A sudden enlightenment?

Liam Fox is reported in this weeks Telegraph, discussing the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review.  There’s one on the way regardless of which bunch get in at the next election, and in my opinion it’s well overdue.  HM forces are maintaining a higher intensity across the range of capabilities than they’re equipped or funded for, and we need a critical look at how and why.   It should be no surprise to anyone that the budget is going to take yet another hammering, so the government needs to establish what there is the appetite to pay for, do we really want to be punching significantly above our weight, given the premium that we pay for it?

So the position that Fox is taking is that it should be a cold hard look, no sentimentality.  All sound principles although Fox does have a tendency to appeal to sentimentality and tradition quite regularly in his criticisms of the current regime.  Some very valid points about procurement rationalisation, although as ever nothing about implementation.

I am rather intrigued by a sudden apparent change of direction, he’s suddenly started saying that a focus on current operations in Afghanistan is not a template for future demands on the services, and he’s also recognised that defence isn’t just about the Army.  He’s also twice in the past week talked about not ignoring our maritime defence needs, using the term ”sea blind” both times.  He’s right on both counts.  Afghanistan does point in a future direction, but the country itself is unusual and future COIN operations will need other assets and capabilities.  We also can’t afford to ignore our maritime security needs, the majority of our trade and fuel requirements are imported by sea, and we need to maintain the ability to secure our Sea Lines of Communication.

One wonders what’s caused his sudden reorientation, perhaps someone has given him a crash course in defence operations because up until very recently he’s been particularly uninspiring around his brief, very much the Shadow Infantry Secretary.

Notwithstanding that he’s still prepared to ringfence the nuclear deterrent, for no clear reason.  I’m not sure why he’s insisting on that, although Cameron has already committed him to it.  It’s a lot of money to commit to something on the basis of party dogma.  We really should consider the deterrent as part of the review, if nothing else it shapes quite a lot of the rest of the force structure, so commits us to a lot more than just the weapon and four hulls; hydrography, counter-mining, anti-submarine warfare, technical intelligence collection, maritime aviation and security of the shore infrastructure.

It’s likely that maintaining the deterrent forces us to pay the premium that allows us to punch above our weight, rather than the desire to do so.  The SDR team should not be told the answers to come up with, they should be allowed to come up with a strategy that meets our foreign policy and security needs.

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