By Dr Julian Lewis MP
(Chairman, Defence Committee, 2015–19, writing in a personal capacity)
Submission to the Review Consultation – 11 September 2020
In a separate contribution to this Review, Professor Julian Lindley-French wonders whether he should ‘legitimise … a Review that will almost certainly see health security funded at the expense of national security’. I share his dilemma.
To conduct such a Review in the midst of a pandemic, which has dislocated our economy and shut down our society, is reckless and irrational. By offering detailed prescriptions on how to ‘define the Government’s vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade’ at such a hideously inappropriate time, one simply provides a degree of ‘cover’ for a flawed endeavour.
Our country is already committed to spending scores – if not (yet) – hundreds of billions of pounds on postponing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. How long will this haemorrhaging continue? Will a vaccine appear in time? What will be the total bill, and how and when will it be paid? As yet, no-one has the faintest idea.
The notion that anything beyond temporary emergency budgeting should take place, in our present extreme circumstances, is strategically illiterate.
Plans drawn up at a time like this are bound to be skewed in the short term by the ongoing crisis. For the medium-to-long term, they will be meaningless – unless the Government accepts, at the outset, that it cannot recover more than a fraction of the Coronavirus expenditure by inflicting intolerable further cuts on Defence and should not try to do so.
While it lasts, the pandemic has torpedoed any prospect of discerning how to achieve our ‘long-term strategic aims … rooted in our national interests’. If the Cabinet Office carries on regardless, one can only conclude that it is following another agenda in order to arrive at a predetermined outcome.
Could that be, just conceivably, that even more conventional military assets should be slashed and scrapped than after the 2010 Review, so that inexperienced but opinionated advisers can promote their one-dimensional doctrine of ‘21st Century warfare’? That is the delusion which claims that new threats posed by cyber-warfare have superseded – rather than supplemented – the continuing threats from our opponents’ Armed Forces.
Undertaking a complex Review would be daunting and difficult, even in stable conditions. Persisting at a time of financial implosion and social dislocation, smacks of desperation, immaturity or ulterior motives – possibly a combination of all three.
The current crisis is a firestorm more testing for our country than any event since World War Two. When it is finally extinguished, its lessons must be analysed and absorbed once the outcomes are clear. Then, and only then, will a serious study of our military, diplomatic and security goals, and the formulation of a strategy to secure them, stand any chance of enduring success.