Defence review was 'lost opportunity', experts warn

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HMS Ark Royal
Image caption,
Most defence experts think the balance between ground, air and sea capabilities is inappropriate

The strategic defence review missed an opportunity to radically rethink the UK's global role, a survey suggests.

Independent defence think-tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) asked more than 2,000 defence experts to assess the impact of the cuts.

About 68% said it was a lost chance for a more challenging re-assessment, and there were "deep concerns" the efficiency of forces was being pursued to the detriment of strategy.

The government said it did not agree.

More than 90% of the 2,015 people questioned in the RUSI survey thought the government was right to make defence part of a wider review of national security.

'Perennial problems'

Only a third believed the review of defence and security had kept the appropriate balance between ground, air and sea capabilities.

The majority, though, agreed it was right to make the front line in Afghanistan the main defence priority up to 2015, when the next review will take place, even if that meant greater cuts to other areas.

RUSI director Professor Michael Clarke said the responses revealed relief that the cuts were not higher than 8%, but disappointment the review had not really settled any of the defence arguments.

He said: "The review may have concluded, but the process goes on and it will still be painful and divisive as it does so."

He pointed out that "perennial problems" still had to be tackled, namely:

  • Over-committed forces;
  • The need to get Afghanistan right before any other serious adjustments;
  • The debate over maritime and ground-based strategies partly reflected in the carrier discussions;
  • The right balance of forces; and
  • The effect of the review on defence relations with the US and France

Two-thirds of the experts also thought the review struck a reasonable balance between cuts in the defence budget and in other public services.

Within those cuts, the Royal Navy, Army and RAF are to lose 17,000 service personnel, including the entire Harrier force, while 25,000 civil service jobs are also due to be cut a result of the review.

The Navy's flagship HMS Ark Royal and planned Nimrod spy planes are also being axed.

Ian Godden, chairman of ADS, the UK's aerospace, defence and security trade organisation, said: "The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) captured as many strategic issues as possible in the time frame available.

"However, it is clear that Britain cannot continue to play a similar role in the world in the future unless the resources for defence and security are increased in real terms as soon as possible after this financial crisis allows.

"In the meantime, we will work hard with the government to support productivity improvements and deal with the implementation of the current SDSR to benefit both our armed forces and our economy."

A government spokesman said they would "note" the survey's findings but did not agree the the SDSR was a 'lost opportunity'.

"The SDSR is the result of the coalition government taking decisions on its defence, security, intelligence, resilience, development and foreign affairs capabilities together in the round, in a way not previously done.

"[We] also carried out the UK's first assessment of risks to our national security both at home and abroad. This has set the way in delivering a step-change in Britain's ability to protect its security and advance its interests in the world."

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