In a week that has seen NATO publish a table of its member’s military spending, defence news has once again focused on the UK’s military expenditure. Although the NATO figures showed UK defence spending for this year to be at 2.1 per cent of GDP (down from 2.2 per cent last year and 2.3 per cent in 2013), The Scotsman reports that Ministers have been accused of rebranding Government spending to give the impression that the UK is meeting its obligations after it emerged a fund used to help war-torn states has been included in the figures. The MoD’s £450 million share of the £1bn Conflict Pool is being included in the NATO calculation for the first time this year. The Times adds that the UK has also included more than £1 billion in ‘receipts’ raised through renting out military property and selling fuel as part of its ‘expenditure’. Malcolm Chalmers, research director at the Royal United Services Institute, told the newspaper that without the receipts the ratio would have shrunk to 2.01 per cent. It would have dipped even further — possibly to 1.95 per cent — had the additional cost of the Conflict Pool and £800 million in war pensions not been added to the pot.
Against this backdrop, The Daily Telegraph reports that last week saw the Chancellor hold a breakfast meeting with the Chief of Defence Staff and the heads of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force ahead of a new round of austerity cuts. Whilst their tone was cordial, the Armed Forces’ leaders are understood to have been uncompromising on the impact major cuts could have on Britain’s military. However, The Daily Telegraph also reports that Lord Howell of Guildford, George Osborne’s father-in-law, has launched a perhaps less than helpful and extraordinary attack on “moaning American generals” who complain about Britain’s defence cuts and spout “damaging nonsense”.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports that a former Conservative defence minister wants to make it law for the UK to spend at least two per cent of its national income on defence. Sir Gerald Howarth will set out the proposal in a Private Member's Bill. Mr Howarth's bill is unlikely to get through Parliament without help from the Government, as the Government has said that it will not be allocating it time to go forward. However, not to be outdone, The Independent reports that Julian Lewis MP, the new chairman of the Defence Select Committee, has called for defence spending to be raised to three per cent of national income.
Finally, this week The Sun newspaper launched its defence manifesto. Designed, in the words of the newspaper, to prevent “Armygeddon”, the piece calls for, amongst other things, the preservation of the existing strength of the Armed Forces, spending to be maintained at two per cent of GDP, and the purchase of a new fleet of maritime patrol aircraft.
What is striking about the demands laid out in the Sun Newspaper is that they are actually not that unrealistic. The article was penned by David Willetts, the paper’s defence editor, whom the DPF recently met with to discuss the MDP’s situation.
· Defence Secretary hits back at claims of “feeble” UK role on world stage
· Defence Secretary calls for foreign aid to be used to deter mass immigration
· Military equipment projects fuel “illusion” of UK military power, think-tank claims
· Survey shows nearly half of public “do not think that Army can defend UK”
· Battle to win £2bn deal to replace Britain's Nimrod surveillance aircraft
Defence Secretary hits back at claims of “feeble” UK role on world stage
The Evening Standard reports that Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP has said that no other country in Europe is playing “such a strong global role” with their military as the UK. Amid concern about the Armed Forces budget from notable figures including Barack Obama, he insisted this year's Strategic Defence and Security Review would be “positive and assertive about Britain's place in the world”. He hailed British operations against Islamic State and said the UK was “in it for the long term” when it came to NATO and deterring Russia.
Mr Fallon's piece comes after David Cameron was forced to dismiss claims that Britain's role on the world stage was “shrinking”. Last week, Admiral Sir Nigel Essenhigh, a former head of the Royal Navy, said there were “uncomfortable similarities” between the state of Britain's defences now and the period during which Hitler and the Nazis were on the rise.
Defence Secretary calls for foreign aid to be used to deter mass immigration
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Defence Secretary has said that Britain’s foreign aid budget must be used to “discourage mass migration”. Michael Fallon MP said that foreign aid spending “should be used” to help prevent conflicts breaking out in African countries in order to prevent refugees fleeing to Europe. He said that it would stop the UK military having to “fish people out of the Mediterranean” when they try to escape from their home countries. His comments came shortly before it was revealed that, as reported above, the MoD’s share of the £1 billion-a-year Conflict Fund – which provides support for war-torn states and peacekeeping – has been re-branded as defence spending in order to help meet NATO targets.
Meanwhile, The Times reports that the Royal Navy’s ship HMS Bulwark is to be replaced by a much smaller vessel as part of a new EU force to hunt down people smugglers. HMS Enterprise will join an eight-vessel fleet led by an Italian aircraft carrier to tackle the gangs that are trafficking migrants from North Africa, the European Union and Britain have said. The EU military mission, launched this week, was ordered after 800 migrants drowned in April fleeing lawless Libya, part of an exodus of 60,000 migrants to Italy so far this year.
Military equipment projects fuel “illusion” of UK military power, think-tank claims
The Financial Times reports that a think-tank has warned that spending on huge equipment projects, such as the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers and Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, fuels an “illusion” of British military power. The analysis released by Civitas urged the MoD to abandon relationships with prime contractor defence companies such as BAE, which it says are “no longer fit for purpose” and result in “massively unnecessary costs” by pushing the Government into commissioning expensive and unnecessary long-term projects. The report also says a skewed defence budget has left the UK vulnerable because it can no longer afford to operate its expensive equipment platforms to their full potential and cannot risk deploying them in every situation for fear of losing them.
Survey shows nearly half of public “do not think that Army can defend UK”
The Daily Telegraph reports that according to a survey from a major military charity, years of defence cuts have left nearly half the public believing the Army cannot defend Britain from the threats it faces. The survey reveals widespread support for Britain’s Armed Forces, but also widespread concern over the effect of sweeping cuts and the prospect of more to come.
The survey by ABF: The Soldiers’ Charity, the national charity of the Army, found forty-six per cent thought “the British Army cannot meet the real threats to modern Britain”. Nearly two thirds (sixty-five per cent) believe there should be no more financial cuts to the Army. David Cameron has said Army numbers will not be slashed again after 20,000 regulars were cut following the 2010 defence review, but has failed to say budgets will not be trimmed further. The poll of 2,100 people carried out by YouGov ahead of Armed Forces Day this weekend, also found fifty-two per cent thought the Armed Forces as a whole were “very necessary” to society.
Battle to win £2bn deal to replace Britain's Nimrod surveillance aircraft
The Sunday Telegraph reports that defence companies are lining up to offer a replacement for the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, with the Government expected to announce a deal for a new fleet of jets by the end of the year. Military insiders say it is a case of “when, not if” the scheme worth up to £2bn will be revealed, though it is likely to come when the current SDSR reports in the winter.
It is understood that the MoD has formed a team of military staff and civilian arms purchasing specialists from its Defence Equipment & Support unit. They are thought to be looking at specifications for a replacement, even though no formal requirement has yet been issued for the jets. Pressure for a Nimrod replacement has increased recently in the face of renewed threats. Earlier this year, embarrassed UK military commanders were forced to ask America, Canada and France to “borrow” their patrol aircraft to track a suspected Russian submarine near the Royal Navy’s Faslane base. Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon jet is seen as the frontrunner for the contract, with the company courting the UK. Last year the then Defence Minister Philip Hammond MP visited the US to inspect the jet in operation with the US Navy and it was rumoured a deal could be announced soon after.