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Shaping the 2010 Strategic Defence & Security Review : An Exercise in Squaring Conflicting Priorities

L’élaboration de la Strategic Defence & Security Review ou l’art de concilier les contradictions
Jean-Claude Sergeant

Résumés

Cet article se propose d’identifier les différents processus qui ont permis de présenter au Parlement la Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) en octobre 2010, soit six mois à peine après l’arrivée au pouvoir du gouvernement de coalition issu des élections de mai. Ce cadrage prospectif de la politique de défense britannique s’est opéré dans un contexte de forte contrainte budgétaire, aggravé par une gestion à court terme du programme d’acquisition d’équipements qui s’était traduite par l’accumulation de déficits et par un décalage dans la réalisation des programmes. Les rapports du National Audit Office – l’équivalent britannique de la Cour des Comptes – estimaient à 36 milliards de livres sterling, soit le montant du budget annuel du ministère de la Défense (MoD), le total des investissements à effectuer au cours des dix années suivantes pour honorer les engagements de programmes décidés par les responsables travaillistes. Le présent article tente d’identifier les causes d’une telle dérive dont trois principales émergent assez clairement : la surenchère entre les trois principales composantes des Forces armées dont chacune exige les équipements les plus sophistiqués possibles pour rester au niveau et tenir son rang face à l’allié américain ; le laxisme des gestionnaires du MoD qui répugnent à annuler ou à revoir à la baisse un programme une fois franchie une certaine étape dans le cycle de la procédure d’acceptation. Enfin, la subordination de la gestion des programmes d’équipement à la politique industrielle du pays, telle qu’elle apparaît visiblement dans la conduite de la construction des deux porte-avions, n’est pas l’un des moindres obstacles à une gestion comptable rationnelle des programmes. Le gouvernement s’était donné pour tâche d’ajuster sa politique de défense en fonction d’un nouvel environnement stratégique dans lequel la sécurité tenait désormais une place prioritaire. Il s’agissait pour lui de définir les moyens affectés à des objectifs clairement identifiés. Il semblerait que la logique inverse ait prévalu, le gouvernement ayant préféré les demi-mesures et les compromis à un affichage clair qui aurait certes impliqué des renoncements mais aurait, du même coup, affirmé des priorités intangibles.

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Texte intégral

1Defence Reviews are important trend-setting documents which every ten years or so are meant to identify the short and medium term threats to the security of the country and to help the Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials to adjust defence policies accordingly.

2This was always to be a frustrating exercise as short term objectives based on the experience of the immediate past tend to get priority over less predictable potential commitments. Hardly anyone had anticipated at the time the previous Strategic Defence Review was being prepared (1997-98) that 9,500 Armed Forces personnel would be engaged in Afghanistan ten years later. Nor had any Intelligence officer anticipated the dramatic terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001. In other words, defence planners are asked to draw up scenarios which they know are likely to become irrelevant as a result of an unforeseen major international development.

  • 1 Stuart Croft, Andrew Dorman, Wyn Rees & Matthew Utley, Britain and Defence 1945-2000 : A Poli (...)

3Very few Reviews are conducted on the basis of a changed perception of the nature or the magnitude of the threats to national security, except perhaps those of the 1950s, the Global Strategy Paper in particular or the Sandys Review of 1957 which unambiguously introduced the nuclear deterrent as the keystone of Britain’s defence posture. The following Reviews instigated by Denis Healey in the late sixties or those initiated under the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher and John Major – Options for Change is a case in point – were very much the product of cost-cutting constraints. As Andrew Dorman puts it : “The Nott Review [1981], like the subsequent Options for Change and Front Line First : the Defence Costs Study, was never formally a review but instead a realignment of forces to meet the financial situation of the time.”1 By contrast, the 1998 Strategic Defence Review prepared in more favourable economic circumstances was praised for its innovative conception of the Armed Forces as one component of a larger defence policy in which diplomacy was also to play its part. Fighting was seen as the ultimate resort after efforts to prevent conflicts had failed. The 1998 Review also assigned new missions to the Armed Forces, identified as “Forces for Good”, which were to be prepared to intervene in distant operational theatres where Tony Blair’s “liberal interventionist” policy would see fit to send them to.

4This article suggests that the 2010 Defence Review has been the result of conflicting pressures, above all budgetary, which instead of allowing for the adjustment of strategic priorities to a well-defined set of objectives has resulted in a temporary document dominated by the necessity to meet the operational requirements of the Force in Afghanistan. A centrally driven exercise in which the Ministry of Defence was marginalised, the Strategic Defence and Security Review is generally perceived outside Government circles as a hasty document in need of a New Chapter.

A changing perception of defence

5By 2009, there was a general agreement that a Defence Review had long been overdue. The world had changed dramatically with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a growing sense of insecurity fuelled by large scale terrorist attacks, notably in Spain and Britain. If in a sense the homeland could be deemed to be more secure than it had ever been since the end of the Second World War, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantlement of the Warsaw Pact, the fear of the prospect of a state-on-state war which could wipe out parts of the country had given way to the diffuse perception of a wide range of threats – terrorist bomb, chemical and bacteriological attacks – which could prove equally disruptive. Hence the necessity of including defence within the wider framework of security as the French had already done in their own 2008 Review (Livre blanc) entitled Défense et sécurité nationale. Defence and security are now seen as part of a continuum or as the two sides of the same coin. It was therefore logical that the new Defence Review should be conducted by the National Security Council (NSC) set up by the coalition Government shortly after the 2010 General Election and which took over from a similar organism created by the Brown Government as part of their National Security Strategy.

6Security being a much larger concept than defence, all Government Departments which were supposed to contribute to the provision of security were invited to join in the elaboration of the new Review aptly labelled Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). In practical terms, this joint approach was organised by the NSC Adviser – a former Permanent Secretary at the FCO – in charge of the preparation of the NSC weekly meetings chaired by the PM and attended by the Deputy PM (Nick Clegg), the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Defence, International Development, as well as by the Home Secretary and the Security Minister in the Cabinet Office. The Chief of the Defence Staff and Heads of the Intelligence Services were also invited to attend as required.

7At a lower level, the NSC sessions were prepared by weekly meetings of Departmental Permanent Secretaries, chaired by the NSC Adviser and organised with the support of a secretariat based in the Cabinet Office. This secretariat included a group of about thirty civil servants and military senior officers seconded from their original Departments and commands in charge of the preparation of reports on a number of key issues such as overall planning and co-ordination, defence inputs to the NS strategy, nuclear and arms control issues, security issues and resources.

8Unlike the previous Reviews conducted under a New Labour Government, the SDSR was very much led from the centre of Government – the Cabinet Office – under the close scrutiny of the Treasury and on the basis of the cost effectiveness of the various capabilities required to address readily identifiable security and defence risks. While the 1998 Review had planned the national defence strategy and equipment programme over the long term (2015), the SDSR’s scope was limited to the next five years, the coalition Government having decided that a new assessment of the defence and security policies should be made after each new General Election.

  • 2 Conservative Party, Invitation to Join the Government of Britain : The Conservative Manifes (...)

9MoD officials were keenly aware that defence was not simply defined in terms of Force structure and equipment procurement. The treatment and care of the Armed Forces personnel, particularly of the combatants who returned maimed or otherwise wounded from Afghanistan, were also to be suitably improved, irrespective of the Treasury pressure to keep costs down. Indeed, restoring the so-called “Military Covenant” which, according to the Conservative Election Manifesto, “had been allowed to fall into disrepair”2 under Gordon Brown, was an explicit commitment that the Tories could not easily renege.

  • 3 “Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence”, in House of Commons Defence Committee, The Strat (...)

10This was one of the priorities that Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary appointed by David Cameron, had set out as guidelines for the preparation of the MoD’s contribution to the SDSR. The other two were encapsulated by the headings “realism” and “relevance” which reflected the necessity to identify the most pressing risks and threats among all those conceivable (realism) and to prioritise the capabilities required to meet them (relevance).3

11In practical terms, the MoD organised its own input to the Review through a Defence Strategy Group chaired by the Secretary of State and on which sat the Permanent Secretary of the MoD, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chiefs of the three Services as well as the directors of corporate units (strategy, finance and security). In addition, a Programme Director for the SDSR organised the weekly meetings of the Programme Board which assessed progress achieved in the various fields under review into which a large number of in-house studies had been launched.

The cost-cutting imperative

12The MoD had been told that the reviewing process was to be conducted on the basis of a mandatory reduction of running costs of about a third, which implied the shifting of spending power and accountability away from the central hub to frontline heads of units and chiefs of Forces. It had also been made clear from the start that the SDSR would be prepared in conjunction with the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) which in October 2010 would reveal the magnitude of the cuts imposed on Departmental budgets for the next four years. Indeed, the SDSR White Paper was presented to the House of Commons on 19 October, only twenty four hours before the Chancellor of the Exchequer disclosed the details of his Spending Review.

  • 4 House of Commons Defence Committee, The Strategic Defence and Security Review, HC 4 (...)

13Few defence analysts and MoD officials would dispute the necessity of linking defence and security objectives to their affordability in accordance with the Treasury’s guidelines. Invited as witness by the House of Commons Defence Committee, Professor Chalmers, among others, admitted that it was actually “helpful to have some co-ordination between spending reviews and defence reviews”.4 On the other hand it has been argued that the Government’s pressing need to put their spending plan on the Statute Book did not allow the MoD sufficient time to fine-tune their preliminary studies which had to be completed by mid-July in time for their submission to the NSC. In their report on the elaboration of the SDSR drafted in September 2010, the House of Commons Defence Committee was clearly concerned that the tight time schedule imposed on the exercise may have had detrimental consequences :

  • 5 House of Commons Defence Committee, The Strategic Defence and Security Review, HC 3 (...)

We appreciate that holding the Review after the CSR would have been unsatisfactory, but the brevity of the SDSR as a result of its running in parallel with the CSR means that it will not be as comprehensive and considered a Review as would otherwise have been the case.5

  • 6 Liam Fox’s evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee (21 July 2010), ibid., Q. 12.

14The Secretary of State, Liam Fox, admitted to as much when he told the Defence Committee : “Would I like to have had more time to do the Review ? Yes, that would have been helpful”, adding however that there was no guarantee that MoD officials would have been wiser had they been given twice as much time to conduct the Review.6

  • 7 A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review (July 2002), Delivering Security in (...)

15The time factor must however be put in perspective. If it is true that the 1998 SDR took fourteen months to be completed, it had to be supplemented by three further updates,7 which tends to suggest that Defence Reviews have limited shelf life, no matter how elaborate their packaging has been. The 2010 SDSR was admittedly produced under considerably tighter time pressure but one can also argue that it was the outcome of a process which had been set in train long before the coalition Government actually kick-started its preparation.

Groundwork for the Review

  • 8 “New Battle Lines”, The Guardian (editorial), 1st March 2009.
  • 9 “Britain’s armed forces―Overstretched, overwhelmed and over there”, The Economist (...)

16Defence issues had very much been in the limelight throughout 2009 with media critical reports on the substandard equipment that British troops in Afghanistan had to make do with. The shortage of heavy lift helicopters, for example, was ritually denounced in the Commons, while commanding officers in the field pleaded with the MoD for more secure armoured transport vehicles. On the occasion of the Commons debate on the Defence Estimates, a coded reference to the Defence budget, a Guardian leader called for a clear prioritisation of defence commitments : “This is the moment for Britain to discuss what sort of military it wants, what it should do, what equipment it needs and above all what can be afforded.”8 Even before the UK contingent had left Iraq (June 2009), The Economist warned that “if Britain cannot increase defence spending, then it must scale back less urgent projects, such as new fighter jets and aircraft carriers”.9

  • 10 Richard Norton-Taylor, “Overstretch in Britain’s armed forces worries MPs”, The Guardian, (...)

17The fact that the MoD was unable to meet its commitments was already common knowledge three years after the beginning of the intervention in Iraq. In reference to a House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report, the Defence correspondent of the Guardian reported on the difficulty for the cash-strapped MoD to provide adequate training for combat troops and on the cannibalising of equipment to enable military materiel engaged in fighting operations to operate properly.10

  • 11 As reported in Richard Norton-Taylor, “Military spending not fit for purpose”, The (...)

18In a similar vein but from a more authoritative perspective, General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff (Head of the Army), warned in a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) that in view of the changing nature of conflicts which increasingly involved terrorism, insurgency and piracy, it was unreasonable “to squander our increasingly scarce resources on those things that are not relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s absolute requirements”.11 He clearly had in mind the two aircraft carriers announced in the 1998 SDR as well as the third batch of Eurofighters which had been promised to the RAF.

  • 12 “The Challenge for Defence in the Next Decade”, Speech to the International Institute for (...)

19General Dannatt was to make another forceful plea for the Army shortly before standing down as Chief of the General Staff in another speech delivered this time at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. While accepting that “strategic shrinkage” was not an option, Dannatt emphasised the necessity to concentrate the MoD’s efforts on the ongoing operation in Afghanistan. “Success in Afghanistan” he said “is not discretionary. It will set the agenda for the future and we must do whatever is necessary to succeed.”12 The General also elaborated on the way an effective Review should be conducted. Driven by foreign and security policy within a cross-Whitehall context, the Review should be prepared “with a truly joint focus within the Armed Forces”, by which the General meant that no single Service should be allowed to exert undue influence on the process.

  • 13 Michael Smith, “Army faces biggest cuts since Crimea”, The Sunday Times, 21 June 20 (...)

20The Review was very much a topical issue a year ahead of the General Election and it was kept simmering until May 2010, occasionally fuelled by speculations, rumours and direct public contributions to the debate. In June 2009, for example, a Sunday Times article reported on a high-level meeting of the Armed Forces Chiefs at which General David Richards, who was to take over from Richard Dannatt as head of the Army, had apparently offered to axe three infantry battalions – a total of 1,800 men – bringing the size of the Army below the symbolic threshold of 100,000, while in a similar mood of self-sacrifice the RAF Chief was prepared, according to the press report, to scrap the Harrier jump jets, and the First Sea Lord, for his part, would readily consider the withdrawal of the Type 42 destroyers earlier than scheduled.13

  • 14 Shared Responsibilities : A National Strategy for the United Kingdom, Report of the IPPR C (...)
  • 15 Antonia Cox, More Bang for the Buck : How We Can Get Better Value for the Defence B (...)

21Less than two weeks later, it was the turn of Lord Guthrie, a former Chief of Defence Staff, to jump to the fray on the occasion of the launch of an Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report on national security.14 In his address, Lord Guthrie criticised the decision to build the two 65,000 tons aircraft carriers, arguing that there would be better ways of delivering sea power and insisting that they would be totally irrelevant in the pirate chasing missions in the Gulf of Aden. The same Lord Guthrie was also to write a foreword to a Centre for Policy Studies report15 in which he called for a complete overhaul of the MoD’s equipment acquisition procedure.

  • 16 Jonathan Oliver, “Hutton breaks silence to fight for the generals”, The Sunday Times, 19 Ju (...)
  • 17 Idem.

22The defence debate was continuously kept alive by public perception of the failure of the British contingent in Afghanistan to make headway because of the less than adequate equipment it had to rely on. In mid-July 2009, the total death toll among British soldiers in the International Stabilisation and Assistance Force (ISAF) reached 185, a sacrifice that the British public readily pinned down on the lack of proper equipment delivered to the fighting forces as was revealed by a YouGov poll which showed that 60 % of the respondents believed that Gordon Brown was trying to fight the war “on the cheap”.16 Accepting his incapacity to get more funding from the Treasury in order to meet the requirements of the troops in Afghanistan, John Hutton, the then Defence Secretary, decided to resign in June 2009, officially “to spend more time with his family”. But a month later he was to say in an interview to the Sunday Times that politicians “should listen to advice from the military and should give them more troops and equipment to fight the Taliban”.17 This was a powerful voice added to the top military commanders’ public requests for more helicopters, aerial surveillance drones and IED-proof armoured vehicles which were hardly heeded by the Treasury who had already announced that its special funding of urgent operational requirements (UORs) would be capped at £736 million.

  • 18 Michael Portillo, “The Army’s been hit by Brown’s unfriendly fire”, The Sunday Times, (...)

23But the military’s discontent was not simply over the inadequate logistical support for British fighting troops, it also stemmed from a perceived detachment on the part of the Prime Minister who had failed to engage with the Forces, probably as a result from his ten years’ stint as Chancellor of the Exchequer when he probably considered them as voracious consumers of public funds. Michael Portillo, himself a former Defence Secretary under John Major, thought that the source of the military’s frustration was to be found in Gordon Brown’s indifference to them. He also suggested that the Prime Minister’s lack of appetite for his role as de facto commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces could also be interpreted as a rejection of Tony Blair’s image as the charismatic pied-piper of military adventures. More generally, Portillo was concerned that “the [military] chiefs’ public show of unhappiness indicates that something has gone very wrong in the relationship between elected politicians and the armed forces”.18

24The Services commanders were also all too aware that the MoD could no longer support the various equipment programmes which had been vetted by the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) unit of the Department. The question was not whether some programmes would be axed as a result of the Review, but which, each Service chief privately hoping that his own equipment projects would be spared. The military commanders refrained however from openly criticising the procurement policy of the MoD whose shortcomings were detailed at length by defence analysts and experts as well as by politicians.

  • 19 Reported by Thomas Harding, “Forces put at risk by mistakes in buying equipment say (...)
  • 20 Reported by Richard Norton-Taylor, “Brown accused of suppressing reporting on spira (...)

25John Hutton, in particular, was in the forefront of the critics brigade and in spite of his relatively short stint at the MoD – nine months – his comments received generous media attention. In an address in September 2009 to the City Forum, a think tank, John Hutton regretted that “the miserable and lengthy catalogue of equipment delays and cost overruns [had] continued to cast a large question mark in the public’s mind over whether we are getting proper value for the money spent”.19 He also expressed his frustration that a report on defence spending that he had personally commissioned – the Gray Report – had not yet been published. Liam Fox, Shadow Defence Secretary at the time, had already jumped to the conclusion that No 10 was trying “to suppress Gray’s report because it shows a large black hole in the defence budget”.20

Institutional paving stones to the SDSR

26The funding gap in the MoD budget was officially brought to the fore by two seminal reports, the Gray Report and the National Audit Office Major Projects Report. The former had been commissioned to Bernard Gray, an adviser to the MoD, who had been asked to take a critical look at the acquisition procedures of the DE&S unit which had been set up following the merger in 2007 of the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation.

  • 21 Review of Acquisition for the Secretary of State, October 2009.
  • 22 Ibid., 6.

27The report21 which had been submitted in July 2009 proved so embarrassing that the MoD delayed its public release by several months. In this 250-page document, Bernard Gray and his team unequivocally concluded that “the Ministry of Defence has a substantially overheated equipment programme with too many types of equipment being ordered for too large a range of tasks at too high a specification level. This programme is unaffordable on any likely projection of future budgets.”22 One of the reasons for this uncontrolled growth, according to Bernard Gray, was the irrepressible tendency for each Service chief to require the most technologically advanced equipment while in most cases a “80 % solution” would be sufficient to meet key operational requirements. Moreover, the MoD’s traditional reluctance to cancel equipment programmes in spite of large cost overruns encouraged the clients – the Armed Forces Chiefs – to order cutting edge equipment whose cost was deliberately underestimated at the start. Such inflation of costs also priced UK military equipment out of the export market. Faced with an unaffordable spending commitment, the MoD had traditionally chosen to cut corners by reducing the number of units to be procured and/or by extending the time scale of programme completion, “moving to the right” in MoD parlance.

28The Gray Report recommended that the MoD’s acquisition programme be placed under the control of the Permanent Secretary of the Department and submitted to Parliament for approval every year. It also suggested that the DE&S staff – some 22,000 people – should upgrade their skills in project management and management information techniques. More controversially, Gray also made the case for contracting out the programme management operation of the DE&S to a private organisation.

29Commenting on the Gray Report, the then Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, endorsed nearly all its recommendations in a written statement (15 October 2009) while exonerating the DE&S unit from the strictures listed in the document. “At its best, my Department’s project management is very good”, protested the Secretary of State while acknowledging that there was obviously scope for improvement. One recommendation that he, quite expectedly, did not take on board was the one which called for the transformation of the DE&S into a contractor-operated entity. According to Bob Ainsworth, “having the DE&S as fully part of Defence ensures a close working relationship with the military”. He concluded his statement by announcing a position paper outlining a new strategy for acquisition to be published in the first months of 2010.

  • 23 Major Projects Report 2009, Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, HC 85-I (...)

30To Bernard Gray’s root and branch criticism of the MoD’s procurement process was added the yearly report of the National Audit Office (NAO) on the management of the MoD’s major equipment projects.23 While recognizing that they had detected “signs of improvement in project cost control, with innovative decisions being taken to ensure progress”, the NAO panel estimated that, on the basis of their assessment of the cost of the thirty most important programmes, the MoD would have to face a funding gap of £6 billion over the following ten years provided the Defence budget remained constant in real terms. If the budget was flat-lined, or even worse cut, as a result of the CSR, the gap would rise to £36 billion, the size of the total defence budget for 2008-09. According to the NAO report, two thirds of the cost increases of the projects assessed by the panel originated in the MoD’s decision to slip programmes in order to balance their books. The in-service date of the fifteen most important projects had been delayed by nearly two years on average while their cost had increased by an average of 8 % since they were first approved. For example, the cost of the aircraft carrier programme had gone up by £674 million following a decision in 2009 to slow down the rate of production over the next four years. The saving of £450 million was largely offset by the expected increase of £1.1 billion, resulting mainly from the predicted rate of inflation. Such cost-cutting exercise was also to result in delaying the in-service date of the first Queen Elizabeth class carrier by one year.

The MoD’s preliminary input

31In February 2010, the MoD published two landmark documents intended to contribute to the preparation of the SDSR and also, perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate that the Department were aware of the criticisms which they had attracted and that they were prepared to mend their ways accordingly.

  • 24 Ministry of Defence, Defence Green Paper. Adaptability and Partnership : Issues for the St (...)
  • 25 Tom McKane, “The Green Paper : A View from the Ministry of Defence”, Speech given at the (...)

32The more important of the two was the Green Paper24 titled “Adaptability and Partnership”, the two key words which epitomised the gist of this contribution to the forthcoming discussion of the country’s defence and security policies over the next five years. As Tom McKane, the MoD’s director-general for strategy, explained shortly before the release of the document : “The Green paper is a preliminary part of the Defence review […]. It will describe the landscape within which the review will take place and identify key issues or themes for the review. But it will not tackle questions of force structure, detailed capability requirements or lay-down”,25 all issues which would have to be settled once the Review proper had been launched.

33In his presentation, Tom McKane stressed the inclusive approach adopted by the MoD regarding the definition of a number of key parameters : the nature of the threats, the changing character of conflicts, the degree of jointery and flexibility needed to ensure the necessary degree of adaptability of the Armed Forces. The Green Paper was based on the reports from a number of in-house seminars and on the input from the Defence Advisory Forum set up by the Secretary of State to collect the views of senior representatives from the Opposition parties. Public opinion was also tested on-line and through the “Kings of War” blog at King’s College London. Academics and defence industrialists were also consulted but in a more informal way.

  • 26 Liam Fox’ reaction as reported in Thomas Harding, “Britain ‘faces attacks from toxic cockt (...)

34The Green Paper was well received by Conservative senior figures who, like Liam Fox, praised Bob Ainsworth for “his attempts to find a cross-party consensus”.26 The editorial of the Daily Telegraph published on the day following the presentation of the Green Paper insisted that it “ask[ed] most of the right questions about our defence posture in the decade ahead” (4 February 2010) and appreciated that it had avoided the mistake of assuming that counter-insurgency warfare should be considered as a template for the future. Indeed, a companion document produced by the Development, Concept and Doctrine Centre of the MoD titled The Future Character of Conflict suggested that future conflicts would be “contested, congested, cluttered, connected and constrained”, tag words meaning that future operations were likely to be conducted against a range of ill-defined threats and adversaries, in densely populated areas, with limited room for operational manoeuvre and under strict legal constraints.

  • 27 Defence Green Paper, op. cit., 13.
  • 28 Ibid., para. 1.8, 13.

35This prospective assessment had practical consequences in terms of Force structure and organisation. However the Green Paper did not decide whether the purpose of the Defence policy was to contribute to the preservation of Britain’s role in the world, through conflict prevention operations for example, or whether its main function was to provide security to the homeland base. The Green Paper, on the contrary, argued that the two roles were not mutually exclusive : “[Britain’s] wide ranging interests mean that domestic security cannot be separated from international security”, adding that “the UK has a particular significant stake in the success of the international rules-based system”.27 Success however, the Green Paper went on, will not be secured by military means alone : “Our strategy therefore combines civilian and military efforts in a comprehensive approach.”28

36The Green Paper was not exclusively conceptual. It clearly recognized that the MoD could no longer maintain all their traditional activities and programmes while supporting ongoing operations in Afghanistan and investing in new capabilities. It also emphasised the inevitability of international collaboration in mainly US-led military operations and called for strengthening bilateral relationships with the United States, the country’s most trusted ally, but also with other partners, notably France which, following her return to NATO’s integrated military structures, had become “a key partner across a large range of defence activities”.

37The only capability commitment included in the document was the re-affirmation of the necessity “to retain a minimum strategic deterrent” and consequently to start getting about renewing the Trident submarine system as Parliament had agreed to do in March 2007. This commitment was complemented by another one made by Bob Ainsworth in his statement to the Commons when he confirmed the signing of the contracts for the two aircraft carriers amid MPs’ acclaim. This clearly tied the hands of the planners of the forthcoming SDSR who would find themselves saddled with a £5 billion commitment which had operational as well as financial consequences. A naval task group centred around an aircraft carrier involved an escort of support and auxiliary ships, not to mention the aircraft supposed to operate from the carrier. The MoD had originally intended to purchase about 130 F-35 fighters developed by Lockheed Martin with BAE Systems as a key partner. Obviously this commitment would have to be cut down in view of the MoD’s financial constraints. It remained that the confirmation of the carrier contracts suggested that the overseas dimension of the defence policy was given priority over a more homeland-centred strategy.

  • 29 Ministry of Defence, The Defence Strategy for Acquisition Reform, Cm 7796, London : HMSO, F (...)
  • 30 Ibid., para. 2.4, 10.
  • 31 Ministry of Defence, Defence Industrial Strategy, Cm 6697, London : HMSO, December  (...)

38The Green Paper also mentioned the necessity to address the shortfalls in the MoD’s procurement procedures which a separate document29 prepared under the authority of Lord Drayson, the Minister for Defence Acquisition Reform, proposed to remedy. This Paper admitted that the MoD had had to make “difficult decisions” – a reference to the habit of slipping in-service dates and cutting the number of units in a programme – as a result of an incapacity to understand “at the outset what the costs and risks of a project might be”.30 While registering the officials’ determination to improve the oversight of the equipment and support programmes, very much along the lines suggested by the Gray Report, the Acquisition Reform Paper was more a catalogue of good intentions than a defining document updating the relationship with the defence industry that the Defence Industrial Strategy White Paper31 had created. For instance, the Acquisition Reform Paper failed to identify the key sovereign industrial skills that the UK ought to retain in spite of the vital importance of this question for the 29,000 suppliers that depended on MoD contracts. This and other key industrial issues were to be discussed in a follow-up Paper on the defence industry and technology policy to be published in 2011, much to the regret of UK’s defence industrialists who would have preferred to have it prepared in parallel with the SDSR.

  • 32 House of Commons Defence Committee, The Strategic Defence and Security Review, Firs (...)

39In their assessment of the conduct of the SDSR, the House of Commons Defence Committee warned in stark terms that a review “that takes no account of what the defence industries can provide in this country, in terms of skills and capacity, and which does not explore fully what sovereign industrial capabilities are required, would be a folly”.32 Industrialists confirmed in evidence to the Committee that there had been contacts with the MoD from which not much significant follow-up had ensued. It does not seem, for instance, that the NSC team has attempted to approach the defence industry sector, either collectively through the Defence Industries Council (DIC) or on an individual firm basis.

Fighting one’s corner

  • 33 A number of papers presented at these conferences are available on the RUSI website (<www. (...)
  • 34 “Future Conflict and its Prevention : People and the Information Age”, General Sir David (...)

40Representatives from the industry were however invited, alongside academics, to contribute to a number of seminars and conferences organised by think tanks and research organisms. These were also occasions for the military chiefs to air their views, readily reported by the press, and to articulate their own conception of what the SDSR should be about. Ahead of the official preparation of the Review, the six conferences organised by the Royal United Services Institute – a long established think tank based in Whitehall – provided a stimulating forum for discussion.33 The International Institute for Strategic Studies as well as Chatham House also hosted major events at which senior commanding officers discussed defence priorities in the months preceding the General Election. In January, General Sir David Richards, newly appointed Chief of the General Staff and former commander of the International Stabilisation and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, made a plea in favour of “prioritising armed forces manned and equipped for war amongst the people, with a correspondingly lower relative equipment bill”. Missiles, tanks and fast jets, he went on to say, will always be required but “they alone are no longer sufficient to ensure success in war”.34 In the same venue, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, did his best the following day to put the case for the Navy, the fleet being the best military instrument to spread Britain’s influence and to protect her interests in the world. Prior to Bob Ainsworth’s public commitment to go ahead with the building of the two aircraft carriers in February, the First Sea Lord had reasons to fear that the order might be cancelled, the fate of the successor to the Vanguard strategic submarine fleet being equally uncertain. As for the RAF senior commanders, they could only hope that the ageing Tornados would not be withdrawn from service earlier than scheduled and that the order for the third batch of Eurofighters (Tranche 3) would not be altogether cancelled.

  • 35 Lisa Aronsson, “Strategic Considerations for the Anglo-American Alliance”, in Mich (...)
  • 36 Nick Hopkins, “First came pirates, now it’s Libya : admiral faces world of new demands with (...)

41The inevitable inter-Service squabbles could only pale in comparison to the two overarching priorities which were to dominate the Review : ensuring the provision of the British contingent in Afghanistan with whatever equipment was required by the commanders in the field and retaining the capabilities, at a proper technological level, needed to operate alongside American Forces in current and future military operations. As a specialist puts it : “American military planners worried that if the UK cut too much power from the front lines, it would affect the UK’s ability to link in to US systems in joint military operations.”35 This consideration certainly had an impact on the decision to retain some equipment such as the Navy’s mine countermeasure vessels which, according to a press report, had been reprieved as a result of American pressure.36

  • 37 Thomas Harding, “Cuts indefensible, says Liam Fox”, The Daily Telegraph, 29 Septemb (...)

42Until the very last days before the presentation of the Review, Defence chiefs tried to get direct access to David Cameron to make their pleas for their respective Service while the Defence Secretary decided to air publicly his reservations about the incoming cuts which he had so far seemed to endorse. In a letter to the Prime Minister, discreetly leaked to The Daily Telegraph, he wrote that the process “was looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR and more like a ‘super CSR’ [Comprehensive Spending Review]”, adding the warning that “our decision today will limit severely the options available to this and all future governments”.37 While Liam Fox was probably aware that his public protests would cut little ice given the demands of the Treasury, he felt it to be his duty to side with the Service chiefs and to be seen to put up a fight on their behalf.

Conclusion

43Uncharacteristically, it was the Prime Minister who presented the Review to the House of Commons on 19 October 2010 as he had done the National Security Strategy the previous day. This departure from tradition can be interpreted as a token of the importance that David Cameron and the Conservative MPs attached to defence issues, which was reflected in the fact that the Review had been centrally driven and not left to the sole authority of the MoD.

44If Liam Fox appeared to have been somewhat sidelined in the process, his last minute plea for easing the pressure on defence spending may have had an impact on the Treasury’s decision to impose on the MoD’s budget a relatively benign cut of 7.5 % in real terms over the next four years as opposed to the average 19 % cut affecting the other Government Departments.

  • 38 Keith Hartley, “The Economics of the Defence Review”, RUSI Journal, vol. 155, n°6, Decembe (...)

45This lenient treatment did not however prevent a further degradation of the funding position of the MoD which is facing a £1 billion gap in the current 2011 Planning Round. Furthermore, recent British involvements in military operations, in particular the NATO-led aerial intervention in Libya, have shown that some cost-cutting decisions such as the axing of the Ark Royal aircraft carrier and the early withdrawal of the Harrier squadrons may have been too rash or ill-considered. Although the coalition Government is determined not to reopen the Review so soon after its approval by Parliament, there prevails a diffuse feeling that the SDSR has been a lost opportunity. From a radically different perspective, a leading defence economist concurs : “The SDSR remains a missed opportunity for radical change, demonstrating merely how the armed forces and the MoD successfully protected their budget from more drastic spending cuts.”38

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Notes

1 Stuart Croft, Andrew Dorman, Wyn Rees & Matthew Utley, Britain and Defence 1945-2000 : A Policy Re-Evaluation, Harlow : Pearson Education, 2001, 19.

2 Conservative Party, Invitation to Join the Government of Britain : The Conservative Manifesto 2010, 106.

3 “Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence”, in House of Commons Defence Committee, The Strategic Defence and Security Review, 1st Report of Session 2010-11, HC 345, London : HMSO, 15 September 2010, para. 10.

4 House of Commons Defence Committee, The Strategic Defence and Security Review, HC 451-II, London : HMSO, January 2011, Q. 115.

5 House of Commons Defence Committee, The Strategic Defence and Security Review, HC 345, op. cit., 14.

6 Liam Fox’s evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee (21 July 2010), ibid., Q. 12.

7 A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review (July 2002), Delivering Security in a Changing World (December 2003), Delivering Security in a Changing World : Future Capabilities (July 2004).

8 “New Battle Lines”, The Guardian (editorial), 1st March 2009.

9 “Britain’s armed forces―Overstretched, overwhelmed and over there”, The Economist (editorial), 31 January 2009.

10 Richard Norton-Taylor, “Overstretch in Britain’s armed forces worries MPs”, The Guardian, 28 February 2006.

11 As reported in Richard Norton-Taylor, “Military spending not fit for purpose”, The Guardian, 16 May 2009. The Royal Institute of International Affairs website only includes brief press releases relating to General Dannatt’s address on 15 May 2009.

12 “The Challenge for Defence in the Next Decade”, Speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 30 July 2009.

13 Michael Smith, “Army faces biggest cuts since Crimea”, The Sunday Times, 21 June 2009.

14 Shared Responsibilities : A National Strategy for the United Kingdom, Report of the IPPR Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, 30 June 2009.

15 Antonia Cox, More Bang for the Buck : How We Can Get Better Value for the Defence Budget, Centre for Policy Studies, February 2010.

16 Jonathan Oliver, “Hutton breaks silence to fight for the generals”, The Sunday Times, 19 July 2009.

17 Idem.

18 Michael Portillo, “The Army’s been hit by Brown’s unfriendly fire”, The Sunday Times, 26 July 2009.

19 Reported by Thomas Harding, “Forces put at risk by mistakes in buying equipment says ex-minister”, The Daily Telegraph, 8 September 2009.

20 Reported by Richard Norton-Taylor, “Brown accused of suppressing reporting on spiralling arms costs”, The Guardian, 13 August 2008.

21 Review of Acquisition for the Secretary of State, October 2009.

22 Ibid., 6.

23 Major Projects Report 2009, Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, HC 85-I, London : HMSO, 15 December 2009.

24 Ministry of Defence, Defence Green Paper. Adaptability and Partnership : Issues for the Strategic Defence Review, Cm 7794, London : HMSO, 3 February 2010.

25 Tom McKane, “The Green Paper : A View from the Ministry of Defence”, Speech given at the Royal United Services Institute, 13 January 2010.

26 Liam Fox’ reaction as reported in Thomas Harding, “Britain ‘faces attacks from toxic cocktails of enemies’”, The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2010.

27 Defence Green Paper, op. cit., 13.

28 Ibid., para. 1.8, 13.

29 Ministry of Defence, The Defence Strategy for Acquisition Reform, Cm 7796, London : HMSO, February 2010.

30 Ibid., para. 2.4, 10.

31 Ministry of Defence, Defence Industrial Strategy, Cm 6697, London : HMSO, December 2005.

32 House of Commons Defence Committee, The Strategic Defence and Security Review, First Report of Session 2010/2011, op. cit., para. 15, 24.

33 A number of papers presented at these conferences are available on the RUSI website (<www.rusi.org>).

34 “Future Conflict and its Prevention : People and the Information Age”, General Sir David Richards’ address to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 18 January 2010.

35 Lisa Aronsson, “Strategic Considerations for the Anglo-American Alliance”, in Michael Codner & Michael Clarke (eds.), A Question of Security : The British Defence Review in an Age of Austerity, London : I.B. Tauris in association with RUSI, 2011, 85.

36 Nick Hopkins, “First came pirates, now it’s Libya : admiral faces world of new demands with an austerity fleet” (interview of Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy), The Guardian, 11 March 2011.

37 Thomas Harding, “Cuts indefensible, says Liam Fox”, The Daily Telegraph, 29 September 2010.

38 Keith Hartley, “The Economics of the Defence Review”, RUSI Journal, vol. 155, n°6, December 2010, 8.

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Jean-Claude Sergeant, « Shaping the 2010 Strategic Defence & Security Review : An Exercise in Squaring Conflicting Priorities », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n°8 | 2014, mis en ligne le 21 décembre 2014, consulté le 17 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/7092 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.7092

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Auteur

Jean-Claude Sergeant

Université Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle, France. Jean-Claude Sergeant (†) was Emeritus Professor in British civilization at the University of Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle. From 2000 to 2003 he was director of the Maison Française d’Oxford. His research work dealt with British politics (with a special focus on defence) and the media. He wrote a monograph on Margaret Thatcher’s premiership – La Grande-Bretagne de Margaret Thatcher, 1979-1990 (PUF, 1994) – and several books on the media and journalism – Les Médias britanniques (Ophrys-Ploton, 2004), L’Anglais du journalisme : comprendre et traduire (Ophrys, 2011), etc. His most recent publications are : “La politique de défense britannique à l’heure des mutations” (Observatoire de la société britannique, n°7, 2009), “La Défense, enjeu virtuel permanent” (Revue française de civilisation britannique, vol. 16.1, 2011) and Ethique, politique et corruption au Royaume-Uni (co-edited with David Fée, Publications de l’Université de Provence, 2013).

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