LONDON – Britain has a new Defense Secretary. The surprise choice to fill the vacancy left by Ben Wallace is Secretary of Energy Grant Shapps.
The appointment follows Wallace’s announcement earlier this summer that he would be stepping down after more than four years in office. He had previously vacated his post on August 31 with a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak containing a veiled warning of cuts in defense spending.
“I know you will agree that we must not go back to the days when defense was seen as a government discretionary expense and savings were made by gouging,” he wrote.
This will be Shapps’ fifth senior cabinet position in a year. One of Britain’s most experienced ministers, Shapps has held numerous senior positions throughout government, but none in defence.
Treasury Secretary John Glen was widely considered to be Wallace’s successor, as was former Defense Secretary Liam Fox, who left the Department of Defense in 2011.
Some analysts and politicians have expressed concern about Shapps, arguing that he lacks direct knowledge of the complex geopolitical, military and industrial issues critical to the job.
“There is no other way to put it: Shapps is, in my view, a bad choice and a potential disaster for Britain’s defense and could – of all the decisions current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has taken so far – go under – by far the worst,” said Howard Wheeldon from the consulting firm Wheeldon Strategic Advisory. “It is not the first time that a British Prime Minister has appeared to have appointed a Cabinet Secretary who will do as he is told.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, New Statesman magazine political journalist Rachel Cunliffe said the appointment made some sense.
“He is a skilled political actor and has served under four of the last five Conservative prime ministers[s]. He’s a great survivor. Rishi Sunak has clearly made the decision that he wants someone in this post he can trust and an ally in his cabinet, and Grant Shapps fits the bill perfectly,” she said.
Labor shadow defense secretary John Healey congratulated Shapps on his appointment but said a new defense secretary would not change the Conservative Party’s defense record.
“After 13 years of failing Tory defence, a change at the top will not change that record. With further cuts to the army, growing concerns about the UK’s NATO commitments and billions of pounds wasted on defense procurement, the Defense Secretary has serious issues to deal with in the coming days,” Healey said.
Ben Barry, senior fellow on land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in London, said Wallace will be difficult to track.
“He was a good defense secretary, getting many tough decisions right and securing much-needed additional funding for defense, but not all previous gouges have been undone and his successor faces significant challenges,” Barry explained.
“There are still unfinished business for Wallace’s successor. He has to deal with the poor procurement process and the increase in equipment costs. If it is true that the Ajax [armored vehicle] If the project is on track, that will be welcome, but new nuclear capacity appears to be growing in cost unchecked. It is also now overdue to explain which British forces will be allocated to NATO,” Barry added. “The war in Ukraine revealed the significant weakening of both combat capability and supplies. While funds have been made available to reverse this, it is not clear if this will be enough.”
Jon Louth, an independent analyst, said he doesn’t expect Shapps to be heavily involved in shaping the country’s defense sector.
“I don’t think we’ll be hearing much from him on defense. He is more of a frontline general political actor than a sharp-witted, focused detailman. His value lies in his communication skills – he is capable of speaking for the government in the next elections,” he said.
Andrew Chuter is Defense News’ UK correspondent.
Source : www.defensenews.com