THE government has unveiled its long-awaited series of defence cuts, packaged as an integrated review of defence, security, foreign policy and development. It comes hard on the heels of a damning report from the Commons Defence Committee on the Army’s armoured vehicle capability and the failures of defence procurement going back decades. Much of what was unveiled on Tuesday is founded on the shifting sands of that same defence procurement architecture. It seems a long shot that it will succeed.
Any review like this must, of course, begin with a clear understanding of the threats to us. Here, Boris Johnson seems to be isolated. The great majority of his own party, and indeed many others, believe that the biggest long-term threat to the West comes from China. Johnson, however, seems insistent on cosying up to the power that made the world ill and thus stampeded governments into trashing their own economies.
What is required is a common understanding, shared by Johnson, of Chinese strategic objectives and the level and nature of the deterrence needed to counter their ambitions, underpinned by a collective determination to respond to Chinese intelligence, economic subversion, and military ambitions in the real and the virtual worlds. Key to this is the rapid identification of strategic technologies, from semi-conductors to systems architectures such as 5G and its future developments, which must in future be controlled within our own countries and alliances and not used by China to plant worms or dormant control measures in strategic enablers including our power generation, communications, airspace control and IT networks.
Instead, the review identifies Russia as the biggest threat to our security. Russia is certainly a threat, but only in the short term. The meat of the review, however, does not follow the logic of that identification. It postulates a shift in policy towards the Asia-Pacific region – a long way from Russia – and for what? We have given millions of Hong Kong Chinese the right to come and live in Britain, but would we go to war on behalf of the rights of people in Hong Kong and possibly Taiwan? Unlikely – and with what? Military consequences for China will be determined by those who can employ them. Principally, that is the US. Would Biden go to war to defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China? And what would be the implications for US power and influence across the whole world if he did not do so?
If Russia is the biggest threat, why is conventional defence as part of Nato being further dismembered? Another 10,000 men gone from the Army; 77 main battle tanks scrapped out of a total fleet of only 228, none of which have received any upgrade since their introduction; the entire Warrior armoured vehicle fleet cast aside, wasting £400million already spent on the planned upgrade – to be replaced by what? Something planned by defence procurement, an organisation characterised in the Defence Committee’s report as being run by ‘bureaucratic procrastination, military indecision, financial mismanagement and general ineptitude’. On the form of the past three decades, from MRAV to FRES to Tracer and so on back to the Astute class submarine, it is an organisation which will never deliver what is needed, now, at a reasonable cost.It is clear that, because of its failures, we could not put even a single armoured division into the field for a serious war, and if we tried, the troops would be equipped with vehicles between 30 and 60 years old, outgunned and obsolescent, lacking in air defence and without the supplies of spare parts and ammunition needed to keep them in the field.
The Army will be smaller than it has been in 400 years; the RAF and Navy in similar straits. Spending on cyber capabilities, nuclear weapons and modern technology is to be applauded – if, as I have already made clear, the MoD can deliver. However, there is no escaping the fact that armed forces are an essential attribute of sovereignty, part of what makes a country a country. They define how allies and enemies alike treat you. Our armed forces will be so small that no one, friend or foe, will ever take us seriously again. Yet, according to the review, ‘more of our armed forces’ will be sent overseas ‘more often and for longer periods of time’. To do what? Where? With what?
We also see that £9.3million is to be spent on a ‘situation center’ [sic] in the Cabinet Office – inserted presumably as an extra level of command above the armed forces, police and emergency responders, intelligence and security services and the border force. We already have a Permanent Joint HQ to manage deployed military operations, and the police and emergency services have the mechanisms to manage crisis situations at home. They do not need amateurs interfering in the execution of complex tasks carried out by professionals. The job of politicians is to determine policy objectives, assign tasks and provide resources. It is not to do everyone else’s job except their own – and do them badly. Contrary to what they believe, politicians in London do not know more than professionals on the ground about what is going on and what to do about it. Given Johnson’s ever-increasing relish for authoritarian government under the pretext of Covid, one cannot escape the feeling that this is quite simply Lockdown Central, where Johnson, Hancock and their mad scientists will orchestrate their future attacks on the liberties of the people of this country.
On top of the appalling waste of money outlined by the Defence Committee and the waste of £9.3million on Lockdown Central, we see a determination to return to the squandering of our money on foreign aid. This has to stop, especially when we have service veterans sleeping rough on our streets, and service pay and pensions are slipping ever further behind inflation. It is also hard not to see huge sums being spent on a Space Command as yet more waste. We cannot properly secure our borders, waters and airspace with the armed forces we now have – why in heaven’s name reach for the stars?
Conservatives of whatever party must stand for liberty, sovereignty, accountable government and equality before the law for all. We must stand for spending money where it is needed and not wasting it. We must stand for the defence of our country in the here and now. Let us oppose this idiotic review and replace it with something that protects our country, or values and our obligations.