Shaun Ley (interviewer): Just before we came on air I spoke to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and began by asking what areas the new National Security Strategy would focus on.
William Hague (Foreign Secretary): We have to make sure that we are equipped for the twenty first century and that means in foreign policy terms that we have to be making strong, new connections with the emerging powers of the world, we’ve started on that already as a Government. That will also help to underpin our security.
We also then have to be putting more resources and effort in to preventing conflict from arising wherever we can rather than dealing with the consequences afterwards, and we have to make sure that we are reinforcing ourselves to deal with new threats such as cyber attack. There will be areas such as that which, actually, get increased resources in the announcements that we make even though we have to make some reductions over all.
SL:** The criticism that has been made is that this policy is being driven not so much by the strategic needs that the country has identified but by the financial imperative, that in a sense this is a case of the Treasury tail wagging the defence and security dog.
WH:** Well you can gather from what I’m saying that there is a real strategy to this. So it would be, it would be a gross over simplification if not a misrepresentation to say that it’s just a financial exercise. The greatest problem we have with the defence budget is the state of the defence budget that we were left, a, a budget thirty eight billion pounds over committed even on the planned level of defence spending. And, of course, that has created a monumental problem for us that we have been grappling with over the last few weeks.
SL: The question though is whether you’re going for the right solutions and, for example, the idea that we’re going to have two enormous new aircraft carriers that may or may not come on line and be fully commissioned in the foreseeable future yet the Navy is going to be cut in terms of the number of ships and some reports today suggesting from fifty down to as few as twenty …
WH: Well the, the …
SL: … it seems a strange balance to strike.
WH:** … well you will, of course, have to wait for the announcement that the Prime Minister will out. I think it does fit together, it will fit together over time as a coherent whole but we haven’t been left a coherent picture at all. You know this was a Government that, the last Government, that commissioned aircraft carriers without having the money to pay for them.
SL: So it’s fair to say the defence shape that you’re going to end up with is not actually the one you really want?
WH:** We’re not starting from a clean sheet of paper no, we are starting from a real mess, truly awful decision making over the last decade in defence, in financial terms sometimes in strategic terms as well. But we will sort that out over time, clearly you can’t just immediately move to the pattern of forces and deployment that you might want.
SL: But that’s the criticism that is being made, that actually if you really thought you wanted to do this in a sensible, well structured way you wouldn’t have rushed it to get it done this autumn you would have stood back and said this is going to take may be two or three years.
WH:** It will take years to sort it out in to exactly what we want but there’s no reason to postpone the decision. You can’t just let things drift, that’s what the last Government did. So it is necessary to make these decisions now and then to, to spend several years yes making sure that we have the right combination of forces and deployment.
SL: Hillary Clinton made pretty clear that the US Government was worried by what it was seeing of predictions of the scale of cuts, it’s now, we’re told, going to be about an eight per cent cut, that’s pretty much been acknowledged by the Government. What reassurance were you able to offer her?
WH: Well a lot of reassurance. Hillary Clinton expressed her concerns about NATO as a whole, about Europe as a whole and its contribution to defence, I discussed this in some detail with her in Brussels on Thursday evening.
SL: Not excluding Britain from those concerns though.
WH: But not specifically singling out Britain in those concerns. And what I was able to say to her is that we will maintain a very broad width of military capabilities, that this, this is a country that will continue to have an independent nuclear deterrent, formidable intelligence agencies. It will continue to have armed forces that can be deployed around the globe, it will continue to have, you were asking about the navy, some of the best equipped warships in the world and some very effective Hunter Killer submarine, one of the most respected armies in the world.
So this remains, in NATO terms, a military power of the first rank and that is not going to change but have we had a problem …
SL: You didn’t mention the Air Force …
WH: … to sort out? Yes we certainly have.
SL: You didn’t mention the Air Force in that list of our great …
WH: Well I’m not going to give an exclusive …
SL: … of our great service achievements that will still be left after this review.
**WH: **… and we will still have an Air Force that packs a real punch as well. So I wasn’t trying to give an exclusive list but do we have to save some money across the vast majority of budgets in Government? Yes we do.
SL: The rest of the Spending Review will be announced mid week by the Prime Minister, are you worried by how the public will react to these announcements or will you be putting on the tin hat just in case?
WH: Well we don’t think it’s going to be easy but it is necessary, there is no escape from this.
SL: William Hague, Foreign Secretary, thank you very much.