The government should consider carrying out more frequent strategic defence reviews to keep pace with constantly shifting global security threats, the defence secretary said.
Bob Ainsworth said Afghanistan would remain a priority and suggested major adjustments in defence spending could not be ruled out, although he did not say where cuts would occur, Reuters reports.
The government announced in July that a strategic defence review would be held shortly after the next parliament is elected, with an election due before June next year.
The last review took place in 1998 when Cold War thinking was still the order of the day. Ainsworth said the pace of change in the past decade had been considerable and more frequent reviews should be enshrined in legislation.
“The growing trend in warfare is likely to be complexity, whether at sea or on land or in the air, or in all probability an interdependent combination of all three,” Ainsworth told academics at King’s College, London, during a speech to kick off a consultation process ahead of the defence review.
Ainsworth’s pledge matches a similar commitment from the Conservatives, who are widely expected to win the election, ousting Labour after 12 years in power.
Liam Fox, the Conservative spokesperson on defence issues, said his party would hold defence reviews every four to five years.
Addressing the security outlook, Ainsworth said new threats could include a range of violent extremist groups, unstable states, the impact of climate change and the ensuing clamour for reduced natural resources and energy.
Attempts to control or counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would also be a perennial struggle.
Ainsworth said the Britain’s role in NATO and the European Union would remain critical to the country’s security policy.
“Individual nations will be unable to tackle threats or impose solutions alone. Systems of alliances and treaties and international agreements will be more important than ever,” he said. “We will need to reform and adapt.”
He said Britain’s defence budget will have to reflect the changes, bearing in mind its current priority on Afghanistan.
“There are competing demands on the public purse and we will need to be better at spending the money that we have and more rigorous on prioritising,” he said.
“We cannot exclude major shifts in the way that we use our defence spending to refocus on our priorities. There will be tough choices ahead.”
But he said the government had no intention of changing the government’s position on Trident, the seaborne nuclear deterrent.
“There is no intention on this government’s part of moving our position with regards to Trident,” he said.
Pic: British troops