Is Defence the first duty of Government? We are told regularly that it is, so why should we need to ask? We shouldn’t have to, but recent events cast doubt on whether the Government really believe it.
There is an interim defence review underway at present, somewhat delayed to allow the new Defence Secretary to get on top of his brief. There are all sorts of rumours doing the rounds about where cuts may have to be made to fill a black hole in the defence budget. None of these cuts can be made without seriously affecting the ability of the Armed Forces to carry out its duties. Worse still, some of the suggestions, such as scrapping HM Ships Albion and Bulwark, would deprive the nation of some of the most useful capabilities for which we are world famous. Experience has shown that, once such a capability has been lost and we realise we need it, it is far more expensive to resurrect it than it would have been to keep it, and that doesn’t take the loss of key personnel into account.
We should take this opportunity to investigate where the deficit in the budget came from and how such a situation could be avoided in the future. We could also rearrange the finances to remove the cost of the deterrent from the defence budget. It is fundamentally a political cost and should not use resources taken from whichever service happens to operate it.
If the Government wishes to prove that we do not need to ask the original question, it will build on the Armed Forces not reduce them further.