FOREWORD - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 48
James Arbuthnot MP
This year presents a number of important challenges to those concerned with defence. As I write, the defence community is awaiting the publication of the MoD’s green paper. We hope that it will be comprehensive and forward thinking enough to act as a powerful guide to the Strategic Defence Review that will almost certainly follow the General Election. We know that its explicit purpose is to ask all the right questions that the review will need to answer. Those questions must go beyond the often hand-to-mouth thinking of the MoD that has resulted from the pressures of two long-running and simultaneous campaigns and the intensification of the current mission in Afghanistan.
The green paper out, the next step will be to ensure that the review takes the right form. To begin with it ought to be a Strategic Defence ‘and Security’ Review, and go wider than the concerns solely of the MoD. The government also needs to identify all those particular groups who ought to be consulted, including armed forces personnel and their families, and make great efforts to engage the wider public in this vital debate. Government has not always been very good at communicating defence and security issues to the people; this review is an opportunity to communicate as well as to consult.
Of course, the backdrop to all of this is the current financial situation. Clearly, every government department is going to face cuts: some may lose out significantly. Current popular opinion does not appear to favour the MoD being exempted from reductions in spending. However, there is certainly a good argument for cuts to the MoD budget (and to other security-related budgets in other departments) being as gentle as possible. If budgetary pressures now result in the abandonment of capabilities that the review decides two or three years later are vital, this will look not only foolish, but will also be particularly damaging to defence.
This leads me on to the Gray report. Gray’s conclusions, and the imminent, detailed government response to it, will both have to be dealt with in the review. But improvements to procurement practice must be put in train immediately and not await the review’s outcome. Waste and delay within the MoD’s procurement plans have gone on for too long, and in the interests of maximising the use of whatever money the MoD has following any cuts, better procurement must be one of the top priorities for the government.
Looking at Afghanistan, we hope we are now in a period of change. We have had the McChrystal report endorsed, and, alongside more input from the US, its strategy is being implemented. By the end of this year, we need to be able see a radical change in the way the campaign is being run, leading to a forced change in behaviour of the enemy and improvements in how Afghans can live their lives. This should lead to increased support from the Afghan people for the aims of the mission.
It will be a tough year for everyone who serves the defence needs of this country, from the rifleman in Helmand to those working in the organisations and departments that must struggle to support him while dealing with their own organisational and strategic challenges.