A report by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS), titled ‘National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment’ has said an “honest conversation” on increasing defence spending was needed if the Government is to match its stated ambitions.
MP Margaret Beckett, the chair of the committee, said a larger national security strategy drawn up in 2015 had rightly been revisited in response to changes.
“Some of these were unpredictable but others, such as the structural hole in the defence budget, have revealed flaws in the Government’s original document.”
The report cites the rise of Islamic State and attacks in the UK, the refugee crisis and tensions over North Korea, Iran and the South China Sea. The report advises that there are growing pressures across the national security budget, including in relation to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, cyber security and the security and intelligence agencies. The defence budget is also now under extreme strain.
The report concludes:
“In relation to defence, the 2015 NSS & SDSR perpetuated a longstanding failure to match ambition with capabilities and funding, relying instead on unrealistic promises of efficiencies and reduced contingency funding. It has been strongly argued that spending 2% of GDP on defence is not sufficient to meet today’s threats, or to meet the Government’s current ambitions for defence capabilities.
But spending more on defence is only part of the answer. An honest conversation is needed about what is affordable, how the armed forces should best be structured to meet future threats, and how they might be enabled to take better advantage of technological innovation. This should also include how UK capabilities are designed to fit with and supplement those of our allies.
The Government must get a grip on these issues.”
According to a January 2018 report by the National Audit Office, there is a gap of between £4.9bn and £20.8bn between commitments made in the Ministry of Defence Equipment Plan and planned funding over the next decade. The JCNSS said the disparity was caused by the department committing to buy more than it could afford, combined with “unrealistic assumptions about efficiency savings.”
The JCNSS report concludes:
“The National Security Capability Review was commissioned as a quick refresh of capabilities but nine months since it began—and with defence now being considered separately and over a longer timeframe—it is apparent that the NSCR has inadvertently become an uncomfortable ‘halfway house’ between a refresh and a full review.”
A government spokesperson said:
“It [the report] identifies how we can use our considerable national security capabilities more effectively and efficiently to achieve our national security objectives and support implementation of the 2015 SDSR. We are confident the NSCR public report will address many of the points the JCNSS has raised.”
Read the full report here.