The Armed Forces

Our armed services are vital to supporting a foreign and security policy that has credibility and to promoting our values around the world. The mistake of cashing in the 'peace dividend' too early has left our armed services severely weakened in a time of great need. We will seek to restore equipment, troop numbers and training to the levels required to meet the current and prospective future demands.

For the first time in 300 years, the Royal Navy is smaller than the French Navy. Defence expenditure has slipped considerably as a proportion of GDP, and recent conflicts have shown severe deficiencies in logistical support and basic equipment. Further cuts are now planned, making it likely that Britain will be unable to sustain troop deployments on the current scale in the future. Whilst it is legitimate to argue that our weapons systems need to be upgraded, and it is right that we invest in high-tech systems, we must also maintain a sufficient number of troops.

We urgently require a weapons system review and upgrade to ensure that our armed services have the resources and support required to meet our defence needs. Effective air, sea and land forces are a vital ingredient for an achievable foreign policy, and defence expenditure should be set at the level necessary to maintain a leading role among European nations. Our policy must include an appropriate replacement for Trident.

We do not object in principle to European defence co-operation, but it must not detract from NATO, it must enable us to maintain our technical and intelligence relationship with the US and it must not weaken our capacity to act whenever necessary. The lesson from Kosovo, for example, was that we cannot allow a situation where military decisions on the ground have to pass through multiple governments and their lawyers.

It is essential that we work with our partners in NATO to achieve compatibility of equipment and communications, but we also need to ensure that the UK retains autonomous capabilities in all key areas. Procurement policy has shifted disastrously in recent years without reference to parliament. We will cancel procurement programmes not based on military effectiveness.

Defence procurement must take account of long-term strategic considerations, avoid over-dependence on other countries and ensure that our armed services have the best possible equipment. We also need, for strategic reasons, to sustain our own defence industries and their related skills. This may mean, for example, producing some equipment in the UK under licence.

Decisions on military action are ultimately taken by political leaders, but such decisions are dangerous if not taken on sound information. After the failures exposed in the gathering of intelligence ahead of the Iraq conflict, increased priority needs to be given to enhancing the effectiveness of the intelligence services. We will also act proactively to reduce the incidence of future problems.