Re-think the development of the SDSR, says the Bow Group, and produce a defence and security review that is fit for purpose

Foreign Affairs & Security
Friday, July 31, 2015
Harry Malins


The Bow Group, the UK’s oldest conservative supporting think-tank, today calls on the Government to re-think the way in which the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is to be developed, in favour of an extended review that takes full consideration of the range of inputs needed to provide the strategic direction that our armed forces and security services need at a time of increasing instability.

The new paper, authored by Harry Malins and with a Foreword by Sir Edward Leigh MP, argues that the next SDSR should be more than a 'dusted off' version of the 2010 review: an extended review which is sufficiently resourced and gives due consideration to the UK's national objectives, operational sovereignty, and the views of stakeholders such as industry and our major allies, would do a great deal to enhance the UK's international standing and security.

Sir Edward Leigh MP, said:

 "Chancellor George Osborne's pledge to commit to spending an annual 2% of national income to be dedicated to the military is welcome news, but it is how this money is being spent that is important.

 The SDSR provides a unique opportunity to set the right direction for defence policy, and the warning issued here of the importance of thorough consideration by those involved in the review would be well heeded."

Harry Malins said:

 “The Chancellor's recent commitment to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence for every year of this decade has already done much for the UK's international standing, but we now need to ensure that the money translates into increased military effectiveness by conducting the SDSR properly.

 I am concerned that a review developed in haste over the summer to meet an Autumn publishing deadline, without sufficient consideration of the range of inputs needed for such a complex exercise, will become little more than a glossy PR document with limited genuinely strategic content.

 “But there are several measures that could be undertaken to ensure that we get the review that we need.

 “The SDSR must be developed in the context of absolute clarity on the UK's national objectives. There should be an iterative discussion with the Treasury on resource requirements and availability – it isn't yet clear that the 2% of GDP allocated to defence will enhance military effectiveness, with the potential inclusion of new 'extras' such as war pensions meaning that defence spending is not really protected at all. It is also essential to understand the impact of any decisions made on our industrial base, and our long-term ability to maintain our technical skills base and operational sovereignty. These aims could be achieved by delaying publication until 2016 to ensure that enough time is taken for the depth of analysis required, by real engagement with academia, industry, MPs, key allies and other relevant groups. Finally, leadership continuity and commitment within Whitehall and Westminster are essential if the SDSR is to have a meaningful impact.

Bow Group Research Secretary, Peter Smith, said:

 “The Conservatives have promised to develop a full SDSR in the light of the worsening security in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There are many serious challenges facing the UK and the West in the coming decade.

 “Harry Malins has outlined a set of clear and practical recommendations which would have a meaningful impact on the effectiveness of the ongoing defence and security review."

Bow Group Chairman, Ben Harris-Quinney, said:

"The Conservative Party has long put defence and care of veterans at the top of its policy priorities. For the first time in 25 years the Conservative Government now has the opportunity to set a long term foreign policy agenda, and give our armed forces the stability and security that comes with setting out a clear durable vision for the future of Britain's defence."