Mercury Opinion: Battle lines drawn in wrong place
Defence secretary Philip Hammond set out his stall pretty clearly over the weekend about his intention to fight against any further cuts to military spending. He says that it was not possible to make any more significant reductions without "eroding military capability".
He believes that welfare spending should be cut instead as a result of rising employment levels.
This stance is widely seen by commentators as putting him on a collision course with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners who will resist cuts to the welfare budget.
The defence budget has already taken a hammering under the 2010 strategic defence review with an eight per cent cut in real terms, resulting in troop numbers being cut by about 30,000 personnel.
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Mr Hammond believes enough is enough; that the defence budget has already taken its fair share of the pain; and that the first priority of Government has to be to ensure the defence of the nation.
The defence budget is about £33.6bn in 2013, while the welfare budget is about £117bn.
So, on the face of things, Mr Hammond would seem to have a point. Even a small percentage cut in the welfare budget would protect defence spending and if employment is rising that must surely be possible.
However, unemployment benefit is only a small proportion of the welfare budget, about £10bn, so it is not quite as straightforward as it may seem.
Clearly, defence spending could be cut significantly if the UK was prepared to have a much smaller military force whose sole purpose was to protect these islands.
However, it also has wider responsibilities as part of Nato which commit it to a far greater role in world affairs.
And the reality is that the world is simply too unstable and unpredictable for the military to be cut much further without risking the UK's international standing and influence, and its ability to respond to future emergencies.
Mr Hammond's argument is a strong one. However, his focus on welfare spending as the alternative strikes us as the wrong target. The amount that will be saved by rising employment levels is far from clear and we cannot quite see how the Government can possibly commit to saving money in this way at this stage.