David Cameron today launched a Strategic Defence Review he described as “more thoughtful, more strategic and more co-ordinated” than it’s 1998 predecessor.
Labour leader Ed Miliband cut into his claim aided by a long weekend of Downing Street leaks, defence secretary Liam Fox’s embarrassing warning to Mr Cameron about the defence review, and the observation that the government was merely offering “a spending review dressed up as a defence review”.
Mr Miliband further harried Mr Cameron by stressing that the review represented a one-third reduction in troop deployment capability and that the final Treasury imposed decision on Chinook helicopter purchases was a reduction from his previous commitment to purchase 22 new helicopters to only 12.
Sir Menzies Campbell’s attempt to raise the issue of Trident alternatives was batted away by Cameron who said that under the Coalition agreement the Liberal Democrats were permitted to look at alternatives and make the case for alternatives. His smile of dismissal, however, and the scant attention paid to such options in the SDSR document itself reveals the true level of the prime minister’s sincerity on this matter and underscores the Liberal Democrat dilemma of being seen but not heard within the coalition.
The interim step on Trident should however be welcomed by progressives, as a five-year extension to the lifetime of the Vanguard submarines means that the real decision on Britain’s nuclear weapons status for 2028 and beyond will not be made until 2016. Conservative Julian Lewis underlined the significance of the delay on the Trident ‘Main Gate’ decision and attacked the Liberal Democrats for extracting this delay from the Prime Minister.
In terms of looking at security in truly joined-up terms Mike Gapes deserves credit for questioning the value of Foreign & Commonwealth Office and BBC World Service spending cuts even as the Prime Minister stated that he envisaged “a shift from military intervention to conflict prevention”.
Overall, the SDSR has failed to meet the test of ippr security expert and co-author of the seminal ippr security review of 2009 Andy Hull who today argued:
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“We have to ask, when defence is facing cuts of 8% now and a possible further 10 per cent by 2015, should we really be persevering with big-ticket equipment programmes we don’t need and can’t afford?”