FOREWORD - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 52
Jim Murphy MP - Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Uncosted, unwise and unfair – the SDSR was a missed opportunity. Britain's role in the world is to protect our interests, advance our ideas and promote our values, while playing a responsible global leadership role on the world stage. A modern armed forces and a strong defence policy are central to that ambition.
The previous government's commitment to defence was non-negotiable. Defence spending increased by 10% in real terms between 1997 and 2010, we met every request for extra equipment for Afghanistan, and in 2008 we introduced the Service Command Paper, the first ever cross-government strategy on service welfare. In opposition that commitment remains. We will work constructively with the government where possible and hold them to account where necessary.
In Afghanistan we support conditions-based withdrawal in 2015 and will strive to ensure the government's pledge to protect frontline operations from the impact of the SDSR cuts is upheld.
I agree with the 68% of the defence community who felt the SDSR was a 'missed opportunity'. The review began by asking what could be cut, not what could be done to meet the UK's strategic security goals, and, as a result, there are gaps in our military capacity and holes in the government's figures.
The government's plans are uncosted. It has announced plans to make £4.3bn non-frontline savings, but is unable to tell us how this figure was reached, and already a £15bn overspend has been identified.
The government's plans are also unwise. The UK has an aircraft carrier strike capability gap for the next decade, the navy has surrendered flexibility by cutting frigates and our amphibious capability, and by 2015 our surveillance capability will be cut altogether. The 42,000 job losses announced will decimate the defence industry and, rather than support a strategy for growth, the government's emphasis on buying 'off the shelf' demonstrates a woeful lack of ambition for UK industry.
Finally, the government's plans are also unfair. Including veterans of Afghanistan in the planned 17,000 redundancies means losing those with the highest skills who have given the greatest service. Cutting forces' and widows' pensions permanently means forcing these groups to take an ever-growing hit that will continue to affect them long after the deficit has been paid off.
This undermines the military covenant and we strongly urge the government to consider a more reasonable, time-limited approach.
We recognise the need for spending restraint and have made clear that we support reductions in civilian personnel numbers and heavy artillery, and we acknowledge that savings need to be made through significant procurement reform. However, answering the question of how our armed forces can do more-for-less required a thorough examination of defence needs and how to make defence more efficient in the long term and in the national interest, not a drive for immediate savings.
Labour's priority is to see a strong, hi-tech armed forces equipped for the challenges of the 21st Century, able to tackle emerging, interconnected threats, gaining strength through cooperation with international partners. That must also be Britain's priority.