PM and Defence Secretary at odds over Defence Review

Liam Fox, British Conservative politician.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP (Image via Wikipedia)

A leaked private letter to the Prime Minister from the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, has shown that the current Strategic Defence and Security Review is nothing more than a cover for the Government-wide Comprehensive Spending Review. The disagreement also shows the complete disunity within the Government over the Review.

I’ve quoted below some of the most important points in the letter:

Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a “super CSR” (Comprehensive Spending Review). If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war.

How do we want to be remembered and judged for our stewardship of national security? We have repeatedly and robustly argued that this is the first duty of Government and we run the risk of having those words thrown back at us if the SDSR fails to reflect that position and act upon it.

Our decisions today will limit severely the options available to this and all future governments. The range of operations that we can do today we will simply not be able to do in the future.

The potential for the scale of the changes to seriously damage morale across the Armed Forces should not be underestimated. This will be exacerbated by the fact that the changes proposed would follow years of mismanagement by our predecessors. It may also coincide with a period of major challenge (and, in all probability, significant casualties) in Afghanistan.

Even at this stage we should be looking at the strategic and security implications of our decisions. It would be a great pity if, having championed the cause of our Armed Forces and set up the innovation of the NSC, we simply produced a cuts package. Cuts there will have to be. Coherence, we cannot do without, if there is to be any chance of a credible narrative.

Specific cuts mentioned in the letter are reducing standing naval commitments in the Indian Ocean, Carribean and Gulf, scrapping amphibious vessels and auxiliaries, the Nimrod MR4A maritime aircraft. Dr Fox implies that we could not re-do the Sierra Leone operation again, and also that we would have great trouble reinforcing the Falklands in an emergency. The ability to assist civil authorities would be reduced, as would the assistance the military could give in the event of terrorist attacks, and security for the 2012 Olympics.

Liam Fox has long been one of the Tory front-bench who I find it possible to respect – more so than most of the public schoolboy Thatcher-worshipping ilk. A former GP, and thus one of the few prominent politicians nowadays who has had a career other than politics or ‘policy’, he’s spent a long time in the Shadow Cabinet in various roles. Having been Shadow Defence Secretary for almost five years might be expected to have some idea of what he’s talking about.

I think the severe lack of senior politicians with any kind of armed forces experience - or for that matter with any experience of knowledge of history - shows. Any decision-maker with any sense would be looking closely at John Nott‘s 1981 Defence Review as a how-not-to-do-it. Yet that is exactly what Cameron and Osborne propose. It’s rather sad to think that the Conservatives came to power after touting themselves as the party of the armed forces. Even their former pet General, Sir Richard Dannatt, has waded in on Dr Fox’s side.

Fox’s reference to the possible reaction amongst the party membership is interesting. Although it is often thought that the Tory is made up of lots of ex-Guards Officers, via Eton and Sandhurst, the only former soldier of note on the Tory front bench is Ian Duncan-Smith. There are more than a few ex-military backbenchers, but how much influence do they have over ‘Dave’ Cameron and Boy George? I can’t imagine them, nor the Tory old guard around Britain, being too happy about the hatchet being wielded over the armed forces.

It is hard to disagree either with the assertion that the safety and security of the nation is the first duty of any Government. If they fail with that, then we’d all might as well give up. It’s no good having wonderful schools, hospitals and a thriving economy if enemies – either other states or terrorists – are able to disrupt our everyday lives at will. When we’re conducting an intervention abroad, say in Iraq or Afghanistan, we get the security sorted first, in order for the reconstruction to start. Why should the principle be any different when it comes to Defence closer to home?

Another thought that is deeply disturbing… if the Defence Secretary is having to write to the Prime Minister explaining his concerns about how the Review is progressing, who the hell is producing the review? It’s not a Defence Review… its a pure and simple cuts package. At least previous reviews made some attempt at sketching out the strategic direction. That somebody in the MOD feels the need to leak such a letter is indicative of how poorly this is being handled.

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24 Comments

Filed under Army, debate, defence, Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized

24 responses to “PM and Defence Secretary at odds over Defence Review

  1. Question: Was the concept of sharing an aircraft carrier with France a serious proposition, or was someone (or several someones)using it to inflame rhetoric over defence spending? I must admit I am more familiar with the very cynical American school of politics (I’m a born and bred Chicagoan, the height of “creative” political morals), though that whole carrier flap reeks of someone creating an issue to serve political ends.

  2. James Daly

    John, I’m starting to suspect that it was ‘floated’ (bad pun) by someone, knowing what the public reaction would be like. The reaction of most people I know in Portsmouth was hysterical laughter, for historical, cultural and operational reasons. I’m not against co-operation – far from it, i think hooking up with other countries is sensible. But France can’t even run CDG properly – shes either in refit or just plain broken most of the time.

  3. That whole “shared carrier” idea did rather strike me as quite far from reality. I’m in the midst of a debate on another forum about our Littoral Combat Ship, and the idea of buying someone else’s design has been floated…er….put forth. The lead candidate was the Jeanne D’Arc, and with all due respect to our French allies, I think the US Navy would be better off ordering a design from one of the luxury yacht firms out there. At least we’d have a money-back guarantee!

  4. James Daly

    The French haven’t been making great ships of late… a far cry from the time of Nelson when French built ships were highly regarded. Mind you British ships are not exactly setting the export market alight – at the moment the MEKO ships from Germany and Navantia in Spain are doing good business.

  5. x

    I don’t know the Mistral is OK; a bit slow and could do with being a few thousand tons heavier.

    Carrier co-operation would never have worked. You can come up with some really scenarios. Imagine QE2 going to cover French nuclear tests which as we know our Kiwi brothers are heartily opposed to. You only have to look at Afghanistan, France has a large standing army but who is doing the majority of the dirty work.

    I note the The (Far From) Independent was running a story on its front page about us sharing the deterrent with France. The concept of Realpolitik is lost on the Left; then again socialist and communist ideologies are hypothetical and abstract in nature so there is no room for realism (in all senses of the word.)

  6. x

    dirty week? dirty work……

    Please James could you edit that?

  7. Don’t worry, X. We get the idea. Looks like another victim of a spell check! Or worse yet, the dreaded FFS (fat finger syndrome)!

    And are you suggesting Communism isn’t a good system? Come on, it’s working all over the world in such major global empire seats like….um….North Korea? (Nope, nepotism.) Cuba? (Wrongo, bucky.) Hmm….I coulda sworn I had heard of SOME country where Communism still worked….. ;)

  8. Hmm. Interesting times ahead!

  9. James Daly

    What do we make of the argument put forward by thinkdefence, that it might be a deliberate leak? Maybe calling in the Red Caps to investigate is a smokescreen. And also, if it were civilian staff who had leaked it, presumably it would have been civvie police looking into it? Is the inference that the leak came from a uniformed source?

  10. It does sound, from everything I have read, that this was a purposeful leak, from an “inside” military source. It seems to me that this is similar to a number of events here in the States, where information has been purposefully leaked either to gain sympathy for one side of an issue, or to spark debate on a project or concept that is being politically “hushed up”. In this case, I’d say somebody is trying to make sure that no more funding is cut – whether in a noble move to protect Britain, or in a more selfish way to continue funding to a pet area or project. Although to play Devil’s advocate, here in the States, if a civilian leaked military information, EVERYBODY would be involved – our FBI, Military Police, state and local civilian police, even Homeland Security. Could it be the MOD called in the military police to start the investigation, and would then pass it off to the appropriate civilian authority? I don’t know, I am actually asking for enlightenment! :)

  11. x

    Dr Fox called in the MoD Police not the RMP, the latter have no jurisdiction. (Well perhaps until the leak gets traced back to some serving officer flying a desk.)

    See,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Defence_Police#In_matters_relating_to_the_Ministry_of_Defence

    (Note there is a nice picture of one their police launches.)

    @ John

    The left don’t seem to “understand” that people are tribal by nature. As the world has got more complicated as communications have become easier there has been a need for supranational and international organisations. But people are still innately loyal to their own culture (or else how would cultures arise?) Saying that the Left in the West wants to dismantle or degrade Westen culture whilst seeing virtue in the cultures of others.

  12. X- Thank you for the links. I wasn’t sure whether the MoD or the RMP would be the group involved. I appreciate the enlightenment! :)

  13. X- I’ll try this again. (I tried a post, but it disappeared.) Thank you for the information, I wasn’t sure which policing branch would be involved, MoD or RMP. I appreciate the assist.

  14. x

    It all gets very confusing. I have made similar “mistakes” (not the right word but you get my drift) in the past.

    I was looking for something a bit light hearted about the MoD Plod and found this……

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,433201,00.html

    Got to love the Grudian.

    (Please note the date of the piece.)

  15. James Daly

    Sorry guys I got the confusing rolling by referring to ‘military police’, i should have made clear that you’ve got the MOD plod, the RMP, the RN provosts and the RAF police. And then in each of them you’ve got the uniform branch and the Special Investigations Branch or equivalent. The lines between the military police and the civvy police can be quite blurry, especially in a naval town like Portsmouth when it comes down to the mundane business of who is going to sort out the drunken matelots in Guildhall walk on a friday night…

  16. Great stuff, X.(lol) Thanks for that bit. It makes me think of some of the similar situations of leaks we’ve had, where the FBI falls over the CIA who trips over the various military agencies, all of them trying to co-ordinate with the State Police wherever it happened! Ah, if it weren’t for the comedy of “who’s on first” amongst our constabulary, where would we look for entertainment? :)

  17. Unlike the Service Police of the three Services, the MOD Police are civillians with full police powers over everyone – including civilians.

    The Service Police only have power over those under Service Law.

  18. x

    @ John

    Being male I grew up watching US action/police shows. And I was, still am, fascinated by overlapping US jurisdictions. TBH Having a passing interest in international and constitutional law I am also fascinated by overlapping jurisdictions everywhere else. I think at a base level I interested in legitimacy and loyalty. Thus reminds me of an episode of NCIS…….

    Senior FBI Agent Fornell: Heads of the CIA, FBI, ICE.
    NCIS Agent McGee: That’s a full bowl of alphabet soup, huh?
    Senior FBI Agent Fornell: Not all of them. Which letters you got on your badge, McGee?

    @ James said “drunken matelots in Guildhall walk on a friday night”

    I don’t believe that happens, surely Chiefy has them all tucked up before the first bell of the first watch is rung?

    (I remember being told tales of night club called Joanna’s which had tree in the middle of the dance floor that drunk matelots would try to climb before the bouncers threw them out. I am tea total so when I was in Pompey I always stay onboard with a nice wet of tea. Happy days. Mostly. )

  19. Pingback: 'Powerful case' over defence cuts | BBC News

  20. As our nuclear weapons’ only purpose since 1945 has been to serve as a deterrent, I am suggesting to scrap them but at the same time to maintain the impression that we still have them. For a deterring function, you don’t need the real stuff.

    See for examples, both from history and recent, that underline my argument: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/nuclear-codes/

    • Shame on me! I neglected to welcome you here, Andreas. I’m a recent addition to Mr. Daly’s cast of characters (and you will see I am QUITE the character!), so I apologise if I’ve missed previous posts of yours. Always glad to have another “virtual” voice in the choir! And I look forward to checking out your blog as well. So, welcome aboard (or back aboard)!

    • James Daly

      Hi Andreas, welcome and thank you for your comment. I agree that the current nuclear deterrent is unfeasible and a ‘do-nothing’ option is not viable.

      Its an interesting suggestion you make, my only observation is that deception only works for so long and once the cover is blown then thats it. Imagine, for example, if the Germans had worked out that Operation Fortitude in 1944 was nothing more than an elaborate bluff?

  21. There is a neat little movie called “Deterrence” starring Kevin Pollak. While it’s a bit dated, it shows the “threat of force” concept very neatly. SPOILER ALERT!
    The US is facing down a pre-2001 Iraq ruled by a son of Saddam, who goes after Kuwait again, a la Desert Storm. The US threatens to nuke Baghdad if the Iraqis don’t withdraw; the Iraqis counter-threat with their nukes. After we do nuke Baghdad, Iraq launches a (unrealistically) massive counterstrike, only to have all the warheads land without detonation. Turns out the US, through France, sold them dummy warheads, supported by a special computer hacked to assure the Iraqis the warheads would explode. My point is, that the people around the President (and around the world) freak out, because they believe the Iraqi nukes to be live. I highly recommend this film for the political intrigue, even if their “future history” is rough at best, and sometimes totally ludicrous.

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