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Where’s the firepower in this defence review?


AT last the much-delayed integrated defence and security review is published. It consists of 110 pages entitled Global Britain in a Competitive Age. You can download it here.

The very title of this document identifies the problem – how has the government machine managed to let security, defence, development and foreign policy not be integrated?   

Moreover, given that the lack of such integration was clear in the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan, how and why has it taken so long to notice that these vital government activities have drifted apart, let alone do something about it? 

The document is necessarily high level and therefore a bit short on detail.  It may be me, but a fair amount of it seems a combination of statements of the obvious or platitudes.  There are also some lines that rather give the impression that the authors are either locked in an ivory tower or have no sense of irony.  

For example, there is a commitment to ensure that 40million girls in less-developed nations receive education – this from a government that has brusquely destroyed the best part of two years of education for its own schoolchildren.   

Turning now to the defence part, there is the publication of a recent Defence Committee report, which is (rightly) brutally frank. You can read it here. It provides an interesting reality check. 

The integrated review affirms that NATO is of fundamental importance and that the UK will continue to spend heavily to meet or exceed the two per cent of Gross Domestic Product commitment to defence spending.   

Therein lies the problem – under this approach, spending money is good.  Spend more money, even better.  However, as the select committee has found, the Ministry of Defence is not particularly good at spending money wisely.   

It notes that the armoured division that we have promised to NATO barely exists, and what force it does have (about half what it should) is obsolescent entirely due to the incompetence of the MoD.   

The report concludes: ‘This report reveals a woeful story of bureaucratic procrastination, military indecision, financial mismanagement and general ineptitude, which have continually bedevilled attempts to properly re-equip the British Army over the last two decades.  

‘Even on the MoD’s own current plans (but subject to the Integrated Review), we are still some four years away from even being able to field a “warfighting division”, which, itself, would now be hopelessly under-equipped and denuded of even a third combat brigade. 

‘Were the British Army to have to fight a peer adversary – a euphemism for Russia – in Eastern Europe in the next few years, whilst our soldiers would undoubtedly remain amongst the finest in the world, they would, disgracefully, be forced to go into battle in a combination of obsolescent or even obsolete armoured vehicles, most of them at least 30 years old or more, with poor mechanical reliability, very heavily outgunned by more modern missile and artillery systems and chronically lacking in adequate air defence. They would have only a handful of long-delayed, new generation vehicles, gradually trickling into the inventory, to replace them.’ 

Given this, it is hard to take the defence part of the review seriously. It seems more like a PowerPoint deck from a dodgy technology company seeking investment than a basis for developing and implementing a defence policy, although more is to come on that through a soon-to-be-published Defence Command Paper. 

There are just three pages detailing how the integrated strategy will be delivered. Half of that seems to have been written by the Civil Service HR department.   

To be fair, it’s an acknowledgement that the Government is far from being fit for purpose.  Whether it is capable of self-improvement is an open question, but if this document is the best that Whitehall can deliver, I am very depressed. 

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here.

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