Obviously, the additional costs incurred on overseas operations (e.g. Afghanistan and Iraq) do not impact on the defence budget. Since 2001, the Treasury Reserve has provided an additional £9.5 billion on top of the defence budget to cover our involvement in post-9/11 conflicts. Nevertheless, if our military infrastructure continues to be drastically eroded, we risk reaching the point where we can barely meet our treaty obligations, let alone respond to new situations in North Africa and the Middle East.
Obviously, when the Strategic Defence and Security Review was being deliberated, no one could have known that Libya was on the verge of civil war and that Colonel Gaddafi would threaten a massacre of thousands of his own civilians. Well, you might argue (and many have) that we should have the ability to respond swiftly and efficiently to the unexpected.
On the other hand, trimming back our military expenditure and adopting a more pragmatic, less expansive (and expensive) defence policy is exactly what the Review was all about. It questioned our obligation to act as the world’s policeman. It suggested we should become more circumspect about our role as benevolent fixer of broken states. It implied we should think twice before getting involved in spats that do not directly impinge upon our national security. Most insurance policies have an ‘Act of God’ disclaimer.
Yes, as a nation we want to fulfil an appropriate and proportionate role in world affairs, negotiating and influencing international relations. But if we want to be considered a ‘force for good’, we should guard against being perceived as trigger-happy. People who live in glass houses don’t take out insurance. They stop throwing stones.