April 12, 2010

With all the finesse of natural born fraudsters, British politicians of whatever party are preparing the ground for swinging cuts to our national defense. Somehow, we are expected to believe that the modern world is safer and we can dispense with our current capabilities; somehow, we will be persuaded that our security is an expensive and expendable luxury we can ill-afford in an era of austerity. To this end, a Strategic Defense Review will be unveiled. It will promise to “€˜rebalance”€™ and “€˜rationalize”€™ our military posture, will be a cost-saving exercise dressed up by the politicos and driven by the Treasury. And it will be Grade-A horseshit.

Defense has always been the unloved and overlooked Cinderella of public spending, an entity to be fed on crumbs and tasked with sweeping out the dirty hearth. Soon it will become the abused child kicked screaming to the fire. Bet on it. For with nine million unproductive people on some kind of state benefit, a burgeoning bureaucracy and a grossly inefficient and ring-fenced NHS, spending on Defense is low priority.

Of course, in a perfect world of thinking politicians,  defense spending would be properly matched to current and likely future threat. Sadly in Britain, we have had Gordon Brown as both Chancellor and Prime Minister and Defense is at its lowest level as a proportion of GDP since 1930. The signs are not good. We exist within a fragmented world order where threats are varied and our ability to meet them must be multi-faceted and in depth. These capabilities do not come cheap. So governments believe they can hollow out and overstretch the armed forces and get away with it. Cue short-termism. Cue the cuts. After all, the military provide no obvious voter base and a conflict some ten or twenty years hence is not the concern of the current political elite. 

“There will come a day when negotiation fails, statesmanship is lacking and our armed forces are once more commanded to do their duty. Of one thing we may be sure”€”we will be taken by surprise.”

Just look at what the Labour government has already proposed. It argues, for example, we could avoid Defense duplication through closer cooperation with European allies such as France. Yes, really. The same France that was wiring Exocet anti-ship missiles to Argentinean aircraft while we were retaking the Falklands (and against whom MI6 was obliged to mount a sting operation to prevent further missiles reaching the customer); the same France that grudgingly deployed an aircraft carrier to the Gulf after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (having first removed its aircraft); the same France that leaked NATO targeting information to the Serbs during the Kosovo crisis; the same France that fundamentally disagreed with our position over the invasion of Iraq. Hardly the most reliable of friends. But things have changed. Or so we will be told.

To have a common Defense policy with our European associates there would need to be a common foreign policy. For all the speechifying, it does not exist. Germany looks east and does not possess the military reach or overseas interests; Italy is drawn to the Mediterranean sphere and has a habit of bolting when the going gets tough; France has a deserved reputation for unreliability. Do not be fooled by the Atlanticist sentiments of diminutive and cuckolded Nicolas Sarkozy. One day he will be gone and a new French presidency revert all too readily to its deep and long-held antipathy towards “€˜les anglophones”€™. Such is the way of cheese-eaters. Watch this space.

Britain is a maritime trading nation with global security concerns. Two-thirds of the planet is covered in water and most of our goods are carried by ship. We cannot on a whim decide it is otherwise. Iran might implode, China become more aggressive, the Middle East ignite. Few are blessed with the gift of foresight and certainly not our focus-group obsessed politicians. All we can do is prepare. We need independence, reach, flexibility and clout. Relying on others will not do. There will come a day when negotiation fails, statesmanship is lacking and our armed forces are once more commanded to do their duty. Of one thing we may be sure”€”we will be taken by surprise.

So it is a dangerous world, an environment of which British politicians seem blithely unaware and for which British forces will undoubtedly be poorly funded and ill-equipped. Lives will be lost. Plus ca change. 



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