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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.

31 COMMENTS

  1. I believe the gravity of the Salisbury poisoning came as a wake-up call to the UK Government. What it demonstrated, was the scope of Russian strategy and the wider issues surrounding their current behavior. Not only the Government but the people on the streets are becoming alarmed at Russia’s activity. Now is the time to press home to Number Ten, that further defence cuts should be shelved and the whole UK defence structure reevaluated, in light of Russia’s current level of threat.
    Currently, we are all looking at Europe’s position in relation to Russia’s military expansion, and how best to face it down. However, what if Russia is planning to operate well outside NATO’s remit?

  2. Negative publicity on defence line this consistently rammed down politicians throats can only be a good thing. They need to wake up eventually and stop cutting and start restoring and expanding.

    Putin is doing a good job it seems.

      • Not sure that your perception aligns with the facts.

        Russia is the world’s 12th largest economy (1.47 trillion USD) just ahead of Australia at number 13 (1.39 trillion USD) and behind the UK at 6th largest (2.57 trillion USD).

        However in 2017 Russia was ranked third in military spending with 69.2 billion USD 5.3% of GDP.

        By comparison UK was ranked 7th with 48.3 billion USD or 1.9% of GDP.

  3. Is there enough pressure on Fiddler Phil and the Maybot to make a change. Feels like (small m) momentum is towards a better settlement but Maybot is so wedded to her .7% aid budget it’s going to be really hard. I don’t think there will be substantive change until she’s gone.

    • Where did the 0.7% aid budget obsession come from anyway? Literally no one I talk to supports it. Even left wing friends of mine don’t want it.

      Seems to me that it’s once again the Westminister bubble where they lose touch with reality and what the country really wants. Putting it into law was the most idiotic act ever to pass parliament. If they wanted to pay that much they could have simply increased the budget. Now if we ever want to slash the aid budget it has to go through parliament which we all know will never happen.

  4. Can’t keep working towards a percentage.

    I may be corrected but I’m sure the US lists down what it needs and then asks Congress for it? Or along them lines.

    Would it not be better for all 3 branches to list what it needs, then this needs to be shown to the PM and the media, as well as how important and what role it does etc, then parliament would vote on it. It might be 2.4% or it could be 3% either way surely this must be the most important budget.

    • That’s actually not a bad idea at all. I still maintain that what we need are a much bigger navy, an expanded air force (with dedicated interceptors and bombers/strike aircraft instead of just multirole fighters, as well as MPAs, AEW, etc) and a small, but very well equipped army (reduction down to maybe 50,000, but with large increases in tanks, IFVs, helicopters, etc. A lot of it could remain in storage if need be, and in wartime could be prepared for deployment at short notice)

      • Couldn’t agree more, when I think about what we should have everything has a role, I always refer to our standing deployments and patrols, i never say we should have 30 of something for the sake of having 30. And whichever way you look at it what we have at the moment is nowhere near enough.

        I’m not sure if you get the defence one daily email from the US, but yesterday’s or the day before gave a guide on what’s just been accepted for the US department for defence and it’s staggering, every branch asked for more and got it, overseas operations 50b+ Navy 50b+ Air Force 50b+ etc etc, but the money was for important stuff which each particular department gave a valid reason for asking for more.

        We should definitely look at following that model or at least some versions of it.

        • I think that’s a great idea.

          Amazed if it would happen as it effectively holds politicians to account, which is entirely right and proper.

          But politicians do not like that do they?

      • you can’t shave the army down to 50k. these figures might look great on paper or in your non military little head but here’s the rub. when we had 125k soldiers we struggled to maintain a battlegroup of 10k in afghanistan. personel rotations, equipment replenishment, logistics etc etc were in such a state. the whole operation was a disjointed cluster beyond ground level. on the ground the boys fought for their lives because if the US air force wasn’t about then nobody else was coming. I remember having to have the USMC fly food out for us because they took pity.
        even now, with no major conflict, the lads are so poorly equipped it’s beyond a joke.
        so do you honestly think an army of 50k (bear in mind only a fraction would be fighting troops and not all 50k would be available) could sustain a defence of the UK for more than a few weeks?
        for a country of population 67+ MILLION we require an army of minimum 300,000 AND we need to properly equip them.
        50,000 is Australia level. a totally unacceptable number. don’t float it about again because idiots will run with it like it’s official.

        • The UK has 2.6 times Australia’s population (64.73 m vs 24.88 m).

          The UK’s current regular forces of 81,920 is pretty much in that ratio (2.66 times) to Australia’s 30,760.

          So if the UK were to have an army of 300,000, in proportion Australia would have to increase the size of its army to 115,000.

        • Put another way – in an all volunteer army (i.e. without conscription) there are apparent natural limits to size of an army in peace time in relation to a country’s population.

          Approx 1 in 684 of the US population are enlisted as regulars in the US Army, 1 in 790 in the UK and 1 in 809 in Australia.

          An all volunteer UK army of 300,000 would require 1 in 215 of the UK population to enlist. That would mean increasing your recruitment rate by about 3.7 times.

  5. Ok imagine a situation. You know a drug addict who is spending all his rent money on drugs and is therefore facing eviction. You have 2 choices either you give him more money than he can possibly spend on drugs thereby leaving him with spare money he can use to pay the rent. Or you can get him off drugs so that the situation never arises again.

    • Eh? You do know how much defence spending has fallen don’t you David. From 5% GDP to a real 1.7(ish)% today. We’ll be spending less on defence in absolute terms in 2020 than we were in 2010 that when defence inflation is greater than general inflation. The peace dividend is over. We’ve sponged of the Americans for years, we need to sort our **** out and get with the program.

  6. Its not just about Putin, its also about Brexit. We want to build up Global trade again and protect our fishing grounds, so we need a proper Royal Navy again

  7. I think the % argument has come about through a combination of good fiscal management and smart politics by the current government and the total incompetence of the MOD to deliver kit to time and budget. Let’s face it – we have one of the largest defence budgets on the planet and just cant seem to manage it effectively.

    Having said that I also agree with Callum in that we can probably do with a smarter, better equipped army that is able to defeat enemies with better kit (like Apache, which really is a game changer in theatre) and a larger Air, Cyber and Sea force. For me this needs to be a single force structure, but understand the push back.

    In fairness successive governments since WW2 have asked for the military to do more than their funding will allow, so nothing new there. What is new is that the pool of individuals willing to do this work against a backdrop of poor commitment, equipment and support is rapidly diminishing and unless significant funding is pumped into the military then I think we are at a tipping point of becoming like our European neighbours who are all relying on the US to do their dirty work. That is now unacceptable and we need to be able to offer them and other partners something in the new post brexit world… our military and intelligence capabilities get us to the table and need to be funded properly, as does the foreign office.

    This commitment needs to be a 25 year commitment to spending and the rhetoric and cheap political shots aimed at the cost of something that protects everyone’s freedoms (ie: £40bn for successor) needs to be put into context £1.5bn pa over 25 years that will net out at circa £500m pa when taxes and industrial benefits are taken into consideration. Doesn’t seem so bad then to keep us at the forefront of technology and provide the ultimate detterrant.

  8. We need a army/RM/RAFR force of around 150000 made up of regulars and reservists.

    This based on the Russian threat, global commitments, middle East situation and our own internal security problems.

    If the manure hits the fan we need to be able to put boots on the ground.

    • Mike – we have more than this already including reservists, I personally think we need a force closer to 250k personnel (roughly the same as France).

      As I have noted a few times – we need to move to a 21st century operating model and get an organisation full of working standing fully integrated divisions (4 each with circa 40k personnel) supported by a large HQ/Logistics/Strategic Assets Corps and the 2 Carrier Battle Groups. This comes out at circa 250-280 including civilians – if we are serious about giving those serving a decent life as well as having stregth in depth. Currently we are about 20% under this according to SDSR 2015.

      • Current strength is around 120000, so my proposal would mean an additional 30000.

        The mix of regulars to reserves is dependent on the security situation.

        I have ignored the long term reserve pool, ex service personnel, because they are combat ineffective due to a lack of on going training.

  9. There appears to be increasing pressure and with any luck this will get an extra £2 billion (a year) which will help a lot. It’s too tight at the moment.

  10. The ‘UK failing to match ambition with capabilities and funding’ has been the reality since the end of WW2. The constant platitudes that we are just as capable as before despite losing a good portion of our equipment is spiel to hoodwink the less knowledgeable of the British public whilst the international community laughs.

    • We are spending 2% of the 5th largest economy in the world and 2018 will be the 3rd biggest defence slender in the world only behind the USA and China .

      • Highly unlikely as Russia spends 5.3% of GDP on their military. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute figures in 2017 Russia outspent the UK by more than 20 billion USD (69.2 billion to 48.3 billion)

        That would require a massive leap in UK spending (or fall in Russia’s spend).

  11. Agree with most up thread, I don’t think it is enough to just spend more money on the problem, the whole military system is rotten from the top down. I challenge you to name one equipment program that was delivered on budget and on cost in the last 20 years? Not only that but name one piece of core equipment that is world leading and worth the money we spent on it?

    We need to get away from the culture of “jobs for the boys”, we have a huge amount of senior offices doing fairly mundane jobs, I was flicking through a regimental journal a while back and on the back page was a nominal role of the regiment, there were more colonels then 2nd lieutenants, we are so completely top heavy.

    The MOD needs to learn to say no to the government, we are way smaller then we once were but seem to be doing more, the lads are burned out and to compound the issue there has been a real time pay cut for the last 5 years, good people are leaving in there droves. These people have been heavily invested in, millions have been spent on their training but the Army seem to concentrate more on recruiting then on retention.

    So what is the solution? I’m f****d if I know, I’m just a 15 year old Chinese kid.

  12. Defence funding has been appalling, covered by spin. Glad it’s been called out. I don’t think a smaller army is wise. In the event of an all out war what contingencies are there to rapidly raise troops & equip them? I’m concerned most European Nato members forces could be overwhelmed quite quickly as they were in 1939-40. Everything seems tailored to minimal threats when the world is far from safe.

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