Where Are Our Priorities? Tory Defence Cuts Are Dangerous And Unnecessary

Troops Westminster Parliament

 

Ministry of Defence ordered to find £1 billion of further cost savings from the defence budget while OFGEM gives £500 million to power companies to make electrical power lines look prettier

Government has no more fundamental duty than the protection of the realm from threats foreign and domestic. But while David Cameron’s Conservative majority government is quick to take action against domestic threats (eagerly spending money and passing laws which undermine our fundamental freedoms and civil liberties in the process), it is worryingly weak when it comes to keeping Britain well equipped to deal with foreign dangers.

In just the latest manifestation of Tory disdain for defence issues, no sooner had the Conservatives secured their surprising general election victory than George Osborne sent an edict to the MoD demanding that they find another £1 billion of cost savings from an already pared back and insufficient budget.

Isabel Hardman, writing in The Spectator, remarks:

Even though the prospect of Britain failing to meet that Nato target is upsetting Washington, and even though it is something that agitates Tory backbenchers, and even though one Labour leadership candidate (Liz Kendall) has said they would stick to 2 per cent, this is unlikely to cause as big a row in Westminster as perhaps it should.

For starters, the Opposition is still officially not endorsing the 2 per cent target. For another thing, one of the best-briefed proponents of the Tories keeping their commitments, Rory Stewart, is no longer chair of the Defence Select Committee and is now a minister. And for another thing, Tory MPs are trying their best currently to behave rather than pick fights. Even if they did, a rebellion organised by a backbencher would number a few dozen at the most and would unlikely to be joined by Labour unless Liz Kendall wins the party leadership. There will be criticism from the sidelines, but few are expecting any sort of real trouble that is troublesome for the government.

Of course, this is only if you measure trouble as being purely confined to the walls of the Palace of Westminster, rather than the sort of trouble the armed forces may be required to deal with but just with even further reduced capabilities, but there we go.

Continue reading

Advertisements

UKIP Are Not The Ones Playing Politics With The Armed Forces

UKIP General Election 2015 Poster - Armed Forces - Dont Make Our Heroes Beg For More

 

UKIP’s latest election campaign poster is quite striking, and not just because it has none of the bland, derivative unoriginality that marks out Labour’s feeble effort to capitalise on public fears about ‘our NHS’.

The body shot of a soldier in camouflage gear, holding out his helmet as though asking for a donation, with the words “Don’t Make Our Heroes Beg For More” should prick the consciousness of the nation – in Britain we do far too little to fund our national defence, honour those who currently serve in uniform and support those who have borne the burden of keeping us safe.

The BBC summarises the UKIP announcement on defence:

UKIP has set out its defence policy, including a new independent veterans’ minister and a national defence medal for all members of the armed forces.

It would also cut foreign aid in order to spend 2% of GDP on defence.

The party said there was “not a cigarette paper” between the defence policies of the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems.

Sadly, not everyone sees UKIP’s announcement as a good thing. The Conservative Party, perhaps having finally rediscovered their sense of shame at the way they have squandered their traditional position as natural party of the armed forces, has gone firmly on the attack, accusing UKIP of “playing politics” with the topic of defence.

From the Daily Mail:

A Conservative Party spokesman said Mr Farage was ‘playing politics with the military in a calculated and completely irresponsible way’.

He added: ‘We’ve balanced the defence budget after inheriting a truly enormous black hole from Labour. We have the second largest defence budget in Nato after the United States and will spend over £160 billion in the next decade on new military equipment.

‘It comes down to this: you can only have strong armed forces if you have a strong economy first. That’s exactly what this Government is delivering. Ukip would put that at risk – making it up as they go along and letting Ed Miliband into Downing Street by the back door.’

In truth, UKIP are not so much “playing politics” with defence as they are being the only party bothering to talk about what should be a central issue in 2015. Can UKIP really be blamed for daring to bring up the British government’s shameful neglect of our armed forces and military capability when the other major political parties are determined to bury their heads in the sand? Can Nigel Farage really be accused of political opportunism for bringing up an important topic for public debate when David Cameron and Ed Miliband would rather pretend that the issue did not exist?

Continue reading

With Military Cutbacks, Even Britain’s Shows Of Strength Reveal Weakness

RAF Russian Bomber Operation Rising Panther

 

The Express reports today that the Royal Air Force has recently conducted its largest air defence exercise in over thirty years, in response to the increasing frequency of Russian incursions into British air space and spheres of influence:

Operation Rising Panther, the first of six proposed air defence operations due to take place every year, will “show Vladimir Putin in no uncertain terms” that Britain is ready, willing and able counter increasing Russian aggression should the need arise, say military sources.

More than 30 aircraft, including 20 Typhoons and Tornado fighter jets as well as a range of ED-3, AWACS, Sentinal and Shadow surveillance aircraft took part in the mock attack-and-defence wargames over the North east of England, as well as ground-based command teams.

At first glance, this sounds like a positive development – like maybe the British government has finally woken up to the fact that history did in fact not end at the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that future threats to our national interest and national security will remain, and be unpredictable, for many years to come. Given the circumstances, a show of force by the British military might be no bad thing.

And so it is, until you read the small print:

The Ministry of Defence played down Rising Panther’s significance, maintaining that it was merely the first opportunity since the end of hostilities in Afghanistan to hold an air exercise of this scale.

“Due to our continuing commitment to operations overseas, this is the first time we have had the full spectrum of our capability operating together at the same time in a realistic, opposed, environment,” said Wing Commander Andy Coe in the Ministry of Defence-run RAF News.

He added that this was the first time that the RAF had used AWACS and Sentinel together because they have been “in such high demand” in theatres abroad.

It is the facts that are implied, rather than those which are stated, which are most significant here.

Continue reading

Beware The Short-Termism Of Those Who Fail To Prioritise Defence Spending

HMS Queen Elizabeth

 

As Britain heads toward an incredibly hard-to-predict general election, nearly everything about our country seems up for discussion – everything except Britain’s declining level of military spending, our long-term national defence strategy and our commitment to the armed forces we are quick to call heroes but grudgingly slow to fund.

James Forsyth, writing in The Spectator, talks about the bear in the room:

You wouldn’t know from this election campaign, but Europe is in crisis. On its eastern border, the threat from Russia is as great as at any point since the end of the Cold War. Crimea has been annexed and large parts of eastern Ukraine are under control of Russian-backed forces. Russian aircraft have even been taunting the RAF in the English Channel. The Baltic states are increasingly fearful that they will be next to suffer from Vladimir Putin’s attempt to reassert Russian dominance on its doorstep.

On Europe’s southern border, Islamic State continues to cause death and destruction — the recent decapitations in Libya were filmed along the shore to make the point that the jihadis have reached the Mediterranean. More worrying, perhaps, is the number of Europeans fighting for it. Last weekend, Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, warned that the number of Europeans who will have taken up arms with Isis may treble to 10,000 by the end of this year. As these radicalised youths return home, the terrorist threat in Europe will rise exponentially.

But neither of these subjects features with any prominence in the election campaign. Isis and the Russian threat are deeply inconvenient truths that don’t fit into the party leaders’ scripts. The Tories’ six-point long-term economic plan doesn’t have room for foreign entanglements. Labour wants to talk about the National Health Service, not international security.

These are sobering words. There has been a worrying tendency of late in the Tory-friendly press to excuse David Cameron’s various failings and oversights – be it refusing to champion the conservative case in the televised leaders’ debates, or failing to ringfence defence spending during a period of global turmoil – in order to help push the Conservatives across the finish line on 7 May. It is good to see The Spectator taking a firmer stance on the issue of defence, at least.

Continue reading

The EU Still Wants To Control Foreign Policy And Create Its Own Army

Martin Schulz Joe Biden European Union Common Foreign Policy EU Army

 

“I appreciate that it is not easy to explain to people back home why we need to cooperate more closely at European level in such a sensitive field as defence and security policy. Protecting its citizens has traditionally been a key task of the nation State and therefore also one of the foundations of its legitimacy. But we cannot close our eyes to reality: the world has changed and we are existentially connected to that world. Nowadays we can only defend our citizens jointly” – Martin Schulz, 2013

 

Here’s a good rule of thumb: the more powerful and undemocratic the institution, the better it becomes at using weaponised public relations tools in order to present a softer, friendlier, less threatening – and entirely false – picture of themselves.

Thus the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, spent Monday morning hosting a laid back online live-chat on Facebook, in which he fielded carefully-screened softball questions from members of the public. And sneaking back onto the radar during that live-chat today was the prospect of a common European foreign policy, and a European army to enforce it.

From the EU’s own press release today:

To questions concerning the recent proposal on a common European army, Schulz replied “we need a common foreign and security policy”, explaining that combined military capacities would be a way of reducing military spending in a time when “money is certainly needed elsewhere”.

Meanwhile, others in the European Parliament are making rumblings about moving toward “permanent structural co-operation” – meaning there will be no way back once the EU starts taking major steps as an independent actor on the world stage:

Continue reading