UK defense budget: we’re going to need a new financial plan

The British armed forces will have to wait for a financial settlement until the outcome of the National Security Capabilities Review. Until then, the Defense Ministry’s budgetary problems will remain unanswered.

The last British budget did not solve the financial problems of the Ministry of Defense (MoD). Indeed, there was no new money for national security, leaving the Defense Ministry with its existing financial problems.

Thus, any new financial regulations must now await the outcome of the top secret review of national security capabilities currently being carried out at the Cabinet Office.

As recent testimony to the House of Commons Defense Committee highlighted, the process of this review remains unexplained and confusion reigns over the overall objective: is the objective to provide an honest reassessment of the threats facing Britain, or is it an exercise in cutting the web of defense to a pre-established budget?

One answer could be the creation of a single national security budget, which would create a budget of over 2.7% of GDP.

As the traditional media coverage of these aspects has been expanded, given direct warnings from former senior military officials on the Defense Committee, the question arises as to how the government could break the current deadlock over the budgets of the military. military spending.

One answer could be the creation of a single national security budget. This would create a budget of over 2.7% of GDP and include money allocated for military spending, security services, and intelligence agencies (the single intelligence account).

The security activity of the Ministry of the Interior (the National Crime Agency, immigration law enforcement, the Border Force, the Office for Security and Counterterrorism and the fight against extremism), the security fund (£ 1.5bn) and overseas development assistance (£ 10.5bn) would also be included.

The ability to move between spending lines in this way would rely more on the conceptual successor to the UK’s comprehensive approach to security; the integrated approach.

In addition, the direction of foreign development assistance (ODA) would be a priority in areas associated with threats to national security and would allow some of the missions carried out by the army to draw directly from this budget, while maintaining the government’s commitment to international goals.

From a government perspective, a politically appointed person working within a currently defined inter-ministerial structure would allow control to be exercised directly from Downing Street.

Given the continued pressure from the United States on NATO (and the Allies) to do more, an aggregate figure of over 2.7% would bring UK spending closer to the United States and outstrip Europe from afar.

It would also signal to Allies that the UK was serious about post-Brexit security and would be a strong signal to competitors about the nature of Britain’s deterrence position.

So who would control the single budget? From a government perspective, a politically appointed person working within a currently defined inter-ministerial structure would exercise control directly from Downing Street.

As such, it is the National Security Advisor Mark Sedwill, who would hold the reins of financial power within the Cabinet Office, with the support of the National Security Secretariat.

Given that he and they are leading the review, and as the appointees of Prime Minister Theresa May, this approach seems attractive and achievable.

Yet such a plan would have significant problems.

First, while a figure of 2.7% would send a clear political message, there would be a significant risk that it could only serve as a smokescreen for further capacity cuts.

This would open the government to the same criticisms it did in 2014, when the UK started including retirement allowances in order to meet NATO’s 2% targets. More overall expenditure necessarily equates to greater security or greater security capability.

One-person control of a large budget is not unprecedented in Whitehall: the current NHS and social budgets are already outstripping any potential security funds by some margin

Second, unless the allocation and prioritization of the ODA budget is reworked, those who provide state security would see no benefit.

Meeting both the definitions of ODA spending set by the OECD, while allocating long-term liquidity to the military for capacity building would be a complex problem. This is especially true, given the government’s commitment to ODA after the high-profile remarks Bill Gates made to RUSI earlier this year.

Third, such an arrangement would only increase the distance between security chiefs and decision-makers in Whitehall. While Downing Street might view the arrangement as a way to hold someone responsible for national security to account, the public might view him as a new Mandarin to blame for the government if all goes wrong.

Finally, the issue of governance and control of allocations of a new security budget among subordinate agencies (including the military) should be addressed. The control of a large budget by one individual is not without precedent in Whitehall: the current NHS and social budgets already exceed by a certain margin any potential security funds.

Unless a careful balance is struck, the military may again be forced to focus on the internal rather than focusing on results.

However, the national security adviser is a politically appointed official. If Sedwill were to be the executive behind a security fund, it would be necessary to provide oversight and prevent group thinking, which the Treasury could not provide.

This would require removing a constitutional obstacle. Following an American model in such an arrangement has its attractions: empowering the existing cross-party Commons Defense Committee by giving it additional powers of review and approval could be an interesting solution.

Yet even creating a significantly increased security budget from an existing cash allocation will not solve the financial problems of SM forces. Indeed, this risks weakening them, all the more so as critical people are more diluted to inform and put pressure on new financial decision-makers.

Unless a careful balance is struck, the military may again be forced to focus on the internal rather than focusing on results.

All the rhetoric is saying that the government’s ambition for defense and security in a more dynamic and less stable international security environment is significant and presents an opportunity for global (and industry) leadership over the next five years.

As former Joint Forces Command Commander Sir Richard Barron pointed out during testimony before the Defense Committee on November 14, the reality is that a threat-based review would require a significant recapitalization of British armed forces.

The revised 2.7% figure might be realistic for maintaining only the current military capability, but to match the security apparatus with the new threat environment would require a decade of spending much more.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect those of RUSI or any other institution.