UK faces "hard headed re-appraisal" of foreign policy and security
David Cameron has intervened tonight to broker a deal between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury. The MoD had been facing a Treasury proposal to slash its budget by 20%. I'm told by Downing Street that it is less than that but they will not confirm a figure.
Meanwhile the UK is about to undergo a "hard headed re-appraisal of our foreign policy and security objectives" according to a draft National Security Strategy, dated 13 October, and seen by Newsnight.
In concrete terms what is being haggled over in the SDSR tonight is pretty stark.
One proposal, according to a senior source, is to cut the army by 7,000 short term. This is still the subject of negotiation. It is understood the UK will make clear its intention to leave Germany within a decade, and that the army will be re-organised into 5 combat brigades with 6,000 troops each.
The Royal Navy is facing cuts to its surface fleet: frigates and destroyers will be cut from 24 to 15 or 16.
The navy gets to keep the two aircraft carriers and the current draft proposes to buy 40x F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (not the 138 originally planned). There is no financial gain, I am told, over the next four years from cutting the carriers.
The National Security Strategy, to be launched on Monday lists four so called Tier 1 threats to UK national security, which some see as radically re-drawing Britain's defence priorities they are, in order:
- A terrorist attack by Al Qaeda, including the threat of chemical, biological, radiation or nuclear attacks
- Cyber attacks
- The threat of natural disaster or major accident
- And the threat of a international military conflict
The document states:
"No state currently has the combination of capability and intent needed to pose a conventional military threat to the territory and integrity of the UK. Yet history shows both capability and intent can change."
It says: "our main priorities for resources and capabilities will be to protect our operational counterterrorism capability, and intel and policing anhd the necessary technology to support them, while delivering some efficiency gains in these areas."
The UK will:
"Focus and integrate diplomatic, intelligence and defence capabilities on preventing the threat of international military crises while retaining the ability to respond should they nevertheless materialise."
I read this as the essence of the re-appraisal - with a greater focus on diplomacy before force projection. The document consistently places terror and cyber threat at the top of the list of threats likelty over the next five years, above conventional warfare with another state.
"The government, the private sector and citizens are under sustained cyber attack *today*."
The document warns that the UK is at the centre of "many global networks" - hence the new priority given to cyber warfare.
The document lists other, less imminent threats, so-called Tier Two and Three. Among the Tier Two threat is the renewed terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, a CBRN attack by another state and from large scale illegal migration and organised crime; and possible disruption to the UK satellite system.
Military sources said they were unhappy at the mismatch between the strategy - with its focus on multiple and emerging threats - and the force structure contained in the SDSR, which one described as "Cold War".
One source claimed that by cutting the surface fleet the UK would be unable to simultaneously defend the Trident submarines and the aircraft carriers at sea.