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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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.

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How Dare David Cameron Question The Patriotism Of Britain’s Military Chiefs?

British Prime Minister David Cameron (C)

 

Anything goes in the build-up to a British general election. And the British people have certainly come to take for granted the endless stream of personal attacks, exaggerated claims, obfuscations and outright lies emanating from the main parties as they vie for position.

But jaded as we are, one still has to admire the gall displayed by David Cameron – a privileged, cosseted man who has never served a day in uniform – when he takes it upon himself to publicly question the patriotism and motivation of Britain’s senior military officers.

The Prime Minister, in full electioneering and damage control mode, did exactly this when responding to the growing chorus of concerns from current and ex-service chiefs alarmed at the degradation of Britain’s military capability and the prioritisation of almost every other area of government spending at the expense of the Defence budget.

The Telegraph reports:

David Cameron appears to have questioned the motives of senior military figures criticising his failure to commit to spending 2 per cent of GDP of defence.

The Prime Minister slapped down retired generals who have attacked the Government over its cuts to the military budget.

Speaking to LBC Radio, Mr Cameron put the generals’ interventions down to them “having their own book to talk, sometimes quite literally a book to talk”.

This is a hit below the belt, even by the no-holds-barred standard of British political debate. But more than this, it is an intolerable insult to the honour and dedication of the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. And all this coming from someone who has never served personally, but who has been the happy beneficiary of the peace dividend made possible in part by Britain’s military capabilities.

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On Armed Forces Day

 

Saturday 28 June is Armed Forces Day in the United Kingdom.

Of course we should all take a moment to express our gratitude to the men and women who serve on the cutting edge of our nation’s defence and foreign policy projection capability – they toil and risk their lives for far less material reward or public recognition than many of us receive for doing far less.

But one day of public praise is not enough. Our armed forces are suffering significant cuts and capability reductions because of the coalition government’s refusal to protect the defence budget from spending cuts. These cuts include the compulsory redundancy of many long-serving, experienced veterans who deserve better from their government.

Britain is not like the United States – aside from our nuclear deterrent and pared-back blue water navy, we do not enjoy an advantage of many multiples over most of our current and potential future enemies, in terms of manpower or total defence spending. What advantage we have comes from our high-tech skills base, strong defence sector and the extraordinary professionalism of the people who serve our country in uniform.

All too often, people (particularly those on the left) suggest that defence spending should be pared back even further (“Shame on us for not investing more in schools while we build two new aircraft carriers”, etc.) It’s easy to say such things while quietly and ignorantly enjoying the fruits of Britain’s peace, prosperity and place in the world, which is underwritten by the very things that they want to see cut back or abolished. But in reality the opposite is true – having a powerful, effective and deployable military is crucial if Britain is to defend her interests, hedge against the unknown and be taken seriously on the world stage.

The introduction of Armed Forces Day has done a lot to promote greater knowledge, awareness and respect for the role that the armed forces play in our national life. But Britain still has a long way to go until serving soldiers and veterans are accorded the daily respect and acknowledgement that they deserve. Here, we can look to the United States as an example of giving the military a more prominent, respected role in society: from simple acknowledgement at places like airports, through discounts at stores and restaurants, up to incorporating more patriotic rituals – and yes, British Values – into the fabric of our national life.

And most importantly of all, we can put our money where our mouth is. In that spirit, Semi-Partisan Sam has made a small donation to veterans charity Help for Heroes, in support of the great work that they do supporting our wounded veterans.

Whatever our party allegiance or political differences may be, on this Armed Forces Day we should all be able to show our appreciation for those who fight our fights and wear the uniform.