November 15, 2012 10:48 am

Defence chief raises concerns over cuts

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Britain’s defence department sought on Thursday to clarify comments made by the chief of defence staff that raised questions about whether military resources could match the demands of ministers.

General Sir David Richards said it was the job of senior military commanders to help the government balance priorities against resources “especially in the current economic conditions”.

But he insisted the forces would be able to deliver the military capability needed after the government’s strategic defence and security review using the resources they had.

His comments came after the publication of a speech he made to Oxford university’s politics department last week, where he warned the cuts to the defence budget meant it was hard to maintain the influence that politicians wanted.

“We have a whole load of tasks expected of us. Our political masters are quite happy to reduce the size of the armed forces, but their appetite to exercise influence on the world stage is, quite understandably, the same as it has always been,” he said.

“Often politicians say to me, ‘Can you go and do this?’ I say to them, ‘With what?’” he added.

The regular army is due to be cut by 20 per cent over the next eight years to its lowest level since the Napoleonic wars. The number of reservists will be doubled to help bolster the force. The defence cuts are part of the British government’s austerity programme to reduce the country’s deficit.

In his speech in Oxford the chief of defence staff said, in particular, that he was concerned the Royal Navy did not have enough warships to be able properly to follow orders.

“One of my biggest concerns is the number of [smaller] frigates and destroyers the Navy has,” he said, adding that this meant advanced warships were having to be used for relatively simple operations.

He also said western leaders had “collectively failed” in Afghanistan.

But on Thursday he said: “On Afghanistan, we all agree that you cannot win an insurgency through military means alone, it has always been understood that a political solution will ultimately be required.”

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