Is our Military Knackered? 

In 2015, the UK Government conducted a review of British defence policy. The exercise allowed for a period of public consultation and the following is a layman's contribution which advocated a military equivalent of the Office for Budget Responsibility and the creation of a Global Organisation of Liberal Democracies..

 

The Review exercise is now concluded and the Government published its conclusions on the 23rd November 2015. The Report reads a bit like a Conservative Party manifesto and the absence of tables, graphs and statistical analyses is noticeable. Even so, there is much in the Review to be welcomed from the point of view of those of us who feel we are spending nowhere near enough on Defence.

 

 

 

Providing the best possible guarantee of safety

 

 

"The British Infantry is the best in Europe. Fortunately for us, there is not much of it"

Marshal Bugeaud 1811

 

 

The above quote attributed to a distinguished French Commander in the Napoleonic Wars epitomises the conundrum faced by a long line of Britain’s adversaries across the centuries and it now sums up the defence dilemma facing today’s Government.  In the matter of defending our realm down through the ages, it seems we have invested in quality but overlooked the fact that quantity is also needed to put any desired military outcome beyond doubt.

 

The last major occasion when our military was called upon to put an outcome beyond doubt on its own was the 1982 Falklands War. In the Official Handbook of Britain for that year, the Defence Chapter states: “Despite its economic difficulties, Britain…is increasing its defence efforts to the level required to provide the best possible guarantee of safety.” At that time, we spent 5.2% of our Gross Domestic Product on our military and defence costs for 1981-82 were 11.8% of government expenditure.

 

Today, thanks to three decades of cuts in military spending by politicians of both Labour and Conservative parties in good times and bad, defence expenditure is now only just above 2% of GDP, representing a mere 6% of government expenditure. The Cold War may be over but the world today seems less secure than it was in 1982 and in any case the Falklands conflict of that year demonstrated how international crises can develop with bewildering speed.

 

Defence constitutes a unique and particular responsibility of national government but all too often in the past, politicians have raided defence budgets to fund other pet projects. Consequently, there have been too many occasions in our history when we have over-relied on the courage and improvisational skills of our military personnel to compensate for inadequate equipment and manpower.

 

While level of expenditure does not tell the whole story inasmuch as it is possible to waste money or spend less more effectively, the question remains that, if “the best possible guarantee of safety” required 5.2% of GDP and 11.8% of Government expenditure in 1982, how can we be adequately defended today on a current level of expenditure of half the 1982 level, when arguably the Planet today is in far greater turmoil than it was 30 years ago? 

 

The following table of defence expenditure as a percentage of the UK Government’s Budget at half a dozen points over the last one hundred years clearly shows that military expenditure has received a progressively smaller slice of the budget cake since the war and now stands below the 1933 “appeasement era” level:-   

.

Year

1913

1933

1953

1973

1993

2013

Budget %

 21%

 8%

 29%

13%

10%

 6%

 

Ironically, we have just commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when the vision and courage of a few men, some modern warplanes and a smattering of cutting edge technology snatched victory from the jaws of a defeat we so richly deserved at the hands of the Nazis, courtesy of the short-sighted cost-cutting decisions of 1930s politicians. Incredibly, it seems these lessons need to be learnt again. 

 

 

A Review of Reviews

 

 

“We cannot assume that tomorrow’s conflict will replicate today’s”.

Bob Ainsworth Labour Party Defence Secretary Feb 2010

           

 

Well, at least poor old Bob Ainsworth got something right before he left office! The thing is, do these “once-in-a-blue-moon” reviews serve any useful purpose? Are they anything other than an excuse for politicians to make further cuts to defence? What is the point of this exercise and how accurate can any predictions of the future be?

 

The last time we had a review in 2010, ISIL did not exist. In the Defence Review before that in 1998, few people had heard of Helmand. Ten years before that in 1988, all talk was of the end of the Cold War and the “Peace Dividend” that could be realised by cutting back on defence, with no thought of Gulf Wars! Ten years before that in 1978, we were preparing for nuclear war with the Soviet Union, rather than the World War 2-style conflict in the South Atlantic we were subsequently obliged to prosecute against Argentina. And, ten years before that in 1968, few would have imagined that the civil rights marches in Northern Ireland of that year would escalate into 30 years of sectarian violence which our troops would be called upon to contain. 

 

Clearly, predicting what will be enacted on the World stage in ten or twenty years time makes about as much sense as predicting the British weather and yet these review exercises persist in the folly of trying to predict the unpredictable. In 2010, the Defence Review Document cheerfully stated that: “No Soviet-style global rival to Western liberal democracy has yet emerged”, conveniently choosing to ignore the giant panda in the proverbial living room. China may be the least of our problems today, but what of tomorrow? It won’t be a matter of disputes over territory so much as dwindling natural resources.

 

Defence planning is not helped by the lead times involved in acquiring weaponry which is necessarily complex and expensive. You can’t go to the armament industry’s equivalent of Tesco and buy half a dozen destroyers off the shelf because you find yourself short, and that shiny matchless piece of kit you ordered 10 years ago may be weighed in today’s balance and found wanting. So, what to do?

 

 

A proposal for an Office for Military Responsibility

 

 

“The British soldier can stand up to anything – except the British War Office”

George Bernard Shaw

       

 

Given their rather less-than-impressive history, perhaps we should review the continued usefulness of defence reviews. Far better, surely, to set up something a little more sophisticated which continually monitors our defence capability, procurement of current & future equipment, ammunition stocks, personnel levels & morale and global security. And, most important of all, whatever form it takes needs to be independent of the Government.

 

So, I propose a military equivalent of the Office for Budget Responsibility, the independent watchdog which was set up by the Coalition Government to monitor the state of the nation’s finances and provide a much-needed public focus on the annual deficit. In this it was quite successful; I cannot remember the last time the National Debt figured in a general election as much as it did in 2015.

 

An Office for Military Responsibility would have its own staff, office, website and independence. It would compile league tables, historical analyses and gauge our military’s state of readiness and our ability to fulfil international obligations. Above all, it would provide the means of obtaining an independent assessment of what would be required to provide and maintain “the best possible guarantee of safety” referred to earlier in this paper.

 

If for no other reason, the O.M.R’s very existence would provide a continual and public overview of the UK Government’s primary responsibility to keep us all safe.

 

 

The military, politicians and public perceptions

 

 

“For it’s Tommy this an’ Tommy that, an’ chuck him out, the brute;

But it’s “hero of his country” when the guns begin to shoot.”

Rudyard Kipling

 

 

The military are the people governments call in when the political profession fouls up. The need for armed services stands testament to the continual failure of politics and its subsidiary, diplomacy. Moreover armed forces embody the sort of reach, professionalism, discipline and raw power that politicians can only dream about.

 

So, perhaps it is hardly surprising that, in the past, governments of all persuasions have at best been wary of the military and have contrived to restrain expenditure on both personnel and equipment in a public service which is largely abroad, or confined to barracks, or out to sea – in any event, out of sight and out of mind.

 

This cheese-paring mentality worked until quite recently. I can remember attending a Remembrance Day Parade in the late 1970s when I heard a local senior politician remark that he did not think that such parades would survive into the 1980s. The pathetically small number of people who turned out to watch the procession appeared to bear out what he was saying. At that time, we seemed to have lost interest in our military.

 

But then we had the Falklands War. Subsequent campaigns in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have changed the public perception of our armed forces and what we call on them to do. We are now aware of, and anxious about, conflicts we are involved in and we connect with our soldiers, airmen and sailors in a way we didn’t seem to during decades of Cold War, presumably because, while the stand-off with the Soviet Union was serious enough, there was nothing much to see on the telly and there were hardly any casualties. Well, there is plenty to see now, courtesy of hoards of camera-packing journalists and 24/7 news. Moreover, thanks to the internet, the disgruntled squaddie can soon inform us all directly about his dysfunctional rifle and his melting boots.

 

Very little of this instant news is positive and this makes military action by a democracy difficult. Any wars entered into by free countries ought to be prosecuted until the adversary is defeated or forced to the negotiating table. The problem is that 24/7 news can breed a war-weary lack of resolve amongst public and politicians and an unwillingness to finish the job, as has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. It begs the question as to whether we could have fought – let alone won – World War 2 if we had had the level of media coverage then that we enjoy today. Would, for example, the 1939 sinking of the Battleship Royal Oak in the poorly defended harbour of Scapa Flow have ended the political career of the Minister responsible for the Navy at the time – a certain Winston Churchill – if Sky News had existed then? Instant news is here to stay but we need better traffic management on the information superhighway, together with an uprated democracy so as to transform public concern into public involvement, engagement and support for military operations, both at home and in places where our armed forces operate.

 

Most importantly the public goodwill toward the armed forces needs to be translated into support for their being adequately resourced. I believe most people would be shocked at how little is spent on defence and how little the political establishment seems to care; in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, a senior Conservative Minister claimed that there were no votes in defence. It is in everybody’s interest that this changes.

 

The last Review was, let’s face it, a cost-cutting exercise. If this Review is to serve any useful purpose, it should signal the end of hundreds of years of skimping, chaotic planning, shoddy treatment of service personnel and their families, and the beginning of a new era of openness, honesty and public involvement. Indeed, if this review were to bring about the creation of an Office for Military Responsibility, this would be the last exercise of its kind, but possibly the most useful.

 

 

The Kit Conundrum and the Curse of “Fitted For”

 

 

 “Cost growth on the Type 45 Destroyers has whittled away many of the ships’ planned capabilities, as features and items were removed. These capabilities could be added later, but until they are, the Type 45s will be missing key features one would expect in a top-of-the-line modern destroyer, or even in a high-end frigate.”

Defense Industry Daily December 2013

 

 

No layman should attempt to comment on specific weapons other than in the most general terms. The technology of armaments is simply beyond the ken of the ignorant outsider because what one reads in the Daily Wail may not reflect what is actually happening in the necessarily secretive world of the MoD and the defence industries. For example, I can remember the acres of newsprint devoted to the shortcomings and cost overruns of the Typhoon Jet Fighter - particularly whether it should be fitted with a cannon or not - but in the event, we appear to have ended up with a world-class warplane. Hopefully the same will apply with the F35 Lightning II  because, if you believe all the horror stories that you read at the moment, it would lose a dogfight with a Sopwith Camel.

 

How is the general public to know if the F35 is a flying brick? What can we do other than pay our taxes and hope the powers that be know what they are doing? Another reason for an independent Office for Military Responsibility!

 

Anyway, here are some general observations on the vexed question of kit:-

 

In any debate on defence, we tend to concentrate overmuch on “big ticket” items, expensive platforms like aircraft carriers and destroyers, at the expense of the weapons systems, ammunition, equipment and personnel that go with them, with the result that stuff is ordered but, in order to contain costs, vital accessories are not fitted and ships and aircraft seem to end up “fitted for”, rather than “fitted with”, hence the Defense Industry Daily’s observation quoted above.

 

Perhaps we are paying over the odds for under-equipped hulls and airframes in an endeavour to sustain our defence industries, who can no longer deliver economy of scale in a shrinking defence market. Maybe this is no longer sustainable and construction of large capital ships and expensive aircraft must be undertaken in the future using junior partnerships with counterparts in the USA, like we are doing with the F35.

 

The theme running through this paper suggests that what defence we have is good, but there simply isn’t enough of it. I recall that, as the order for the number of Type 45 Destroyers was reduced from 12 to 6 by the last Labour administration, naval top brass protested that even the very best destroyer couldn’t be in two places at once. Agreed, but it begs the question as to whether you need One Billion quid’s worth of warship just to maintain a presence. Even the projected replacements for the current ageing fleet of frigates are priced at £260 million each, which is bound to restrict the number this Government will order.

 

Is there a cheaper and more effective way to increase the capability of the Royal Navy? There might be. In 2012, the MOD published a 'Joint Concept Note' entitled "Future Black Swan-class Sloop-of-war". This MoD desk-top study flagged up the possibility of the Royal Navy’s returning to large numbers of sloops as a solution to providing a larger and balanced RN fleet, inspired by the successful “Black Swan” Class used as convoy defence vessels in WW2. The MoD memo proposed a class of around 40 Sloops-of-war, each displacing 3,150 tonnes, having a length of 95 meters, a 30mm gun, a low unit price of £65 million, a core crew of 8 and a range of 10,000 nautical miles. The desk-top sloops featured a mission bay, a large flight deck capable of accommodating a Chinook helicopter and external module stowage for housing various 'Capability Packages' so that the vessel could be reconfigured for different roles. Containered modular packages of weaponry, resources for counter-piracy, patrol, & mine hunting duties, extra personnel accommodation and emergency aid stores were all envisaged.

 

At the time I wrote and suggested such a ship could also be used for trade missions and royal visits, with appropriately regal hospitality suites slotted onto the mission deck: a mine hunter one minute, a Royal Yacht Britannia the next! Curiously, it’s all gone a bit quiet since then; I guess the Navy are suspicious of promoting the concept, fearing (probably justifiably!) that our dear politicians will use cheaper sloops as an excuse to cut the number of replacement frigates they will order and then add insult to injury by skimping on the quality and quantity of capability packages. It is imperative that any “pick-and-mix” sloops are seen as an addition to the RN fleet, as part of the increased defences this paper advocates and that the proposed Office for Military Responsibility ensures that there are adequate “capability packages”.

 

Such ships would be easier to budget for, to order and to build. Their construction would be less problematic for what’s left of our shipbuilding industry, with good prospects for exporting a small modular “jack-of-all-trades” warship. Crews would be smaller and more adept at multi-tasking and chances of promotion would surely be improved by having an increased number of ships. The question is, would the RN prefer 20 such sloops or 4 additional new frigates? 

 

Finally the last review recognised that we need to take outer space more seriously. Everyone and his mother is now up there so we need to task the Royal Air Force with this additional responsibility, perhaps renaming the RAF the Royal Aerospace Force. We need our own unmanned space vehicle, perhaps developed in partnership with the USA, and/or developing the British Skylon concept.

 

 

The Nuclear Deterrent: Never say Never

 

 

“ I don’t mind for myself, but I don’t want any other Foreign Secretary to be talked to as I have just been...We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs, and we’ve got to have a bloody Union Jack flying on top of it”

Ernest Bevin Labour Foreign Secretary October 1946

 

 

And with those words, a sceptical select meeting of Labour Cabinet Ministers was persuaded that we needed the atom bomb and our independent nuclear deterrent came into being, with Ernest Bevin as its Patron!

 

Britain’s place in the World has somewhat diminished since the days of its central involvement in the “Tube Alloys” and “Manhattan” Projects but, nearly 70 years after Bevin bullied the rest of his colleagues into taking the decision to go it alone, the UK remains a nuclear power, just one of 8 such states on the Planet.

 

Of course, our Trident system is not totally independent inasmuch as the missiles and associated gubbins are supplied and serviced by the United States. Even so, it’s the best system that money can buy and it represents the ultimate means of “providing the best possible guarantee of safety” referred to earlier in this paper; nobody’s going to be pushing us around or contemplating invasion while we have an undetectable stash of nuclear missiles ready to fire 24/7.

 

That it is an awful weapon capable of indiscriminate mass destruction on an apocalyptic scale needs to be set against the remote likelihood of its being used and, paradoxically, it could be argued that, the more conventional armaments we can bring to bear, the less likely it is to be deployed. In any case, campaigns for nuclear disarmament are the preserve of rich nations; the citizens of Palestine, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria are more exercised by the excesses of conventional weaponry.

 

The fact remains, though, that the nuclear deterrent is an obscenity and its continued deployment speaks volumes about the current state of humanity. When, if ever, will we be able to dismantle these weapons of mass destruction? Well, when every single human being on the Planet is free, and has individual and equal rights under an accessible and equitable rule of law, which is in turn underpinned by a fully participating democracy. 

 

Given that, of the 8 nation states with nuclear weapons, just 3 are rated as being full liberal democracies, I am afraid we have it all to do. In the meantime, we protect what little freedom there is on the Planet by resolving to never say never, while working away as fast as we can to ensure that more and more people enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted, of which more anon.

 

 

And where’s the extra Money coming from?

 

 

“Everybody is always in favour of general economy and particular expenditure”

Anthony Eden, Conservative Prime Minister 1955-57

 

 

While Treasury matters are beyond the main scope of this paper, it is surely incumbent on people who advocate spending more on defence, or anything else for that matter, to explain where the extra cash is coming from.

 

To begin with, let’s take a look at current spending plans. Anyone who thinks defence is expensive is invited to consider that, of the £742 Billion to be spent by the UK Government this year,

 

£ 261 billion will be spent on social security,

£ 141 billion will be spent on health and

£   99 billion will be spent on education 

 

Expenditure on the “Big 3” above totals £501 Billion, so, the £45 billion spent on Defence – 6% of the total spend - is a mere burp in the gale of money we spend on the welfare side of things and so it ought to be possible to gently ramp up the military budget over the next two Parliaments towards a level consistent with delivering “the best possible guarantee of safety” referred to at the beginning of this paper. The proposed Office for Military Responsibility would be tasked with establishing exactly what this level would be and how much it would cost, but it has been suggested to me that 3% of GDP or 9% of today’s Government expenditure should be sufficient.  

 

The problem is that this Government was elected on promises not to raise taxation, to ring-fence expenditure on the National Health Service and Foreign Aid, and to eliminate the annual Deficit, and thereby ultimately tackle the burgeoning National Debt, which is still increasing despite several years of austerity cuts. While all these measures are admirable and necessary, implementation of the entire package means there is little wiggle room to address pressures on current budgets, never mind try to undo 30 years of defence cost-cutting, especially if growth remains sluggish and a consequent meaningful increase in income from tax receipts fails to materialise.

 

So, in this Parliament, all that can be done is to continue to seek economies and perhaps address issues that, by legislating to encourage/force changes in public behaviour, would relieve pressures on other budgets, which might otherwise require supplementing. For example, the struggling front-line services of the NHS and Emergency Services would be relieved if the Government repealed the 2003 legislation that paved the way for 24 hour drinking. According to recent press reports, £3 billion is the estimated annual cost to hospitals of alcohol-related crimes, a survey of police officers revealed that 53% of their time was spent dealing with alcohol-related crime and ambulance staff said that 37% of their time was spent dealing with drink-related problems.

 

Moreover, taxes levied on unhealthy foods or certain food ingredients would probably be supported by the public if the funds generated went to the NHS to help it manage the £6 billion annual cost of treating obese and overweight patients.

Beyond these measures together with any savings achieved in the Social Security budget and any increase in revenues, we are going to have to wait until the next Parliament in 2020.

 

In the meantime, we need to plan for the future. Sizeable income streams could be generated by an annual Land Tax and by VAT on processed food. Perhaps we need to create more incentive to lead healthy lifestyles by increasing National Insurance Contributions and then offering a discount for those who apply to take and pass an annual fitness test. Consideration of these additional taxes would need to be undertaken as part of a wholesale review of the structure of taxation, to ensure we have a reliable and sustainable source of revenues fit for 21st Century purpose. 

 

In the long-term quest for economies and sustainability, a future Government is also going to have to take on some powerful vested interests and ask such questions like: Could full time education be compacted into a shorter timescale? Do university courses need to last 3 years? Since the public has an increasing tendency to treat NHS Accident & Emergency Units as if they were branches of Kwikfit, do we need to re-design the NHS, with A&Es as the first port of call? How many layers of government do we really need? Can we afford devolution? Do more politicians mean more prosperity? Can the legal system be streamlined to deliver better protection of individuals without the expensive bureaucracy? Can we do without local government taxation, TV licences and other pen-pushing taxes that are expensive to collect and police? There is no shortage of public money; it just needs to be collected and spent more effectively.

 

And an overhaul of our taxation system is not the only pressing matter; we need to re-examine our entire foreign policy portfolio, which seems thoroughly outdated and predicated on the events of the last century. Since any review of overseas relations is bound to impact on Defence, there now follows some observations & ideas on foreign policy:-

 

 

The UK: Manchester United or Accrington Stanley?

 

 

“Britain is a third rate power nursing illusions of grandeur of its colonial past”

I K Gujral Prime Minister of India 1997 

          

 

A visitor from outer space might be forgiven for asking why a tiny country such as ours with under 1% of the World’s population is the sixth highest spender on defence and maintains armed forces which include a nuclear deterrent, a blue water navy, state of the art fighter aircraft and the means of deploying a versatile army of 145,000 men.  

 

Any review of defence and foreign policy worth its salt would be asking why this is and would attempt put all this in a political and historical context.

 

Certainly history plays a part. Until relatively recently, we were responsible for a global empire and for protecting the maritime trade routes that linked all our far-flung territories. Consequently, we played a major part in both world wars and, while the Union Jack no longer flutters over countless government buildings worldwide, our global responsibilities endure, underpinned by a degree of international respect for our belief in democracy, fair play and respect for the rule of law, although the UK brand has taken a bit of a battering of late, thanks to our under-resourced involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

We also spend more because we earn more. We are still a very rich nation, ranked 5th in the World after the USA, China, Japan and Germany. It is true that we will soon be overhauled by a host of other nations such as India, Brazil and Russia but this is not as the result of our becoming poorer but of other nations becoming richer. Nobody should have a problem with other peoples of the world becoming more prosperous.

 

Mr Gujral’s acerbic remarks quoted above might have been justified a few decades ago. While the British public seemed quite unaffected by the loss of the largest empire the World had ever seen, the British political establishment had, in the words of US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, “lost an empire but had not yet found a role”, and was desperate to retain a place at the top table of the UN. Today, I don’t think anybody is bothered anymore. Both politicians and voters seem comfortable with our place in the World as we slide slowly and gracefully down the various global league tables monitoring wealth and influence – perhaps not a Manchester United any more, but certainly not an Accrington Stanley.

 

From now on, we should see British military spending as no longer a matter of posture and influence but as a matter of shared global responsibility of the World’s rich nations. Our above-average defence expenditure should be portrayed as part of our contribution as a privileged nation to global welfare, on a par with our aid to developing countries.

 

It is important to recognize that we are one of several global policemen, as is evidenced by our permanent membership of the UN Security Council. If we were simply defending ourselves, we would need nothing more than a few coastal patrol boats, a couple of squadrons of hand-me-down US jet fighters and a Swiss style militia. The Swiss armed forces cost only 0.7% of Switzerland’s annual GDP. Ours is 2.1%.  We could opt for Irish-style neutrality which consumes an even smaller amount of GDP - 0.5%, because the Irish no longer have the means to protect their air space and have had to rely on major powers like us to help them out when occasions demanded it. And this is the crux of the matter. It is not that we are paying too much for our defence of ourselves and others, it is more a case of other countries not shouldering their fair share of the burden. Germany’s defence spending, for example, is a pathetic 1.2% of her GDP. The question is, what can, or should, we do about it?

 

 

What should we be defending?

 

 

“We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those

who would do us harm”

George Orwell

 

 

Defence of the realm is the first duty of government. It’s what taxation was invented for and maybe the fact that only 6% of current government expenditure relates to defence evidences a curious sense of priorities.

 

Perhaps political decision-making, planning and financing would be easier if our armed forces could be split into three areas of operation – home, trade route protection and international commitments.

 

Home defence is straightforward. If all we had to do was defend these islands, we would probably be able to do a thorough job spending an average of what everybody else spends – the average EU member spend is 1.4% of GDP. Norway also spends at this level.

 

Home defence is not the end of the matter, however. It is estimated that 90 % by weight of international trade is carried by sea. For the islands of the UK, the figure is nearly 95%. We have a vital interest in ensuring that the high seas are safe and secure, but this is when it starts to get expensive because the oceans are vast and our bases overseas are now few and far between. In any case, we know from our experience of Empire the futility of trying to rule the waves with costly fleets of ships and crews. Jet aircraft can cover vast expanses of ocean in a relatively short space of time so the two new aircraft carriers and the F35 Lightning II aircraft would seem to be essential if we are to hope to protect trade routes beyond home waters.

 

As for international conflicts, a variety of equipment-intensive systems seems to be called for and, once again, airborne or floating bases and platforms for men, supplies and weapons are expensive. Our renown ability to make do and improvise is no substitute for adequate kit and it is in this area where we were found wanting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

Finally, the equipment, communications systems and disciplined personnel that we need for maritime trade route protection and international conflicts can be put to good use in the event of disasters and emergencies. 24/7 news has conspired to create the impression that these are becoming more frequent but we need to remember that, thanks to today’s media, we get to hear about the worst excesses of man and mother nature which simply would not have had the same impact – if they had been reported at all - in Victorian newspapers. 21st Century communications technology has its drawbacks; we may be able to donate monies to a disaster relief fund instantly but we become agitated when there are delays in getting the aid to where it is needed, witness the chaos in Haiti and Pakistan in 2010 when a host of agencies seemed to be getting in each other’s way. Military organisation and discipline seems to deliver a lot more relief in a shorter space of time, as was evidenced by the successful presence of HMS Illustrious in the Philippines last year.

 

 

What else should we be defending?

 

 

“There never has been a war yet which, if the facts had been put calmly before the ordinary folk, could not have been prevented ... The common man, I think, is the great protection against war.”

 Ernest Bevin Labour Foreign Secretary 1945-1951 

 

 

We need defence for the same reason we need a police force – it provides protection against the darker side of human nature. However, while there will always be human depravity, there are measures that can be taken to contain crime and reduce the level of enforcement necessary. The rule of fair law, freedom of thought and action and equality of opportunity to access wealth, welfare, education and to participate in government are arguably all factors which minimize domestic criminal activity and constitute what the 2010 Green Paper described as a “Western Liberal Democracy”.  Rather than create artificial barriers between east and west, let’s just call the phenomenon “Liberal Democracy”

 

Aside from domestic benefits, Liberal Democracy has advantages on an international scale. Liberal Democracies tend not to let disagreements with each other degenerate into war and are able to co-operate with each other because their systems of government and aspirations of their peoples are similar. So it makes defence sense that as many as possible enjoy the benefits of Liberal Democracy.

 

It follows therefore that, in addition to our national territories and our national interests, we ought to be defending liberal democracy. Perhaps this needs to be spelt out and given some much-needed focus because liberal democracy is currently very much on the defensive. After the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, the march of individual freedom seemed unstoppable. It was argued that a liberal democracy incorporating individual freedom and the rule of law was necessary to create the conditions for wealth generation. Unfortunately, Communist China has since proved that this is not the case and that, provided the mass of people can be bought off with a better standard of living, or at least the prospect of one, they will submit to authoritarian rule and forgo democracy and individual rights.

 

The 2014 Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy makes depressing reading. This index ranks 167 nations according to their performance under five general categories; electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture. The following table gives the total numbers of countries grouped into 4 categories according to the 2014 survey:-

 

Regime Type  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Number of Countries  

 % of countries  

 % of World population  

 

Full democracies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24

14.4

12.5

Flawed democracies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52

31.1

35.5

Hybrid regimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

39

23.4

14.4

Authoritarian regimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52

31.1

37.6

                           

 

Barely one eighth of the world’s population enjoys the freedoms we British take for granted.This highly dangerous situation requires a co-ordinated response from the nations whose democracies pass muster. Even those in the premier league, such as the UK (ranked only 16th out of 24) need to keep their democratic fabric in constant repair before they can start lecturing the 52 countries in the second division about tackling the flaws in their systems of government, never mind the rest.

 

There is a pressing need for a global body to champion Liberal Democracy. The question is, does it already exist or will it have to be created?

 

 

A United States of Europe: an idea whose time has gone.

 

 

Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong: It is a geographical expression.”

Otto von Bismarck

                                                                                          

 

The 2010 Review documentation was littered with unctuous references to the European Union even though no attempt was made to make the case for the EU as a military entity. As ever with such institutions, the absence of any commercial imperative enables politicians to just keep pumping taxpayers’ money into the burgeoning bureaucracies they have created, rather than ask whether they are viable or continue to serve any useful purpose.

 

Quite apart from the fact that the EU’s ultimate goal of a United States of Europe is mired in difficulties over the Euro and border control, the long term future of the EU looks quite grim. To begin with, according to the United Nation’s World Population Statistics, Europe’s population is in decline. Over the next 50 years, Europe’s population will reduce by 100 million and, while 22% of the World population was domiciled in Europe in 1950, this proportion will decrease to 7% by 2050.  This will be reflected in a shrinking share of World trade down to 12% and of GDP down to 10% by 2050, according to an EU Commission report of 2002.

 

As for the European Common Defence Force enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, even given the bland assumption that all the EU’s national forces could be amalgamated into one cohesive armed force, total EU military expenditure would still only be 40% of what the USA spends. But it’s not just a question of money; political will is just as important a consideration in defence and this is where pretensions of European statehood are shown to be a sham. In Afghanistan, Uncle Sam provided most of the air power & logistics and 65% of the troops. While the UK’s force of 9,500 men was small by comparison, it was still larger than the combined troop numbers of France and Germany, despite countless requests to provide more support. While I am sure there was a reason why Austria’s reported contingent comprised only 3 men, it does seem to sum up the weakness of the EU’s military and thereby calls into question the future of the entire European project.

 

In any case, thanks to the Internet and the Jumbo Jet, the World is a much smaller place than it was in 1950. A union of countries having nothing much in common apart from their borders might have had something going for it in the 19th Century but is European exclusivity still relevant or desirable?  Why a union with Austria but not Australia, with Germany but not Japan, with Belgium but not Brazil, with Spain but not Singapore? 50 years of technological revolution in transport and communications have made geography in politics irrelevant.

 

Credit where it is due, though; the EU has acted as a beacon for Liberal Democracy for those European countries previously run by dictatorships or communist regimes. Even so, it does not appear to be able to defend itself without NATO (i.e. the USA) and in any case is a regional organisation.

 

Whatever we might think about it, the future of the EU will be determined, not by us, but by Germany. After their defeat in 1945, the Germans saw a United States of Europe as the means of restoring lost respectability and influence on the world stage, albeit in a union with others. That was 70 years ago and there are signs that younger generations of Germans are increasingly fed up with having to bail out other less industrious European nations who, despite all this German munificence, never seem to waste any opportunity to remind Germans about the excesses of their great-grandparents. The time may soon come when the German people feel that they have apologised enough, that they do not need the EU to hide behind any more and are confident enough to be a world player in their own right with their own economy, their own currency and their own armed forces, like Japan.

 

When that time comes, the EU will cease to be viable and will truly be an idea whose time has gone. The UK needs to bail now and invest in an alternative institution more suited to its global needs. If the truth be known, so do other EU member states.

 

 

The United States of America

 

 

“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”

Howell Forgy US Navy Chaplain, Pearl Harbour December 1941

                                                        

 

No consideration of Defence or Foreign Policy would be complete without reference to our key ally, the United States of America, which is in a super league all of its own. Currently, its military expenditure accounts for 34% of the world total - a staggering 610 billion dollars, 3.5% of the USA’s GDP. No-one else comes close, although China can be seen on the distant horizon, currently deploying its new found wealth to invest in science and technology in tandem with military spending, developing world class fighter aircraft, missiles and what are described as “informisation systems” for its armed forces. Some say that, by 2050, China will be on a par militarily with the USA and quite capable of “inviting themselves to dinner” as Churchill once coyly described military invasion. But for now, the USA is the Daddy and, thanks to its armaments industry, is the nearest to a “Weapons Wal-mart” this planet has.

 

Even so, US military might does not always prevail, as was seen in Vietnam, and it seems ill-at-ease fighting long-drawn out insurgencies in areas populated by civilians. There have also been times when even the US Army has seemed overstretched; during the Katrina Hurricane emergency in 2005, it was widely reported that there was a shortage of US troops available to help in New Orleans because of commitments in Iraq.

 

Perhaps the USA is in a similar position to the one we were at the beginning of the last century when we were still top dog but acutely aware that our hegemony would not last for much longer. Just as we were mindful of the need for change then, the USA is doubtless mindful of the fact that in 50 to 100 years time, she may not be big enough on her own and will need meaningful and reliable allies to replace the bunch of freeloaders she is currently saddled with. A sober re-appraisal by the USA of all current alliances is in prospect.

 

Once such alliance will be the one with the UK, described - by us mostly - as the “Special Relationship”, as the result of which we have the most effective nuclear deterrent package on the Planet, our pilots fly in US stealth aircraft, we alone have their Tomahawk cruise missiles and we are a partner, albeit a junior one, in the development of the new F35 Lightning II jet fighter.

                                                                                       

While it is clear what we get out of this arrangement, perhaps we should ask ourselves what the USA gains out of the bargain. Our rather less-than-impressive improvised and under-resourced efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan must surely be giving Washington pause for thought. If we can’t even muster sufficient troops to restore order in a handful of communities, what’s the point of having us along?

 

Then there is NATO. Once again, the USA provides most of the hardware, the technology and the personnel. To what useful purpose?  Even our meagre military input in Afghanistan dwarfed the contribution of other NATO countries. One can imagine a lot of impatient pencil tapping in the Pentagon. The past may be a strong adhesive in human relationships but we tend to rely too much on the bonds of history. The USA does not do history; it always looks to the future and our historical ties will become quaint and meaningless unless we carry out a re-assessment of our so-called special relationship and raise our game a bit.

 

Such a re-assessment may find that our dalliance with the concept of a United Europe has needlessly complicated our foreign policy. It may well go so far as to conclude that our entire 20th Century pre-occupation with all things European was a ghastly mistake and that the 21st Century would be best served by a new global alliance with the US and other like-minded countries. In her quest for life outside Europe, Britain might be ideally placed to suggest that the free world ought to be going for G.O.L.D….

 

 

Proposal for a Global Organisation of Liberal Democracies

 

 

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried” Winston Churchill 

 

 

Politicians are very good at creating institutions and tiers of government but not so good at ensuring they are cost-effective or continue to serve a useful purpose over time. I believe the international political scene could do with a thorough spring clean.

 

It might be suggested that we should concentrate our international effort on the one existing all-inclusive international institution – the United Nations. Ideally the United Nations would be the means to address all global issues. Unfortunately, the UN is not up to the task. It has justifiably been described as the Trades Union Congress of national governments, some of whose credentials leave much to be desired. As a result, when push comes to shove, the UN is an institution which never ceases to disappoint. So, while we work away to make the UN more effective in the long term and acknowledge all the good work it does in other areas, we need to acknowledge the organisation’s shortcomings and consider an alternative grouping which can currently master the global tasks for which the UN is currently unsuited.

 

If, as argued earlier, the EU is a regional anachronism, could the Commonwealth fit the bill? Unfortunately, while this worthy institution once had the potential to become a powerful global multi-cultural brotherhood which could have achieved co-operation in everything from trade to defence, we have allowed the Commonwealth to languish over the decades. In any case, a glance at the Democracy Index reveals that many member countries could hardly be described as Liberal Democracies. Moreover, the one nation whose allegiance we value - the USA - is not a member.

 

A NATO with knobs on, then. But even this alliance has become creaky. While it seemed ideal for the Cold War, all it had to do was organise and strike a military posture that was sufficient to discourage the Soviet Union. There was no fighting. But once NATO partners found themselves waging a land war in hostile territory as part of ISAF, it is fair to say that some proved rather uneasy and inept about it.

 

I believe we need something new. It needs to be global, exclusive, with membership restricted to those Liberal Democracies that are prepared to commit a certain percentage of their GDP to international security and to aid, as their membership fee. If they haven’t got the troops or the equipment, they pay the balance in cash to those members who have, or they lose their membership.

 

Accordingly, I believe that the UK should lead the way in going for G.O.L.D. – a Global Organisation of Liberal Democracies, starting perhaps with a core membership of the USA, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This would not be a union or federation like the EU whose weakness lies in its failure to make the distinction between unity and uniformity. In G.O.L.D., each member nation would have their own economies, currencies, border control, language and systems of government and welfare.

 

Members of G.O.L.D. would commit to defending themselves and each other, they would commit to trading openly and fairly with each other, and they would commit to improving the welfare of their peoples. International policing and emergency duties would be a major part of G.O.L.D.’s work, together with assistance given to prospective G.O.L.D. members in the form of aid, trade agreements, security and civil society development packages whose introduction the peoples of the nation in question would have to first support in a referendum. Aid is thereby targeted, a means to a liberal democratic end, thereby hopefully signalling the end of articles in the press about wasted taxpayers’ money.    

 

This is not a new idea; something along these lines was canvassed by US Presidential Candidate Senator McCain in his proposal for a League of Democracies some years ago. Whatever it is to be called, I believe its time has come.

 

 

The Best Defence against Angry Gods and Nutcases

 

 

“By building relations we create a source of love and personal pride and belonging

that makes living in a chaotic world easier”

Susan Lieberman, Author

 

 

What has civil society got to do with defence? Everything! Peace and good order is all too often taken for granted but it relies on the wellbeing of civil society and human interaction, which must be nurtured and protected. Otherwise, there is a danger that we will end up distanced and alienated from each other, our experiences limited to what we see on an edited screen, doing everything remotely and making choices for everything from politicians to pizza on some greasy beer-soaked keyboard, while wealth and the means of producing it is vested in the hands of fewer and fewer people. In this way humanity is devalued, alienation festers and the chance of violent dispute is thereby increased.

 

Armed forces have to deal with these consequences and they now have to operate in a world where fighting invariably takes place in areas populated by civilians who are more savvy, more informed, more educated and more demanding of, and less reverential toward, authority than they were, say, in WW2. Civilians also have access to an unprecedented range of goods, fuel, vehicles and information which can readily be improvised by disgruntled citizens against military forces. The technology gap between governed and government is certainly a lot narrower than it used to be, so the goodwill of the local populace is surely vital to facilitating any military operation. Considerable effort must be expended on ensuring that our guys are always the good guys and that a peace plan is given as much resource as the battle plan.

 

To this end, the creation of G.O.L.D would give a much-needed pro-active focus to what defence of our collective and individual freedoms is all about. It would not just be a re-active regional defence pact with no final objective. Nor would it be a rich nations’ club where membership indicates “job done”. For example, the UK may be what the Economist describes as a “Full Democracy” but it is hardly a glowing example for others to follow, as is evidenced by abysmal levels of voter engagement and registration, not to mention archaic practices and institutions. This is why it is important not to be triumphalist. For all the nonsense talked about our “Mother of Parliaments”, we have not been a democracy for that long; a mere 100 years ago, half of our adult population didn’t have the vote simply because they were female.

 

Liberal Democracy should always be viewed as a work in progress and we are on the same road as, say, China, but a little further ahead, thanks to nothing more than accidents in history. Moreover, in exporting the Liberal Democratic model, we must avoid making the mistakes we made in Iraq and Afghanistan by naively assuming that a ballot box would somehow substitute for order on the streets and a reliable water supply. Democracy is the icing on the cake of civil society.

 

Humanity prospers when people feel that they belong and are involved. In particular, civil society thrives best in a Liberal Democracy where participation, diversity, exchange of different ideas and social interaction foster desirable human traits such as enthusiasm, industry, thrift, kindness, respect, love and generosity.

 

And here lies the best possible guarantee of safety. While there will always be the occasional nutcases whose angry Gods order them to commit atrocities against those who do not follow their “true way”, minds that hate within vibrant Liberal Democratic communities can be readily identified and isolated.  

 

Our world is changing at bewildering speed as hundreds of millions of people in a host of developing nations demand a standard of living that we have taken for granted for decades. If we Brits are to survive, let alone prosper, in this challenging environment of shrinking resources, burgeoning populations and highly competitive markets, we need to reach out and make common cause with those nations who think as we do, while bringing into the fold other nations whose peoples aspire to our values and freedoms.   

 

 

The Last Lesson

 

 

This paper started with a quote, so let’s finish with one, by Winston Churchill which, in the light of the disastrous under-resourced Iraqi and Afghan campaigns, might usefully be prominently displayed in every room in the Pentagon and the MOD.

 

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Antiquated War Offices, weak, incompetent, or arrogant Commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations - all take their seats at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance”

Published by David Green

33 Hartwood Road, Southport PR9 9AN

October 2015

 

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