In this statement Gordon Brown outlines the challenges faced by the British armed forces over the last decade, reaffirming his support for their continuing presence in Afghanistan. He estimates an increase in defence spending next year while promising to reform procurement, reduce civilian staff and cut lower priority spending. He also outlines his goal to reduce Britain’s number of nuclear warheads while maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent.
The most fundamental responsibility of government is to protect the security of its citizens. In the last two years we have re-shaped the way we work together to discharge this responsibility. We have shown our willingness to change and adapt, to pay constant close attention to a complex and fast moving security landscape, and to learn hard lessons from our experience. A re-elected Labour government would seek to build on this record, making the necessary investment and the tough decisions to keep our country safe in the present and prepared for the future.
Over the last decade we have had to respond above all to a new form of international terrorism: intent on causing mass casualties without warning, driven by global networks, exploiting modern communications, and using a single narrative based on a distorted view of Islam to radicalise alienated young people including in our own communities. But at the same time we have had to deal with a wider realisation that many countries were too quick to bank a 'peace dividend' after the Cold War. Today's threats are all too real even if some of them come from less familiar routes or sources. Power is shifting downwards and outwards to non-state actors - both positive and malevolent. Many of the challenges we face are caused or exacerbated by the weakness of states rather than their strength. Governments and global institutions - from NATO to the UN to the IMF and World Bank - must reform and adapt to this new reality, working to become more effective and more inclusive. National sovereignty will remain fundamental but must be matched with responsibility - the responsibility to oppose extremism, support shared values, and act together to uphold a rules-based international system.
Strong defence will always begin at home, and we have trebled spending on domestic counter-terrorism since 9/11, doubling the size of the Security Services and adding thousands more counter terrorist police. We have modernised our terrorism laws, set up a single Border Agency, and brought in electronic border controls to count people in and out of the country and check passengers in real time against watch lists. We have transformed our approach to engaging the private sector, communities and citizens in the work of resilience at local level.
We have reformed government structures. Three years ago we set up a new National Security Committee bringing together all the relevant ministers, defence and police chiefs, and the heads of the intelligence agencies - meeting once a fortnight on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and separately on other security issues. It is supported by a new secretariat in the Cabinet Office - which two years ago produced Britain's first ever National Security Strategy, bringing a more joined-up response to the wide range of interconnected security issues from terrorism to organised crime to nuclear security to energy security - as well as identifying gaps or new challenges. For example, a new maritime centre has just been established to cover piracy and maritime terrorism, and a new operational and strategic centre for cyber-security was set up in September 2009.1
In its span across domestic and foreign spheres, the National Security Strategy also reflects our firm belief that strong defences at home must be combined with action overseas to tackle terrorism and extremism at source, including particular concerns in places like Yemen and Somalia, and wider work to tackle the causes of instability, including poverty and resource scarcity. In the Middle East - vital for world security - we continue to urge all countries to deliver the vision of the Arab Peace Initiative - normalised relations between Arab states and Israel alongside a Palestinian state.
But it is the Afghan-Pakistani border areas which remain the main source of the terrorist threat to Britain. This is why the job our military is doing in Afghanistan, helping to build up the Afghan forces and government to ensure the Taliban and Al-Qa'ida can never return, is so vital - not just to building stability in this volatile region but also to making the people of Britain more secure. Eight times as prime minister I have had the privilege to visit our forces serving in Afghanistan: each time I have been moved by their courage, skill and dedication. After the difficult last twelve months, I came back from my most recent visit in March with a sense of cautious optimism. I was fortunate to meet and talk to hundreds of young servicemen and women who had been involved in Operation Moshtarak - one of the most impressive operations in recent British military history - including those involved in the equally important job of training and mentoring the Afghan security forces. We have a clear strategy of Afghanisation, a target of 300,000 trained Afghan Army and Police by the end of next year, and an agreed process for handing over districts and provinces to an Afghan lead starting later this year. Joint patrolling with Afghan forces is bringing more intelligence and contributing to a higher rate of finds of deadly improvised explosive devices. Now that American forces are in Helmand in much greater numbers, it makes sense to think about how best to divide up lead responsibility for security, and so British forces are concentrating in the central populated areas of the province, achieving a better ratio of security forces to the population.
Labour's commitment to supporting our forces in Afghanistan, and to defence and national security more widely, is non-negotiable. This year's defence budget is over 10 per cent higher in real terms than in 1997, and in addition we have spent over £4 billion in the last year from the Treasury Reserve on the military campaign in Afghanistan - we estimate that will rise to over £5 billion next year. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have never stated they intend to spend more on defence, at any election or spending review, including today - and in fact the last Conservative government cut defence by 20 per cent in real terms, with the current shadow defence secretary admitting that this left the armed forces unprepared for the challenges they have had to face in the last decade.
Nevertheless, with the increased funding in the last decade, and the reforms of the Strategic Defence Review in 1998, our Armed Forces have shown their worth as a 'force for good' in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan - in tasks ranging from counter-terrorism, to conflict stabilisation and prevention, to counter-piracy. The growth in the core defence budget has enabled us not only to ensure our forces have the latest equipment, from new generation protected vehicles to Chinook and Merlin helicopters, Typhoon jets and Type-45 destroyers - but also to guarantee fair pay for all our service personnel, especially the lower paid, and to strengthen our support for their welfare across the board. We have invested hundreds of millions of pounds to reverse a decades of neglect of forces' accommodation, and we are helping service personnel get onto the housing ladder. The new NHS Queen Elizabeth Hospital which I visited recently will have - as well as a military-run ward - the largest single-floor critical care unit in the world, offering the kind of support and expertise that the old military hospitals could not hope to provide.
But despite this record of consistent investment and significant achievement, serious challenges remain, including cost pressures due to the rising cost of major defence projects. To address this we are reforming defence procurement, making further reductions in civilian staff, and cutting lower priority spending in areas like headquarters costs, travel and consultancy - enabling us to increase investment in the kinds of capabilities which will be vital not just for Afghanistan but also for the longer term, including the additional Chinook helicopters, additional C17s, doubling of Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, and additional dismounted infantry equipment and communications equipment we ordered in December.
We have committed to a Strategic Defence Review after an election which will clearly involve further tough choices. All major projects and capabilities other than Trident will be reviewed, but a Labour government would go into the Review committed to strong, balanced armed forces as our insurance policy for the future: a strong, hi-tech army, vastly better equipped than in 1997; a navy based around the aircraft carriers for which steel is already being cut; and an air force based around two state of the art fighter fleets as well as additional helicopters, unmanned drones, and strategic air lift.
The Review will also capture the lessons of recent experience, in particular to strengthen our ability to prevent, defuse and stabilise conflict and build stability in fragile and failing states. This will include both capacity-building overseas and improvements to our own capability in areas like intelligence and language skills. The National Security Secretariat will ensure coordination between this Review and wider foreign and security policy, including work on the long-term causes of instability. We have already committed to spend at least half of our new bilateral aid in fragile and conflict-affected states, and we have shown in Afghanistan and elsewhere that our military, diplomats and development staff can set an international standard for joint working including on 'hot stabilisation' in hostile environments. Reflecting our belief that in national security and foreign policy as elsewhere, the state must partner the best of the private and voluntary sector, we have launched a new group of over a thousand skilled and experienced civilians - the Civilian Stabilisation Force - which recently put a team in the air to Haiti just twelve hours after receiving a request from the UN - showing how Britain can act for good and at the same time enhance our reputation abroad and at home.
We remain committed to the objective of a world free of nuclear weapons. We are proud of our record in reducing our warheads by almost half compared to the last Conservative government's plans - and we would look at further reductions as part of the international discussions this summer. But in the uncertain world we live in, we remain committed to an independent deterrent - which is why Trident will be out of scope of the Review. We are looking again at whether we could reduce the fleet of missile-carrying submarines from four to three, but our decisions on our deterrent will be based on national security and multilateral discussions not on cost.
We will continue to lead international efforts against proliferation, including the threat of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists, while also setting out global standards for safe development of civil nuclear power. In particular we will continue to work multilaterally to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran - the gravest of current nuclear threats. We support both engagement and pressure on the Iranian regime, which is threatening its own people and the people of the region as well as global security and stability.
Underpinning all our activity in national security and Defence, Labour's manifesto sets out our fundamental commitment to human rights and democracy. We believe human rights are universal, and that it is the job of strong and mature democracies to support the development of free societies everywhere, while upholding their own legal and moral obligations. We condemn torture, we will never engage in or co-operate with torture, and we have committed to advocating a new international convention to enable the prosecution of the perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Labour believes in combining our values and our strengths - our armed forces, diplomats, intelligence services and development and stabilisation experts - with our alliances and networks to achieve national and global objectives across economic prosperity, development and climate change, or security. The choice at the election is between a party committed to and experienced in multilateralism, and opponents who offer a false choice between an alliance with Europe or America. Labour believes that our relationship with America is fundamental, especially in the realm of defence and security, but also that Britain is stronger in the world when the European Union is strong, and that Britain succeeds when it leads in Europe - whether in economic policy or co-operation on security. So it comes down to this - Labour's experience and proven commitment to multilateral co-operation, versus the Conservatives who are stuck in the past, spurning alliances in Europe and helpless to defend our interests or secure the reform of global institutions.
These leader statements appear in the April 2010 issue of the RUSI Journal.
1 An update on these and other elements of progress since the first NSS, published in March 2010, is available on the No. 10 website: <http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page22899>.