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Monday, 8 August 2011

Analysis: Defence Cuts In The Firing Line

Those in Westminster are fond of describing this or that report from a select committee as "damning" in its criticism of government policy.

On this occasion, it's deserved because the defence committee has essentially driven a coach and horses through the coalition's defence of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Maligned since its birth as driven more by cuts than capabilities, the Government has invested a huge amount of political capital in sticking firm to the controversial decisions made in last autumn's review.

The cuts will not affect our ability to defend ourselves and others, ministers claimed. Not so, says the committee.

It claims that post-2015 the Armed Forces will not be able to do all that is required of them, and there is mounting concern that they are already over-stretched.

The cuts ensure future projects, such as the new aircraft carrier and Joint Strike Fighter, can be completed, according to the Government.

The committee say uncertainty as to funding post-2015 combined with commitment to the Libyan campaign means a promised real-terms increase in the MoD's budget is "government aspiration, not government policy".

Even the PM gets it in the neck. His assurance of "full spectrum" defence capability is dismissed.

Phew. Talk about being in the line of fire.

The simple fact is that decisions taken in the heat of battle are often life or death. The decisions taken in the defence review are scarcely less significant.

And the accusation that the parallel cross-governmental Spending Review was as significant, if not more so, than the UK's strategic safety, is bound to lend further weight to calls for a reopening of the SDSR.

But will those calls be heeded?

After all, these criticisms have been made before - as has the MoD's defence of its position.

And the report has been released mid-week during the Parliamentary recess.

There will undoubtedly be anger, but it is unlikely to prompt a radical rethink - for now at least. However, there is growing concern within the coalition itself.

Plenty on the government benches have looked on with horror as Britain's Armed Forces have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves.

Several MPs are planning a push on the issue during party conference season, so it would be unwise to think this the end of the matter and simply a bad news day the Government must endure and then forget.

There will inevitably be calls for the defence review to be reopened. After all, good military strategy is both flexible and adaptive.

The defence committee has concluded the SDSR is neither.

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