By Emma Yeomans & Lucy FisherThe Times – 14 September 2020
A review of foreign and defence policy must not use the pandemic to mask “ulterior motives” of achieving savings, the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee has said. Julian Lewis said that the “reckless and irrational” timing of the integrated review during an economic crisis could be used to make “intolerable” cuts.
Mr Lewis, who was ousted from the parliamentary Conservative Party after defying Boris Johnson to take over leadership of the committee, said that the timing was “strategically illiterate”. The MP for New Forest East previously chaired the Defence Select Committee. He said that plans were likely to be “skewed in the short term” by the 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,”
“Undertaking a complex review would be difficult, even in stable conditions. Persisting at a time of financial implosion … smacks of desperation, immaturity or ulterior motives — possibly a combination of all three.”
His warning comes as Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhull, the chief of Defence Intelligence, said that Russia was developing a nuclear-powered missile capable of orbiting the globe for years, ready to strike at any time. He said that conflict was bleeding into the realms of cybersecurity and space.
“Whilst conventional threats remain, we have seen our adversaries invest in artificial intelligence and machine learning … whilst also supercharging more traditional techniques of influence and leverage. As we have seen in Salisbury, hostile states are willing to take incredible risks. We must make sure that we have both the intent and the capability to ensure that such wanton acts of irresponsibility will not go unpunished.”
The Times revealed last month that military chiefs had examined plans to sideline tanks completely as the cost of maintaining and upgrading its 227 Challenger 2 vehicles had risen sharply. At the weekend Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, left the door open to cutting tank numbers but told the Daily Telegraph: “We’re not scrapping all tanks. We still have a requirement — until technology changes — for armour, both heavy and light.”
He conceded that the “armoured division of today is different to that of 1991” and the way to achieve lethal force may be changing.
“How do you achieve mass? Do you do it through concentration of force, through allies, or in fact do you not need mass because you’ve completely softened up the enemy before you’ve begun, using long-range deep fires, which is, of course, what the Russians have done,”
The integrated review is due to conclude in November. Mr Lewis had the Tory whip withdrawn after he worked with opposition MPs to prevent Chris Grayling, the prime minister’s favoured candidate, taking charge of the committee.