Annual Policy Review 2014


Defence and National Security

Defence and National Security

Achieved

  • Balanced budget
  • Continued progress on capital projects
  • Afghanistan: significant troop withdrawls, and end of NATO combat mission this year

More to do

  • Trident replacement programme
  • See the Defence Reform Bill pass through Parliament / fully develop DE&S+ procurement model

Stalled/dropped

  • Communications Data Bill
  • Privatised defence procurement model

The unexpected

  • Terrorism/Woolwich attacks
  • Edward Snowden leaks

Dangers

  • Long term effects of defence procurement reform remain unclear
  • Will it be possible to recruit enough Army Reservists to fill the gaps left by reductions in troop numbers?
  • Defence spending – how far will Hammond go to defend spending levels?
  • More Civilian job cuts

 

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond’s main achievement, and the one that many speculated would be his main challenge when he was appointed, has been to build on the work of his predecessor Dr Liam Fox and exert greater control on MoD spending.

In the main, Mr Hammond has been able to boast of his success in this endeavour, although not without the occasional setback such as the revisions to the price for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.

However, it is the UK’s next major capital defence project, the successor to the Vanguard SSBN submarines, which occupied much of the political attention in 2013. The publication of the long-awaited Trident Alternatives Review was not the game-changing intervention the Liberal Democrats may have hoped. While Labour has not fully committed to a like-for-like replacement for the current system, the Lib Dems are still the only party calling for a continuous at-sea deterrent to be dropped. The final decision on Trident renewal will be taken in 2016, but the programme’s future looks less uncertain than it did a year ago.

One embarrassment for the Government, though, has been its failure fully to realise plans to reform defence procurement. The Defence Reform Bill is still making its way through the legislative process. But plans to privatise the organisation responsible for procurement have had to be dropped, after all but one of the private sector consortia bidding for the contract dropped out. Instead, the existing Defence Equipment & Support organisation will be beefed-up to ensure it is, in Hammond’s words, “match-fit”; what this looks like in practice remains to be seen.

The most high-profile developments in national security policy over the past year came not from government action but from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The revelations about the activities of the NSA and the UK’s own GCHQ have had two important consequences.

First, the structures in place to scrutinise the activities of the security agencies are now being openly questioned. Second, the public and political interest in privacy and communications data has been significantly broadened.

Before it was blocked by the Lib Dems earlier in the year the Draft Communications Data Bill was already controversial, but if it were ever to be revived (as law enforcement agencies continue to call for) we can now expect it to be couched in a much broader debate about the balance between security and personal privacy.