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Still International by Design? Towards a Post-Brexit SDSR

Malcolm Chalmers
Briefing Papers, 11 May 2017
Armed Forces, Defence Spending, Equipment and Acquisitions, Brexit, UK, Defence Management, Defence Policy, UK Defence, Europe
The next British government will have to decide whether an earlier than anticipated review of the UK's military capabilities is needed.

Key Points

  • The ambitious plans for future military capability announced in the 2015 SDSR exceeded the limited resources that were made available for their fulfilment.
  • Yet, until the medium-term fiscal impact of Brexit has been clarified, plans for defence spending are unlikely to change.
  • A mini-review of defence commitments during 2017 is therefore a distinct possibility, helping to keep defence finances on a relatively stable footing until the government is ready to hold a new Spending Review, taking account of the shape of the Brexit deal.
  • This suggests that the next full-scale SDSR could start in late 2018 or 2019.

When the last SDSR was published in November 2015, it was assumed that the next one would not take place until 2020. The new government that takes office after the UK general election on 8 June will have to decide whether to stick to this timetable. One plausible outcome is that the launch of the next SDSR is brought forward to late 2018, by which time the implications of Brexit – economic and strategic – should have become much clearer.

The case for delay, beyond the immediate post-election period, will be strengthened by Prime Minister Theresa May’s support for maintaining the UK’s position as the only G20 country to spend both 2% of its GDP on defence and 0.7% of its GNI on development aid.2 At a time of increased uncertainty about what Brexit means for the UK’s international role, the dual commitments on defence and aid will be used to make the case that ‘Global Britain’ is much more than just a slogan. Yet this probably also means that, until the medium-term fiscal impact of Brexit has been clarified, current plans for defence spending are unlikely to change. No major new injection of cash into the defence budget, at least for the next two years, seems to be on the cards.

Malcolm Chalmers
Deputy Director-General

Professor Malcolm Chalmers is Deputy Director-General of RUSI and directs its growing portfolio of research into contemporary... read more

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