The Bishop of Wakefield has questioned the wisdom of the government’s planned defence cuts in light of the coalition’s pledge to maintain an active foreign policy profile.
Speaking in the House of Lords on 17 May 2012 in response to the Queen’s Speech, the Rt. Rev. Stephen Platten stated the government had “not thus far made clear how they see the future role of Britain in international defence and security with the severe reductions in resources.”
Last month Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced the MoD would scale back spending and reduce troop levels eliminate a £38bn hole in its budget. While the government had committed to spend £152bn over the next decade on new military equipment including two new aircraft carriers, six destroyers, and 14 Chinook helicopters, other programmes had been sharply scaled back or eliminated. The minister also said the government would also cut troop levels, with the Army falling from 102,000 to 82,000 and the RAF from 44,000 to 39,000.
“After two years’ work, the black hole in the defence budget has finally been eliminated and the budget is now in balance, with a small annual reserve built in as a prudent measure to make sure we are not blown off course by unforeseen events,” Mr. Hammond told Parliament.
Bishop Platten questioned the feasibility of the government’s plans in light of its foreign policy commitments.
“Not only is morale, especially in the Army, very low, following the reduction of resources and the planned future reduction, as well as the cut backs in manpower,” the bishop said, “there is also no real clarity about how the aims set out in the SDSR of a continuing high-profile role for Britain in international defence and security and how that is to be made into a reality.”
Bishop Platten spoke of the many pressing calls upon the military – including combating piracy in the Horn of Africa, peacekeeping in Afghanistan and nuclear proliferation, noting “we are living in unstable and unpredictable times.”
He stated he was encouraged by the government’s commitment “to support the Afghan national security force beyond 2014. It would press us beyond tragedy if the lives lost in Afghanistan in the past 10 years were seen to be of no avail by allowing that country to slide back into anarchy, civil war or fragmentation into provinces ruled by dangerous warlords.”
But peace would not come by force of arms alone, but through “effective engagement with the Taliban. The presence of US bases and Special Forces until 2014 seems to rule out the possibility of such engagement. Peace will come only with realism about this factor and not simply by force of arms. What is the Government’s response to this aspect of the peace process?” he asked.
“If we are to look toward a clear role for Britain in defence and security, we need a sharpening and filling out of the scenario with regard both to strategy and securing resources for the future,” the bishop said.