Defence review: An opportunity ‘lost’

By Peter Wozniak

Defence experts regard the recent strategic defence and security review (SDSR) as a missed opportunity to redefine Britain’s role in the world, a survey has suggested.

The Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) polled 2,015 people involved defence and security following the release of the defence review last week.

Fully 68% of the respondents agreed that the SDSR did not satisfy the requirement to comprehensively set out what Britain’s future security role should be and represented a ‘lost opportunity’.

Professor Michael Clarke, RUSI’s director said: “The SDSR has not seen the major structural shift in resources that many respondents either welcomed or feared.”

The defence experts did however agree that the SDSR was a good balance between the need for spending cuts and preserving the UK military, suggesting that many had feared far greater cuts to the budget than the 7.5% which emerged.

The Treasury had been arguing for at least a ten per cent defence cut. After a long battle with George Osborne, defence secretary Liam Fox secured concessions after the prime minister personally intervened in the dispute.

A bare majority of those polled accepted that the government’s decision to push ahead with the ill-fated aircraft carrier project was the right one given the circumstances.

In the event, it would have cost the exchequer more to cancel the projects because of punishing penalty clauses than to complete the carriers – which may not be able to carry any British fixed-wing aircraft until 2019.

The scaling back of Britain’s capabilities, at least for the time being has raised the prospect of closer co-operation with European allies, particularly France. Rusi’s survey found split opinions on the issue, but 39% said the opportunity was welcome.

A majority however concluded that the SDSR would mean the UK will get taken less seriously in future on defence matters by Washington.

Dr Jonathan Eyal, Rusi’s director of international security studies argued the implications of this may not be too significant for transatlantic relations as “Britain will remain America’s most loyal ally, almost by default, and regardless of the capabilities which the British can commit”.