This week has seen further developments in the debate on the UK’s levels of defence spending in the run-up to the expected publication of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) this autumn. The Financial Times reports that Government figures have been talking to NATO and the OECD to see what can be re-categorised as ‘defence spending’ as Downing Street tries to come as close as it can to the Alliance’s defence spending target. The talks come ahead of a league table of NATO members’ military spending, which UK officials say will be published on a “comparable basis”. This will be vital for the UK, which has had a narrower definition of the defence budget than other alliance members. One official remarked: “The French count the gendarmerie [the military wing of the police] towards their spending target, so we should look at every item of ours to make sure we maximise our submission to NATO.”
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reports that, according to new research, the vast majority of Britons believe that the UK should increase the amount spent on the Armed Forces, with more than three times as many people suggesting the defence budget should increase as those who want to see it cut. Fifty-three per cent of those surveyed by PwC indicated they would like to see spending rise. This compares with 16 per cent who would like to see the budget cut, while 21 per cent said they think it should remain the same.
The need for Britain to support its defence expenditure was also reflected in comments this week by Deborah Lee James, US Secretary of the Air Force, who told an audience in Brussels that NATO was at a “crossroads” and must increase spending to help counter Russian aggression. In an apparent warning shot to Britain, she warned that defence spending was a “red line” for America and cautioned against the potentially “devastating” consequences of further cuts. Additionally, the Financial Times reports that in some of his most pointed words yet on the issue, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the UK had a special responsibility as a member of the 28-nation alliance to spend at least two per cent of its GDP on defence.
Against this backdrop, The Times reports that George Osborne met Britain’s military chiefs this week in an attempt to avert a public row over defence spending. Mr Osborne is said to have sympathised with the need to protect frontline troops, but made clear that he believes there are areas to be trimmed. A Conservative source told the newspaper that Mr Osborne has “no intention” of breaking Britain’s NATO commitment to spend two per cent, “but thinks that by not committing to it, he has a useful way of putting pressure on the military to find more savings”.
· Trident dossier sailor discharged from Royal Navy
· Defence spending debate in the House of Lords
· Records show 240 Armed Forces sex attack investigations in the last five years
· Army errors in soldier self-harm cases revealed
· US Marines to deploy on British ships
Trident dossier sailor discharged from Royal Navy
The Daily Telegraph reports that the ‘whistle blower’ who published an online dossier alleging the nation’s nuclear deterrent is dangerously unsafe and insecure has been thrown out of the Royal Navy. Able Seaman William McNeilly will not face court martial or further action after publishing his disclosures and going on the run, but has been discharged “services no longer required”, a defence source told the newspaper. After spending a four-month tour on HMS Victorious earlier this year, he claimed Trident is “a disaster waiting to happen” and could even fall victim to terrorists. Former AB McNeilly was detained by military police last month when he returned to the country. Commanders said his breaches had not broken the Official Secrets Act and tried to downplay his actions. A Naval source said: “He is no longer in the Navy. He has not resigned and not retired. The source said Naval regulations allowed for a discharge when a sailor’s “views or actions are deemed incompatible with service life”.
Defence spending debate in the House of Lords
This week has seen a debate on defence spending in the House of Lords. Whilst nothing was said that has a direct impact on the MDP, The Daily Telegraph reports that there were warnings that failure to meet the NATO commitment could lead to the UK paying in “blood” during an “emergency”. Lord Boyce, a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff, said it would be “outrageous” if Mr Cameron resiled from a call for all NATO counties to spend two per cent of GDP on defence last year. Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, warned: “The former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said before the 2010 general election that he sensed no national appetite for strategic shrinkage… [but] appetite or not, the reality is that we have shrunk in terms of defence and security, while the world has become a less stable and more dangerous place.” In a rare move, around a dozen MPs listened to the debate in the Lords – a mark of how worried many parliamentarians are by the impact of further defence cuts.
Records show 240 Armed Forces sex attack investigations in the last five years
The Daily Mirror reports that the MoD has launched more than 240 probes into alleged sex attacks in the Armed Forces in the past five years. Military police also investigated 470 claims of bullying and harassment – 330 of them in the Army. There were 30 cases in the first five months of this year, more than half the total for 2014. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show there have been 60 rape probes since 2010. In the past year 24 servicemen, including officers, were convicted of sex offences by a court martial – with most placed on the sex offenders register.
Army errors in soldier self-harm cases revealed
The Sunday Times reports that an inquiry into the suspected suicides of two Afghanistan veterans and eight further incidents of self-harm at an isolated army base in Northern Ireland has exposed a series of blunders. The report reveals that officers at Ballykinler barracks in Co Down were warned that at least one of the soldiers who died was suffering from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) four months before he was found hanged. The Army launched an inquiry following the deaths of Lance-Corporal James Ross, 30, in December 2012 and Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20, two months later. Both men, of the 2nd Battalion the Rifles, had fought in Afghanistan. The investigation found that Mitchell had visited a nurse on the base in October 2012 in a distressed state, according to his family. The nurse was sufficiently concerned to break patient confidentiality and report the matter to Mitchell’s officers. It was also found Mitchell was owed more than £3,600 in back-dated pay and the money was paid into his account a month after his death. His family say he was worried about his finances and had been forced to take out payday loans and borrow from relatives.
US Marines to deploy on British ships
The Times reports that hundreds of US Marines are to be deployed on British and other European warships in the Mediterranean as a quick-reaction force against Russia. HMS Ocean, a helicopter-carrying amphibious assault ship, has been selected as one of the vessels to host the Americans. As Britain has no deployable aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean is the only ship capable of hosting US Marines and their troop-carrying MV22 Osprey vertical take-off aircraft. The Pentagon has been forced to rely on allies to base Marines in the Mediterranean because, with so much focus on the Middle East, the US Marine Corps does not have the capacity to station an amphibious ready group permanently in Europe. The normal force based in the Mediterranean, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, has been relocated to the US Central Command area of operations to rescue or support US troops in Iraq.