There is much speculation in the UK press on the subject of where cuts might fall in the UK's defence expenditure. The debate arises because of the Defence Review that is under way. Surprisingly, there is little or no comment locally. Surprisingly because Gibraltar has rarely, if ever, escaped cuts following such reviews. Many have been scathing, for example, the withdrawal of the resident battalion, cuts in civilian employees, closure of the dockyard. History teaches us that there is only a minute chance that cuts will not affect Gibraltar.
In the shorter term, cuts could come in the form of reduction or cancellation of accompanied tours to Gibraltar and replacing these with unaccompanied tours. The latter results in substantial infrastructural cost savings, e.g. housing, medical, education and suchlike. Another shorter term cut might be the resuscitation of attempts to integrate the Defence Police with the RGP, or reduce numbers in the former.
Short term cuts of this nature, if they materialise at all, will affect our economy but they can be absorbed and overcome with careful planning and policy improvements to stimulate other areas of the economy. Potential longer term strategic decisions that may result from the Defence Review 2010 may have more substantive political consequences to Gibraltar. These will require careful analysis and thought to overcome their effect.
I refer to any decision that may be taken on the subject of the future reach of UK defence i.e. does it intend to maintain a credible independent force capable of international operations or one that will only participate in operations in far flung countries as part of an international force? If the latter, then, is it not possible that distant bases, like Gibraltar and Cyprus, might become surplus to operational requirements and, therefore, an expense that is not justified? It may be that when compared with other operational expenses that may need to be maintained or increased the expense of maintaining such bases will not be such a priority.
A further debate that is being had, that may impact on Gibraltar, is whether or not the UK will finalise contracts to build its proposed two super sized aircraft carriers. If it decides to go ahead with these, will Gibraltar's airport and, indeed its base, be so necessary to ensure that the UK's defence and foreign policy objectives can be achieved?
I do not know the answer to these questions but they raise serious issues requiring careful thought and consideration by our politicians. I know that history teaches Gibraltar that it is not immune from cost cuts made to the UK's defence budget. Ignoring the possibility is not, in my mind, an option for Gibraltar. If Gibraltar ceases to be an important defence asset for the UK the repercussions to Gibraltar in the area of international relations could be serious.