Defence review: UK suffering from ‘a void of strategy’

By Peter Wozniak

The national interest of the UK is too weakly defined to make the upcoming strategic defence and security review (SDSR) in any way strategic, a Commons committee has concluded.

Ominously, given the release of the SDSR tomorrow, the public administration committee argued Britain cannot hope to be a global strategic player if planned defence cuts go ahead without a drastic change in the way the country’s strategy is decided.

Bernard Jenkin, the committee chair said: “We welcome the new government’s aspiration to think more strategically, but when we tried to find out who actually does UK national strategy, virtually all the evidence we took suggests the answer is ‘no one’.

“Ministers are in danger of announcing a Strategic and Security Defence Review that is anything but ‘strategic’.”

The committee report released today suggests that there has been a complete lack of coherent strategic thinking at Cabinet level.

The document castigated the previous prominence of ‘sofa diplomacy’ and ‘presidential style’ in an obvious swipe at Tony Blair’s premiership.

It also argued this lack of coherence was directly responsible for the troubled nature of Britain’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Responding to William Hague’s insistence that the UK will remain a global military power despite predicted cuts to the defence budget, Mr Jenkin added:

“While the foreign secretary has said he ‘rejects strategic shrinkage’, all the evidence suggests that Whitehall lacks the capacity to make strategic sense of defence policy, while reducing spending on diplomacy and defence.

“To secure the safety and prosperity of the UK, it is critical that the government relearn the lost art of national strategy.”

To this end, the report praised the creation of a National Security Council – but argued it needed a much more substantial remit and prominence.

The foriegn secretary responded to the report, arguing it represented an endorsement of the government’s plans.

William Hague said: “Like the government, the committee has identified the chronic lack of strategic thinking in Britain’s foreign and security policy in recent years. We came to office determined to put this right.

“After the drift of the last decade, this country will finally have a clear vision of how to build up Britain’s influence in the world and protect our security and prosperity.”

The details of the defence review will be released in a statement to the House of Commons on by David Cameron on Tuesday afternoon.

The fact that it is not being delivered by Liam Fox has bemused analysts, indicating the defence secretary is not in favour following the leak of his letter to the prime minister demonstrating his reservations about the SDSR.

The defence review’s stated purpose is to redefine Britain’s place in the world and its military stance, but the arguments are being overshadowed by the comprehensive spending review, which comes just one day after Mr Cameron’s statement.

The fact that the latter’s release gives no time for media attention to dwell on the SDSR remains unexplained. However, it was reported over the weekend that the prime minister had personally intervened in Dr Fox’s battle with the Treasury to limit defence cuts to 8%.

The prime minister insisted in his conference speech that he “would not take risks with Britain’s security”. Whether this promise can be upheld will dominate debate tomorrow.