatable and painful decisions in order to plug the £38bn black hole in the defence budget, like reductions to Army numbers and the axing of the Harrier fleet. But this was against a backdrop that ‘sunny uplands’ would follow in the period after 2015, with the MOD quietly allowed by No 10 and the Treasury to plan against an assumption of a 1 per cent real annual growth in the equipment budget and a balanced budget for the rest of defence.

The strategic security assessment of 2010 looks rather optimistic now. In the five intervening years we have seen relations with an increasingly aggressive Russia deteriorate, Islamic State emerge from nowhere, and the threat from global terrorism and cyber-attack continue to grow.

Meanwhile, there are a large number of defence projects on the table that all need significant spending throughout the next Parliament: Joint Strike Fighters to fly off the aircraft carriers, maritime patrol aircraft, Army vehicles, Type 26 Frigates and Chinook and Apache upgrades to name just a few. The currently planned MOD budget will struggle to cover all that before we mention Trident replacement (and the ludicrous proposition that the Government’s single biggest defence procurement project will not be included in the SDSR). RUSI’s projections assume that no further cuts will be made to defence, but I fear the pain of 2010’s hard choices will be nothing compared to 2015. Any further cuts in 2015’s SDSR and Comprehensive Spending Review mean losing more capabilities from the MOD’s 2020 vision, and risks undermining it completely.

So where does this leave the main political parties? All agree in principle with the Prime Minister’s observation at Newport that NATO members should spend 2 per cent of GDP as a minimum on defence, but no one knows how we could afford to do so. In the face of such alarming figures, it is small wonder that no one from across the political divide has come out on the front foot and explained where such sums of money could possibly come from.

Those angered by the Lib Dem commitment to enshrine the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target in law at a time when defence faces further cuts neglect the fact that the two budgets by nature are incomparable. Levels of defence spending accord with the major long-term investment projects needed, rather than being a moral commitment. Indeed, to expect major procurement projects to fit inside an arbitrary percentage of GDP rather than being led by the defence needs of the country is arguably not really appropriate.

The Lib Dems are committed to another comprehensive SDSR after the election – though I would much prefer to see such reviews moved from the start of the Parliamentary cycle and able to run in greater depth for much longer periods of time.

This will run and run. But we should not let the argument about 2 per cent dominate the broader debate on how Britain’s defence role in the world will adapt and respond to a changing security picture. Questions like how our defence budget will work in concert with our allies, and how much could we achieve through greater integration and European defence cooperation (which we already engaged in very effectively) are all parts of the equation.

* Sir Nick Harvey was the Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon from 1992 until 2015 and Minister of State for the Armed Forces from 2010 to 2012

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37 Comments

  • Philip Thomas 12th Mar '15 - 7:35pm

    The 2% target would be £40 billion? (My maths is suspect so I’m not quite sure).
    Seems eminently achievable to me.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Mar '15 - 7:40pm

    Thanks for writing to us, but I am not happy about this at all. Politicians are neglecting the armed forces and they will try to send them out ill prepared. They should go on strike.

    Defence not being a big election issue isn’t even an argument once you have committed to ever rising international aid.

    You ask how this can be funded? Simple: increase income tax. Introduce donations too.

  • It would be interesting to see a breakdown of defence spending to see what proportion goes to procurement, running costs, wages and pensions, Trident, planning and so on (with a breakdown of what the “other” section of the pie chart includes, thank you ever so much).

    It seems to me at least that at the root of the current situation are entrenched views in government and/or the Civil Service which need to be eliminated, such as the post-Suez presumption of “managed decline” (and with it, the utter giggling contempt with which Defence appears to be viewed by the Treasury), and the way the Defence budget is handled as regards procurement of equipment and services (i.e. colossally inefficiently). It would also be worth exploring whether, to take the Royal Navy as an example, the principle of getting fewer, shinier ships is worth sticking to, or whether it might be worth buying a class of more, slightly less capable ships (corvettes or somesuch) to allow for greater operational flexibility (for things like anti-piracy, anti-drugs smuggling, disaster relief, that kind of thing). …on the basis that to have a ship available 100% of the time, you actually need to have one in repair and one in refit at each time, so you need 3 times as many as you want available.

    The elephant in the room is Trident, of course, and I believe it was only recently that Trident funding became included in Defence as a whole (someone please correct me if I’m misremembering!). Whatever settlement is arrived at needs to ensure that the conventional forces are not allowed to (further) atrophy for the sake of whatever deterrent system is chosen. My own preference would be for a massively reduced deterrent rather than Trident 2.0, insofar as my own preference matters (hint: it probably doesn’t).

  • Stevan Rose 12th Mar '15 - 9:09pm

    I’d rather fund medical research than weapons research. I’d rather buy ambulances than tanks. I’d rather have police helicopters than army helicopters. I’d rather pay for more teachers and firemen and police officers than more soldiers, sailors and airmen. We have to make choices and unfortunately there are higher priorities than Defence and all the vested interests in that area.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Mar '15 - 9:14pm

    @Stevan Rose.
    Defence spending is not desirable: it is necessary. We have a treaty commitment to spend 2% of our GDP on defence. So we should spend 2% of our GDP on defence, or we should renounce the treaty.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Mar '15 - 9:16pm

    Stevan Rose, the military is just like an international police force and until we have one it is what we have to use. Either that or we all sit around pointing the finger of blame whilst things go up in flames like in Mike Beckett’s cartoon.

    The Lib Dems will come to regret signing that international aid pledge if they aren’t willing to keep other pledges.

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Mar '15 - 10:00pm

    “It would also be worth exploring whether, to take the Royal Navy as an example, the principle of getting fewer, shinier ships is worth sticking to, or whether it might be worth buying a class of more, slightly less capable ships (corvettes or somesuch) to allow for greater operational flexibility (for things like anti-piracy, anti-drugs smuggling, disaster relief, that kind of thing).”

    But we equip and train our forces to successfully prosecute wars.

    “…on the basis that to have a ship available 100% of the time, you actually need to have one in repair and one in refit at each time, so you need 3 times as many as you want available.”

    the corollary to this is that you write a lot of “death in the line of duty” letters because those shiny little boats weren’t capable to prosecuting a war successfully.

    2.0% of GDP is important.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Mar ’15 – 9:14pm
    @Stevan Rose.
    Defence spending is not desirable: it is necessary. We have a treaty commitment …

    Philip, do you ever ask yourself the question “Why ?” ?

    Why do we have a treaty commitment? Are we members of NATO to prevent a rising up of a new Nazi Germany?
    Why was NATO set up in the first place, what was it for?
    Is it to stop the Russian Bear from cutting us off from our trade route to India and the rest of our Empire?
    Is it to stop The Reds sending their Warsaw Pact tanks rolling across Europe and reaching The English Channel?
    Or is it to stop Putin taking control of The Crimea ? Bit late if it was the latter!

    Or is it to keep the great ally from across The Atlantic engaged in Europe and stop the USA retreating into isolationism?

    I have listened to variations on all these themes and others over the years. During those years a lot of arms manufacturers and arms dealers have made profits out of every twist and turn of defence spending. I am not sure how much of that expenditure was worthwhile or if it made anyone any more secure or better defended.

    I have even recently read the argument that we need Trident so that we keep our permanent seat at the UN Security Council and remain a “major” power.
    I had hoped that sort of post imperial posturing had been dropped forty years ago but in 2015 we are building a military base “East of Suez” again so perhaps I have just slipped through a time warp.

    Nick Harvey ends his piece —
    “…we should not let the argument about 2 per cent dominate the broader debate on how Britain’s defence role in the world will adapt and respond to a changing security picture.
    Questions like how our defence budget will work in concert with our allies, and how much could we achieve through greater integration and European defence cooperation (which we already engaged in very effectively) are all parts of the equation.”

    He may just be right!

  • Chris Rennard 12th Mar '15 - 10:41pm

    An excellent article by Sir Nick Harvey. It really is an absolute nonsense not to include the vast expenditure on Trident in a Strategic Defence and Security Review. Those people now seeking greater expenditure on armaments given the changing threats posed by Putin etc. should really be looking to some of our allies who do not match our present commitment before trying to set a target that is not really appropriate for a budget requiring flexibility from year to year. They should also consider that whilst the Iraq war was wrong in principle, and made us less safe, it also cost us well over £5bn. As a party I lookk forward to us making it much clearer that we will not replace Trident and will get rid of it asap as it contributes nothing to our security if articel 5 of the NATO Treaty has any real meaning. I recall debating some of these issues with Nick Harvey at Union of Liberal Student (ULS) conferences 35 years ago!

  • A general point the risk of being facetious…

    A world in which we didn’t need a defence budget would be lovely to live in. Someone, however, appears to have neglected to tell Russia, ISIS, Boko Haram, (and potentially Iran, China and North Korea), natural disasters, drugs smugglers, epidemics, Somalian pirates, our Nato allies, Cyprus, Singapore and a variety of other countries we have bilateral and multilateral defence agreements with. Shall I go and tell them, or would someone else like to do it?

  • Toby Fenwick 13th Mar '15 - 12:44am

    @Sir Nick: a good article, and I couldn’t agree more that this should be done in slow time, and after a proper discussion about Britain’s role in the world. It is of course critical – and to the extent that this piece reflects party policy, very welcome – that any future UK nuclear force be included in the SDSR and that it be tradable with the savings staying in the MoD.

    @John Grout: The nuclear programme has been in the MoD budget since at least the late 1960s.

    The existing position was outlined by then-Defence Secretary Francis Pym in 1980, when he noted in a Parliamentary debate on Trident I C4 replacing Polaris A3TK that, “Just as Polaris was fitted into the ordinary routine budget, so will Trident I be.” (HC Deb 28 October 1980 volume 991 cc183-5 at 185.)

  • Stevan Rose 13th Mar '15 - 1:55am

    I’m not looking to abolish defence spending. Some is necessary for defence. But when deficits need to be reduced and choices of cuts have to be made, cut the guns not hospital services and education, Where is the current threat that requires us to increase defence spending and send in troops and gunboats. How many billions have been spent on useless offensive actions in the last 15 years?

  • Alex Sabine 13th Mar '15 - 4:22am

    12 comments so far and not a peep from jedibeeftrix…. when the topic is defence spending! I trust he has a good excuse 😉

    As Toby says, the nuclear programme has long been part of the MoD budget.

    Without prejudging this question one way or the other, I would just point out that maintaining spending on defence roughly constant as a proportion of GDP (at 2%) does not mean merely ‘ringfencing’ it, but rather increasing it in line with the growth of the economy. So if GDP grows by 2.5% per year on average in the next parliament we would have to increase defence spending by 2.5% per year in real terms, or a cumulative 13% between 2015 and 2020. That would represent a very generous settlement in the context of the tight overall spending envelope that all parties will face.

    On the other hand, defence has had significant real-terms cuts in this parliament (unlike health, schools and foreign aid) and in particular a large reduction in the size of the regular army. It has also been squeezed over a much longer period than other areas of government spending, first with the ‘peace dividend’ following the end of the Cold War and then getting comparatively miserly settlements from Gordon Brown, who preferred to direct his largesse at other areas despite the fact that the Labour government had a penchant for military adventures.

    I would say that there needs to be an analysis of foreign policy objectives and the role we expect the conventional armed forces and any nuclear deterrent to play before we can determine the appropriate level of defence spending in the medium term. Clearly there cannot be a blank cheque, but on the other hand we must not undertake commitments that are not properly resourced.

  • Jedi

    I was hoping you were going to say that we were members of NATO because it was part of The Rebel Alliance and it was simply the only way we could beat The Evil Empire. Maybe another time?

    I always read your comments and often follow the links you provide. You have provided links to Mr Lindley-French before.
    This one certainly scores highly for name-dropping —
    “…The other day I had dinner with Putin opponent Mikhail Khordokovsky, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius, Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, former Swedish Prime and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, and NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow. Now, I am not at liberty to reveal the content of our discussion (and I will not).  However, I was struck by Khordokovsky’s concern for and about his Motherland.  ”

    Isn’t he just “full of himself” ?

    Chris Rennard has a better grip on this when he says —
    “…As a party I look forward to us making it much clearer that we will not replace Trident and will get rid of it asap as it contributes nothing to our security..”
    Chris Rennard 12th Mar ’15 – 10:41pm

  • Alex Sabine 13th Mar ’15 – 4:22am
    “..12 comments so far and not a peep from jedibeeftrix…. ”

    Alex, you do not seem to have spotted — jedibeeftrix 12th Mar ’15 – 11:06pm
    @ JT – “Why was NATO set up in the first place, what was it for?

  • On a different point as various people have mentioned the MOD budget.

    Defence should be just a tool of Foreign Policy. So why do we have two separate Government Departments? With two separate budgets in very expensive palace-like buildings in Whitehall ?

    Why not combine the two Departments? Retire some of those guys with too much scrambled egg on their uniforms who “fly a desk” in the MOD building. We could divert the money to something more useful instead.

    Or is the MOD a retirement home for ageing military types, a sort of job creation scheme? Is that why the MOD owns 15 golf courses perhaps?

    If not – can anyone explain how 15 golf courses contribute to the security of the UK?

  • Toby Fenwick 13th Mar '15 - 8:52am

    @John Tilley: I don’t for a second defend MoD frivolities as I would in any department, but your suggestions save very little money. The key here is to work out what we want to achieve internationally. We should then fund it, and I agree that we should consider the MoD, FCO and DfID budgets as a whole. Ringfencing DfIDs budget unbalances this; fortunately, we can look more carefully at what qualifies as ODA.

  • Tsar Nicholas 13th Mar '15 - 9:11am

    2% on GDP so we can finance aid drops to ISIS and sponsor the overthrow of democratically elected governments in places like Ukraine?

  • Toby
    There is some measure of agreement between us.
    I could give you a much longer list of cuts to public expenditure which would produce £ Billions and would reflect Liberal Democrat political priorities rather than the priorities of a bloated and remote Establishment. In fact I have just done so in another thread.
    But it is good we agree that there could be a much more rational approach in the area of Foreign Policy and Defence and the funding thereof.

    The DfiD budget is in my view so small as to be no obstacle to serious changes elsewhere. It has taken on a significance in recent weeks as a political totem for “both side” but once people stop playing to the UKIP Gallery it will be possible to discuss it sensibly again.

  • We do not need to replace Trident. We do not have an enemy that is deterred from attacking us by having one and we can’t afford it.
    What we have discovered is that our military interventions in North Africa and West Asia have been disastrous so we might as well give up trying. Tackling threats from Isis requires a big investment in the intelligence services but that is not as expensive as spending on military hardware.
    The threat from Russia is much more of a concern. Whether it needs us to commit to 2% I do not know. However I would like to know how much we should commit to tackling a more important security concern, that it the need to mitigate the effects of global warming. This is a far bigger concern for our future yet there is no debate about this, not even a figure like 2%. I heard the Green candidate for Bristol West on radio 4 recently and even he did not mention it.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Mar '15 - 9:46am

    I’m a little puzzled by this debate. I’ve just been looking at some figures from the government’s Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis (see Table 4.3 in particular) and from the slightly more readable UK Public Spending website. The figures don’t match exactly (somehow, they never do) but both clearly show defence spending at over 2% of GDP, possibly as much as 2.4%, even in most recent years (and it has been falling since the 1980s). So what exactly is the problem?

  • Toby Fenwick 13th Mar '15 - 1:17pm

    John, the scale of the DfID budget is actually large enough that it is now significant to this debate- it is roughly a third of the defence budget and about eight times that of the FCO.

    As it happens I think targets for spending are a dreadful way to budget, and especially in these long term policy areas, a notional percentage of GDP is a spectacularly poor way to budget: like every other area of government soendong, we should work out what we’re trying to achieve, and then find a way of funding it (or not).

  • jedibeeftrix 13th Mar '15 - 1:40pm

    “The figures don’t match exactly (somehow, they never do) but both clearly show defence spending at over 2% of GDP, possibly as much as 2.4%, even in most recent years (and it has been falling since the 1980s). So what exactly is the problem?”

    Hi malcolm,

    Depends how you calculate them:
    Do you include the core defence budget (what we used to care about)
    Do you add operational spending to the core budget (as sipri does for cross comparison)
    Do you include pensions to the total (as a handy way for politicos to pad numbers)
    Do you include paramilitary funding (as France does, even though gendarmes are in the interior)

    Historically, operational spending has been deemed a supplemental treasury allocation, so what we actually talked about was was the core budget when we discussed defence spending.
    In sdr98 times this was 2.7% of GDP
    By 2005 this was approx 2.2% core and 0.4% operational
    By sdsr10 this was approx 2.0% core 0.3% operational
    Today, we have to add core to operational spending (the latter now greatly reduced), in order to hit 2.0%
    Tomorrow, they’ll have to throw pensions into the pot to hit 2.0%.

    It is something of a disgrace, not least the promises made to fox and the service heads in 2010 that we would continue to meet 2.0%, promises which were then reiterated to the yanks.

  • 2% on Defence should be regarded as an absolute minimum. It also matters what you spend it on. In many ways I think Japan, as the other island nation in the G7 should be our yardstick, in terms of capability. Japan currently has a navy of 124 ships, including 26 destroyers. We currently have only 6 destroyers (that noise you can hear is Lord Nelson spinning in his grave at about 10000 RPM).

  • Toby,

    For reasons unknown my comment agreeing with you has been deleted.
    I said that I completely agree with you that –“…a notional percentage of GDP is a spectacularly poor way to budget”.

    Difficult to understand why that should be deleted. Maybe someone prefers that you and I disagree?

  • Alex Sabine 13th Mar '15 - 5:21pm

    A few further observations:

    – I agree with those who are emphasising that defence is a paramount duty of government – without which its other functions cannot be discharged – and it is a matter of fact that it has been downgraded as a national priority over the past three decades, at least by the yardstick of the proportion of GDP devoted to it.

    – There have been times in the postwar period where an exaggerated view of Britain’s military role has caused defence spending to place a heavier burden on our economy than it could really support, especially given the parallel expansion of the welfare state. This was particularly true with the ramp-up of defence spending at the end of the postwar Labour government, and after the Korean War the Conservative administrations of the 1950s pared back defence spending sharply, which is one of the main reasons why real disposable income grew strongly in the 1950s despite only modest GDP growth: the resources released from defence enabled a substantial reduction in the tax burden.

    – The argument that defence commitments are imposing too heavy a burden is harder to argue today given the large rundown in defence spending over the past 25 years. There has been a big change in the shape of the state, much bigger than the change in its size which generates so much heated political debate – yet this change in what we spend money on collectively, has received much less attention and has taken place with little public debate or awareness. Health, education and social security (including pensions) are the big spenders now. This trend has intensified with the cuts to defence in the 2010 Spending Review alongside ring-fencing of the NHS budget and generous indexation of pensions. As the IFS have argued, the changing composition of state spending is equally important, if not more so, than the total quantum, and it might be helpful if politicians stated some principles and priorities on this rather than drawing up laundry lists of policy commitments with no clear overall rationale or justification.

    – Even though defence spending now represents a more modest slice of the national cake, it is still very substantial by international standards. That may well be appropriate given our role in NATO, but the case needs to be argued rather than merely asserted, answering the kind of strategic questions jedi and others have raised here.

    – It is certainly the only plausible policy if we are going to pursue a ‘liberal interventionist’ foreign policy or have the capacity to intervene in various capacities and ‘theatres’ around the world. If we will the end we must will the means. It would be a grave dereliction of duty to allow commitments to run ahead of resources in the manner that we saw for part of the last decade. It is morally indefensible to send our armed forces into harm’s way without the proper support and equipment. If we are going to cut defence spending we must scale back our commitments. This is why, as Toby says – and as with other areas of government spending and indeed things like constitutional reform – we need to work out what we are trying to achieve and then resource it accordingly.

    – Notwithstanding the squeeze on its overall budget over recent decades, the MoD has had a lamentable record of wasteful spending in areas like procurement. The coalition claims to have addressed the large ‘black hole’ of unfunded commitments it inherited, but even if this is true – and I don’t know the subject well enough to judge, perhaps someone else can offer a judgement on this – it is far from clear that the MoD can be relied upon to be a prudent custodian of public money. Moreover, it is at least as prone to capture by vested interests as any other government department. What safeguards can be put in place to ensure its large budget is not mis-spent, and hood money thrown after bad?

    – However strong the case for maintaining defence spending at 2% of GDP, this will have big knock-on implications for other government departments. As I pointed out above, it will entail substantial real-terms increases in spending at a time when overall spending will perforce be tightly constrained. Politicians from all parties are spraying around promises like confetti, as if the deficit were yesterday’s problem and the debt is large enough to look after itself. Sadly this is a delusion. In any event, the array of promises the parties are making are very hard to square with their commitments on the aggregate level of spending and the overall fiscal policy stance. There seems to be precious little connection between the two. Now that we are in the final and most frenzied vote harvesting season there seems little prospect that they will feel obliged to reconcile these contradictory positions. They have clearly concluded that it is safer to defer such knotty problems until after the election, when there might be an opportunity to evade responsibility and pin the blame on someone else. This is what passes for democracy in Britain.

  • Adam Corlett 13th Mar '15 - 6:17pm

    Of the 28 NATO members, the UK is ranked 2nd in defence spending / GDP.
    12 (including Canada) spend less than half what we do / GDP.
    A maximum of 4 meet the 2% *aim* – most definitely not a binding commitment – (and Greece should probably stop doing so!).

    And ultimately our aim (and NATO’s) should be to reduce the proportion of GDP that countries around the world feel obliged to spend on defence – ideally to zero!

    All of which is to say, as others have done above, that we should not be hung up at all about crossing the magical 2% threshold in itself.

    And if people don’t want more defence cuts (let alone extra spending!) they should be prepared to defend one of the trade-offs: is it worth borrowing more for at the moment? Is it worth raising taxes for? Or should we make even larger cuts to the foreign office / social care / colleges / science / the justice system / welfare? You can’t have it all.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Mar '15 - 6:31pm

    Adam, I wouldn’t mind going below the 2% if we did a u-turn on the 0.7% international aid pledge, but that’s not likely to happen unless we tie it to things like defence.

    You say “we can’t have it all”, but that’s arguably what politicians are trying to do by wanting to defend the country on the cheap. If other countries are running down their defences it doesn’t mean we should follow.

    I’ve offered my suggestion for how to pay for it: raise income tax. I think the basic rate has room for increase.

    This is all basically the product of Lib Dems trying to have a manifesto of spend but don’t tax. We pointed this out ages ago, as I am sure you did too.

  • Philip Thomas 13th Mar '15 - 7:21pm

    I would support tax rises and cuts in pensions to pay for our defence commitments, if we decide to maintain them. But then I support tax rises and cuts in pensions to pay for quite a lot of things.

    I’m not quite sure what NATO is for but I don’t want to leave it. I guess that is my conservatism (small ‘c’) talking!

  • David Allen 13th Mar '15 - 7:35pm

    “The key here is to work out what we want to achieve internationally. We should then fund it”

    This approach sounds brilliantly logical. However, it naturally generates a long wish list, followed by demands for high defence spending. When it is people like teachers, doctors, or social service providers who generate similarly long wish lists, we generally tell them that money does not grow on trees and that they should wise up and learn to cope with the cuts. Just because the defence people have shorter hair does not mean they should be treated differently.

    It is easy to point to Putin as a threat. It is less easy to explain how increased defence spending (other, ironically, than on Trident!) is going to tackle that threat.

    A different approach would be to assess past performance. A school which fails to educate its pupils will be closed. What should we do with armed forces which have lost the good reputation they used to have, which have had to be bailed out by the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan? What should be done with an MOD which is a byword for waste, and as pointed out above, wants to spend your money on golf courses?

    What about the track record on deployment? It’s not difficult to score it. Falklands, Bosnia, Sierra Leone – three wins. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya – three thumping losers. We won against the minnows, but we lost, big time, against the bigger players. Overall, our armed forces may have done our own interests more harm than good.

    Let’s not race to increase our spending, until its recipients prove they can up their game.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Mar '15 - 7:50pm

    By the way, following on from my previous comment: I quite like the idea of meeting the 2% anyway – I’m not just coming out with these arguments because of the international aid commitment! But wanting to maintain a balanced government is part of it.

  • Adam Corlett 13th Mar ’15 – 6:17pm

    I agree with your conclusion — you cannot have it all. Which is why Trident has to go.

    BTW — to be fair to Canada, the main threat to them of a land invasion comes from their neighbour to the south, as many of my Canadian friends often remind me. So you can see why they do not wish to contribute too much to an American dominated miitary alliance. 🙂

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