David Blackburn

The Tories may raid the aid budget to fund the military

The Tories may raid the aid budget to fund the military
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The think tank, Chatham House, is the next venue for Cameron’s intermittent policy blitz. He will unveil his national security strategy, part of which, the Telegraph reports, will enable the government to raid the international development budget to fund military projects.

‘The Conservatives are committed to increasing the international development budget to meet a United Nations target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national product on aid.

However, some Tories believe the party can honour that pledge by counting some spending done by the Ministry of Defence as development aid, since the work of the Armed Forces contributes to the development of countries like Afghanistan.

Taking that approach could be controversial and could lead to accusations that the Tories were raiding the aid budget to pay for military programmes.’

Two points arise. The vote-seeking and quite admirable commitment to ring-fence international development spending was naive given the deficit; similarly, Tory NHS policy is hostage not to fortune but the certainty of cuts. Second, the need for a 'joined-up' security budget is evidence of our armed forces' over-extension. 

As Max Hastings notes in this week's magazine, the government’s conduct of foreign policy is a major factor in the growing strain on the forces; but, the MoD’s problems are structural as well as circumstantial. Writing in the Times on Wednesday, Allan Mallinson urged defence chiefs to re-focus the services to meet our exact requirements – that is waging wars against unconventional counter-insurgents and terrorism, peace-keeping and reconstruction, and policing vulnerable maritime trade roots. To do this, Mallinson insists that the ‘navy must get over its obsession with capital ships’ and that the RAF must change from a ‘fast jet flying club into a tactical air force’.  Then, inter-service rivalry coming to the fore, Mallinson praised the army’s reforms.

Fair enough, the army has reformed, it needed to as the government refused to fund the war effort. But more is required. The army must change its mentality. The US army trains exclusively for counter-insurgency; British soldiers fight imaginary Russians on Salisbury plain. Such operations require the purchase and maintenance of equipment that is never used in anger, an observation that could extend to the navy’s proposed super carriers, the RAF’s Eurofighters and, of course, Trident, which the Tories intend to save for more prosperous times.

It is a credit to British servicemen that the UN and the Americans ask for the Redcoats first, a point Kim Howells made yesterday. But after a decade of neglect, it is the duty of politicians and service chiefs to ensure that reputation survives through meeting existing threats within our diminishing means.