While it is the case that Britain only had a Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015 circumstances have clearly changed.

The last Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which took place in 2015 was criticised by many as being conducted through the lens of accountancy. However, fast forward to present day, and there are already discussions taking place in the Ministry of Defence and Whitehall in London over the financial reality of the armed forces.

The current political discussions are based on reducing defence expenditure including the possibility of cuts to our amphibious warfare capabilities such as the HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and the dismemberment of the Royal Marines. Both of which is strategically nonsensical.

It is of my opinion, the best way to reach an agreement in terms of resources needed to match the changing security architecture is for a fresh review to be brought forward in Parliament, so it can be debated in the Select Committees and to be open to all the branches of the military to have an input and say on future defence policy including procurement, what should be included in our National Security Strategy, the current and future balance of forces, and also current and future spending.

As the political system and the nature of separate branches encourage debate on the nature of those interests between the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, The British Army, and the Royal Air Force, this is a good thing. As such, I realise there will be competition among the branches who will get the most allocated to them but that is the nature of the bureaucratic system, and there will no doubt debate. But that is a good thing. Not something to ignore. It is both necessary and essential for our national interest to do so if we are going forward with our security operations in the 2020s and beyond. While it is worth mentioning that the last Strategic Defence Review was concerned with enshrining that Britain retains its nuclear capabilities in the new Trident replacement in the Dreadnought class submarines, this new defence review will look more broadly at the status of our current and future force structures, and material.

With the commissioning of the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier this month, with a lifespan of 50 years, it will be expected to operate until the late 2060s or maybe even beyond that lifespan. We have to consider what type of military and in particular what type of Royal Navy can our country sustain if Britain is going to continue to have global reach?

However, for Britain to have a global reach it must have an amphibious capability based upon the ability to deploy Royal Marines in any combat zone across the world. On a final note, this brings us to the question of security itself, and how the United Kingdom defines its security interests in this increasingly multipolar, and unpredictable environment.

The only benefit the Cold War gave us, is the security community knew who the enemy was, and it was a state-based international system. Now with the advent of international terrorism and the concept of failed states, we are no longer dealing with monolithic states with global ideologies, but extremists. We are living in a multipolar world, where security cannot be necessarily guaranteed by the United States and NATO, which means that countries such as the United Kingdom may have to become more innovative in how it meets its defence needs, and contemplate the possibility of acting unilaterally if necessary or with its partners.

Plus, we have to reconcile our strategic interests with the rise of China, a nuclear-capable North Korea, and a resurgent Russia in the East. All of which needs to be discussed and explored within a new defence review so that Britain can articulate its strategic vision to the world, and match it with current and future capabilities.

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Oliver Steward
Oliver is a student at the University of East Anglia studying for a PhD in International Security. His interests include strategy, grand strategy in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, international relations and politics, maritime strategy, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency warfare, and maritime policy.
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Is it selfish to say the Pacific should be left to the Americans? The UK doesn’t have the resources to get involved especially if Australia selects another Spanish design to replace the Anzac class, there would be no cross over in terms of maintenance and training to make it worth the effort other than exercises. There is plenty of policing to be carried out in the Med and Horn of Africa without getting involved in the SC Sea. The Warrior upgrade program appears to be at serious risk. If they cut the numbers in half but pay the same price… Read more »


Hmm, so, was having a discussion with a former minister (fm) t’other night about defence and the carriers. Some takeaways worthy of sharing; 1) Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne were absolutely going to scrap the carriers early in the 2010 parliament. 2) Something happened and Cameron changed his mind. Various reasons suggested by fm but none confirmed by Cameron to him; a) Cost to cancel b) American pressure c) Impotence over Libya 3) fm thinks the carriers are white elephants that should be given to gulf states so they can parade them around not us 4) Thinks there won’t be enough… Read more »


From memory Gordon Brown along with BAE ensured the carrier contracts where so water tight the compensation from canceling them would cost as much as the carriers.
Overall I think they will be good value for money the two of them cost $1bn less than a single US nuclear carrier.

David Stephen

Thank god he is a former minister because he is clearly clueless.

Rob Collinson

I think you meant ‘Thank God’ but somehow think that this would have meant much to him in any case!

Fat Dave

FM sounds very capable and very credible. The carriers are clearly white elephants and Defence is in a mess because the nation has bought them.
Any sensible, objective Review will conclude that selling the carriers will put the Armed Forces in a better place.

Daniele Mandelli

How is defence in a mess because of the carriers.

Is defence in a mess due to 16 billion cost of Typhoon?

No to both.

Defences problems and the reasons why are well documented but blaming the carriers is far too easy, and plain wrong.

Fat Dave

Defence is in a mess because of the carriers because we don’t need the carriers. We haven’t needed carriers since 1982. And that only occurred because British foreign policy gave off the wrong signals to Argentina. (We didn’t “need” the carriers in the Middle East, the Balkans or Libya) We do, however, need Typhoon. Blaming the carriers is not only easy but absolutely right. Carriers are nice to have, not essential. Air defence capabilities on the other hand are vital. If the UK keeps these white elephants, then the Navy need to find the money and manpower to resource them.… Read more »


I didn’t agree with the FM although I understand the argument against the carriers in the light of budget constraints.

I argue this from two per perspectives;

1) It’s just not Ok to leave it all to the US
2) We are the northern flank of NATO and I believe it’s a significant part of that deterrent

I also proffer that defence spending as a whole is just too low because the other holes mentioned in this thread are equally valid and need addressing.


If Brexit is about trading with the future and the future is Asia then we need to be there. Even with The Belt & Roadway project the seas will remain strategically the most important. The world is changing, we have good relations with China, Japan and India and we have an opportunity to become a trusted party in the region. The RN should absolutely have a significant presence in the region – little of which can be done with current hull numbers other than a rare visit. I don’t think the QEs are right for the region or this strategic… Read more »

Jassy Spik

It comes down too resources.. You can only do so much with so little.. The UK Military has become a shadow of it’s former self.. The days when she had 12 aircraft carriers and 100 frigates and destroyer are long gone.


Stupid suggestion, what would be the point until after Brexit, if we don’t know the financial ramifications of Brexit?


I look at the military with a slightly different view to most – yes it is there to defend us but it does so much more for this country. 1. It provides opportunities for those who are from less advantaged backgrounds or those who have made mistakes in their past. 2. It turns these individuals into useful citizens and adds a number of highly qualified trades people to the workforce. 3. It provides the high tech, engineering and heavy industries with orders that ensure we remain relevant and at the cutting edge globally. 4. This trickles down into the wider… Read more »


Agreed but what you are saying is that: the armed forces embodied a way of thinking and policy that promoted a better way of life than the reasoning and policies we have today. So the question is not about the value of the armed forces, for if they embody a corrupt way of thinking or destructive and short sighted policies they would not hold your respect. The question is then, what was fundamentally different between then and now? I am not asking about superficial observations about being nicer to each other or more respectful etc. but what fundamental beliefs did… Read more »


Hi Nathan

Fundamentally, I think everyone is in it for themselves and govt policy has facilitated this. The military seems to hold onto a higher calling and the fact that the total is bigger than a single contributor.

I also think this affects the military – as some of its leadership is not doing what is best for the whole – but what is best for their own careers. Sad but true.

R Cummings

I fear another SDSR would just be opening a Pandora’s box, giving the Government an excuse for a further 60 pages of obfuscatory wuffle about ‘soft power’, ‘international aid’ and ‘the growing cyber threat’, prior to again cutting the equipment budget, key capabilities and service numbers. I would like to see one party bring forward a green paper on defence – a discussion document prior to a White Paper – where the minimum peacetime requirements and serious current shortfalls were set out clearly, role by role. For instance, if circumstances dictated that we had to send two Typhoon squadrons to… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Brilliant post.

David Steeper

Why are we even talking about this ? For the same reason we’ve been having these reviews as regular as clockwork for 50-60 years. The MoD or the armed forces or both are completely incompetent. When was the last time a defence procurement came in on time and/or on budget or even anywhere near ? It makes no difference what we give them to spend they’ll make a ‘spherical objects’ of it and be back throwing their teddys out of the pram like the spoilt brats they are. Cynical ? No. Fed up ? You bet.

Terry Cummings

As an American who is tired of paying taxes to support the world’s largest military it is disappointing to see the UK continuously wringing its hands to squeeze money out of its defense capability. American blood and treasure should not be taken for granted by the European powers. We in the US need to spend more on our own infrastructure and social services, and less on our military. There is growing sentiment for that in the US. The UK and other European powers should confront the need to raise their spending and capabilities to cold war levels, at least 5%… Read more »


Report in the Times that the MoD is to request £4 billion from the Treasury in emergency cash and full defence review next year.

Looks like Gavin Williamson is trying to make a name for himself, fingers crossed he’s the Def Sec the British Military has needed for a very long time.


Daniele Mandelli

I’m pleased with him so far.


There is no doubt in my mind that the budget is ok – the main issue is that it is inefficiently spent. Defence needs to get its house in order and decide what it must do as a minimum and concentrate on that and start building from there. I would like to see Gavin Williamson set out what happens to the UK economy without the military spending its money on UK industry or what could happen if it spent more. At the end of the day the govt. are happy to subsidise the UK car industry – so why not… Read more »


TH – I think thats what happens when an election is called.

What I would like to see is a legally binding costed manifesto that clearly states what % of its budget the government intends to spend on each key department / area and how it intends to raise the taxes for these funds.

I then expect them to act upon this instead of constantly borrowing money that we will have to pay back at some point.


Taxpayers were consulted during the elections. Now tell me if I were to ask a British taxpayer do you think everyone is paying there share? Should we cut the Army, Education, Healthcare, and name your favorite government project to give people who hide their money overseas another tax cut? That isn’t what tax cuts do but that will be how the press and the Labour Party will spin it. Do you think Jeremy Corbyn will give you a tax cut? Because if that is what you do you will land him in office faster than you can blink. Good luck… Read more »


TH that’s a great idea let’s have a debate and ask some awkward questions such as the £13bn borrowed ever year only to be given away. Because if you ask that question a large section of the public will give an answer your average Times reader wouldn’t like. Hence why £1 or £2bn extra for defence is nothing when spending on everything else is out of control.

Adrian Wakeford

I agree that there should be a new SDSR. The RAF has too few fighter squadrons and will probably be more or less OK in the present mini defence review because bombing our enemies from a safe height is the sort of operation to which our spineless politicians will commit. The Nuclear Deterrent is probably safe for now but continuous at sea deterrence may be sacrificed in a future round of cuts. The aircraft carriers are probably safe for now but purchase of F35Bs will be slowed or cut and if the current finance driven approach continues expect to see… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Unsc P5 member.

G8 member.

One of worlds biggest economies.

But your warped view actually happily demotes your own nation.

Your obsession with disarmament always entails the western democracies disarming first.

Daniele Mandelli

That’s just around 3 years of what we pay to the EU anyway.

Add to that the 13? Billion in foreign aid.

So 27 billion a year that should go on our own services including defence.


TH at last you show your true colours. You were in a minority who voted to remain but of course over 17m people are dimwits because they had a different opinion to you. It seems you are part of the establishment after all with it’ jobs for boys in the City and maintaining the status quo. Giving your total disdain for democracy of course you could of course move to Russia and China and see what it is like living in a dictatorship. Those two nations are very much opponents of the west whilst terrorism is a very unpleasant nuisance… Read more »


I don’t think you can honestly say brexit was a success for democracy, considering the low turn out for the election, the proven lies that the brexit campaign were spouting out about the amount that would be saved and the era of protest votes around the world that ultimately lead to Trump. However, it is all smoke a mirrors. The money we have agreed to pay to leave, is the money we already committed to pay, and so we are no worse off from the 35b or whatever the final bill will be. Its the same with the exchange rate,… Read more »


Steve I would just like to point out I did not say Brexit was a success for democracy but to put some balance to your statement the lies extended very predictably to both sides. You are right though many Brexit voters were probably protesting about a lot of things but it is hard not too feel that the political class of the UK had this coming for many years. I for one believe it needn’t have happened but the direction of the EU (it is going to be a Superstate) and the weakness of our leaders meant it was always… Read more »


The reality is that we are a permanent member of the UN Security Council and for many smaller countries in the world perhaps the only sensible one who will argue their corner? With that position comes responsibility and that involves having an offensive military capability. To stay at the top table these days means SSBNs and Carrier strike. Step away from the UN and then you can have a purely defensive force with off the shelf US kit at a fraction of the cost. It’s not a military decision it’s a political one. Suspect one of the CVFs will end… Read more »


we are a permanent member because we set it up after WW2 and we have a veto to prevent us being removed. We could close our armed forces this afternoon and not be removed.

Fat Dave

Completely disagree. We could remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council without SSBNs and carrier strike. We could even remain without a nuclear capability because you have made the assumption that a nuclear capability has to be SSBN. However, I think we should retain a nuclear capability because of wider global implications and it probably should be SSBN. We absolutely don’t need carrier strike to be a permanent member. We will never operate in the world without access to land bases. And if we don’t have a land base, what are we doing there in the first place.… Read more »

Geoffrey Roach

SDSR (anytime) equals defence cuts

Fat Dave

What about the absolute dimwits who voted Remain? Or does only your opinion count.

Fat Dave

So Russian backed proxies shot down a civilian airliner over the Ukraine. Russia invaded sovereign nations – Ukraine and Georgia. Russia is propping up a Syrian tyrant who used chemical weapons on his own people. Russian information operations – state backed – are attacking the West on a daily basis.
There is your real threat.
Fortunately, as we are fast finding out, apologists – or Russian trolls 😉 – like you are in a minority

Fat Dave

“spending within the means”

you are absolutely right here and I share your concern and belief that the UK spends too much on Welfare and the NHS. There are huge cuts to be made here.
Spot on – for once, we agree

Terry Cummings

And the sacrifice of tens of thousands of lives by ANZAC and commonwealth soldiers in defence of your freedom has been forgotten apparently, because those countries can no longer depend on the UK to reciprocate when the chips are down.

Peter French

Leave the Government,s politicians out of this including the Defence secretary ,normally a Lap dog of the Treasury . Just the Military Chiefs, Security Services and Specialist international Bodies to assess threats now an the forseeable future.Fat chnce


How much does a strategic defence review actually cost the UK to do?