The UK since July 2017, has been conducting a National Security Capability Review or NSCRS. In brief, is a short revision of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), shaping this SDSR under the era of Brexit and new security threats. The 2015 SDSR was cheered by military people and defence commentators, however, the NSCR is getting constant criticism by this same group of individuals. The NSCR is viewed as a means to cut the defence budget and reduce the power of the British Armed Forces. Last week, on 25 January 2018, Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson offered a sub-review within the NSCR, titled a Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) as a means to placate these critical commentators. As the debates and criticisms drawn on over both reviews, out appear three common accusations.
The very first accusation and often heard of is the ‘blame DFID, it takes away money for the MOD’. Post 2010, the Department for International Development (DFID) aid, or officially Official Development Assistance (ODA), was ringfenced at 0.7% of UK GDP and then enshrined into law in 2015. This has caused much dissent amongst the media and commentators, who view DFID as a government department sucking away money that could rather be given to the MOD and the British Armed Forces. The reason for any decrease in UK military expenditure is often attributed to DFID and high UK aid levels.
The second, and this more relating to SDSR 2015, is placing the blame on individuals or organisations for not funding the forces. There the ‘blame HM Treasury review, MOD doesn’t get enough money’ accusation. This was often mentioned and brought up in a recent Defence Committee hearing. Such an accusation may be separate or linked to the above review regarding DFID. If HMT Treasury as a whole doesn’t get the blame, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who gets the blame; he is said to have little care for funding the armed forces. Another individual who is recently targeted for all the ‘low’ defence spending is the British National Security Adviser (NSA). In the Defence Committee hearing mentioned above, the questions appear to indicate that either the NSA has little appreciation for the MOD and the armed services, or that SDSRs should be mainly MOD-led and not by some civil servant who has never served a day in combat.
The third sort of accusation or rather belief, as just mentioned, is that defence reviews or SDSRs should be mainly about the British military and the MOD. An example is from this Telegraph article which asserts that the NSA is aiming to place more funding towards the intelligence and security services and away from the armed forces. Another Telegraph article quotes the Chair the Defence Committee, who is relieved that the formation of MDP means a review lead by the Defence Secretary. Clearly to such pundits, any defence review equals to a review about the armed forces, and that’s final.
All this of this accusation must come to a halt. First, regarding the accusation that HM Treasury or the Chancellor is not caring about defence. It is certainly not the case there there’s this evil organisation or politician, snatching money from the MOD and channelling to some other department. There certainly are threats facing the UK, directly and indirectly, and a good number of them can be addressed by strong armed forces. It, however, doesn’t mean, that you should spend to excess on the military with no regard for the economy.
Second, it should be clear that ‘defence of the realm’ today, or even in the past, cannot just be addressed through large navies, massive armies and swarming planes. Intelligence, cyber defences, and well UK assistance for development do help address military and other security threats alone. If the MOD or defence ministers lead SDSRs or defence reviews, such reviews might even reduce the funding and role of UK intelligence services and weaken UK response and defences. The NSA may be a career civil servant and not always have a military or security background. Even with such lack of experience, he should not be characterised as one with no care for armed forces. It is right to critically analyse his performance, but not to accuse him because of individual beliefs.
The case of DFID and UK aid is slightly more controversial. I do disagree with a parliamentary law regarding aid. As for the aid target, it is outdated although there are merits to focusing on a percentage figure. On the same note, the UK also is focusing on meeting the NATO target of 2% of GDP on defence. Yes, there are claims the UK isn’t meeting that figure but as with 0.7% it is a target the UK adheres towards. In the bigger picture, the accusing of DFID fails to consider that UK aid and aid policy directly and indirectly addresses threats to the UK which complements military expenditure and action. Furthermore, blaming DFID often ignores why the department was founded in the first place and wishing the department to be dissolved would not stop the UK from providing aid for development or foreign policy purposes. Commentators should rather focus on how DFID can add to British defence policy rather that use it as an easy target for accusation.
British SDSRs or national security reviews always generate debates from a wide audience. The constant cacophony of accusing DFID, blaming government officials or believing defence reviews are just about the military. The NSCR is much delayed and the MDP will follow suit. Both of them need rational debates and criticism, not long-standing accusations that do not add to British defence policy.
 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cut-to-marines-will-encourage-our-enemies-9dnnm92sj. The quote behind this paywalled article says “Political masters need to understand that the defence you need is dictated by your enemy, not by economics”.
 A good history of DFID’s creation can be found here https://www.cgdev.org/publication/reforming-development-assistance-lessons-uk-experience-working-paper-70 .