The Houses of Parliament are currently on recess to accommodate the party conferences. Whilst the Liberal Democrats wrapped up their conference on Wednesday, the Labour party will be holding its conference next week.
Thisishampshire.net reports that MOD Police Officers, who have for years been sharing a portion of the community policing workload with Wiltshire Constabulary colleagues, are to disappear from Tidworth in November. Tidworth Police Sergeant Martin Phipps told Ludgershall Town Council that the MOD Police neighbourhood policing branch is being closed down so the Force can concentrate on protecting bases like Aldermaston. Sergeant Phipps said that the Wiltshire Constabulary “will have to meet the workload”. The website says that in the past the MOD Police were “high profile” in the area, running a popular anti-drugs programme called DARE.
Government response to Defence Committee report
This week the Government published its response to the Defence Select Committee’s report on the MOD Main Supply Estimates for 2013-14 which was published in July of this year and made a number of recommendations, including that the MOD should feel confident in asking for additional resources for Afghanistan if necessary. The report also raised a number of issues, including concerns that the establishment of the Deployed Military Activity Pool was breaching financial principles.
On the point raised by the committee about requesting additional resources for Afghanistan, the Government said that country’s troops will continue to be resourced properly to the end of operations, with the Treasury finding additional funds, if necessary, from the Reserve. With regards to the Deployed Military Activity Pool, the Government said the scheme was a “mutually beneficial funding arrangement” between the MOD and HM Treasury which is designed to offer the MOD “greater flexibility”.
Answering issues highlighted by the Committee over supplementary estimates for the Forces Compensation Schemes the Government said the MOD does not consider that a non-cash target of supplementary estimate liability should be imposed in the 2013-14 estimates for the original reasons “outlined in the Government response to the Committee’s recommendation regarding the 2012-13 Supplementary Estimates”. The Government also said that in addition to this, changes to the discount and interest rates used for Government pension schemes can have an impact on the resource requirement.
Liberal Democrats pass policy to end continuous deterrent
This week, the Liberal Democrats passed the policy ‘Defending the Future’ which advocates that the UK reassess its role in the world to ensure that ambitions match resources. As Nick Clegg MP mentioned in his keynote speech on Wednesday, the Liberal Democrats believe that UK defence policy is still somewhat focused on threats of the Cold War rather than “21st century threats”.
A key policy proposal approved by the Liberal Democrat party is the termination of the Continuous-at-Sea-nuclear-Deterrence programme, which would effectively end a continuous Trident deterrent, in favour of a “realistic and credible contingency posture”. The party also says it will tighten the UK’s arms export regime by implementing end-user certification on all future arms export licenses. Other proposals adopted included the resolution of the pension dispute with Gurkha veterans over pension entitlement for pre-1998 service and lengthening the period between resigning from the defence civil service and working in the industry.
Commenting on the adoption of a policy to terminate the sea-based trident programme, Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey said “the world has changed” adding that whilst the UK “cannot predict the future”, reducing the UK’s nuclear capability was “the right thing to do”. Mr Harvey said his party was the only party to question the logic of Trident and commended it for ensuring there was a government review to assess alternatives to the programme.
Defence figures warn Liberal Democrat policy over Trident is “reckless gamble”
According to The Times, a cross-party group of Britain’s most senior military and defence figures has warned that plans by the Liberal Democrats to halve the Trident nuclear deterrent are a “reckless gamble with the UK’s national security”. Former head of NATO and former Defence Secretary Lord Robertson of Port Elle, Former Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral the Lord Boyce and Former head of the army General Sir Mike Jackson, are among 15 signatories who submitted the letter to the newspaper condemning Liberal Democrat policy.
Earlier this year, a review of the UK’s nuclear deterrence suggested that retaining the Trident programme would be the most cost-effective option for deterrence whilst senior Liberal Democrat figures suggested that the programme could be scaled down from four to two submarines. The letter comes in the same week the party announced it would adopt a policy proposal which effectively abandons support for the current Trident setup. However, as The Times mentions, the Conservatives remain “strongly in favour” of a like-for-like replacement of the UK’s four submarines, armed with Trident ballistic missiles at a cost of between £20 billion and £25 billion. The review discovered that the UK may be able to save £1.7 billion by reducing the size of the Trident submarine fleet to three.
The letter to The Times went on to say that if the UK was “serious about nuclear deterrence” then “it must do it properly” and warned that the Liberal Democrats were advocating a “part-time deterrent”. The letter’s authors also said that the current UK posture means the UK is ready to respond instantly to any nuclear threat “and any potential aggressor knows this to be the case”. One of the key issues with a non-continuous deterrent would be a move to arm missiles with nuclear warheads, which could be perceived as an escalation at a time of international crisis. Other critics of the Liberal Democrat policy include the Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond MP, who said that the policy proposal recently adopted is “no deterrent at all” rather than merely “a part-time deterrent”.
25 Conservative MPs criticise Army cutbacks
The Times reports that the Government is facing a rebellion over Army cutbacks. 25 Conservative MPs have written to the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP questioning the rationale of cutting 20,000 regular troops whilst increasing the Reserve force from 15,000 to 30,000. In what the Times describes as a “bluntly-worded letter” the authors say the Government needs to decide where its priorities lie. The MPs said the Government plans were “clearly born of financial necessity and not strategic design” and questioned the wisdom of taking the risk in an “increasingly uncertain world”.
One of the key criticisms of government policy was that experienced battalions were being disbanded instead of less experience battalions, which will lead to more expense. However, in response, a government source told the Sunday Telegraph that the restructuring was “well under way” and told critical MPs to support the reserves “rather than talking them down”. The MOD insisted it was confident that it could reach reservist requirements and said tough decisions had to be taken. The Department also pointed out that £1.8 billion was being invested in modern equipment, increased training and incentives to fully integrate regular and reserve forces.
NATO chief urges increased defence spending from European members
The Times reports that the head of NATO has urged the UK and its allies to increase defence spending when their economies recover. NATO head and Former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen cited the diplomatic progress in Syria over chemical weapons as an example of the continued need for strong military assets. Mr Rasmussen said that the recent agreement over chemical weapons could not have been reached “without a credible military option” and said that Europe should do more to match the “overwhelming large contribution” made by the US in NATO.
A number of prominent defence figures in the US, including Robert Gates, the previous Defence Secretary, have questioned why Washington should remain a part of NATO now that the Cold War has ended and new challenges are emerging elsewhere, in particular the Asia-Pacific. The Times says that, as the US is by far the alliance’s largest contributor, any major reduction in US support “would be a potential death blow to the organisation”.