Labour sets out defence strategy

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Britain's defence industry, which has halved in size since 1980, is facing its "greatest challenge ever", according to a Labour Party report published yesterday.

Labour reaffirmed its commitment to a fundamental review of defence priorities and a strategy for preserving the British defence industry or converting it to civilian production without sacrificing jobs, if it wins the next election.

"The defence industrial base is a strategic national interest in both defence and economic terms," said Dr David Clark, the shadow defence secretary, launching Strategy for a Secure Future, the party's manifesto for the defence industry. "It is a preserve of high-tech innovation which Britain cannot afford to lose. Decline of Britain's capability in this field can and must be averted," he added.

Labour's review will examine four "core strategic areas": Nato and the enlargement of the Atlantic alliance; the strengthening of European defence structures; the role of the UN in international peace-keeping; and international security agreements, including the control of weapons proliferation. Labour advocates enhancing the role of the UN's peace-keeping operation and the adoption of a UN military doctrine - suggesting a permanent UN peace-keeping force.

The report says British defence expenditure has fallen by 28 per cent since its peak in the mid-1980s - the height of the Cold War. But falling expenditure has coincided with increased costs as equipment gets more sophisticated.

The report says Britain's industrial defence workforce has halved since 1980, from 405,000 directly employed and 740,000 overall to 210,000 and 395,000 respectively.

A strong defence industrial base is vital to the national interest, the report says, as well as being a high-technology preserve "we cannot afford to lose in economic terms".

The report acknowledges the Tory reforms in defence procurement which, it says, ended "the previously rather cosy relationship between MoD and its suppliers". But it criticises the failure of the Government to realise the "peace dividend" expected to materialise at the end of the Cold War.