Leading article: An irresponsible rush

Related Topics

The irony is rich. Liam Fox was one of the most vocal deficit hawks before the election, arguing constantly that the most pressing priority for the next government was to cut back public spending. But now, as Defence Secretary, Dr Fox is complaining about the impact of the cuts that he himself so loudly demanded only four months before. A leaked letter from Dr Fox to the Prime Minister shows the Defence Secretary advising Mr Cameron that he will refuse to support any substantial cuts to the armed forces and warning of "grave political consequences" if they are imposed.

Mr Cameron and George Osborne deserve some credit for accepting that there is no reason for defence spending to be protected as Britain seeks to get to grips with its deficit in the coming years. The traditional Conservative instinct would have been to ringfence spending on the armed forces in the present economy drive in the blind belief that this would be the patriotic thing to do. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have, rightly, resisted that.

There is unquestionably scope for savings in military spending. As last year's report on defence procurement by Bernard Gray revealed, the Ministry of Defence has been guilty of presiding over colossal waste in recent years. The Gray review found that up to £2.2bn a year is being wasted simply because the MoD has not been paying for projects on time.

Yet Dr Fox is justified in complaining about the hasty manner in which this necessary process of finding savings is being carried out, and also the fact that it is being run in tandem with a Strategic Defence Review into the future of Britain's armed forces. The Defence Review, the first since 1998, began immediately after the election in May. But Dr Fox, like all the other Coalition department heads, is being asked to offer savings of more than 20 per cent of his department's budget by the time of the Comprehensive Spending Review, due on 20 October. To demand decisions on such large cuts will, in all likelihood, make a nonsense of the Defence Review. Options will be closed off before they have even been given proper consideration.

Present circumstances risk distorting decisions too. The British mission in Afghanistan is at an acute phase. This makes an emotionally compelling case for shielding the Army from any cuts and scrapping, instead, new aircraft carriers and new jets. But it is far from certain how long this mission will last. The danger is that our defence planners will be bounced into planning for the last war.

This is not a sensible way to decide the future of our armed services. And this foolish haste to cut defence spending goes to the heart of the recklessness of the Coalition. There is no need to rush the entire deficit reduction process in this way, for defence or any other department. The idea that the bond markets will panic unless there are swingeing cuts to public spending is a fiction. Labour's plan to halve the deficit over the Parliament was more than adequate for investors. The Coalition seems ready to postpone the decision on renewing Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent until the next Parliament. The same realism needs to be shown by the Coalition on other forms of defence expenditure.

History shows that there is never a perfect time to hold a review of a country's defence spending or to demand savings. A nation's future defence requirements are always unclear. And vested interests will always resist economies. But history also shows that when important decisions are unduly rushed – when decisions are taken through ideology, rather than pragmatism – they tend to turn out badly. Defence will be no exception.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: the feeble-mindedness of ‘predict and provide’ in air travel

John Rentoul
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend – because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map