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Strategic Defence and Security Review (First Annual Report)

Volume 537: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2011

Along with the Deputy Prime Minister, and the other members of the National Security Council, I am pleased to provide the House with the following update on implementation of the 2010 strategic defence and security review. This review was undertaken at a time of immense challenge for UK defence and security: a severe mismatch between future defence plans and budgets inherited from the previous Government; the absence of any up-to-date strategy within the Ministry of Defence (MOD), due to the lack of a defence review for 12 years; a major global economic crisis that required action across the whole of Government to tackle the deficit; and armed forces engaged in a major campaign in Afghanistan. As the Government made it clear at the time, the challenges facing defence were too great to solve in a single review. But the SDSR took the first vital steps to transform UK defence and security to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Based on the conclusions of the new national security strategy, “A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty”, the SDSR described the National Security Council’s chosen policy response: an adaptable defence and security posture able to respond flexibly to a wide range of potential crises while continuing to fulfil our standing commitments. This is an approach that depends upon integrated effort across Government, achieving greater effect by combining defence, development, diplomatic, intelligence and other capabilities. Events over the last year, especially the profound changes under way in north Africa, have underlined the wisdom of this approach: few predicted an Arab spring even six months before it occurred—powerfully illustrating the need for a highly adaptable posture The campaign in Libya showed it was right to keep balanced armed forces, right to retain a significant RAF fast-jet capability, right to focus on building practical co-operation with the UAE and Qatar, and right to be buying more drones, tanker aircraft, helicopters and intelligence gathering capability.

We undertook in the SDSR to report annually to Parliament on its implementation. Today the Deputy Prime Minister and I are placing copies of the first SDSR annual progress report in the Library of the House. The report describes the work that has been carried out in the last year. Key developments include agreement on a radical plan to transform the MOD, based on the conclusions of the review by Lord Levene; taking the very difficult further steps necessary to close the £38 billion shortfall in funding over the next 10 years; completion of a review into the future of the reserve forces; establishment of a transformative cyber-security programme; new measures to tackle both the terrorist and organised crime threats to the UK; and expanding and strengthening our network of influence in a fast changing world.

Decisions taken during the SDSR and the 2010 comprehensive spending review ensured that we will continue to meet the NATO target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence over the spending review period: in 2014-15, the UK defence budget will be £33.5 billion. Further work was undertaken this year to address the longer-term financial position so that on 18 July the Government were able to set out plans to increase in real terms the investment in defence equipment by 1% per annum between 2015-16 and 2020-21. On the same day, the Government announced detailed plans to return the Army from Germany and £1.5 billion of additional investment in our reserve forces, expanding their size after years of decline, enhancing their role and adjusting the long-term balance between the regulars and reserves. Taken together with a range of further measures this has brought the defence programme broadly into balance with the resources available for the first time in many years and ensured that the Government can deliver the long-term vision for our armed forces: Future Force 2020.

These measures ensure that Britain retains the fourth largest military budget in the world and that we will invest around £150 billion in equipment for our armed forces over the next 10 years. By tackling the imbalance in the defence programme, the Government have been able to commit to a range of new equipment programmes for which funding had previously not been identified, including 14 new Chinook helicopters and refurbishment of the Army’s fleet of Warrior vehicles. In May this year, formal approval was granted to begin the assessment phase for the programme to replace the Vanguard-class submarines. In addition, to assist the Liberal Democrats make the case for alternatives to the Trident system, the Government initiated a study into the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative nuclear deterrent systems and postures. Progress has also been made on implementing the new nuclear assurances policy and the reduction in our nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180 warheads, both commitments set out in the SDSR.

The past year has seen significant changes in the threat from international terrorism. Al Qaeda’s leadership is now weaker than at any time since 9/11. But al-Qaeda continues to pose a threat and groups affiliated to al-Qaeda in countries such as Yemen and Somalia have emerged as a threat in their own right. We are implementing a revised counter-terrorism strategy to tackle the terrorist threat to the UK and our interests overseas. In keeping with the approach in the SDSR, we are also working hard to tackle the underlying causes of instability in Yemen and Somalia.

The SDSR recognised the rapidly changing nature of opportunities and risks from cyberspace. Following the April launch of the UK’s £650 million national cyber-security programme, the new cyber-security strategy, published on 25 November, sets out the UK’s approach to cyber-security in four priority areas: securing opportunities for UK growth, including overhauling the UK’s approach to tackling cybercrime; strengthening and securing UK infrastructure and improving our ability to protect our national interests in cyberspace; helping shape an open, vibrant and safe cyberspace; and improving national cyber-security skills and capabilities. November’s London conference on cyberspace demonstrated the UK’s continued lead in international cyber-thinking and enabled us to build alliances with like-minded nations, the private sector and civil society.

The organised crime strategy, “Local to Global”, was published in July, setting out the Government’s response to organised crime, a key element being the creation of the National Crime Agency—a powerful new body of operational crime fighters that will make the UK a hostile environment for serious and organised criminality. The NCA will incorporate a border policing command which will provide a co-ordinated, multi-agency, cohesive approach to securing the border.

Tackling the root causes of instability and helping to resolve conflicts overseas are key national security tasks. We have put development at the heart of an integrated approach that supports the world’s most vulnerable people and protects Britain from external threats. The FCO, DFID and MOD launched the building stability overseas strategy on 19 July. The three Departments are now working with the rest of Government and with NGOs and international partners to implement the strategy. In other areas too, the SDSR committed us to focusing existing resources better in a more co-ordinated Government response. On natural hazards, the last year has seen the largest ever multi-agency exercise to test the UK’s response, as well as a review of arrangements for an influenza pandemic and vital steps to reduce the vulnerability of critical national infrastructure.

In a rapidly changing world, alliances and partnerships are more important than ever to the UK’s international influence and therefore our national security and prosperity. Internationally we rarely act alone. We are working more closely with established allies, including through the two ground-breaking defence treaties signed with France last year and our continuing close co-operation with the USA. We continue to deepen our defence co-operation with France and to explore the potential to open such co-operation to other nations willing to invest in developing and deploying modern military capabilities. The UK has led the debate on tougher action on piracy, commanding EU Operation Atalanta, the EU mission to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia. On 11 May, the Foreign Office also announced plans to expand its diplomatic network in India, China, Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and Indonesia, and re-open embassies in Côte D’Ivoire, El Salvador and Madagascar. We will use this strengthened diplomatic network to develop the partnerships the UK needs not only to ensure our security but also to promote British commercial interests—as we did through the UK business delegations that have accompanied ministerial visits to China, India, Brazil and Russia.

The acid test of any defence and security strategy is its ability to deal with a crisis. The UK’s prompt and flexible military, diplomatic and stabilisation activity in Libya confirmed the validity of many of the key conclusions of the SDSR. The outstanding performance of our armed forces and civilians demonstrated the UK’s continued ability to project power flexibly and to take a leading role in shaping international events. NATO again demonstrated its centrality. And the excellent political and military cooperation with France, other NATO partners and Gulf states demonstrated the vital importance of strengthening defence ties with existing allies and new partners in tackling defence and security.

Work continues across Government to implement the SDSR and we will provide a further annual update to Parliament in 2012.