Cover image of the Canadian Military Journal Vol. 11, No.4, Autumn 2011

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Martin Shadwick, in his Commentary ‘Defence and the 2011 Election,’ published in the Autumn 2011 issue ( Vol. 11, No. 4), describes the 2010 United Kingdom Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) as ‘capability slashing’ and ‘more a massacre than a review.’ This description has to be refuted.

Firstly, the Review was guided by the 2010 National Security Strategy (focused upon strategic risk management and effectively defining the Ends), alongside a Comprehensive Spending Review (focused upon ridding the country of debt and effectively setting out the Means) and the Review itself encapsulated a whole of Government approach to how (the Ways, in another word) the goals of the National Security Strategy are to be delivered in an affordable manner. There is logic underpinning the flow of Ends, Means, and Ways, and it is transparent. 

Secondly, I know of only two capability ‘constraints’ in the SDSR. One is the loss of Maritime Patrol Aircraft, against which the capability gap is closed to an extent by other means, but not fully, I grant. The other is the loss of Carrier Strike Aircraft, which is not to be a permanent loss, but a ‘holiday’ until the maritime variant of the Joint Strike Fighter is available (construction of the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, weighing in at over 65,000 tonnes each, is well underway in UK shipyards). Every other decision to date has centred upon capacity rather than capability. In some areas, notably cyber security, there will be an increase in both capacity and capability. 

Thirdly, while over 9000 servicemen and women are deployed in a combat role in Afghanistan, and other global commitments are sustained, the United Kingdom has fired air- and submarine-launched cruise missiles, combat tested its unique Brimstone mode sensor missile, and introduced the launching of attack helicopters from a platform at sea, all against targets in Libya and to the desired effect, under Canadian leadership. None of these capabilities will be ‘massacred.’ What will be cut away, we hope, is anything that does not contribute to high quality, rigorously prioritised, balanced, efficient, well-supported, flexible and adaptable, expeditionary and connected military capability. Our fear is that allies will cut away readiness and reach to satisfy domestic politics, leaving their military force ‘hollow.’   

There is risk in what the SDSR sets out to do, and the greatest risk is the concurrency of reform activities.  The change programs are ambitious and the deadlines are tight. The judgment on whether SDSR is a ‘massacre’ or not must be held back until 2015, the year of the next Defence Review, when we will have a clearer view on how well we have managed the total change, nothing piecemeal here, recently embarked upon. It is worthy of note that the United Kingdom will still meet the NATO defence spending target at two percent of GDP, and throughout the next four years, with an expectation to continue beyond, it will have the fourth largest military budget in the world. Martin Shadwick’s judgement of the UK SDSR has been premature, in my view.        

Yours Sincerely

Barry Le Grys
Defence Adviser
British High Commission