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Our armed services must be sufficiently funded if we are to maintain capability and credibility

3 min read

Large-scale war in Europe, a challenging economic environment and mounting tensions between the West and China, have created security circumstances over the last 18 months graver than anything the United Kingdom has faced since the height of the Cold War

I will open a debate on the floor of the House on 30 June to examine how the government is approaching these challenges. It comes after the International Relations and Defence Committee published its report in January, UK defence policy: from aspiration to reality?, and the government updated the Integrated Review (IR) in March. 

The conflict in Ukraine shows how quickly ammunition and other key assets can run out in conventional warfare, and how inadequate “just-in-time” supply chains can be. The committee’s report expressed concerns about the UK’s hard defence capabilities, notably in the land domain, and questioned whether the British army has sufficient resources to ensure that its capabilities and contribution to Nato remain credible in the eyes of its allies.

The IR Refresh pledged £5bn in defence funding over the next two years, bringing total spending to 2.25 per cent of GDP. This is a significant and welcome increase, but it is focused on nuclear enterprise and munitions. The Spring Budget allocated a further £6bn between 2024/2025 and 2027/2028. The annual budget will be higher in cash terms, but the real value of the increase will depend on inflation. UK defence will face tight budget constraints in the coming years and there are concerns the uplift will not adequately plug capability gaps. 

In response to the committee’s recommendations, the government recognised the need for investment in the land domain to close gaps and restore combat credibility. It said it would prioritise delivering the equipment programme and rebuilding the land industrial base but had no plans to reverse the army’s reduction in regular personnel. 

One of the report’s key criticisms was that government is reluctant to be transparent on its spending on defence. The expected Defence Command Paper is an opportunity for the government to set out in more detail its priorities and how the announced funds will be distributed.

One witness described the MoD as 'one of the worst customers in the world’

More innovative use of new technologies may help to mitigate some of the cost and inflationary pressures on the defence sector and the government has put considerable emphasis on emerging and disruptive technologies. Yet, evidence the committee received from the defence industry highlighted the bureaucratic obstacles businesses face when working with government, with one witness describing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as “one of the worst customers in the world”. The report called for a culture change to the MoD’s approach to procurement. The IR Refresh does not address procurement and it remains to be seen to what extent, if at all, procurement reforms will be addressed in the new Defence Command Paper.

One of the biggest concerns of the committee regarding the original IR and Defence Command Paper was that it failed to recognise the choices and trade-offs necessary to meet the UK’s strategic aspirations. There has been progress in this area. The IR Refresh is significantly more pragmatic. It provides greater clarity on key issues such as the UK’s approach to China and the scope of the “Indo-Pacific tilt”, clarifying its focus as more economic than military.

The government’s efforts to reset relations with the European Union are a welcome development and I urge the government to use this as a basis for pushing for more structured cooperation on foreign policy and defence. The UK not only needs to continue to invest in its defence and security, but also work with all its allies to meet the challenges of a more hostile and competitive world. 

Baroness Anelay is a Conservative peer and former chair of the Lords International Relations and Defence Committee

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