On Tuesday, the British Government announced that it is beginning a process that will lead to a Defense Review in 2010. The review will take place in two parts. First, a Green Paper will assess the purposes and conduct of British defense policy. Then, after the general election, a broader defense review, with cost estimates, will be published.
There is no question: Britain needs a defense review. It has not had one since 1998. And though that review has been supplemented several times post-9/11, it was never as coherent a statement of defense doctrine as legend has made it out to be. But there are many questions to be asked about this announcement, both on form and substance. The Labour Party is extremely likely to lose the next election, which must be held by June 2010. If Labour publishes its Green Paper before the election, as it proposes, will the Conservatives be committed to it, explicitly or implicitly? How can the Conservatives be so committed, since it is, in essence, an effort to set the defense agenda for the next government in advance of an election the current government expects to lose?
Most commentators, such as the Times, assume that the Green Paper will recommend reducing Britain’s commitments, and thus its expenditures. That should be unacceptable to the Conservatives, and to Britain. But what if the Green Paper plays a political game by recommending increases? The Conservatives would then be on the hook to follow through – which would mean tax increases or spending cuts, both politically contentious – or to reject the recommendation, which would be militarily and political damaging. The timing of this announcement is deeply suspicious, and, if the Review proceeds as forecast, the Conservatives cannot be expected to be bound by the Green Paper or by its process, should they win the next election.
And then there is the matter of substance. In advance of the Review, most of the Ministry of Defence’s major procurement programs will continue as planned (even if many of them have already been substantially delayed). The result, therefore, is that the burden of cuts will, in practice, likely fall heavily on personnel costs, and thus on the Army. This is foolish: each Service has a role to play, but in today’s wars, it is the Army that is bearing the brunt of the burden. A Review that refuses to critically examine Britain’s failing procurement system, that refuses to consider how it has been distorted into a disguised industrial policy and an instrument of European diplomacy, will miss valuable opportunities for savings and for procurement realignment.
These issues, and many more, will play out over the year to come, and Heritage will take a leading role in commenting on and advising them. The Anglo-American relationship is central to American policy, and to the liberty of the free world, and enhancing the strength and capabilities of the British armed forces is a vital contribution to NATO, and to America’s own power and security.