Defence

May 1, 1998

Tony Blair's government is one year old today. What challenges lie ahead, what has it achieved so far and, if Labour celebrates ten years in power, how will Britain look in 2007? The experts give their verdicts.

While in opposition the basic objective of Labour's defence policy was to neutralise the issue. To do this they repositioned the party as supportive of the services, ready to use force to back up foreign policy and to sustain Britain as a nuclear power. The major policy proposal was a demand for a far-reaching defence review, which was seen to be a way of avoiding controversial stances. As defence reviews have the reputation of being cost-cutting exercises, the new government went to great lengths to insist that the Treasury was being kept firmly in place. Labour's was to be a foreign policy-led review. This strategic defence review will be published soon. Its broad contours are now well known, including an emphasis on force projection beyond Europe, requiring orders for replacement carriers and more air and sea-lift capability.

Secretary of defence George Robertson has handled the review process well, with extensive consultation and remarkably little in-fighting. Many Labour supporters were disappointed with the exclusion of Trident and the expensive European Fighter Aircraft from the review, but have been more impressed with efforts to tackle racism and the exclusion of gays in the services.

Lawrence Freedman is professor of war studies at King's College and a member of the MoD's advisory panel on the Strategic Defence Review.

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