Defence review `leaves UK weak'

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GOVERNMENT PLANS to cut back the Territorial Army may have gone too far, leaving the country itself vulnerable to attack, according to MPs. The Commons Defence Committee said that the proposal to cut the TA from 59,00 to 40,000 was "short-sighted" and "misconceived", and it urged ministers to think again.

The committee's report on the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) warned the Government may have been over zealous in reconfiguring the armed forces to deploy to troublespots all over the world, while neglecting basic defence.

It said that ministers should look again at the long-term value of the "insurance" provided by maintaining the TA in the face of a possible future invasion threat. Further cuts to the defence budget beyond the 3 per cent efficiency savings already set, would "almost certainly cause the entire strategy to unravel", it warned.

But the MPs' strongest criticisms were for the planned cuts to the TA, to be reduced by more than a third. Any cuts would be "premature" until the problems of overstretch in the Regular Army had been dealt with, and it accused the Ministry of Defence of only paying "lip service" to the importance of the TA in developing links between the armed forces and the wider community.

While the committee endorsed the overall thrust of the SDR, with its shift towards more expeditionary-orientated Armed Forces following the end of the Cold War, it warned that the process may have been taken too far, and the need for basic defence of the country, though reduced, remained.

The report said: "The SDR may, perhaps, be too led by foreign policy and the commitment to the UK being a force for good in the world. We believe that this focus may have led to a neglect of the level of `insurance' needed for home defence."