Former commanders of British forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands say Europe is endangered by EU leaders’ unwillingness to fully support NATO and make key recommendations on UK defence spending.
VfB’s Recommendation Summary:
- The UK needs to adjust its Defence Spending so as to honestly fulfil the 2%
budget target as a minimum, not a target
- The 2% target was effectively pulled out of a hat and should not be taken as a
certain bodyguard to national security
- The long term aim by the end of the next Parliament should be 3% Defence
share of GDP
- Extra spending should be transitioned and better managed, so as to reduce the
risk of waste
- The extra funding should accompany strategic revisions of national and global
security priorities in the wake of Brexit. A series of discussion points are
raised for review.
Lt-Gen Jonathon Riley, Maj-Gen Julian Thompson and Maj-Gen Tim Cross say that UK forces are being stretched by EU member states’ failure to spend adequately.
They also say the UK must avoid being tied into EU plans on joint procurement programmes, which are being promoted as sensible vehicles for future EU spending, but could see the UK tied into a programme with conflicting strategic intentions.
Maj-Gen Thompson, who led the Royal Marines’ landings in the Falklands in 1982, said:
“European leaders are crossing their fingers and hoping that nothing bad will happen on their doorstep – and if it does, under an EU rather than NATO flag, that they will get bailed out. That is a dangerous assumption to make.”
Lt-Gen Jonathon Riley said:
“No-one wants to spend money on defence rather than schools or hospitals. But history teaches us that there’s a line beyond which cuts make for a dangerous and false economy. We have crossed that line.
“We still have time to plug those capability gaps. But only just.
“It is no dishonour to the brave servicemen of our continental allies to say this, many of whom have served proudly alongside British forces in joint deployments. But our continent’s defence policy is threadbare.”
A paper co-authored by Lt-Gen Riley and Dr Lee Rotherham, titled ‘~2%: The Threshold Margins of Effective Defence’, says that rich EU countries are “able to spend more on their own populations” because their defence is subsidised by UK and US taxpayers. (Paper released today and attached).
In the paper, Lt-Gen Riley, who led UK forces in Iraq in 2004-5 and was Deputy NATO Commander in Afghanistan in 2007-9, called for other EU countries to spend more but warned against this being used as an excuse for Whitehall to spend less if they do, especially after Brexit.
The Veterans for Britain paper contains 12 recommendations for Whitehall on: proper defence funding; good management of expenditure; and applying a strategic eye on need and delivery. The paper states that the UK’s current 2%-of-GDP defence spend coupled with the government’s accountancy practices around the figure do not currently guarantee sufficient spending.
It goes on to say that the UK government should not treat defence spending as “something that can be fudged” and calls for an increase to a ‘true’ 3%-of-GDP spend by the end of the next Parliament. With an increased focus on defence spending, defence industry and technology providers could at the same time make the most of gains from Brexit, with the ongoing preservation of key strategic industries, skills and jobs.
Co-author of the paper Dr Lee Rotherham, a longstanding front bench adviser, said,
“The EU describes itself as being an economic superpower with global clout. But as Texans say, Brussels is all hat and no cattle. It lacks the resources to step in at times of danger.
“The UK should not make the same mistake when reviewing the defence of our own vital national interests globally.”