Cuts to the Ministry of Defence budget means that the UK’s Armed Forces may be unable to undertake campaigns asked of them after 2015, a cross-party group of MPs will counsel today. The Defence Committee will sound alarm bells in its harsh report that renders the declining clout of the British military.
The group warns that British global influence will not be maintained while the defence and the Foreign Office endure spending cuts.
The MPs are also damning in their criticism of the decision to scrap the Nimrod MRA4 maritime aircraft in a bid to save £2bn over 10 years.
The report is expected to send shockwaves through the defence establishment by also voicing concern that the UK has taken on “ad-hoc” commitments such as Libya at a time of shrinking resources.
Committee member and Labour Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney MP Dai Havard agreed the report did not pull its punches in its criticism of the Government. He said: “They have had opportunities to put things right and address them and it’s too serious to not call it like it is. They can live in delusion if they want but I don’t want to join them.
The most chilling admonition in the report is its conclusion that the UK is in danger of losing strategic power.
The report will give new ammunition to MPs who want the Government to rethink its defence review, which will see the Army lose 7,000 personnel, with the RAF and Navy each losing 5,000 staff also. It also features the early withdrawal of HMS Ark Royal and Harrier jump-jets.
The report asks the Government to ensure the military can cope with “the unexpected” and notes growing concern that UK Armed Forces unable to perform the minimum utility required to deliver the commitments that they are currently being tasked to carry out - whether they are long or short-term - let alone facing tasks with probable capability gaps between 2015 to 2020.
James Arbuthnot, Conservative chairman said in an interview with Radio 4 this morning: “The Government appears to believe that the UK can maintain its influence while reducing spending in defence and at the Foreign Office.
“If the UK’s influence in the world is to be maintained, the Government must demonstrate in a clear and convincing way that these reductions have been offset by identifiable improvements elsewhere rather than imprecise assertions of an increased reliance on diplomacy and ‘soft power’. If the Government cannot do so, the National Security Strategy is in danger of becoming a ‘wish list’ that fails to make the hard choices necessary to ensure the nation’s security.”
The MPs state: “We expect to be regularly updated on these plans. We are concerned about the future of defence technical training and request an early statement on how it is to be taken forward and will continue to monitor this vital aspect of defence reform.”
Mr Havard wants the Labour Welsh Government to vigorously lobby for defence infrastruc-ture to be based in Wales, predominantly at a time when troops are being pulled out of Germany.
Swansea-born Conservative MP and former Shadow Defence Minister Julian Lewis said there was a “mismatch” between the UK’s military commitments and government funding.
When in opposition, the Conservatives said time and again that defence was underfunded and that either resources would need to be amplified commitments should be reduced to match resources.
Mr Lewis said: “We now find ourselves in a period of increasing commitments and reducing resources and this cannot be maintained or indeed justified.”
However, in defence of the Cabinet’s decision, Conservative Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: “The Labour government negligently failed to conduct a defence review for 12 years, resulting in an equipment programme that was woefully unaffordable. A multi-billion-pound deficit was plaguing defence and tough but necessary decisions had to be taken.”
Mr Fox said the military equipment budget will rise in real terms by more than £3bn between 2015 and 2020, saying that the equipment programme is no longer an unfunded aspiration but one that provides real money for real equipment.
We continue to have the fourth largest military budget in the world and the [review] has put defence back on a stable footing with highly capable armed forces and certainty for our personnel and their families.