Last year no British serviceman died on operations. Since 1945 servicemen have been killed on operations every year, except 1968 and now 2016. Hurrah!
Or maybe not. We’re not exactly in a period of “world peace". Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan are the peaceful, happy places that our intervention was supposed to make them. Dropping bombs on Daesh (so called Islamic State) has yet to make Syria peaceful or remove the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Belatedly, politicians have realised that delivering peace at the end of a bayonet is a messy process and, wrongly, they seem to have concluded that getting British servicemen and women killed is politically toxic. What they should have learnt is that waging ill-conceived and under resourced wars is unpopular (and immoral).
We are told that further defence cuts are likely as our armed forces struggle to fund themselves within the 2 per cent of GDP that has become the latest mantra. The stark truth is that we either spend more on defence or forgo one or more military capabilities.
In simplistic terms, spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence means that out of every £1 that you and I pay in taxes, 2p goes to the armed forces. Back in the days of the Cold War, when we won wars in the Falklands, Ulster and Iraq, we used to send 6p from every £1 spent to defence. 6p buys success, 2p gets failure – as in so much of life, the cheap option is seldom the best one. Maybe 3p is enough, maybe it needs 5p. But as this is our money and our security, we should be given the explicit choice.
If we decide that we can only afford 2p, perfectly possible given the dire state of public finances, then we must choose what to lose. We have already committed (probably rightly) to a nuclear deterrent and (more questionably) to two aircraft carriers. Both are naval items, which makes sense for a trading nation. Regrettably, what is left in the naval budget does not provide much in the way of warships, particularly when you include the need for maintenance. As it stands, Britannia is pushed to rule home waters, let alone the waves. This does rather beg the question of why we plan on having a carrier battlegroup – but we have ordered it and can’t get out of it. My gut feel is that we need more ships – possibly many more.
In December 2015, it was announced that the RAF was to be increased by one squadron, bringing the total to 10 fast jet squadrons; the increase was due to the commitment to dropping bombs on Daesh in Syria. There are several other waves of new aircraft coming in, including (at last) a maritime patrol aircraft to cover the gap left by Nimrod. The implication is that the RAF was cut to the bone, and is now (just about) sufficient.
Thus, the only place that cuts can come from is the Army. The problem with that is that, as yet, no coherent view of what is required of the Army has been promulgated. The Russian threat requires (expensive) armour, and yet the Army is to reduce to just two regular tank regiments. Other threats might not require heavy armour, so a new strike brigade has been announced – more a political fiction than a serious reality, as it relies on misusing reconnaissance vehicles for its firepower.
Politicians often claim that the defence of the realm is the first duty of government. I for one would like to hear Defence Secretary Mr Fallon explain why he thinks this country is defended. And we should consider whether we can spare a penny for the troops or whether we would prefer to give up on having an army.
(Image: Resolute Support Media)