The Labour government's 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) marked the end of almost twenty years during which Labour had been little more than a bystander in British defence policy-making. The ‘foreign policy-led’ SDR marked an impressive and authoritative debut, emulated by other national governments. Ten years later, however, the SDR is a fading memory. British defence is out of balance and facing immense stress, and calls are mounting for a new strategic defence review. This article examines the difficult choices which a defence review would have to make. But a defence review also requires the governmental machinery with which to analyse and understand defence, and with which those difficult choices can be made. The article argues that this machinery is wearing out. Defence policy, planning and analysis in the United Kingdom have reached a state of organizational, bureaucratic and intellectual decay which may be irrecoverable.