Leading article: A Green Paper that starts to ask the right questions

Whoever forms the next government, defence will be in the firing line

Share
Related Topics

A few months before a general election is a strange time for a government to launch a defence Green Paper, especially one designed to be the opening stage in a full-dress Strategic Defence Review. The whole exercise positively asks to be dismissed as a scandalous waste of time and money on the part a government conspicuously short of both.

And there is much, over and above the release date, that is wrong with this Green Paper. Swathes of spending are treated as protected and so effectively excluded in advance. In fact, no actual spending figures are mentioned at all. The decision by the Ministry of Defence to release its long-awaited response to Bernard Gray's scathing review of defence procurement on the very same day should also raise eyebrows. We thought we had left behind the days when attempts were made to bury bad news, but apparently not. The Strategy for Acquisition Reform was also published yesterday.

Yet the Green Paper is not quite as bland or free of content as might have been feared. It is hardly a cornucopia of specifics, but it asks more questions of a more fundamental nature than was widely expected. Not all the questions are explicitly set out in the Green Paper. Some are asked implicitly. Others were "spun" in advance; yet others had to be teased out by reporters. But in one form or another they are there.

The stage is being set for one of the more searching strategic defence reviews for a very long time – one in which some of the most hallowed assumptions of British defence policy could be in play. One of the potentially biggest changes is the emphasis on partnerships. There seems to be an understanding here not only that resources for defence will shrink, as public spending cuts start to bite, but that this will force examination of alternatives, such as "coalitions".

What is more, the coalitions being broached go beyond the traditionally "special" transatlantic relationship. While it is insisted that defence relations with the United States will remain undiluted, it is proposed that more cooperation be sought with our European partners, in particular with France. Such a prospect is likely to fall on receptive ears. In recent years, the French and Germans have called openly for closer integration of the British armed forces into Europe. And with France, thanks to President Sarkozy, now returned to full participation in Nato, closer defence relations with France should have lost some of their sting, even if a Conservative government comes to power with more than a Eurosceptic tinge.

There are also hints about restructuring within the British armed forces – a delicate subject if ever there was one. But the open campaigning observed recently from the chiefs of the Army and the Navy, while not unprecedented when austerity threatens, is undignified and speaks of a national defence effort divided. Any change would be fiercely contested. But whether two services might be amalgamated or joint military-civilian operations given greater priority, there is agreement that our top-heavy defence establishment could do with streamlining.

At this stage, these are only ideas, very preliminary ideas, which need to be considered within the context of a much bigger question: what should be Britain's future place in the world? That the Green Paper has paved the way for just such a profound discussion means that it might not have been such a waste of time after all. The next government, whoever forms it, should resist the temptation to put it in the shredder.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all