Strength ... but not at any price

Defence
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The Independent Online
Looking back on the first 100 days, it is fair to say that the pace has been breathtaking.

Already, we are making a difference and starting to fulfil our manifesto commitments. These include our Strategic Defence Review to reassess essential security interests and defence needs for the next century; and a ban on the import, export, transfer and manufacture of all forms of anti-personnel landmines as well as a moratorium on their use.

Beyond our manifesto commitments, we are also actively looking at how we can expand opportunities for women ... and how we can recruit more people from ethnic minorities. Similarly, we have initiated a review into the executions of First World War soldiers, and have announced a new package of 20 measures for Gulf War veterans.

On procurement, we have helped to secure progress on programmes on Eurofighter whilst pursuing a new policy of "smart procurement" designed to get the best possible equipment for our troops whilst achieving the best possible value for money.

Last month, for example, we issued a Request for Proposals for 40-50 Future Large Aircraft on a competitive basis. And we are currently drawing up proposals to be published in the autumn on how we can give effect to plans for defence diversification as outlined in our manifesto.

Our achievements extend to the international stage as well. At the European Inter-Governmental conference in Amsterdam, we successfully retained our veto on defence matters whilst winning for the first time the explicit recognition that Nato is the foundation of our and other allies' common defence. And in Bosnia, we have led the way in bringing those indicted for war crimes to trial.

Over the next five years ... it is vital that we tackle head-on the problem of overstretch in our armed forces by providing a clearer match between our foreign policy commitments and our defence resources ... Our overriding aim must be strong defence - but not at any price. The Strategic Defence Review will enable us to do just that.

George Robertson

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