The government is facing criticism for the narrow range of its Defence Review, which was presented in a Green Paper in the House of Commons yesterday (3 February). Campaigners say that the review fails to address fundamental questions about Britain’s security and the nature of conflict.
A Green Paper serves as a means of outlining the government’s initial plans, but a full strategic review will not take place until after this year’s general election. The government announced the review following demands for greater spending on military equipment in Afghanistan.
The Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, told the Commons that the UK’s armed forces may need “further integration” with those of allied countries if they are to be effective in future. The Conservative Party disputed this, risking offence to the UK’s allies by appearing to question if they can be relied on.
However, the biggest criticisms were made by those who challenged the review’s narrow remit.
There has been particular anger over the government’s decision that the review should not consider questions about nuclear arms. Ministers are accused of trying to avoid controversy around their commitment to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) described the Green Paper as “a disastrous missed opportunity”.
“Excluding the ruinously expensive Trident is like avoiding the huge white elephant in the room” said CND chair Kate Hudson, who called Trident a “cold war relic”.
Trident renewal is opposed by the Liberal Democrats, who want a cheaper nuclear system, as well as the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, who all want to scrap Britain’s nuclear arsenal. The last year has seen evidence of cabinet splits on the issue, exacerbated by evidence that Trident could cost up to £100 billion.
Meanwhile, Christian peace campaigners are suggesting that the review is doing little more than tinkering at the edges, as it ignores bigger questions.
Chris Cole of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) expressed his disapointment that that the Green Paper focuses so heavily on the use of armed force.
He told Ekklesia that he wants the government "to invest in sustainable human security that tackles the root causes of the problem rather than continuing to pour resources into the failed model of addressing the symptoms through military security".
FoR, along with the Catholic peace group Pax Christi, recently called for a “genuine rethink about security” that took the debate over military spending beyond the choice of “boots or bombs”.
Anticipating the Defence Review, they published Security for the Common Good, a briefing that emphasised that “justice [rather than armed force] brings peace and security”.