The Threshold Margins of Effective Defence

The Threshold Margins of Effective Defence


  • 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.


NATO members have committed themselves to spending 2% of national budgets on defence. A parallel commitment also requires one fifth of this spending to be on procurement, to keep pace with new capabilities arising from potential opponents. The question of how much money should be spent on defence as a share of government spending has been a controversial one for years. It has played a part in General Elections, and generated the fall of ministers and Governments. Decisions over spending on dread naughts wracked the Liberals in power, and the ship gave its name to an election. Baldwin’s government faced similar internal conflicts over rearmament. The 1966 Defence review, if implemented properly, would have made retaking the Falklands impossible: the planned scrapping of HMS Endurance helped prompt the original invasion. Even the so called ‘peace dividend’ that was being pursued at the end of the Cold War ran into reality months later when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, leading to a difficult cobbling together of a single Armoured Division from the three then deployed in Germany with the BAOR. From such examples, it should also become clear that underspending proves a false economy once those resources are needed. Materiel and trained personnel cannot be conjured out of thin air, and the time taken to fill a gap encouraged by that very gap can be measured in expenditure much greater than the savings accrued under false pretences. So while we recognise that politicians and planners are quite right to identify what constitutes value for money in order to better attribute resources, it is also critical to maintain a strategic perspective on the cost of failure as well; and to neutrally assess whether there is a threshold beyond which capabilities and deterrence both reach critical failure. 2 NATO has collectively done so. The share of Defence spending that has been identified as appropriate as a minimum is 2%. Unfortunately, many NATO states are taking that as an aspiration with minimal consequences for not attaining. The UK has decided it is an important target. However, it has also more recently decided to readjust the way it interprets expenditure. A cynical observer will suggest that this has been done in order to hide reduction in actual share of spending – after all, were it otherwise, the MoD would instead be putting out press releases boasting that it is exceeding the 2% share. But it is not. The single best study to date of what has happened has emerged from the House of Commons Defence Committee.1 It contains praise for the Government, but also warnings and some criticisms.

Read Full Article:

Download this full article PDF