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The Independent
Lord Guthrie: all parties failing on defence spending

In a scathing speech at the Royal Uniformed Services Institute (RUSI) Lord Guthrie, the first chief of the defence staff under Tony Blair, assaulted the defence spending policies of both Conservative and Labour governments since the end of the Cold War. “After Lady Thatcher left, we bought far too much into the idea of a peace dividend and the notion that we don’t need to invest too much in our armed forces,” said Lord Guthrie. “That created significant, glaring capability gaps that cost lives.”

“The Armed Forces are in desperate need of an investment programme that prepares them for the challenges of tomorrow and the challenges they face today. Investment that increases capability dramatically, especially as we face increased fighting of asymmetric wars. Building up the British Army, in particular, to fight in unstable situations is absolutely critical.” He further added that he wanted to see increased emphasis on preparing units for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. “The SAS cannot be our only counterterrorism outfit anymore,” he added.

When discussing the threat matrix facing the United Kingdom, he said that nobody expected the British Army to be a key component of a major ground war against a state. “The Army must revise its capability, while the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force must receive the investments that they need to project strength. We should be thinking about increasing the size of some of our forces to address emerging threats, such as cyber warfare. However, no politicians really seem to be talking about that on any side of the political debate.” He did not offer an opinion, when asked on the nature of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent, Trident.

In a question and answer period after his speech, Lord Guthrie was absolutely clear where he thought the blame sat: “There is no doubt in my mind that the armed forces were put into this position by Ken Clarke and Gorden Brown. Two penny-pinching Chancellors were willing to invest everywhere except in our military.” He elaborated on his answer, saying that the news that Mr Brown would not be the next Prime Minister was “some of the happiest that he received.”

Lord Guthrie also gave some credit to the new Prime Minister, Arthur Sweeney. “Caroline [Blakesley] is a friend - I did some work on her Iraq Review - and I think we she saw a capability gap in Iraq and Afghanistan, she went to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and said ‘we need to do something about this now’. And, from what I can tell, they were very receptive to filling those needs. That’s certainly a change from Gordon.”

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