The drift between UK political focus and defence demands
The 2015 UK General Election is in full swing and shots have been fired by each party over a variety of issues.
One critical issue that has been widely debated even before announcement of the election is that of UK defence funding and the British armed forces. This came into prominence with the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which was more of a policy to reduce the size and equipment of the armed forces than a defence paper.
The two major political parties, Labour and Conservative, have not pledged to meet the NATO minimum target of 2% of GDP, and it has been indicated that the defence budget would once again be reduced.
Naturally, military commentators have voiced their anger against any or further cuts, citing the security threats the UK faces and that defence should be the first duty of government.
The two political parties in reply seem to be more focused on the bigger aspect of improving the UK’s economy. With possibly only a few defence experts aligned with policy of economic improvement, there seems to be a growing disparity between military demands and economic demands.
Defence commentators and some military officials have proposed solutions such as cuts to ring-fenced departments such as health and international development. This, however, is unlikely to transpire.
Main political leaders on the other hand, have been producing the same soundbites saying they have improved defence infrastructure and have allocated money to various defence progammes.
What then for the next SDSR and UK policy beyond that? Should British politicians with a focus on the economy continue to aim for a balanced budget and cuts to defence? Should UK defence commentators continue to call for more and more money for the MoD?
One possible way for the two to meet is to realise that the economy and defence spending and policy are intertwined with each other. A stable and well funded defence budget requires a stable and growing economy. This is the set policy in some other countries, most notably Singapore’s Total Defence policy.
Another is to convince politicians to step out of the deep (monetarist) ideology and convince them that a certain degree of deficit and debt is plausible. This may provide more funding for defence resources. Such a move may be improbable, since these are politicians with deep-rooted ideologies and such a move may trigger demands for more funding for other departments.
A third way to draw the two together may be by ending the concept of ring-fencing other departmental budgets and focusing strictly on priorities and needs. This however may create a tussle between various departments and not exactly ensure a stable defence budget or force.
Whatever the solution, there seems to be an evident growing divide between political attention on the UK budget and the demands for a stable or larger defence budget or military. The divide between both sides would certainly not produce a stable defence and security policy after May 2015 or beyond.