The Chancellor has pledged to deliver the NATO target of 2% of GDP to defence spending. He has also effectively ring fenced that figure for the lifetime of this parliament. So far so good.
The Defence Secretary has already admitted that money already allocated to another department is going to be transferred to the defence budget, thereby reaching the 2% target without actually putting any more money into defence. This is a cynical move made with no thought given to the assurances that the nation’s security is still the first priority of government.
Since the SDSR of 2010, so much damage has been done to the structure and balance of the armed forces that an extra injection of money is needed to get back to anything like a sensible level. The Royal Navy needs to increase its complement of escorts considerably to ensure it can fulfil its obligations, including protecting the new aircraft carriers. The recruitment of Army reservists is below target as expected, so the gap, which could never have been filled by reservists anyway, needs filling to bring the numbers up to at least 100,000, and the RAF needs to re-equip with airborne early warning aircraft to replace those scrapped with indecent haste in 2010. These actions are examples of the very least required to repair the damage caused by SDSR 2010.
The Prime Minister has recently asked for the numbers of Special Forces to be increased, but he doesn’t seem to realise that these people are recruited from the Regular Army whose numbers are decreasing by about 20%. We cannot, and must not, decrease the quality of our Special Forces just to increase numbers quickly. I hope Mr Cameron heard General Shaw make this point forcibly on “The World at One”.
The general public is beginning to realise that we are unable properly to defend ourselves against ever increasing threats, never mind fulfil our overseas obligations. We have to be prepared for every possibility. To paraphrase Professor Andrew Roberts in his Richard Holmes Lecture last year: “Our wars are never the ones we think they’re going to be.”