Monday, April 27, 2009

UK Defence Cuts: Either/Or

As the scale of the economic crisis for Britain sinks in, it is becoming ever clearer that there is no area of public or private expenditure that can escape scrutiny.

No area, in fact, unless you are Harriet Harman where you instead try to create massive new costs by imposing a legal duty to implement the intellectually incoherent nonsense of Labour's Diversity Police.

Meanwhile back on the real world, there is growing recognition that the Ministry of Defence has not escaped the decline into wasteful incoherence that has characterised the rest of government. The natural tendency of military bureaucrats to exceed even their civilian colleagues in the gold plating of projects has not been resisted by the incompetent Labour ministers, but now the time has come where some very painful decisions are going to be needed.

British Military expenditure rose sharply as the country found itself brought into the American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as the mission in Iraq has been diminished, pressure in Afghanistan is intensified. Further more it has become clear that the British ASW carriers are far from ideal in supporting these kinds of long range operations, which are the most likely conflicts that we can forecast. Thus the construction of new, larger aircraft carriers is a priority. The construction of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth is now underway, and they are due to enter service in 2016 and 2018. The cost for these boats, which are three times larger than the current Invincible Class is already scheduled at £4 billion (€4.5 billion) and given the history of these projects, and the decision to delay deployment to coincide with the introduction of new F-36 STOL Lightning Fighters the costs are virtually certain to be more.

Meanwhile, the Government has already committed money to the replacement of the Trident Nuclear submarine deterrent. Given that the last of these submarines only entered service in 1999, many, including Ming Campbell suggested that it was a little soon to be entering into a strategic commitment that was of questionable value in UK defence. The costs of this will most likely be at least £14 billion (€15.6 billion). The problem here is not so much the issue of the deterrent itself; nuclear weapons are expensive, but it is the delivery systems that form the bulk of the cost. Super quiet submarine technology and the inter-continental ballistic missiles they carry are gigantically expensive for the UK, even though we benefit from substantial co-operation with the United States. Once upon a time, the UK had a variety of different delivery systems, such as the V-Bomber and was preparing its own missile technology, until the decision was taken to use firstly American Polaris and later Trident missiles.

Britain has roughly 180 nuclear warheads. These are now entirely committed to the Trident deterrent. The question now is that, despite the aggressive posture of the Russian Federation, is such a strategic deterrent the best deployment of nuclear weapons, assuming that one considers the possession of nuclear arms is necessary. Personally, in the world of the current regimes in Iran and North Korea I think a nuclear deterrent is necessary, but I question the use of the kind of massed launch weapons that Trident clearly is. Our strategy is still rooted in cold war thinking. Even if Russia remains a strategic competitor, which it clear does, the fact is that the doctrine of MAD now leaves far too much strategic wiggle room for Russia- as the invasion of Georgia and the threats to Ukraine have shown. In that sense, the commissioning of the two new aircraft carriers is essential.

If faced with the choice, the nuclear armoury can be carried by other systems, including the Aircraft carriers themselves. There is no good alternative to the carriers.

As usual though, the Labour government have misjudged the problem- they continue to put a priority on the submarine based weapons, and this risks becoming a cuckoo that will squeeze out the more relevant and strategically necessary systems, such as the carriers.

Meanwhile in the death throes of the Labour government all Harriet Harman can think to do is impose her ideological blindness on the rest of us. She is blankly unaware of the consequences of her ill judged incompetence.

I suppose the amongst the many good things to come from the destruction of the Labour Party to come, is that she will be removed for ever from office.

6 comments:

neil craig said...
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Richard T said...

The threads in commentary about defence spending need to be pulled together to start thinking through exactly what we need our defences for; against whom are we being defended; how best can this be done. The question of the UK's role in the world comes into this. I am unashamedly for recognising that we are a middle sized power with wide interests; I oppose the crazed thinking about the UK's 'punching above its weight in the world' but there are many - perhaps a majority - who take a pride in it but it needs a thorough analysis and debate to establsih our strategic needs. However for me the first priority is to abolish the MoD and create a competent ministry to manage the defences without gold plating, over spending, and sheer feather bedding of the military brass. Why do we need so many; why do we keep an army, navy and air force (apart from allowing plenty of honorific ranks for the royals to acquire unjustified medals and to strut around in uniform; not to mention keeping the royal princes in sinecures). I also question what we aim to achieve in Afghanistan given that the unintended collapse of Pakistan seems probable.

What this rant boils down to is that for me the first priority is to manage defence spending down to an affordable and necessary level. I suspect

Martin Day said...

Surely cutting public sector services/ letting private sector pay get ahead of Public sector pay/Pensions in pointless and uneconomic departments is the way ahead. Public sector jobs are secure - private sector one are not. Over the coming years Public sector pay and services should be cut back so we can defend our selves against any threat!

neil craig said...
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Cicero said...

Martin- I think you are being very optimistic about how easy it would be to balance the books. Firstly I don't see why in general public sector jobs should be secure! After all they are currently better paid and have better pension rights than the private sector.

The fact is that the size of the public sector is so vast that it needs some gargantuan cuts for us to be able to afford it. My comment about defence cuts are simply facing the facts- we can not afford it. We certainly can not afford the massive waste and army of bureaucrats that Labour has created. Even if all of these things are cut- and they should be- we will still not be able to afford both the Aircraft carrier and the son-of-Trident project

Anonymous said...

As an American I can say from this side of the pond that your government(s) have lacked the political will to fund the military. The United Kingdom is a wealthy country, with a high tax rate. You can easily afford carriers, submarines, or anything else. It is your politicians who instead spend the money on social programs. What is so incredible to me is that despite your large social safety net, you still have social problems. Why not let individuals take care of themselves so government money can be freed up and spent on defense, or other areas that have a genuine need for funds. Oh, wait...I know the answer, it's the same as over here: politicans use social programs to buy votes. Until that changes, the military in the UK will never get the funds it needs.