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1957 - Sandys Review

The 1957 Sandys Review was to some extent a response to the Suez debacle of the previous year which was a diplomatic disaster and had revealed the poor state of readiness of British forces and the obsolescence of much of their equipment. The resulting review (conducted over a two month period) placed the priorities on nuclear deterrence and missiles. It proposed the phased ending of national service with the last call-up in 1960 (reducing service manpower from around 700,000 to around 400,000 by the early 'sixties). Overseas garrisons were to be reduced, replaced to an extent by aircraft carriers. One of its proposals- 'that fighter aircraft will in due course be replaced by a ground-to-air guided missile system' - showed the danger of making premature predictions. It was an error which had some serious consequences for the UK aerospace industry. However, the rebalancing of forces away from East of Suez and toward Europe was frustrated by events. By 1960, British Army of the Rhine numbers had been cut to 55,000 while 100,000 troops were still stationed in the Middle and Far East.

The government's White Paper included a number of refrains that would become familiar over the next few decades, for example : "A defence plan, if it is to be effective and economical, must be based on a clear understanding of the military responsibilities to be discharged ... The aim must be to provide well-equipped forces sufficient to carry out these duties, while making no greater demands than are absolutely necessary upon manpower, money and other national resources ... Experience has shown that the rapid progress of scientific development and fluctuations in the international situation make it difficult to foresee future military requirements with any certainty, and that consequently a good deal of flexibility must be maintained. Nevertheless, an attempt must be made to establish a broad framework within which long-term planning can proceed ... The new defence plan set out in this paper involves the biggest change in military policy ever made in normal times ... The Government are confident that this defence plan, while helping to relieve the strain upon the economy, will produce compact all-regular forces of the highest quality, armed and organised on the most up-to-date lines."

These words could have served, almost unchanged, as the introduction to the White Paper published in July 1998. We might compare them for example to these sections from the opening chapter of the 1998 SDR - "Defence planning is a long term business. Major equipments take years to develop and typically have lives of twenty five or more. Events since the fall of the Berlin Wall-just nine years ago-show that the political and strategic world can change radically within such timescales. History reminds us that this can be for the worse as well as the better. Social and technological transformation has also been rapid and we can expect this to continue, affecting both our daily lives and the role of our Armed Forces over the next twenty years. We need to take account of such changes and exploit them wherever we can ... The purpose of the Review was not only to meet the challenges of today's complex international scene but also to provide the flexibility to respond to those we may face well into the new century ... We cannot predict the future but if we are to meet it confidently we must have a clear long term view of our objectives and how we expect defence to contribute to them ... The Strategic Defence Review aims to provide the country with modern, effective and affordable Armed Forces which meet today's challenges but are also flexible enough to adapt to change."

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:08:04 ZULU