Once the controversy over the manner of his appointment dies down, Gavin Williamson will have to press ahead with his brief. What challenges will confront him at the MoD?by John Louth / November 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
Gavin Williamson, the new Secretary of State for Defence, has his hands full—which is not a sentence you’d want to utter about his predecessor. The latter fell on his sword last week after it became clear that Andrea Leadsom might walk out on the government if he stayed, reporting to the prime minister a number of sexist remarks made to her, or within her hearing, by Fallon.
Ignoring the claims of junior ministers with a proven pedigree in military affairs, such as Penny Mordant or Tobias Ellwood, May chose Chief Whip Gavin Williamson as the new Defence Secretary—a man with few known interests in the armed forces or national security. This seemed a little rum, of course, as Williamson had been part of the close group of advisers recommending to May that Fallon should go. But leaving aside these manoeuvres and counter moves, what is the “to do” list that the new Defence Secretary is faced with? This can be divided into three distinct ticket items.
The National Security Review
The change in the senior leadership at the MoD could not have come at a more inconvenient moment. The Department is embroiled in the National Security Council’s mini-review of 2015’s Strategic Defence and Security Review to decide whether the assumptions on force structures, capabilities and required military effects made just a few years ago were still appropriate. Brexit, the election of President Trump, a resurgent Russia and an increasingly ambitious China have caused a lack of confidence in the defence and security policy communities who are seeking to reaffirm the purposes of the military component and the intelligence and security agencies. Add to this challenges in the Middle East, the Korean peninsula and threats from cyberspace, questions have been posed around whether we are spending our large defence budget in the right places on the right capabilities and in the right manner. Williamson will be expected to have a formed a coherent view on all of these things—if he relies on his senior military and civilian officials he will find that he is offered multiple items of contradictory advice.