Posts Tagged ‘SDSR’

The latest round of Army cuts confirms that the Conservative Party, like News International, use the military for their own ends

26/07/2011, 08:00:01 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

David Cameron’s Downing Street machine may have endured its biggest crisis so far over phone hacking, but at least its media strategy is working well in one area: defence cuts. As with October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, bad news in defence is only cleared for release when there is enough other bad news to bury it. The SDSR announced the biggest defence cuts for 20 years, including cutting 7,000 soldiers, but with the spending review setting out even bigger cuts elsewhere the next day, the defence settlement didn’t make a single front page, and broadcast coverage was similarly muted. Likewise last week, when Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that 10,000 more soldiers would be cut, even Telegraph readers had to turn past ten pages of hacking coverage before they saw it.

How much attention an announcement gets will always depend on what other news is around, and it would have been hard for any story to compete with the hacking scandal. But it is a shame for defence, because the Government’s treatment has been both dishonest and shambolic, and deserves greater scrutiny.

Fox’s dishonesty on Army numbers goes back many years. In opposition he repeatedly lied that Labour had ‘cut the Army by 10,000’: in fact, numbers remained fairly stable, and the Army was bigger in 2010 than 1997. He also promised that a Conservative government would give the Army ‘three new battalions’, a promise which Cameron endorsed in his Conference speech in 2007 at the end of another hard summer in Afghanistan and Iraq – a predictable move from a party which has long seen defence as an issue to be milked for maximum political effect. Some in the Army may be wishing they had paid less attention to these speeches and more attention to history. The bean-counters in the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury have always wanted to cut the Army – it is so much easier than dealing with the bigger problems in the defence budget – and generally it has been Conservative ministers who give them the go-ahead, perhaps because they think they can get away with it. In the 1990s, they cut the Army by 35,000, alongside deep cuts in the defence budget and reductions in military capability. The script has changed – then it was the ‘peace dividend’ after the Cold War, now it is the deficit – but from the Army’s point of view, they could be forgiven for thinking history is repeating itself.

Even now, with the Government’s real agenda for the Army exposed, ministers are still not being honest. In early July, Labour’s Dan Jarvis, a former Parachute Regiment major, confronted Fox at the despatch box and asked him whether he had any plans for further cuts to the Army. Fox replied that ‘nothing has changed since the SDSR’. This was two weeks before he announced further cuts of 10,000 soldiers. When he did finally announce the cuts, he attempted to preserve some semblance of consistency with the SDSR by claiming that none of this would happen before 2015, and that when it did, it would be offset by more generous funding. That was contradicted yesterday by a leaked letter in the Telegraph from the head of the Army, suggesting that 5,000 more soldiers will indeed be cut before 2015, biting deep into the combat units which have been serving in Afghanistan.

We should not deny that there is a funding crisis in the MOD – even if its true nature tends to be obscured by the ministerial rhetoric rather than illuminated by it. There is also a case to be made for a smaller Army. In the continuing absence of an existential threat of the kind we faced in the Cold War, and with the nation losing its appetite for manpower-intensive counter-insurgency, ministers could have come out and argued for a redistribution of resources away from a standing army and towards new threats and new capabilities – like cyber security, or drones and other surveillance. But they haven’t had the courage, or strategic vision, to do so. Fox did try to use the Reserves Review to put a strategic spin on last week’s cuts, arguing that overall ‘deployability’, across regular and reserve forces, is the key – with a reformed and more deployable T.A. offsetting cuts to regular soldiers. Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Fox objecting to Labour questions about overall numbers (“they talk about total numbers all the time”, he complains, “but they do not talk about deployability”) given his own approach in opposition, this is an dangerous tack for a Defence Secretary who has announced a radical cut of one-third in, precisely, deployability. (This was tucked away on p19 of the SDSR document, glossed over by Fox and Cameron in their statements at the time: the admission that in future, in a one-off operation like the invasion of Iraq, we will be able to deploy 30,000, rather than 45,000; and that in an enduring operation like Afghanistan, we will be able to deploy 6,500 rather than 10,000.) (more…)

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The government’s policy on the armed forces: giving with one hand and taking with the other

23/05/2011, 12:00:33 PM

by Michael Dugher

After months of pressure from the Royal British Legion and others, including the Labour frontbench, and in the face of certain Parliamentary defeat, the government finally agreed to enshrine the “military covenant” in law.  A year ago, Cameron had personally promised to have the covenant “written into the law of the land” in a big set speech on HMS Ark Royal, only to later back track on the pledge (and then scrap the Ark Royal for good measure).  The government’s u-turn on the covenant is welcome. At a time when more is being asked of our armed forces, it is vital that we put the government’s obligations to the armed services on a proper legal footing.  Yet the announcement is, sadly, only the latest example of the government’s approach to the armed forces: giving with one hand, while taking away with the other. Labour should expose this. We also need to recognise both the achievements, as well as the limitations, of our time in office.  And we need to be at the forefront of argument that our forces and their families deserve the very highest levels of care and support.

The truth is that Labour should have taken the covenant out of party politics at the end of the last parliament. The opportunity was there to fully commit to enshrine the covenant in law, as we had already paved the way with some ground-breaking work on armed forces’ welfare. Labour was the first to deliver a cross-government strategy on the welfare of armed forces personnel. Bob Ainsworth, in particular, deserves credit for pushing through the publication of the service personnel command paper in summer 2008, when he was minister for the armed forces. This set out improved access to housing schemes and healthcare, the doubling of compensation payments for the most serious injuries, the doubling of the welfare grant for families of those on operations and free access to further education for service leavers with six years service.


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It’s not too late for Cameron to learn from his shambolic foreign policy failures

10/03/2011, 11:30:55 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

Over the last fortnight, David Cameron’s approach to foreign policy has suddenly come into sharp and unforgiving focus. Not all his problems have been of his own doing, and veterans of previous crises will have felt sympathy at times. But the public, our armed forces and diplomats, our allies, and even our enemies have been left confused by contradictory messages.

A long-planned trip to the Middle East to promote trade and defence exports was hastily re-branded as a pro-democracy tour. A sluggish and uncoordinated response over Libya was suddenly replaced by unilateral sabre-rattling about no-fly-zones and arming rebels, only to be replaced in turn by another retreat to a more conventional multilateral approach. Even the SAS’s involvement – over-briefed by government sources the weekend before – turned into another fiasco, whether through bad planning or bad luck. And in the background, the government’s handling of defence cuts and military redundancies has continued to look botched as well as badly timed.

Some of the lessons here are about basic competence, both in pulling the levers of government, and in communicating the message. Cameron had already accepted the need to overhaul his Downing Street operation; it must be worrying that much of the new team was already in place, and must therefore share responsibility for the recent shambles. Perhaps he will also heed recent advice that he apply himself a bit harder, rather than trying to get by on intelligence and instinct. But there are more substantial lessons too.

Underneath the inconsistent messages, there has been a real shift in policy – indeed, yet another U-turn. Previously, Cameron had signalled a new approach, arguing that we should “think through much more carefully whether Britain should get involved in foreign conflicts”. Sympathetic commentators were encouraged to interpret this as a rejection of Labour’s “wide-eyed interventionism” in favour of a “new Tory realism”. The foreign office was told to focus on trade rather than geopolitics, and bilateral relationships rather than multilateral organisations. (more…)

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Leaked document reveals that defence review “damaged morale”

06/12/2010, 03:46:18 PM

by James Macintyre

The full text of a controversial and secret internal memo criticising David Cameron’s defence review is published by Uncut today, after the government has refused to make the document public.

The memo, limited extracts of which have been reported, has fuelled speculation that there were major flaws in the review process. The internal document, a full copy of which has been passed to Uncut, outlines a series of severe criticisms of a consultation process which alienated military chiefs and “badly damaged the confidence and morale” of defence officials. Details of the failures have also served to underline disagreements between Liam Fox, the defence secretary, and David Cameron, the prime minister.

The shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, has been pushing for the document to be published in full. He has also tabled questions in Parliament asking “to whom his Department’s document entitled SDSR: Lessons Identified, 3 November 2010, was submitted”, and by whom it was commissioned?

On 25 November, Dr Fox made it clear that the government refused to publish the document, saying:

“The document was proposed and a draft prepared by the strategic defence and security review (SDSR) core co-ordination team in charge of day-to-day management of the review, to draw together working-level views from  individuals involved in the SDSR process in the ministry of defence. The draft was a working document distributed to members of the SDSR programme board for comment: The government have no intention to publish it”.

Today Uncut publishes the full document for the first time. The document laments the lack of a “hard-nosed” approach to the “financial challenges faced by the department”, leading to what Labour has claimed is a £4.3bn black hole in the defence budget.

It says: “There was some evidence that the wider department did not fully understand – or accept – the affordability challenge until late in the process…An earlier understanding may have generated more radical alternative ideas”.

Mr Murphy told Uncut:

“The government’s defence review left a £4.3bn black hole in the defence budget, a £15bn overspend, gaps in our military capability and a serious dent in our troops’ morale. The reasons why are clear. A rushed review did not consult with experts or our forces and failed to match security needs to defence strategy.

The government’s defence credibility gap gets bigger and bigger”.

The memo, entitled “SDSR [security and defence strategic review]: Lessons Identified”, was prepared by a board of military officers and senior officials around Dr Fox. It says that “on engaging international partners [a] rapid consultation exercise was carried out during the review. But the responses were received only as decisions were being taken (and collated only as they were being confirmed). It would have been preferable to undertake this exercise in advance of the review, especially with close allies”.

It acknowledged that “the secretary of state…engaged some key academics during the review and offered speeches at RUSI and Chatham House”.  But it adds that “in general, departmental engagement with external experts was much reduced for the period of the review. This reduced the extent to which our ideas were challenged. It also limited our ability to shape expert and media reactions to the outcomes and lost an opportunity to enhance our reputation as an open organisation”.

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Leaked MoD SDSR “lessons learned” document

06/12/2010, 03:45:51 PM


1. This note captures some key lessons identified in the SDSR process, from a Defence perspective. It is intended to:

– provide an MOD contribution to a wider government exercise to be led by the National Security Secretariat;

– support, where necessary, implementation of the SDSR outcomes; and

– assist those preparing for future SDSRs.


2. The Department did significant preparatory work on:

– policy development, in particular Global Strategic Trends and the Future Character of Conflict exercise led by DCDC and the Green Paper led by the then Secretary of State;

– management information, in particular the Cost of Defence, development of the FAST tool which enabled us to turn postures and ambition into costed force structure and the ICAT tool which modelled the industrial implications of capability decisions; and

– project planning. A detailed proposal on sequencing and timing was developed, endorsed by PUS and CDS, and socialised within the Department. (Summary graphic at Annex [ X ]) (more…)

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CSR analysis: cuts and confusion are the reality behind the Tories’ tough talk on defence

02/11/2010, 03:18:56 PM

by Andy Bagnall

The strategic defence and security review was cleverly timed. By publishing it the day before the comprehensive spending review, one day of bad headlines about defence cuts was quickly eclipsed by reports of the wider savagery being unleashed against our public services.

Casual observers might remember little more than the Tory-Lib Dem government’s perverse plans to build new aircraft carriers but retire the Harrier planes that fly from them, ten years before buying replacements. More interested analysts might even have been musing on the last time a Tory government decided to dispense with carrier strike capability, in 1981. (A year later, Argentina invaded the Falklands and the policy evaporated). But then we were deluged with the news of welfare cuts, arts cuts, housing cuts, any-kind-of-cut-you-can-think-of cuts. And the plane-less carriers disappeared from the horizon. (more…)

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The Tories are handing defence to Jim Murphy, says John McTernan

18/10/2010, 04:00:08 PM

The first rule of spin club is that there’s no such thing as spin club. The
second rule of spin club is that there’s no such thing as spin. Why? Because
the members of spin club, if such a thing existed (which it doesn’t), know that spin never stays spun. It always unravels.

David Cameron and Liam Fox are going to find this out the hard way this
week. Presentationally, the run-up to the strategic defence and security review (SDSR) has been almost perfect. Liam Fox’s leaked letter set out the
prospect of cuts that would be so deep they would devastate our forces.
It also set up a villain – the treasury. With the scene set, the prime minister was able to ride to the rescue. And briefings over the weekend suggested that the defence budget had got a great deal – only an eight per cent cut. (more…)

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Liam Fox is right (and George and Dave are wrong), says Michael Dugher

04/10/2010, 09:00:28 AM

In defence circles it is sometimes unfairly said that the real enemy of our armed forces is not the taleban but the treasury. The recently leaked letter from defence secretary Liam Fox to the prime minister warned of the threat to our defence capabilities if the government presses ahead with severe cuts to the defence budget in the forthcoming review. During the row that has followed, Downing Street reportedly said that David Cameron was “untroubled” by Fox’s letter. But he should be. The prospect of deep cuts that undermine our defences, and especially those that weaken the army, should worry the country too.

In his uncompromising letter to Cameron, Fox set out a dire warning that the government risks failing in its first duty if the treasury is allowed to cut the MoD budget too deeply. Fox has long been a cheer-leader for the Tory right. As such, he believes in less government and, central to that, less government spending too (though not, it would seem, when it comes to his own budget). Fox described the current strategic defence and security review (SDSR) as being like a “super comprehensive spending review”, and one driven by financial and not strategic requirements. Indeed, he said the cuts were “intellectually and financially” indefensible. He warned that if “it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences”. (more…)

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