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On 23 November 2017, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion, moved by Lord Soley (Labour), that “this House takes note of the case for maintaining United Kingdom defence forces at a sufficient level to contribute to global peace, stability and security”.

The Conservative Government led by David Cameron set out its plans for the Armed Forces’ future capabilities in the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2015) published in November 2015. This outlined plans for a Joint Force 2025 capable of deploying an expeditionary force of around 50,000, including a maritime task group, a land division, an air group and a Special Forces task group. The Government stated that it would meet the NATO guideline of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defence each year, and would also raise the defence budget by 0.5 percent a year in real terms, and invest £178 billion in defence equipment over the next decade (an additional £12 billion compared to previous plans).

The SDSR 2015 made headline commitments to slightly increase the overall size of the regular Armed Forces, maintaining an Army of 82,000 and increasing the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force by 400 and 300 respectively, but pledged to reduce the Ministry of Defence’s civilian staff by around 30 percent. However, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy expressed concerns in July 2016 that the Armed Forces would not be able to fulfil the wide-ranging tasks assigned to them with the capabilities, manpower and funding allocated in the SDSR 2015. In July 2017, the Cabinet Office launched a review of national security capabilities led by the National Security Advisor, Mark Sedwill. The review will examine the policy and plans which support the implementation of the national security strategy. In October 2017, the then Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, suggested that the review was being conducted in “light of the rapidly changing international situation and the intensification of the threats identified in the 2015 SDSR”. A number of commentators have speculated that this review is considering cuts to the UK Armed Forces. For example, press reports have suggested that two specialist landing ships—HMS Albion and Bulwark—may be taken out of service, and that the Royal Marines could be cut by 1,000.

The UK had the fifth largest defence budget worldwide in 2016, and is one of only six of NATO’s 29 members forecast to meet the 2 percent defence spending guideline in 2017. There have been calls for the level of defence spending to be raised to 2.5 or 3 percent of GDP. The Ministry of Defence’s equipment spending plans depend on meeting challenging efficiency savings targets, and its spending power could also be affected by the weakening of the pound and fluctuations in GDP. Although the Government has already begun acquiring some of the equipment outlined in the SDSR, concerns have been raised that the long lead time required for the development of new capabilities could leave the UK exposed in the short-term.

A number of commentators have suggested that the Armed Forces’ future capabilities need to be re-examined in light of the result of the EU referendum, which could change the way the UK cooperates militarily with its EU partners; the victory in the US presidential election of Donald Trump, who has indicated he may not be as committed to the NATO alliance as his predecessors; and signs of increasing aggression on the part of Russia. For example, in a foreign policy speech at the City of London Lord Mayor’s Banquet, in November 2017, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, accused the Russian Government of interfering in elections and cyber espionage, and of threatening the international order.


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