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RUSI: Implementing the SDSR: Many difficult decisions are still to come

The UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) has just begun to identify how the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will be able to meet the challenging target for spending cuts that it has been set, according to a new paper from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Unbalancing the Force: Prospects for UK Defence After the SDSR, by Professor Malcolm Chalmers, points out that defence spending is now due to be cut by 7.5% in real terms over the next four years, even as the armed forces remain heavily committed to ongoing operations in Afghanistan. In contrast to spending cuts at the end of the Cold War, the paper points out, 'This new round of cuts ... is primarily a response to a worsening fiscal environment, not to an improving strategic situation.' 
While the SDSR announced significant reductions in front-line naval and air capabilities, it has not succeeded in eliminating the £38 billion 'funding gap' which it had inherited from the previous administration. As a consequence, 'many more difficult decisions will need to be made...... If planned efficiency savings prove impossible to achieve, the government will have to look again at some of the force structure decisions taken in 2010.'
Given the continuing existence of a substantial funding gap, the paper argues, it will be 'important to use Afghanistan withdrawal as an opportunity for a significant rebalancing of the force structure', probably including a cut in the proportion of the budget devoted to land capabilities. If it does not, the government may have to revisit some of the more radical options, previously rejected, for cuts in maritime and air capability. In an age of strategic uncertainty, the paper argues, this may not be the time for a permanent shift towards a more land-centric force structure. 
To view in full Unbalancing the Force: Prospects for UK Defence After the SDSR and learn more about the Future Defence Review series, please visit