The forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review will be driven by military need and will not be a cuts-led “whitewash”, the defence secretary has said.
The last review of Britain’s overall defence and security strategy was carried out in 2010, at a time when the Treasury ordered the Ministry of Defence to make a 7.7% real terms cut to its budget over the parliament.
Though the 2010 SDSR was billed as setting a “clear target for the national security capabilities the UK will need by 2020”, the final document drew criticism from some quarters over claims it had been carried out too quickly and had been driven by a need to make savings rather than by wider strategic concerns.
Defence secretary Michael Fallon today insisted that the 2015 SDSR – expected to be published in the next few weeks – would not be a simple repeat of the 2010 exercise.
“Some predicted this SDSR would be a whitewash – a quick refresh, driven by cuts, lacking consultation,” he told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank.
“The evidence to the contrary is compelling. Led by Cabinet Office, gathering together Defence, FCO, DFID, Home Office and the intelligence and security services among many others, this is a truly cross-government effort. The only review of its type in the world.”
Fallon said the latest review had involved “extensive co-ordination” across Whitehall, as well as “significant” external consultation and the involvement of officials from key allies including the United States, France and Germany.
“This review, and the preparations which preceded it, has been conducted without much song and dance,” he said.
“But make no mistake — they have been hugely wide ranging and robust, and the conclusions will be positive, assertive and quite properly strategic.”
As well as cuts to military personnel totaling some 17,000, the 2010 SDSR set out plans for a major overhaul of the structure of the Armed Forces under the “Future Forces 2020” programme, and called for a reduction in the UK’s aircraft carrier capability.
The new SDSR is being carried out against a more benign budgetary backdrop for the Ministry of Defence, with chancellor George Osborne announcing in the summer Budget that MoD spending would rise by 0.5% in real-terms over the parliament. The UK will also meet a commitment agreed by members of the Nato military alliance to spend 2% of GDP on defence.
Pressed on whether the 2015 review would continue to prioritise cost concerns over strategic ones, Fallon talked up the impact of the chancellor’s latest commitments.
“It’s being conducted against a budget that’s going to increased,” he said.
“Necessarily, the 2010 review was conducted against a quite different background, a budget that was being reduced, a need to close off a black hole in defence procurement, and the very serious fiscal deficit.
“That deficit has now been halved, as you know, and the Budget settlement we’ve got gives us a far more favourable environment to look ahead now, to plan the future.
“Coupled with the stability that the 2% [Nato] commitment gives us, we now have a very much underrated commitment to […] enable us to put all of our efficiency savings back into Defence instead of losing them to the Treasury. So we have every incentive to look at new ways of working […] because we reap the entire benefit.”
However, Fallon stressed that the MoD would continue to try and bear down on departmental costs, highlighting a drive for efficiency as one of three priorities for the ministry alongside greater international cooperation and a bid to encourage innovation in the defence industry, including by procuring more equipment through small and medium-sized firms.
“To imagine, somehow, that 2%, alongside a balanced budget and the Levene reforms [of the MoD’s structure and management], marks the end of our journey…would be neither true nor sustainable.
“Indeed it would waste the golden opportunity that the chancellor has given defence: to recycle all future savings into front line capability.”