We are nearing the culmination of the work we promised to deliver on our approach to national security; the NSC meeting tomorrow is a key opportunity to set out the risk and consequences of that work for our NSC colleagues. This is not a letter I am copying to others ahead of tomorrow’s NSC but I wanted to let you know my views, which are shared by my Ministerial colleagues.
Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a "super CSR" (Comprehensive Spending Review). If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years.
Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war. I am very grateful to Peter Ricketts and Jeremy Heywood for the help they have given officials who have worked strenuously to bridge a gap that is, financially and intellectually virtually impossible. I am concerned that we do not have a narrative that we can communicate clearly.
On 22 July the NSC endorsed the ‘Adaptable Britain’ posture because we decided that it was impossible to predict what conflict or global security scenarios may emerge in the years ahead. That meant ensuring the maintenance of generic defence capability across all three environments of land, sea and air – not to mention the emerging asymmetric threats in domains such as cyber and space –with sufficient ability to regenerate capability in the face of these possible future threats were it required.
How do we want to be remembered and judged for our stewardship of national security? We have repeatedly and robustly argued that this is the first duty of Government and we run the risk of having those words thrown back at us if the SDSR fails to reflect that position and act upon it.
I suggest we start tomorrow’s discussion by asking whether we are really prepared to see Defence spending reduced to this level. The impact on capability, particularly in the maritime domain, would be more substantial than one might imagine from the paper.
Our decisions today will limit severely the options available to this and all future governments. The range of operations that we can do today we will simply not be able to do in the future. In particular, it would place at risk:
The reduction in overall surface ship numbers means we will be unable to undertake all the standing commitments (providing a permanent Royal Navy presence in priority regions) we do today. Assuming a presence in UK waters, the Falklands and in support of the deterrent is essential we would have to withdraw our presence in, for example, the Indian Ocean, Caribbean or Gulf.
Deletion of the amphibious shipping (landing docks, helicopter platforms and auxiliaries) will mean that a landed force will be significantly smaller and lighter and deployed without protective vehicles or organic fire. We could not carry out the Sierra Leone operation again. Deletion of the Nimrod MR4 will limit our ability to deploy maritime forces rapidly into high-threat areas, increase the risk to the Deterrent, compromise maritime CT (counter terrorism), remove long range search and rescue, and delete one element of our Falklands reinforcement plan.
Some risk to civil contingent capability, including but not limited to foot and mouth, fire-fighting strikes, fuel shortages, flu pandemics, Mumbai style attacks and the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The potential for the scale of the changes to seriously damage morale across the Armed Forces should not be underestimated. This will be exacerbated by the fact that the changes proposed would follow years of mismanagement by our predecessors.
It may also coincide with a period of major challenge (and, in all probability, significant casualties) in Afghanistan.
Even at this stage we should be looking at the strategic and security implications of our decisions. It would be a great pity if, having championed the cause of our Armed Forces and set up the innovation of the NSC, we simply produced a cuts package. Cuts there will have to be. Coherence, we cannot do without, if there is to be any chance of a credible narrative.