Bernard Jenkin is MP for Harwich and North Essex and was a member of the Defence Committee in the last Parliament. He is now the elected Chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee.
This week, I launched a new report, published by the Henry Jackson Society: ‘The Tipping Point: British National Strategy and the UK’s Future World Role’. The report is available for download here.
At stake is whether we wish to maintain our position as a global power or become by default just another European country. British national interests are irrevocably global, and our national strategy must reflect this. The Government still aspires to a global role, but is cutting our capabilities to the point where this will no longer be possible.
The National Security Strategy (NSS) sought to prioritise identifiable threats, but failed to address the problem of strategic shocks that we cannot predict. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, it deals with known knowns and known unknowns but not the unknown unknowns.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which followed the NSS failed to retain a full spectrum of forces, and it did not take long for its shortcomings to become apparent. The Government argues that it has established an "adaptable posture" for UK defences, but the loss of capabilities such as carrier strike leave the UK less able to adapt and respond. We are throwing away capabilities which it will take years to recover. The decision to delay the scrapping of the Nimrod R1 so that it could be deployed in Libya demonstrated the short-sightedness of the SDSR.
In some cases the SDSR put off making the tough decisions at all, most notably in the case of Trident. Putting off a decision of such importance until after the next election makes no strategic sense at all.
Those who believe that the UK can no longer afford to maintain a global role neglect the fact that power is an essential guarantor of prosperity. As the outgoing US Defence Secretary said recently, European nations cannot continue to rely on the American security guarantee indefinitely, especially if we are not willing to contribute our share to that effort.
We have to reassess our priorities. The Government has made a choice to protect and increase other areas of public spending, but not defence. Deficit reduction is vital, but making strategy with budget cuts as the primary objective is clearly the wrong way to go about it. It is not too late to maintain a global role for the UK as part of a coherent national strategy, but we need to act now.