DCP2023: Nothing-burger on a shingle?

Or brilliant conceptual exercise hampered by lack of money?

Paul Mason


“Our mission is clear,” begins the UK’s 2023 Defence Command Paper, issued last week: “to protect the nation and help it prosper”. It continues:

“That does not just mean more ships, tanks and jets — indeed in this document there are deliberately no new commitments on platforms at all– because on that we stand by what we published in 2021.” (my emphasis)

In short, some 18 months after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the UK has produced no comprehensive plan to upgrade its armed forces in response. It pledges:

“We will make a comprehensive force commitment to the Alliance through a substantial offer to the new NATO Force Model (NFM).”

But it does not specify what that force will be.

It commits to no new platforms, no new weapons, no force redesign. Beneath these absences lies a story of reduced army numbers, gaps in capabilities and mis-procurement on a grand scale.

Instead the payload of DCP2023 is £2.5bn extra to refill ammunition stockpiles, some warm words about future collaboration with the defence industry and a controversial attempt to rethink the military concept of “mass”.

It promises:

“to develop a force that is optimised to war-fight in the Euro-Atlantic and in defence of our homeland”.

But it does not lay out a plan develop that force. Giving its authors the benefit of the doubt, there may indeed be reasons to address cultural, doctrinal and procurement problems in advance of redesigning Britain’s armed forces to deter Russian aggression, and committing them to NATO.

But the political reason for doing one and not the other is clear: Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, lost the argument for substantial British rearmament.

As a result, some politicians and expert commentators have seen DCP2023 as a “nothingburger” — a placeholder for decisions that can only happen after either (a) Labour wins the election or (b) the Tories abandon austerity.

Wallace signalled his coming resignation before the command paper’s publication and is already in…



Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.