Dr Liam Fox, the coalition’s Defence Secretary, has warned that there is not enough money left in the nation’s kitty to allow us to afford an all-encompassing, full defence capability.
Talking to the Telegraph, Dr Fox said “We don’t have the money as a country to protect ourselves against every potential future threat, ….. We just don’t have it.”
The UK has over the years become used to having armed forces that can operate at every level from unleashing nuclear Armageddon to aid to the civil power here in the UK (every time there’s a flood we look for troops with sandbags and shovels). We have been able to project our power globally for our own ends as in the Falklands and to aid others such as in the Gulf and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia.
But Dr Fox’s comments in the report hint at cuts deep enough to remove certain capabilities and commitments. One of these is the future of the 25,000 troops based in Germany. As Dr Fox put it “ … what do Challenger tanks in Germany and the costs of maintaining them and the personnel required to train for them, what does that contribute to what’s happening in Afghanistan?”
There are many who would like to see the back of Trident and its replacement. Partly for ideological reasons but mostly one suspects to release the cash involved. On the other side there are those that want to scale back on international aid to spend at home, but if spending the odd million abroad saves spending more at home on defence then maybe it’s money well spent.
It is easy in times of relative peace to demand that the armed services are effectively mothballed, but extremely hard and expensive (in money and lives!) to bring them out of cold storage in a hurry when you need them.
Just as previous defence policy was charged with being too cold-war centric, modern defence policy is too Afghanistan / insurgency centric. Apart from a few Cassandras we didn’t see the scale of the ‘asymmetric warfare’ model soon enough and we sure as hell won’t see the scale of the next warfare model soon enough either.
There is also the temptation to scale back on high tech equipment. But just as in any walk of life you either throw technology or people at problems to solve them. To build a road it’s either big diggers and tarmac layers or scores of navvies. In warfare it’s either high tech weaponry killing the opposing troops or throwing your own cannon fodder ‘over the top’.
Defence has always been expensive. Just look at the relative costs of all the wood for Nelson’s fleets, later copper bottoming of ships, ironclads, tanks, submarines, aeroplanes and nuclear weapons.
Just because we can’t see the next threat doesn’t mean it is not there. As a large power with large interests we need a large defence capability. Cutting it too far now would make no sense.