Leaked document reveals that defence review “damaged morale”

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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