Hastings: The Tory defence policy will be simple - cut, brutally

Having no party political affiliation, BAFF conducts its political contacts entirely on a cross-party basis. The Federation's approach to the forthcoming UK Patrliamentary General Election of 2010 is primarily to encourage members of the armed forces to register to vote, and then to exercise their own voting choice when the election comes. While focussing on personnel rather than defence equipment and strategic issues, BAFF has consistently argued for the nation to allocate whatever resources are required in order to achieve its foreign policy and homeland defence aims. The article below is another reminder of the starkness of the crisis, whatever the hue of the next Government may prove to be.

The Tory defence policy will be simple: cut, brutally

Max Hastings

Wednesday, 13th January 2010

 

The British military has been horribly overstretched by the wars of the Labour years, says Max Hastings. But the Tories’ only option will be to cut further still. Hideous decisions lie ahead

Britain’s armed forces sometimes suppose that they get a better break from Conservative governments than Labour ones, but their recent experience suggests otherwise. After 11 years of Margaret Thatcher, it proved necessary to cannibalise the entire armoured resources of the Rhine Army to deploy a weak division for the First Gulf War. Today, the services welcome the prospect of a Tory government after a long period of policy paralysis. But they are also braced for bad news. They know the Tories intend brutally to reduce defence spending.

David Cameron has committed himself to protecting the health and overseas aid budgets, while reducing government expenditure elsewhere by at least 10 per cent. A new defence secretary will take over a department with a huge accumulated deficit. Budget cuts will be rendered more painful because for the past two years the current government has cynically pushed back payment of some big bills until after the election, when they will arrive with ‘final demand’ stickers. The core annual defence budget is around £34 billion. A further £10-20 billion is adrift on programmes authorised but unfunded.

Thus there is a crisis, which cannot possibly be resolved by efficiency savings, salami-slicing or the familiar expedient of distributing pain between all three services. Some very big programmes must be axed. When the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review is complete, and cuts implemented, Britain’s armed forces are certain to look quite different from what they are today. The only issue at stake is where the axe will fall most heavily.

From the same article by Max Hastings:

This week, Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute offered a projection that, if the MoD takes its share of pain in the new world of Britain’s colossal fiscal deficit, numbers of uniformed service personnel might fall by 20 per cent to 142,000 within the space of six years. He also believes the defence budget will fall by between 15 per cent and 20 per cent over the same period. As General Lord Guthrie points out, the armed forces are already so shrunken that further cuts will be imposed upon a perilously low base.

Finally, an interesting statistic from the same article by Sir Max Hastings:

... we have in the field barely a third of the number of soldiers deployed in Northern Ireland in the 1970s ...

 

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