Nick Clegg: We are spending billions on weapons we don't need


Related Topics

The shortage of desperately needed helicopters in Helmand province is part of a dismal pattern: we are spending billions of pounds on weapons we don't need and too little on equipment our troops can't do without.

Britain's defence expenditure is skewed to the wrong priorities. It is still based on Cold War assumptions about the threats Britain faces, yet the conflicts of the future are far more likely to be asymmetric in nature, fought against stateless groups or to establish and maintain peace in weak or failed states. Future conflicts may well be prompted by shortages of resources as a result of climate change. The state-to-state conflicts of the Cold War era will be a rarity.

So why on earth is Britain ready to spend billions on replacing Trident nuclear submarines with exactly the same system – one designed for a Cold War scenario with the ability to wipe out huge cities anywhere on the planet? Why are we investing a huge tranche of future equipment budgets in military platforms that will be of little or no use fighting terrorist groups or insurgency?

Why do we still have so many armoured vehicles and helicopters designed for a northern European climate that seize up or break down as soon as we take them to conflict regions? And why is Britain dragging its feet on European defence co-operation that would allow us to pool resources with the French and others so we can get more bang for our bucks?

Of course it takes a long time to procure big-ticket defence items and there is no crystal ball for what risks may emerge in the future. But that is no excuse for the lack of radical thinking in defence policy. Our priorities must change for a rapidly changing world, so that we invest in what's most likely to be needed: helicopters, mine-resistant armoured vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, intelligence gathering systems, strategic airlift, as well as the more traditional effect of manpower.

At a time of immense pressure on public spending in every area, the utility of the equipment and the structure of our armed forces must be based on the likelihood of the threat. There isn't money spare to be squandered on outdated vanity projects.

Labour and the Conservatives refuse to ask the difficult questions or rule out big-ticket items like Trident and Eurofighter. Neither is prepared to break the taboo on these enormous spending commitments. The Government has come up with the absurd idea of commissioning a Strategic Defence Review that won't be allowed to consider the future of Trident.

Both parties are also failing by refusing to overcome anti-EU dogma so that we co-operate fully with our allies in France and across Europe to reduce costs and build capabilities. Both parties are sticking their heads in the sand, and by doing so they are letting our troops down.

The former Conservative foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind recently showed bravery for daring to promote European defence co-operation within the Tory party, but he is a lone voice. With 2 million men and women in Europe's armed forces, half a million more than in the US, there is a huge benefit to be had from co-operation. It is simple accounting: share equipment, buy together, divide up roles and the defence of Europe will be cheaper and more effective.

The Conservatives make promises to send more troops to Afghanistan, but these are promises they will not be able to deliver unless they address these issues.

The dispute about helicopters must be the start of greater courage and candour about what we can and cannot afford in the future. Britain has one of the greatest armed forces in the world, but we are failing them. We have to stop asking them to do the impossible – fighting modern wars with equipment and resources designed for the last century.

If we duck these choices yet again, it will be future generations of British servicemen and women who will pay the price for our mistakes. That would be the ultimate betrayal of their dedication and sacrifice.

The author is leader of the Liberal Democrats

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Support Analyst

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a career in custome...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - Managed Services Provider

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Eng...

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot