Former Chief of the General Staff General Lord Dannatt said it was time to look again at the £4 billion cuts in the Ministry of Defence’s budget and “consider whether we ought to be spending a bit more on defence”.
While the MoD was spared the swingeing cuts meted out to other departments in last year’s spending review, the eight per cent cut in its budget required the loss of high-profile equipment including the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and Harrier jump-jets.
The Ark Royal was decommissioned in December, making it unavailable as a Mediterranean base for British jets to police the planned no-fly zone in Libya.
Lord Dannatt – who was highly critical of the previous Government’s approach to military spending – said the loss of Britain’s only aircraft carrier was “emotive” but may not have made much of an impact on operations in Libya.
But he told Sky News’s Murnaghan programme: “In any changing dynamic set of circumstances, it is right for the government of the day to review its past decisions.
“Quite clearly the situation in north Africa and the Middle East does constitute changed circumstances.
“At the very least, I think the National Security Council, Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office ought to just go back around the buoys again, to make sure that the decisions taken last autumn still stand up and are credible in the light of where we are this spring.
“If it looks as if the world has changed and is less secure then, although our financial position nationally is difficult (they should) consider whether we ought to be spending a bit more on defence.
“It’s a fair question to be asked. I don’t know what the answer is yet.”
Mr Cameron, known to be far from a hawk on military matters, is said to be keenly aware that the use of force to exert Britain’s influence overseas must be tempered by a recognition of the country’s straitened financial circumstances and faced a tough battle within his Cabinet regarding the level of MoD spending.