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Defence policy: what a difference the years make

Posted by Richard Thursday, August 18, 2005

If you wanted to know what this government's Defence policy was, where would you look? As a task, it is not as easy as it sounds. Cutting to the chase, the actual place to look is in the archives for HM Treasury – and you thought the place to look was the MoD… silly you!

Under this current system of governance, each spending department lodges with the Treasury a "Public Service Agreement" (PSA) in the annual spending review, which is published each year. There, department by department, are set out the detailed objectives or "targets", which collectively are the effective statement of government policy.

Now, just as a matter of idle curiosity, have a look at the Ministry of Defence's PSAs for the year 2000, and in particular, targets 4 & 5:

4. Working with NATO Allies, implement the decisions of the NATO Washington Summit, including the new Strategic Concept and the Defence Capabilities Initiative, and help to adapt NATO to the new strategic environment.

5. Work with partners so that the European Union (EU) can, by 2003, deploy forces of up to Corps level (50–60,000 personnel) within 60 days, capable of undertaking the full range of Petersberg tasks (from disaster relief to large scale peace-support operations) in and around Europe.
Target five we know about, which came from the 1999 Helsinki European Council, but the reference to the Nato Washington Summit in objective four needs a little explaining.

The summit itself was on 23-24 April 1999 – the 50th anniversary - at which the Nato member heads reaffirmed their commitment to Nato as "an alliance for the 21st Century", and agreed an "updated" Strategic Concept. Thus, we seen in government policy, a firm commitment to Nato at the heart of defence policy.

Interestingly, though, in the 2002 Spending Review PSA, "target 4" and the reference to the Washington Summit seems to disappear. We have in its place the following:

5. Strengthen European security through an enlarged and modernised NATO, an effective EU military crisis management capacity and enhanced European defence capabilities.
We now come to an even more obscure document – unread by millions – none other than the "Quarter 4 Report to HM Treasury, Progress Against Spending Review 2002, Public Service Agreement Targets (April 03-March 06) as at 31 March 04", which will, I guess, never reach best-seller status.

There, we see a reaffirmation of the 2002 "target 5", but with the addition of an interesting little note, that this is a "Joint target with Foreign and Commonwealth Office". But, we are also given these "killer" lines:

From 1 April 2003, this subsumes SR2000 Target 4, "Working with NATO Allies, implement the decision of the NATO Washington Summit, including the new Strategic Concept and the Defence Capabilities Initiative, and help adapt NATO to the new strategic environment."
In other words, official government policy has changed. The commitment to Nato and its updated "Strategic Concept" given at the Washington Summit is now ditched and the key target is to "Strengthen European security through an enlarged and modernised NATO, an effective EU military crisis management capacity and enhanced European defence capabilities."

Currently, therefore, there are three objectives, on a par, only one of which is to do with Nato. The other two involve working within the EU, enhancing its "defence capabilities". The role of Nato has been substantially downgraded and the government has moved closer to a "European defence identity".

It is so nice to know what government policy now is – but what a difference the years make.

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