Letter: National debate on defence policy

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The Independent Online
National debate on defence policy

Sir: In a commendable effort to create a national consensus on defence and security policies, the Government has launched what Polly Toynbee accurately describes as "a remarkable exercise in open government". But it is difficult not to despair when a journalist as gifted as Ms Toynbee contributes to this exercise an article as prejudiced as "A Boy Scout motto: prepared for what?" (14 July).

Ms Toynbee's views on the priorities to be accorded to defence on the one hand, and social security, the NHS and education on the other, are well known. Those views may perhaps be correct - although I do not think so. But the point of the Government's national debate is to try to establish the balance of opinion on these priorities. It is disingenuous to pretend that expenditure on the realities as presented "in a magistrates' court" or during an Ofsted inspection self-evidently ought to enjoy greater public support than expenditure on the armed forces or other capabilities which may enable the UK to continue to play an effective international role.

What is worse about Ms Toynbee's article is the impression conveyed that the whole defence policy exercise is a Yes, Minister farce. It would be difficult to guess from Ms Toynbee that the debate at last Friday's seminar lasted six-and-a-half hours; that the great majority of participants were drawn from university faculties and institutions such as the Oxford Research Group and the Disarmament Intelligence Review; or that of some 40 substantive interventions, fewer than 10 were from official spokesmen.

Sir MICHAEL ALEXANDER

Chairman, Strategic Defence Review Seminar

Centre for Defence Studies

King's College

University of London

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