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Changes in UK Defence Policy Under the Coalition Government

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About this Event

10 Jun 2011 @ 12:45

About the Speaker:

Sir Bill Jeffrey was Permanent Under Secretary of the UK Ministry of Defence from 2005 until 2010. As the top civil servant in the area of defence, he was a key figure in shaping British defence policy.

Sir Bill Jeffrey joined the UK civil service in 1971 and has held a number of influential roles including Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office.

About the Event:

 

What can and should Britain’s role in the world be? Has Britain succeeded in defining a post-imperial role for itself?

These were among the major questions that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government were faced with in its first year in government, according to Sir Bill Jeffrey. As Permanent Under Secretary of the UK Ministry of Defence until the end of 2010, Jeffrey worked closely with the government on the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

Jeffrey outlined the UK government’s challenge – to design a flexible defence force for the 2020s that plays to Britain’s existing strengths and is affordable. He opened his address to the Institute with a quotation from the SDSR, describing the backdrop against which the government has framed its defence policy: 

“The challenge is to deliver this [the ends set out in the National Security Strategy] while heavily engaged in Afghanistan; with inherited national security budgets in overdraft; and in the midst of the biggest financial crisis in a generation.” 

Jeffrey highlighted the impact of UK engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq – the defence forces are simultaneously involved in two major operations when military planning had only assumed one. While the armed forces now have significant experience on the ground in conflict situations, Jeffrey pointed out that this experience does not necessarily translate into being better prepared for future operations, as the nature of conflict is changing so quickly.

Governments across Europe are facing tough choices with regard to defence budgets, with taxpayers are getting “less defence for their buck” as the cost of military equipment and technologies rises.  However, Jeffrey pointed out that the UK’s defence budget has remained higher than any other EU country’s, with the possible exception of France, and that Prime Minister David Cameron has committed to real growth in defence spending from 2014-2015. 

In his speech, Sir Bill Jeffrey indicated that it is unlikely that the UK will engage in any significant military operations alone in the foreseeable future. Therefore the focus of government policy has shifted to managing a number of priority alliances: the UK-USA special relationship; new bilateral arrangements with partners such as France; the role of the UK within a reformed UN; NATO; and an outward-facing EU.

The IIEA wishes to acknowledge the support it has received from the European Commission throughout 2011.

 

Theme: Foreign Policy and ESDP 

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