Peter Hoskin

Balancing defence spending

Balancing defence spending
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There's an intriguing story in today's Times suggesting that the Tories may "backtrack" on some defence spending commitments, and are thinking about shelving the Trident replacement.  Here's a snippet:

"Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, pledged last year to protect the three most expensive equipment programmes: aircraft carriers, an armoured vehicle system known as FRES and Britain’s nuclear capability. He also indicated his desire to expand the Army by 10,000 soldiers.

An aide to Dr Fox said this week that commitments 'had been superseded' by plans for a Strategic Defence Review (SDR) after the election. George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, also warned that a Conservative government would have to make “some difficult decisions” on military procurement.

Dr Fox won the first round of his fight when, with backing from William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, he persuaded Mr Osborne that it would be wrong to consider scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

He has, however, been forced to examine cheaper options than the Government’s £20 billion plan to replace Trident. Alternatives include reducing the number of nuclear-armed submarines from four to three — or refitting the ageing Vanguard class vessels to extend their life beyond 2024."

Officially, the Tories are denying these clashes, but they do chime with some of the rumblings you hear from CCHQ.  Either way, for reasons I've set out before, I do think that it's sensible for the Tories to consider cheaper options than a fullscale Trident replacement, and there are undoubtedly inefficiencies in the defence budget which can be cut.  But I still find it hard to believe that Britain can be a serious military power on the cheap.  The difficulties and tragedies that our troops have faced in Afghanistan are testament to the error of fighting a war on a peacetime budget.