SDSR an opportunity, not a death sentence, says RUSI analyst

The Strategic Defence Spending Review (SDSR) will be a chance for the government to rejuvenate the armed forces, a prominent RUSI analyst says.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers believes that, rather than destroying the capabilities of the armed forces, the SDSR could help to create more sustainable armed services.

Ministry of Defence Plaque 2

15 September 2010 - The statement comes after an influential parliamentary select committee released a report outlining its concerns that the SDSR was being conducted too quickly.

The House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) believes that this, alongside a lack of sufficient consultation, will lead to serious mistakes being made within the SDSR.

However, Professor Chalmers has urged against unnecessary delays to the SDSR.

'Faced with strategic uncertainties and highly imperfect costings, there is always a temptation to go for further consultation and delay,' he said. 'But further delay in making the hard decisions that are needed would leave even less time for implementation, and would lead to more inefficiency and waste.

 'The costs of taking imperfect decisions now have to be weighed against the risk that delayed decisions will leave less time for implementation.'

The HCDC argued that the capacity of Britain to sustain its current capabilities could be put at risk by the proposed 10 to 20% cuts, but Professor Chalmers sees the review as a rejuvenating chance for the armed forces if the government gets it right.

He said: 'This is a major opportunity for the government to put defence plans back on a sustainable path.

'But there will always be a temptation to fudge the most difficult decisions, hoping large but unidentified efficiency savings will turn up.'

The committee said: 'We understand the Government's need to tackle the deficit and ensure financial soundness.

'Yet we are concerned at the possible consequences of the MoD's budget not being ring-fenced for the future.'

Professor Chalmers believes that the impact of the review will be more immediate than the committee believes it to be.

'It is hard to see how the sums can add up unless there is some significant reduction in numbers deployed in Afghanistan well before 2015,' he commented.

The HCDC expressed concerns over the SDSR process not being 'tried and tested' and yet still being expected to 'deliver radical outcomes within a highly concentrated time-frame.'

The committee stated: 'Immediate or short-term security issues...might dominate the Review.

'It would be short-sighted to allow current operations overly to determine the nature of future capabilities, manpower levels or training needs.'

Professor Chalmers, who is also Professor of Defence and Foreign Policy at King's College London, believes this to be the other way around.

'The MoD is capable of planning for a balanced and affordable force in 2020,' he said.

'But the combination of existing procurement contracts and continuing operations in Afghanistan means that it will find it more difficult to plan for a balanced force in the shorter term, given the need to meet the Treasury's target for 10% cuts over four years.

'The driving force for this review is the decision that defence will have to take its share of the spending cuts. Exactly what that share will be has to be decided in the next month.'

The HCDC report also expressed concern that the SDSR had not consulted with the defence industry enough, undermining the decisions made by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

It also believes that the SDSR should consult with the public more to reinvigorate support for the armed forces.

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