Defence cuts leave armed forces unable to fulfil ministers’ demands, warns military chief

General Sir David Richards said ministers' demands had not been revised despite the defence cuts
General Sir David Richards said ministers' demands had not been revised despite the defence cuts
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The Government’s cuts are so severe that the armed forces are unable to do everything demanded by ministers, the Chief of the Defence Staff has warned.

• Claims ministers’ expectations haven’t changed despite reduced armed forces.

• Criticism over failure to find political solution in Afghanistan.

General Sir David Richards said that ministers’ demands had not been revised to allow for the reduced size of the armed forces in the wake of recent cuts, meaning they often find it difficult to fulfil their duties.

The warning comes after the Strategic Defence and Security Review brought an 8% cut in real-terms funding and reductions in manpower totalling 30,000 personnel, a move which has raised fears that Britain’s military influence abroad could be severely restricted. With the announcement of the cuts it was revealed that Britain’s long-standing military presence in Germany will come to and end, with the army due to withdraw by the year 2020.

In a lecture to Oxford University’s department of politics and international relations, Sir David said that the expectations of ministers were often out of touch with the level of capability to which the armed forces were restricted after the defence review.

“We have a whole load of tasks expected of us,” he said.

“Our political masters are quite happy to reduce the size of the Armed Forces, but their appetite to exercise influence on the world stage is, quite understandably, the same as it has always been.

Biggest concerns

“Often politicians say to me, ‘can you go and do this?’ I say to them, ‘with what?’.”

“If you reduce your Armed Forces, there is going to be a give - something gives.”

He also expressed anxiety about the number of frigates and destroyers possessed by the Royal Navy, saying that was one of his “biggest concerns”, and criticised the failure to find a “political resolution” in Afghanistan despite the opportunities afforded by the military.

“All the military can do is buy space and time and opportunity for a political resolution of a problem. It is a great shame that we have not understood this.”

Sir David also raised concern that politicians had failed to act swiftly enough to improve the political situation in the war-torn country.

“This is not a matter for military, diplomats, politicians,” he said. “This is a matter of collectively failing to exploit the opportunity the military gained,” he said.

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of the Defence Staff insisted that the military capability required under the defence review could still be achieved with the resources available, but said ministers were well aware of the constraints facing armed forces in the wake of the cuts.


Sir David said: “The nature of military operations is that need is always balanced against available resources. It is the job of senior military commanders to help the government assess those priorities against the resources available, especially in the current economic conditions.

“It is right that candid military analysis keeps the Government aware of constraints while the Government, rightly, seeks to achieve the maximum effect with the assets available.

“As I have said before, I and the Chiefs of Staff agree that we can deliver the military capability required by the SDSR with the resources available.

“On Afghanistan, we all agree that you cannot win an insurgency through military means alone, it has always been understood that a political solution will ultimately be required.”