This week saw both the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One and further ruminations on current UK defence policy in light of events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In Syria and Iraq, Islamic State forces continued to advance. In Ukraine, NATO warned that Russia may be preparing for an invasion. Whilst there is no sign of Britain planning to become directly involved in either of these conflicts, it has emerged that the threat Russia poses to the UK will soon be upgraded from ‘Tier 3’ to ‘Tier 1’ – placing it on an equal footing with international terrorism.
Also this week, HMS Ocean returned from successful sea trials. With HMS Illustrious due to decommission within the next few weeks, HMS Ocean will soon become the only high-capacity aircraft carrying vessel of any kind the Royal Navy has in service. RAF fighters escorted an airliner to Manchester airport following a hoax bomb threat. It emerged that injured veterans are waiting up to eleven months for compensation. A US General was shot dead by an Afghan soldier in an Afghan army training camp in Kabul. Finally a giant pink scarf, that will form part of a protest against the renewal of Trident next week, has been unveiled in Bristol.
· Prime Minister warns that NATO must deploy weapons in Eastern Europe
· Secretary General of NATO calls for members to enhance contributions to alliance
· Defence firm claims 11,000 at Faslane Naval Base jobs at risk
· Nuclear weapon convoys travelling across the UK suffer 70 safety lapses
· MoD paying consultants up to £30,000 per day
Prime Minister warns that NATO must deploy weapons in Eastern Europe
The Daily Telegraph reports that in a letter to NATO leaders ahead of next month’s summit, the Prime Minister said NATO had: “to make clear to Russia that neither NATO nor its members will be intimidated”. He also strongly hinted that he wants defence spending to start to increase now that Western democracies’ economies are starting to recover. Mr Cameron said that NATO member states had to “strengthen our ability to respond quickly to any threat, to reassure those Allies who fear for their own country’s security and to deter any Russian aggression”. Tension between Russia and the West mounted last Friday, with Vladimir Putin telling Barack Obama that sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis were counterproductive and the “current situation” was not in the interests of either country.
The Prime Minister will also use next month’s summit to press other countries in the alliance to start to increase defence spending to cope with “an unstable world of failed states, regional conflicts, terrorism and cyber-attacks”. He further elaborated by stating: “We must ensure that NATO has the capabilities it needs to respond to changing threats. That requires investment. The UK is already one of four members of the alliance to meet the target of spending two per cent of our GDP on defence and I would urge other allies to make the strongest possible commitment to increase their defence spending, and to devote at least one-fifth of it to equipment and research. As our economies start to recover, reversing the decline in defence spending and investing in our defence capabilities would strengthen alliance cohesion and signal that NATO means business.”
Secretary General of NATO calls for members to enhance contributions to alliance
Writing in the Financial Times, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has issued a call to NATO members to enhance their preparedness for a surprise attack from Russia. Describing the current crisis as “the biggest challenge since the Cold War”, Mr Rasmussen deeply criticised Russia’s behaviour, and accused it of challenging the international order.
However, Mr Rasmussen’s principle focus was on the upcoming NATO summit in Wales. He stated that this meeting will see the alliance adopt an action plan to boost readiness, and consider steps to pre-position equipment and enhance the current regime of military exercises. In addition, Mr Rasmussen raised the importance of increasing the level of resources member states made available, noting that whilst the last five years has seen an average 20 per cent fall in defence spending amongst the NATO nations, Russian spending has increased by 50 per cent.
Defence firm claims 11,000 at Faslane Naval Base jobs at risk
The Herald Scotland has reported that the Scottish Government has rejected claims by a defence contractor that the Faslane naval base is unlikely to require the same number of personnel in an independent Scotland. An internal briefing by defence giant Babcock, distributed by the Better Together campaign, said, “it is unlikely that Clyde as a conventional naval base would require the same numbers of support personnel particularly when the number of naval personnel will reduce significantly”.
However, the Scottish Government said it anticipates Faslane will require the same number of military personnel that it has at present, as well as a large number of civilian jobs, as it makes the transition to become Scotland's main naval base and joint force headquarters.
Nuclear weapon convoys travelling across the UK suffer 70 safety lapses
The Herald Scotland reports that convoys carrying nuclear bombs and hazardous radioactive materials by road through Scotland and across the UK have suffered 70 safety lapses in five-and-half-years, according to the Ministry of Defence. A new log of incidents obtained from the MoD reveals vehicles have suddenly broken down, fuel has leaked, brakes have overheated, alarms have malfunctioned and many other vital systems have failed in convoys on the move between July 2007 and December 2012.
The convoys, which ferry Trident nuclear warheads to and from the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport on the Clyde, have also gone the wrong way, been delayed, been diverted and lost communications. Incidents have happened on average more than once a month, with by far the highest number – 23 – logged in 2012.
Perhaps the most serious incident occurred late in the afternoon of July 25, 2011, when a convoy command vehicle broke down on the northbound carriageway of the M6 near junction 20 in Cheshire. The commander's official report of the incident, released with large sections of text blacked out by the MoD, gave a vivid description. The vehicle “suffered a sudden and dramatic loss of power and was forced to pull onto the hard shoulder of the motorway together with the rest of the convoy assets”, he wrote. Nuclear warhead convoys can include up to 20 vehicles.
The SNP's Westminster leader and defence spokesman, Angus Robertson MP, angrily condemned the MoD's safety record. “Any one of these incidents should be of huge concern – a catalogue of 70 is utterly unacceptable,” he said.
“In the same month we find out that nuclear bombs trundled through Scotland's biggest city under cover of darkness, it is revealed that previous convoys have actually gotten lost, suddenly lost power, suffered brake failures and breakdowns.”
MoD paying consultants up to £30,000 per day
The Independent reports that new figures show that consultants have been paid up to £3,000 a day to work for the Government. The figures, obtained via a Freedom of Information by request submitted by BBC’s Newsnight, showed that the Government spent £317m on consultants in 2013 – a fall of 75 per cent compared to 2009. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) spent a further £137m on technical consultants. At least 30 people were paid between £1,000 and £2,000 a day and the MoD revealed that one person was paid up to £3,000 a day. It was unclear how long this individual was employed.
The Government spokesman responded by stating: “Already it has put an end to excessive spending on consultants and interim staff by establishing stringent controls.” However, the spokesman also stated that “Certain departments do, however, have a requirement for specialist roles, especially where they are undertaking complex transformative projects.