The defence of the realm is one of the strongest Conservative principals we hold and is manifested in strong support for adequate defence spending. There is no greater duty of the Government than ensuring the safety of its citizens.
One of the main criticisms of the previous Strategic Defence Review (SDSR) was the fact that the perception of it at its conclusion was cost cutting and that our nation’s necessary military capabilities were formed to meet this objective. However the Government has argued that one of the key outcomes of the SDSR was the goal to respond to changing threats in the world and our ability to deal with them.
This essentially meant coming to terms with the post-Cold War era and understanding that we no longer faced a threat from the Soviet Union or as a country we were no longer likely to engage in traditional land based warfare against hostile states. In contrast we are likely to engage against non-state actors such as ISIS or see an increase in cyber attacks from hostile nations.
To meet this changing military landscape, the Government proposed Future Force 2020, which would involve a revision of capabilities to address this changing threat. However there has been heavy criticism of this process given that it has involved reductions in our traditional capabilities, with cuts to the number of full-time troops in the British Army being the most contentious aspect of the changes. The fact that the Government is unlikely to meet its goal of increasing the number of reservists in line with Future Force 2020 does not help to allay fears. Finally, the recent military activism by Russia brings into question the extent of this changing military landscape.
One of the key arguments by the Government in response to this and other criticisms has been that it would always seek to maintain defence spending at 2% of GDP in line with NATO targets. Coupled with this was a desire to highlight our overall military spending in the international ‘league table’. Whilst critics maintain that these standards do not go far enough, the majority of commentators saw the 2% figure as a red line or rubicon which would not be crossed.
Sir Gerald Howarth’s Bill sought to enshrine this in law by guaranteeing that 2% of GDP is spent on defence. In the same way that George Osborne’s Fiscal Charter seeks to safeguard another Conservative principal, financial stability. It came in response to a perception that the Government may fail to deliver on this key promise.
Whilst ultimately the Bill failed to make progress beyond it’s Second Reading in the House of Commons, the issue of defence spending will remain a controversial topic, especially during these uncertain times in the Middle East.
Alexandra Paterson is the National Chairman of Conservative Future and on the CWF Organising Committee.
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