This week's security and defence news has been dominated by the launch of the 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The document provides a contextualisation of what the Government interprets the threats to the UK and its interests to be; the broad security policies it intends to adopt; and an overview of the measures the Government intends to take to ensure the defence of the UK and its interests.
Additionally, this week saw Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announce the Government's spending plans during the Autumn Statement and Spending Review. The Autumn Statement is based on the economic forecast published by the Office for Budget Responsibility, and the Spending Review served to allocate financial resources to key government departments – including the MoD, Home Office and the Security Services – between the 2016/17 and 2019/20 financial years.
· The Strategic Defence and Security Review: Stability, but no cash bonanza
· Trident renewal costs rise by £6bn, defence review reveals
· 10,000 military personnel earmarked for countering domestic terrorist attacks
· MoD to cut civilian workforce and estate by almost thirty per cent
· Autumn Statement: Police relieved as Osborne dispels fear of cuts
· Vote on Syrian air strikes expected
· Bloody Sunday: seven ex-soldiers seek legal order restricting inquiry
The Strategic Defence and Security Review: Stability, but no cash bonanza
The Financial Times reports that despite impressive-sounding commitments to expensive new military hardware, Britain’s defence review is far from a bonanza for the Armed Forces, which have endured years of cuts.
At the centre of Mr Cameron’s announcements was a £12bn top-up to the existing £166bn, 10-year equipment budget. A decision to buy nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft will restore the maritime patrol capability scrapped by the last SDSR in 2010, but it comes with strings attached — the planes will not be delivered until 2020 at the earliest. The commitment to eight top-of-the-range Type 26 frigates contrasts with an earlier suggestion that up to 13 would be built and there is no clarity on when they will be delivered. Other programmes that will not become operational for several years include the US-built F-35 jets, which cost £70m each and are designed to operate from the UK’s two new aircraft carriers. The SDSR reiterated a commitment to buying 138 of the jets, but that number will not be reached until at least the 2030s. The first squadron will be stood up in 2018 and the second in 2023. Between them they will have 24 aircraft – just about enough to operate usefully from one of the carriers.
Amid the high-tech equipment announcements, some in the military are also concerned that not enough has been done to address problems with manpower. The Government has said it will maintain the size of the Army at 82,000 men, and it will expand the Royal Navy and RAF modestly by 700 men and women, but senior officers say the promise of no further shrinkage gives them little succour. The forces were facing a “massive” shortfall in skilled recruits, particularly in the Navy, said one senior officer.
Trident renewal costs rise by £6bn, defence review reveals
The Guardian reports that debate over the renewal of the Trident nuclear programme is set to become even more intense after the MoD disclosed that costs for the renewal project have increased by billions of pounds. This week's SDSR revealed that the cost of the proposed four nuclear submarines at £31bn, up from a projected cost of £25bn five years ago and £20bn in 2006. The first of the submarines is not due to come into service until the early 2030s. The review said a contingency of £10bn would also be set aside, suggesting the MoD fears the costs could rise beyond the £31bn estimate.
The Government also confirmed in its defence review that the introduction of the new generation of Successor Trident submarines is to be delayed by up to five years. The phasing out of the current fleet of nuclear-armed Vanguard submarines, which had been due to take place in 2028, has been put back to the early 2030s. The Prime Minister said that a parliamentary vote will be held on the “maingate decision”.
This week has also seen a debate on the new generation of Trident system take place in the House of Commons. The Daily Telegraph reports that twenty Labour MPs rebelled on Tuesday and voted on whether to renew Trident, despite being told to abstain by Jeremy Corbyn. The House of Commons rebellion is one of the biggest since Mr Corbyn took over leadership of the party in September.
10,000 military personnel earmarked for countering domestic terrorist attacks
The Daily Mail reports that up to 10,000 troops are on standby to be deployed on the streets of Britain in the event of a Paris-style terror attack – double the present capacity. The Prime Minister said the forces were part of a new contingency plan to deal with a 'major terrorist attack' amid warnings that ISIS and Al Qaeda could obtain chemical and biological weapons to launch a deadly attack. Mr Cameron told MPs he had authorised a “new contingency plan to deal with major terrorist attacks”. He added: “Under this new operation, up to 10,000 military personnel will be available to support the police in dealing with the type of shocking terrorist attack we have seen in Paris.”
MoD to cut civilian workforce and estate by almost thirty per cent
Politics Home reports that the MoD is to axe almost a third of its civil service roles by 2020. The SDSR document states: “Defence civil servants make an important contribution to our national security, including through their roles on operations and in delivering some of the largest and most complex equipment and infrastructure projects found anywhere in government.” But it adds: “We will continue to reform the MoD to make it leaner and more efficient, outsourcing key functions where the private sector can deliver better, and investing in skills for the roles we retain. We will reduce the number of civilians employed by the MoD by almost 30 per cent, to 41,000, by the end of this parliament.”
The SDSR also sets out plans to reduce the MoD's estate by 30 per cent, saying the ministry will release public sector land “for 55,000 new homes to support wider prosperity objectives”.
Spending Review: Police relieved as Osborne dispels fear of cuts
The Financial Times reports that George Osborne heeded warnings from members of his own party and surprised the House of Commons with a promise to increase the amount Britain spends on police. Pressure on the Chancellor mounted in the aftermath of the terror attack in Paris and the subsequent police operation in France and Belgium, forcing a rethink on plans to slash police budgets. MPs and senior police officers warned that cuts on the scale proposed by Mr Osborne would leave the UK unable to prevent or properly respond to an attack. As a result, the Chancellor announced a real-terms increase to the overall budget for policing, although the amount given by central government to each force will be maintained “at current cash levels”. He promised an additional £900m by 2019-20 to train more armed police and to help forces in the transition to a new funding formula. Individual police force budgets will not be set out until next month, the Home Office said.
Spending on police was cut by 14 per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Mr Osborne said he would find savings in the Home Office budget of five per cent by 2019-20, including a reduction by a third in the department’s administration budget.
Vote on Syrian air strikes expected
Beyond the SDSR/NSS and the Spending Review, this week has also seen the continuation of the attempt by the Government to secure a majority of MPs to vote in favour of air strikes in Syria. The Guardian reports that David Cameron has begun the delicate process of persuading sceptical Labour MPs to back airstrikes in Syria, saying the UK was already facing the threat of mass casualty attacks from the Islamic State and arguing that Britain could not outsource its security to allies. In a lengthy, painstaking statement, Cameron came under pressure to justify his claim that 70,000 moderate Free Syrian Army fighters were willing to battle the Islamic State on the front line, and that a realistic chance of a ceasefire existed that would hasten a democratic United Nations-led transition in Syria and the ultimate departure of President Assad.
Releasing a 36-page memorandum making the case for war, Cameron gave assurances that any motion put to MPs would seek unambiguous military support solely for strikes against the Islamic State and, if necessary, the drafting of the Commons motion could accommodate the views of the opposition. However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn subsequently wrote to Labour MPs, informing them that he could not support air strikes. This put Corbyn on a collision course with his shadow cabinet, half of whom are thought to support action.
Bloody Sunday: seven ex-soldiers seek legal order restricting inquiry
The Guardian reports that seven ex-paratroopers are seeking a legal order preventing them from being arrested and taken to Northern Ireland for questioning by detectives investigating the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings. Lawyers for the former soldiers told the high court in London that the men were prepared instead to give an undertaking, agreeing that they would undergo police interviews in England and Wales under caution. The attempt to impose restrictions on how the Police Service of Northern Ireland conducts its inquiry into the Army shootings more than forty years ago was described by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, as akin to an extradition hearing between the UK’s different jurisdictions.
The ex-soldiers’ legal initiative was launched after officers from the PSNI’s legacy investigation branch arrested a 66-year-old man in County Antrim earlier this month. Northern Ireland police launched the murder investigation in 2012 after a government-commissioned inquiry, undertaken by Lord Saville, found that none of the victims was posing a threat to soldiers when they were shot.