Theresa May’s Government Should Dramatically Increase Defence Spending

USO lounge airport

It is time to reject David Cameron’s lazy, noncommittal approach to our armed forces and national defence

After a rather assured start as Britain’s new prime minister, will Theresa May act to beef up Britain’s flagging and cash-starved armed forces, making them as steely and formidable as her own carefully cultivated image?

Conservative Home makes the case:

The introductions to British defence reports are characterised by assurances of the UK’s continued global relevance and ambitions. By contrast the bodies of most reports are composed of capabilities we allegedly no longer require. At some point rhetoric and reality inevitably collide.

The Royal Navy now has 19 frigates and destroyers where in 1998 it had 34. The UK has fewer tanks than Switzerland. The British MOD leads the world in operating at the extreme edge of the possible.

Our current defence strategy is largely premised on not having to defend ourselves. The lifecycle of the defence systems and equipment procured today is up to 45 years. Forty-five years ago, in 1971, the Iron Curtain was as firm as ever, Deng Xiaoping was yet to take power and introduce China’s transformative market reforms and Osama Bin Laden was merely a wealthy Saudi teenager. By historical standards these strategic shifts are reasonably minor. Nevertheless government strategic analyses generally assume the relative stability of the last 15 years will continue indefinitely; the 2010 and 2015 defence reviews inexplicably argues the UK will no longer need the capability to deploy an expeditionary force of the size sent to Iraq or to conduct two simultaneous medium sized operations as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hopefully the 2020s are indeed an exceptionally peaceful decade, but premising our defence policy on an unstated and unjustifiable assumption they will be appears unwise.

Three illusions aid this approach to defence. Firstly over-dependence on Trident; if we continue to rely so heavily on our nuclear capabilities some scenarios will confront us with a choice between launching an immoral first-strike nuclear attack or doing absolutely nothing. Secondly over-dependence on NATO; the British Army is intended to act as an interoperable auxiliary to a much larger US force. Perhaps the US will remain highly committed to the defence of Europe, but Donald Trump is cheered when he denounces NATO and Newt Gingrich has publicly dubbed Estonia to be “a suburb of St Petersburg”. In 2012 Obama’s (largely rhetorical) pivot to Asia attempted to shift the US’s strategic and economic centre of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In this political environment, it would be unwise to have no plan for US disengagement from Nato. Finally, British defence planning tends to assume lost capabilities can be regenerated rapidly in the event of a crisis. Given the extraordinary logistical hurdles which confronted the Ministry of Defence in the run-up the Invasion of Iraq, a scenario consistent with defence planning assumptions, wide scale attempts to regenerated lost capabilities would probably be impossible except in the long-term.

Fundamentally only a very few voters have any personal contact with the military. Servicemen and women are constitutionally forbidden from protesting. The Ministry of Defence is therefore at a crucial disadvantage in interdepartmental budgetary warfare. Parliamentarians have a duty to compensate by holding the government to account. Of course there is no shortage of Conservative MPs who would favour higher defence spending but they face the challenge of highlighting less deserving areas of spending to cut instead.

Absolutely. And over-reliance on Trident in particular can only lead to a never-ending series of national humiliations, as adversaries test us and find us continually unwilling or unable to respond with conventional forces.

The military in particular needs to start throwing its weight around more, agitating for lost capabilities to be restored and highlighting the risks to Britain if they are not, rather than their current approach of quietly begging for cash behind the scenes but maintaining a brave face to the world. Sometimes, politicians need to be shamed into doing the right thing, perhaps especially when the government is a lily-livered centrist Conservative administration more concerned about pursuing “social justice” than defending the country. Operation Shame should therefore begin now.

ConHome are also right to point out that very few voters have any personal contact with the military. This is in marked contrast to countries such as the United States, where armed forces veterans are not only more visible, but much more highly honoured too. People visiting America for the first time are often struck by the frequent presence of soldiers in transit at airports, USO lounges set aside for them, and veterans being honoured at public events such as sports games or political rallies, often asked to stand as the crowd show their appreciation. Many restaurants and businesses offer a discount to veterans. In nearly every way, American society is geared to respect and honour the military more than is now the case in Britain.

The effects of the armed force’s diminished role in public life are telling. When the military is so invisible to most people most of the time, it naturally loses out in the endless departmental cash grabs every year when the government announces its budget. The NHS has a dedicated army of online priests and priestesses, endlessly and mindlessly singing the praise of the health service from dawn to dusk. Consequently, politicians terrified of electoral retribution throw more money at the NHS every year while rarely standing up to the many entrenched special interests which corrupt the working of the world’s fifth largest employer.

We need to start taking the defence and security of our country as seriously as many of us seem to take defending the NHS from criticism, reform or privatisation by the “Evil Tories”. That means putting great pressure on Theresa May and her government to show a steely resolve when it comes to protecting and growing the MOD’s share of government spending. Somebody needs to send a memo reminding Cabinet that NATO’s 2% of GDP target is a minimum aspiration, and not a level to be particularly proud of.

And we all need to let this government know that whatever other fiscal and political pressures there may be, doing the bare minimum when it comes to our national defence is simply no longer acceptable.

 

PHOTEX-HMS DIAMOND

Top Image: Nicholas Kralev

Bottom Image: Defence Industry Daily

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Why MPs Must Vote To Renew Trident

Vanguard class submarine - Royal Navy

This is no time for woolly idealism or virtue-signalling. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent must be renewed if Britain is to maintain its status as one of the world’s pre-eminent nations

Tulip Siddiq, the MP for the London – Hampstead & Kilburn constituency and my local MP, sent an email last week encouraging appealing for her constituents to send their views on the renewal of Trident, which Parliament is debating today.

And fair credit to Tulip Siddiq for doing so, rather than simply voting based on any prior ideological views she may have held on the subject. This was the email she sent:

As you will be aware, on Monday 18th July next week MPs will be voting on the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear missiles system.

I am deeply disappointed that the Government has rushed through this measure without the chance for proper debate. We are set to have just a day’s debate in Parliament over a spending commitment that will cost billions of pounds throughout its lifetime, and I would have hoped for the chance for much better scrutiny. We still do not have the wording of the motion which we are expected to vote upon.

Nevertheless, I am duty-bound to vote on this issue, and in just a matter of days I will have a momentous decision to make as your local representative. As with the vote on Syria last year I am keen to hear the views of all local residents – on both sides of the debate – ahead of this important vote.

As residents who have written to me about this in the past will know, I have consistently queried the cost-effectiveness of the Government’s plans and raised testing questions with Ministers about the options for renewal.

Given the pressure on our public services and the bleak economic outlook ahead, I think it is vital that Labour redoubles its efforts to scrutinise every penny of public spending and balance our security needs with our country’s other priorities.

I think that you – local taxpayers in this constituency – are best-placed to advise me on how you feel this money should be spent. Just as I did with Syria late last year, I will take the time to look through every comment I receive on this issue ahead of the vote, and you can expect me to respond comprehensively setting out my position in due course.

And here is my response to Siddiq:

Dear Tulip,

Parliament must vote to authorise the renewal of our nuclear deterrent as a matter of the utmost importance. Contrary to the claims of those who favour unilateral disarmament that Trident is an expensive white elephant which we never use, in fact we use our nuclear deterrent every single day, at great benefit to our nation.

Trident benefits Britain in the following ways:

1. Planting the sure knowledge in the mind of rulers of hostile regimes that a nuclear or otherwise catastrophic attack on Britain will be met with a full nuclear response – a deterrent which served us through the Cold War and which nobody should vote to scrap at a time when we can barely guess what threats we will face in 5-10 years time, let alone the medium to long terms

2. Our nuclear deterrent gives Britain a seat at the geopolitical “top tables” and underpins our seat on the P5 of the UN Security Council. The priority of every government (and every MP) must surely be to ensure that Britain’s voice and influence is projected as powerfully and clearly as possible in the world. Scrapping or downgrading our nuclear deterrent would put our permanent seat on the Security Council at risk, immediately making Britain less relevant in world affairs. This will directly harm our interests because, frankly, being a consequential player in the UN helps Britain in a myriad of tangible and intangible ways touching diplomacy, trade and military alliances.

3. Unilateral disarmament by Britain will do absolutely nothing to prompt a sudden outburst of peace or a change in the attitude of Russia and China, the non-allied nuclear powers. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping would take unilateral disarmament by the UK, put it in the bank and give nothing in return. CND activists and Green campaigners would effectively be virtue signalling their moral purity while Britain’s security and national interest were jeopardised.

4. Britain’s insatiable public services will swallow any money diverted from Trident and then still ask for more, with little money actually reaching the front lines and no great increase in performance metrics over the long term. One could throw billions of pounds more that the NHS and other public services, and newspaper headlines will still talk about how they are perpetually “in crisis”. In fact, throwing more money at public services only serves to paper over the cracks, delaying the eventual reckoning which we need to have regarding the NHS, pensions and other services. Is it really worth killing our nuclear deterrent, deliberately maiming our stature on the world stage just to feed the public services bureaucracy with the extra 0.2% of government spending which the Trident renewal will cost over its lifetime?

I hope that you will consider these points as you consider your approaching vote, and I look forward to your response.

Interestingly, the Conservative candidate defeated by Tulip Siddiq in the 2015 general election was a wishy-washy, vague Coke Zero Conservative who disagreed with the “bedroom tax” and who wanted to scrap Britain’s nuclear deterrent altogether. Shamelessly adopting these left-wing positions did not help him much.

As a “rising star” of the Labour Party and with one eye doubtless fixed on her future political ambitions it will be interesting to see which way Siddiq decides to vote this evening.

 

Trident Nuclear Submarine - Faslane Naval Base

Top Image: Guardian

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John Bolton’s Alternative American Position On Brexit

John Bolton - Brexit

Former United States UN ambassador John Bolton provides a refreshingly different – and much more authentically American – position on Brexit to that of the sitting president

In marked contrast to President Obama – who treats his country’s closest ally with utter contempt by urging the British people to accept a continued loss of sovereignty and self-governance which America would never tolerate for herself – there are a number of other, more respectful American public figures who treat British democracy with the respect it deserves.

Some of these individuals not only recognise that the EU referendum is a sovereign decision for the British people alone to make without unwelcome hectoring from the Oval Office, but also appreciate that Brexit is the far better outcome for Britain, America and the world.

One such person is former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who writes in the Telegraph:

President Barack Obama embodies the conventional wisdom, unabashedly supporting continued construction of a European superstate. Obama’s fascination with Brussels, however, reflects his own statist inclinations. His lack of international leadership perfectly mirrors the EU’s timid, ineffective defence of its own interests and values. Of course Obama loves the EU.

Arguing that today’s EU is collectively stronger than a continent of free nation-states misreads history, distorting it through a quasi-theological lens. The EU is less than the sum of its parts. Its politico-military “unity” is purest symbolism. Flags and anthems not only do not embody unity, but instead mask a poisonous, paralysing disarray.

Nor is unity reflected in incessant affirmations of Europe’s economic size, as if it were truly integrated. Indeed, if Europe had single-mindedly pursued a single market, abjuring political abstractions, it could have achieved more economic integration and broader political consensus together, rather than getting wrapped around the axle of “ever closer union”. And just as symbolic gestures do not ensure unity, reversing those symbolic gestures does not forestall Britain’s ongoing descent from representative government into Europe’s bureaucratic oligarchy. David Cameron’s proposed changes to London’s relationship with Brussels in no way addresses, let alone cures, the systemic failures inherent in EU decision-making structures.

Brilliant, stirring stuff. This blog does not often  share common cause with prominent neoconservatives in the model of John Bolton, but in this case he is absolutely correct. The point about Europe being less than the sum of its parts is particularly astute and counters the lazy (and never supported) trope that the EU amplifies our economic, military and diplomatic output, when in fact the European Union does no such thing.

The EU is far from a single, integrated economy – as John Bolton goes on to argue, the single-minded obsession with forging a political union has in many ways actually detracted from the creation of a true single market, such as could ever exist in a continent with such diverse cultures and no common language. Therefore, if we vote for Brexit, Britain will not be leaving some dynamic and prosperous unified economy – we will be leaving a political bloc dominated by an ill-fated currency union which imposes utter economic misery on the south and imposes financial obligations in the form of necessary transfer payments with the northern countries are unwilling to meet.

Bolton is also absolutely correct when he turns his analysis to the military and diplomatic angle:

America is partially at fault for the EU mirage because Nato, largely a US creation, has been so successful. For decades, sheltering under Washington’s military umbrella, Europe, including Britain, has recklessly shrivelled defence budgets and increased social-welfare expenditures. The results are not pretty. The EU has not only retreated from the world stage, it is becoming incompetent in ensuring security within its own “borders”. Europe’s loss of defence capabilities, as well as will and resolve, are deeply inimical to defending the West against today’s increasing global threats.

[..] If advocates of Britain remaining in the EU haven’t noticed, America’s international commitments are under attack from several populist directions in our ongoing presidential campaign. Some, especially among Democrats, simply do not value national security, preferring to focus on domestic issues, hoping – God forbid – to make America look more like social-democratic Europe. Others, especially among Republicans, think America’s allies have got a free ride, don’t appreciate US efforts, and should be made to fend for themselves. If Britain votes to stay In, this view may prevail across Washington. So be careful what you wish for.

These criticisms are entirely justified. Though Britain does best of the European powers in terms of maintaining any form of credible military, our armed forces have been pared back relentlessly while money is funnelled in an unearned peace dividend toward vote-winning social programmes.

And appallingly, many of the worst cutbacks have taken place under the current supposedly conservative administration of David Cameron, whose government’s disastrous stewardship of defence matters has left Britain with no maritime patrol capability and (far more crucially), no aircraft capability until the two (or possibly just one) new carriers currently being built come into service.

America has traditionally regarded Britain as her most stalwart ally because we have maintained moderate expeditionary capabilities together with the political will to use them where necessary. The political will has clearly ebbed away, as evidenced by the recent debacle with Parliament’s response to the Syrian crisis, and the expeditionary capabilities are gravely imperilled too. The Pentagon has always operated on the assumption that Britain could be relied upon to field an entire division operating independently of American forces in any joint action, but this is now being re-evaluated.

Part of the EU’s problem is that it has pretensions of significance on the world stage which are simply not matched by its willingness to divert money from generous social programmes to pay for them. Our defence is literally being guaranteed by the American working poor, who go without the kind of welfare perks (like working tax credits) and government-provided universal healthcare that we take for granted, in order to fund the American military machine.

Then there is also the issue of duplication. As well as spending far less on defence spending in real terms, the stubborn refusal of EU member states to give up the last vestige of sovereignty by abolishing national armies and contributing to joint European armed services means that there is massive duplication of HQ and some core infrastructure, while not nearly enough of everything else. There are probably enough European generals and admirals to fully man a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and yet Europe does not possess even one comparable ship (to America’s ten).

In all of these ways, the European Union fails to pull its weight, let alone punch above its own weight, and actively contributes to making Europe far less than the sum of its parts.

As Bolton rightly notes, flags and anthems do not embody unity. And in the European Union’s case, these ostentatious pretensions of statehood only mark the desperation of certain political elites to escape the irritant of accountability to their own electorates and instead dissolve themselves into the unaccountable anonymity of Brussels supranational governance. Or – to see the project in the kindest possible light – they reflect a desperate effort to create a single European demos through sheer force of will, the geopolitical equivalent of “if you build it, they will come”.

But no European demos came, and none is coming. The entire European Union is built on an imaginary foundation and cannot hope to succeed, let alone win the respect and devotion of an informed citizenry.

Ambassador John Bolton gets it. Tragically, Barack Obama does not.

 

European Union - United Kingdom - Britain - Flags

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Yellow Submarine Policy

Trident Nuclear Submarine - Faslane Naval Base

Jeremy Corbyn’s yellow submarine proposal is nothing but a white elephant, with all the cost and none of the benefits of nuclear deterrence

Spare a thought for those in peril on the Labour Party’s Trident renewal commission. As they seek to square their leader’s avowed nuclear disarmament stance with the parliamentary party’s broad support for Trident renewal, they are being forced to consider – and publicly discuss – ever more ridiculous potential compromises.

Jeremy Corbyn’s latest proposal is particularly bad, and would involve spending billions of pounds designing and building the next generation Trident submarines, but – crucially – not arming them with any new weapons.

The Guardian reports:

Jeremy Corbyn has suggested the UK could have Trident submarines without nuclear weapons, a move that would mean disarmament while protecting defence jobs in Scotland and Cumbria.

The Labour leader raised the idea on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show as a possible compromise between his opposition to nuclear weapons and the position of the trade unions, which want to protect the jobs of workers who will build replacement Trident submarines.

In an interview over the weekend, the Labour leader argued it was not a binary decision on whether to replace Trident submarines, suggesting a possible compromise. Pressed on the Marr Show as to what this meant for Trident, Corbyn said: “They don’t have to have nuclear warheads on them.”

[..] Asked again whether he was suggesting that new submarines could be built to be used without nuclear warheads, Corbyn said: “There are options there. The paper that Emily Thornberry has put forward is very interesting and deserves study of it. I hope there will be a serious and mature response.” He also stressed that he would want to maintain employment for people in the defence industry, who would be involved in building Trident submarines, as a “first priority”.

Thornberry told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “The way that it works is that the Japanese have got a capability to build a nuclear bomb…[but] you can then put them on to, or you can use them, in various delivery forms. So that’s a possibility, that is an option.” She said she would not speculate on what the review would recommend but she added that Corbyn “said there’s a number of options, and I said the Japanese already have this as the way that they use theirs”.

This is ludicrous.

Nuclear-powered submarines capable of carrying and launching Trident nuclear warheads are very expensive, as you would expect from high-tech stealth technology designed to last for a generation. Their only value is the fact that they provide a near-undetectable, continuous at-sea presence, so that any would-be aggressor knows that whatever attack they may launch at Britain, a retaliatory response always remains possible.

Investing in a new generation of nuclear submarines but failing to simultaneously build a new generation of missiles and warheads to deliver them would be like… well, it would be like commissioning two new aircraft carriers which will come into service without any aircraft capable of launching from them.

But at least this ludicrous defensive gap of the Conservative government’s making is only temporary. The aircraft to complement the Queen Elizabeth class carriers will follow the commissioning of the ships, albeit an embarrassing couple of years late.

Not so the Trident missiles to supply the next generation of submarines. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, Britain’s four (or three? Two?) new Vanguard replacement submarines will dart around under the ocean carrying no weapons and providing no deterrence of any kind. In fact, they may not launch at all, since Jeremy Corbyn probably sees little value in keeping a Navy. So in theory, Britain could end up spending over £20 billion designing and building four new ICBM-carrying submarines, only to sit back and watch them grow cobwebs in dry dock.

Jeremy Corbyn would counter – and indeed his ministerial colleague Emily Thornberry has already pointed out – that Britain would retain the ability to produce nuclear weapons under Labour’s latest plan. But this is extraordinarily misleading. By their nature, the kind of potential nuclear crises that Trident protects us from every day are impossible to anticipate and come about suddenly or with no warning. And in such cases, having the ability to one day rebuild a nuclear deterrent capability is very far indeed from having a system already live and operational.

In cases of nuclear blackmail or brinkmanship, it is not enough to say to our enemy “just you wait 12 months while we build our own nuclear weapon to destroy you, then you’ll be sorry!”. When you need the credible threat of nuclear weapons, you need it now, not after a lengthy lead time during which our design and construction facilities would be vulnerable to sabotage from within or attack from without. But this is precisely what Jeremy Corbyn proposes.

This is socialist pacifism at its most absurd. When people criticise Corbynite policies, their defenders retort that we misrepresent them by taking their publicly expressed ideas to illogical extremes. But in this case, Jeremy Corbyn himself has stated that the illogical extreme is his preferred option.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Britain would be a country which builds things not to use them or gain any utility from them at all (in this case the valuable insurance policy of nuclear deterrence), but rather just to give the people with a vested interest in their construction something to do. In this perverse worldview, keeping union chiefs happy and workers employed is a worthy national objective, but guaranteeing Britain’s national security and promoting our interests by ensuring that we are taken seriously as a military power is of no importance.

But never let it be said that the Corbynites don’t do compromise. Jeremy Corbyn may find the idea of nuclear weapons – or any military spending at all, really – to be morally repugnant and utterly indefensible, but because the trades union like the jobs which come from submarine construction and maintenance, he is willing to tolerate Britain’s continued construction of the things – just so long as we don’t ever use them.

What next? Why not have the armed forces spend all their time rolling massive boulders up hills in the Peak District, sending them tumbling down and pushing them back up again, in order to give the military something to do which doesn’t involve handling weapons? Why not extend the same principle to the British people at large, and pay everyone currently on JSA thirty grand a year to do the same?

A nation of people industriously labouring away to build complex, expensive machines whose purpose they fail to understand, and which they neither appreciate nor value. Just so that people have something to do besides watching Jeremy Kyle on daytime TV.

Welcome to Corbynland.

Unarmed Trident missile fired from HMS Vigilant

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The Only Thing Worse Than Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn Would Be A Military Coup Removing Him

Troops Westminster Parliament

The Armed Forces deserve our strong support in the face of ongoing budget cuts and the depletion of their capabilities, but we must never tolerate the interference of arrogant generals in our democracy

Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist policies, well-intentioned though some of them are, would bring Britain to ruin so quickly that the damage would quickly become irreparable. But does that give military leaders the right to openly muse about destabilising a hypothetical Corbyn government, or launching their own Very British Coup?

Apparently so, according to comments made to the Sunday Times by a senior serving Army general, and widely reported in the press:

The senior serving general, speaking anonymously to the Sunday Times, said Mr Corbyn’s victory has been greeted with ‘wholesale dismay’ in the army.

He added: ‘There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.

‘Feelings are running very high within the armed forces. You would see a major break in convention with senior generals directly and publicly challenging Corbyn over vital important policy decisions such as Trident, pulling out of Nato and any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces.

‘The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.’

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