FOREWORD - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 53
Kees van Haperen, Chief Executive Officer, UK National Defence Association
The most recent forewords of my predecessors in this publication have led me to think long and hard about how best to reflect on the gloomy dawn in the wake of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Regrettably, few of their warnings have been heeded and little has changed to improve the situation. I do not question the severity of the impact that the inherited economic situation has had, nor the sense of urgency with which the Cabinet has set about trying to transform government finances and reduce the deficit. However, I struggle with the notion of sharing the burden evenly when that implies we must accept a decreased level of national security, with risks portrayed as irrelevant.
Many have warned of the consequences of cherry picking threats to form a national strategy at the behest of a desired size and shape of the armed forces. Regrettably, with budgetary over-commitments the MoD has dealt itself a poor hand. It should nevertheless be stressed that press attention has continually put a spotlight on the absurdity of hasty decisions: with the Nimrods we saw capital destruction on an unparalleled scale; the disappearance of two aircraft carriers and Harriers marked the end of an era of skills and experience; the late rescue of Britons from Libya had to be undertaken with ships and aircraft earmarked to be scrapped; the reduction of RAF aircraft resulted in the sacking of aspiring pilots with recently reported acute shortage. I could go on. In as complex an organisation as the MoD, many elements are tightly coupled and removing one will have unintended consequences for others. Undoubtedly, future reviews must display greater coherence and a less haphazard, gung ho approach to cost cutting.
It is inevitable that the MoD will need to live within its means. The creation of a 'balanced, adaptable force' – or Force 2020 – sounds like an excellent concept. We should nevertheless remind ourselves that such a force needs to be achieved at a time of even greater uncertainty than hitherto assumed. It also needs to be built with a coherent defence capability as its foundation.
Moreover, who is not aware of how long it will take to procure the right equipment and ensure that this constitutes value for money, let alone synchronise this procurement with other lines of development and integrate as capabilities? There is also the argument that wider national interests require a rebuilding of relationships with industry, without which success will not be achievable. The Chancellor should recognise that the MoD simply cannot afford to wait and should start its work on Force 2020 imminently and thus provide financial clarity.
Worryingly, the morale of staff across all levels in the MoD is at an all-time low. The slowdown of the announced redundancy programme to at least four years is hardly conducive to instilling confidence either. On the contrary, much more upheaval can be expected, with reforms of reserves and senior rank structures. I fear that the current uncertainties – against a backdrop of commitments in Afghanistan, Libya and probably other theatres – demand far more resolve and vision from military, civil service and political leadership than they are likely to receive.