Defence review 'a lost opportunity' say experts

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The Government's strategic defence review was a lost opportunity for a radical reassessment of the UK's role in the world, a poll suggested today.

Independent think-tank The Royal United Services Institute asked more than 2,000 experts from the defence and security community their views on the impact of the austerity cuts.

Around 68% said the review was a lost opportunity for a more challenging rethink of the UK's role.

And 58% believed the US would take the UK less seriously in terms of military capability as a result of the budget cuts.

RUSI's Defence and Security Review Survey asked 2,015 experts if they agreed or disagreed with 10 key statements covering the outcome of the defence review.

Just under a third (32%) of people believed the spending review had maintained an appropriate balance between ground, air and sea capabilities.

However, 94% believed that the Government was right to make defence part of a wider review of national security.

61% of experts also said the coalition was right to make capabilities for Afghanistan the main defence priority for the next period, even if this meant making greater cuts in other areas.

Professor Michael Clarke, director of RUSI, said the poll showed relief that the expected cuts were not higher than 8%, but disappointment that the exercise had not settled many ongoing defence arguments.

"The SDSR may have concluded, but the process goes on and it will still be painful and divisive as it does so," he said.

"The respondents to the survey seem to anticipate that."

Prof Clarke added that the survey highlighted a number of "perennial problems" still to be tackled.

They included over-committed forces, the need to get Afghanistan right before any serious adjustments and the debate over maritime and ground-based strategies partly reflected in the carrier discussions.

The effect of the review on defence relations with the US and France, was also a concern of those polled.

"There is a difference between fielding forces that are efficient and cost-effective, and forces that are also strategically significant," said Prof Clarke.

"This survey reveals some deep concerns among our respondents that the UK may be pursuing the former to the detriment of the latter."

Ian Godden, chairman of ADS, the UK's aerospace, defence and security trade organisation, said: "The Strategic Defence and Security Review captured as many strategic issues as possible in the time frame available.

"However, it is clear that Britain cannot continue to play a similar role in the world in the future unless the resources for defence and security are increased in real terms as soon as possible after this financial crisis allows.

"In the meantime, we will work hard with the Government to support productivity improvements and deal with the implementation of the current SDSR to benefit both our armed forces and our economy."

A Government spokesman said: "We note the survey's findings and we do not agree that the SDSR was a 'lost opportunity'.

"The SDSR is the result of the coalition Government taking decisions on its defence, security, intelligence, resilience, development and foreign affairs capabilities together in the round, in a way not previously done.

"The coalition Government also carried out the UK's first assessment of risks to our national security both at home and abroad. This has set the way in delivering a step-change in Britain's ability to protect its security and advance its interests in the world."