Chris Ward explains why defence cuts won’t threaten our national security
This is the second article I have written suggesting that an aspect of the coalition government’s spending cuts is not as catastrophic as many people think. Either I’m becoming a Tory or it’s possible to step back and place the whole mess in a bigger picture of our global position. I’m hoping for the latter.
The government announced last year that it is to cut military spending by eight percent. This means that Nimrod spy planes, harrier jets, the HMS Ark Royal and 40 percent of our tanks are shortly to disappear if they have not already. This will represent a significant reduction in Britain’s fighting capacity and, considering 7,000 army and 5,000 navy positions will be gone, a reduction in the size of our standing army.
This has caused outrage and led many to say we could be compromising our national security, which simply is not the case.
There are two fundamental reasons for this, one being that the nature of warfare has changed greatly over the last decade or so and the other being that there is simply very little chance that we’re going to go to war any time soon.
Let us take the nature of warfare first. Those of you who were lucky enough to hear General Petraeus, who is now the American top dog in the Middle East, speak at the Union may already have an idea of what I’m talking about. The Iraq war was over within a blink of an eye, yet we’re still there fighting. We’re not battling a professional army with tanks, battleships, spy planes, fighter jets and hundreds of thousands of service personnel – we’re battling a bunch of ideologically committed fundamentalists with little training, soviet weapons, mobile phones and Toyota pickups.
If the resources about to be cut were capable of fighting this kind of war Bin Laden would be in Guantanamo and the lads could all go down the pub. However, as Petraeus explained, it’s not that simple because the only way we’re going to win in the Middle East is by stamping out militant Islamic extremism. This can only be done with long-term commitment to helping Iraq and other countries build stable democracies and economies.
Many people argue that we needed tanks and jets to kick Saddam out in the first place and will question what will happen if a country attacks us with a major high-tech army? Well as the cases of Tunisia and Egypt show the Arab world is waking up to democracy – the people, through the use of social networks created online, have created hugely significant change – and I have great faith in the ability of social networks to bring change in any environment.
Moving to discuss being attacked by an equal or better opponent, the first thing to say has to be that this is incredibly unlikely. We’ve got the UN, EU, NATO and the USA on our side – why the hell would you invade us?
In the past, wars were fought for land and resources, but I think most people have now figured out that trade is a far more cost-effective way of gathering goods.
Although there are countries, like China and North Korea, who do have military power, and that don’t believe in the same things we do, how we respond to countries like these is not going to be affected by an eight percent spending cut. If North Korea wanted to attack it would have to do so via land or sea and, considering our geographical location, we’ll probably have a lot of time to see them coming and give Uncle Sam a call. And to be perfectly frank, if China attack we’re all screwed anyway.
So hopefully I’ve shown why cutting military spending is not the end of the world without needing to fallback on the infamous excuse of the budget deficit.
What the cuts do is force the Ministry of Defence to get rid of things it simply does not need. You will notice that there have not been significant cuts to military research, satellite programs or intelligence services.
I have not had the space to talk about joining forces with the Europeans in terms of sharing aircraft carriers and so on but I would say we can retain independence if we can accept a smaller force, which sadly the government can’t. If we do end up having to work with the French though it would not be the end of the world, we’re going to have to learn to like them one day.