Strategic Defence and Security Review — Motion to Take Note
Lord Reid of Cardowan (Labour)
My Lords, I declare an interest in various security matters, as registered and declared previously, including a partnership in the Chertoff Group. I join with other noble Lords in the tributes they have paid to the fallen who have served this country, including this week's tributes to Senior Aircraftman Scott Hughes.
The Minister began his introduction by referring to the strategic and financial framework. Everyone recognises the financial constraints under which the Government have been operating and the question is not whether there is a cost element in the review-there always is-but whether the primary guidance of the review is strategically or cost based. One comparator is the review carried out by my noble friend Lord Robertson some years ago, in which I declare an interest as having played some part in it. During that review in 1997-98, we spent as long considering the foreign policy objectives and strategic framework which our military power was meant to pursue and accomplish as we spent on the whole of this strategic defence review.
This is singularly unfortunate for two reasons. First, it will leave the review more open to Treasury raids-which will come-because if it is not a strategically based review, starting from foreign policy objectives and working through to the military-operational means to accomplish them, it will be easier to get rid of the military-operational means because, after careful study and consensus building, the foreign policy objectives have not been clearly identified. Secondly, the strategic starting point is more important than ever because we are in the midst of huge changes and increasing danger, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hutton in his maiden speech. The shift of power among sovereign states from west to east; the shift of distribution from corporate organisations and sovereign states to individual groups of non-state actors; the exponential growth of asymmetric warfare and ideologically driven conflict; and the proliferation of the means of mass destruction-radiological, chemical and biological weaponry-which are now attainable by the few rather than by states, all demand a strategic review. It is therefore a pity that the Government fell short and did not spend a little longer on this fundamental starting point.
On financial implications, we all understand the need for debt reductions and, in some ways, we should congratulate the Secretary of State for Defence on his courage in putting his principles above his career prospects by standing up to the Treasury. However, it did not seem to impede either my noble friend Lord Robertson or me afterwards, so that is perhaps happy guidance for him. But a number of ambiguities remain-I shall mention only one. While it is said that the cut in defence expenditure is much less than in other departments, this will apply only if the independent nuclear deterrent remains centrally funded. If it is added to the defence budget, the figures will change quite dramatically over the next few years. Can the Minister give an assurance on that?
I ask for that assurance because we all have a common cause here. The Treasury will come back. The pattern of defence reviews over the past few decades has been quite similar: analyse and identify the needs; agree on the operational and military needs; start to implement them; and then the Treasury refuses to fund them fully. That is the nature of the Minister's implication that, "This is just the beginning". It certainly is in respect of relationships with the Treasury.
On finance more generally, I make one simple point. The Government should resist the temptation to place all responsibility for the cuts and our financial plight on the previous Government. It may win the minutes but it will lose the hours. I say this not because of my personal interest in the previous Government but because there is a serious strategic danger in maintaining the illusion that it was caused by the choices of the previous Government: it would completely divert attention from the role of the banking and financial sectors in our economic catastrophe and, in turn, dangerously overlook the crucial interrelationship and interdependence between economic strength and security-or, to put it another way, economic weakness and insecurity and the lack of capacity to build military power. We would be better to honestly admit that element of the conundrum that we face. This has been identified by people such as Paul Kennedy in his book about the relationship between economic strength and the potency and capability of producing political and military power. If we do not admit it, then, rather than starting afresh, we will start again the same cycle of the illusion that we have the financial means on paper, write in the military means and then face the reality of never being able to deliver but rather push it to the right.
On procurement, again the party-political blame game hides the real problem-the procurement process. This is particularly exacerbated by the fast life cycle of technological innovation. If it is the case that the life cycle of a technology is now 18 months and yet we, like the Pentagon, take 84 months to apply even a technological specification to a product because we keep respecifying, at the end of the day, even if we get the product, it will be four generations too late because of the technological life cycle. The reality is that we probably will not get the product because continual respecification means never-ending redesign, which means the product never being delivered at the end of the process. That is not a party political matters; it is intrinsic to the present system. I urge the Minister to look carefully at the recommendations of Bernard Gray, whatever else comes out of the review.
I shall say little about the carriers-the most controversial aspect-as others have done but better than I can. All I do is ask the Minister if he will at least consider some means of retaining the skill of pilots to land on aircraft carriers-which is much different from other skills-either by retaining a small number of planes, or by assuring the House that our pilots will be seconded to the United States carrier fleet in order to do that.
On operations, the main thing in Afghanistan is to send out a clear message that we will stay the course and to introduce a campaign plan which integrates DfID, our public messaging and political and military surges. If we miss out any of those elements, we will not achieve what we should.
On contingency capacity, we should recognise that, however we plan, there will be a desperate need for a surge capacity at some stage which will mean that the reserves and the Territorial Army will become even more important than previously.
Let me say few words on wider security. On terrorism, the Home Secretary has said that al-Qaeda is weaker than ever. That is half true. However, it is also true that we now face four levels of terrorism: the al-Qaeda core; its affiliates in many national states, including in the Maghreb in North Africa; its associates, who now fight under the umbrella of al-Qaeda; and self-starters, including in our own country. Although the latter are less professional, less prepared and less centrally controlled, they are thereby all the more dangerous because they are often clean skins and there is no way to trace back their connections and so on. I would have liked to have seen more on the Office of Security and Counter-terrorism and a little less complacency over the fact that we have undoubtedly been successful there.
I welcome the Government's extra money on cyber issues but, so far as I can see, one thing is missing from the review: the cyber infrastructure is still a growing part of the critical national infrastructure but it is not in government hands. So, where is the interface that will bring together the academic, private and public sectors in order to ensure that this most serious and growing of threats is countered?
This review is good in parts. Some of it is sensible, some of it is inevitable, some of it is missing and some of it is incomprehensible. Our task is therefore surely to accept the inevitable, welcome the sensible, augment its weaknesses and revisit the incomprehensible, and to do it together. We owe that to the Armed Forces and the nation.