Through almost four hundred years of service, the British Armed Forces have proven their outstanding merit time and time again. Whether intervening against genocide in the Balkans, breaking the seemingly invincible powers of Napoleon or Hitler, or defending British sovereignty in the Falklands.
This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Max Glynn, an undergraduate student studying Ancient History at King’s College London.
Our armed services have always gone above and beyond the call of duty in their defence of this nation and its interests. Yet in recent years there has been a worrying decline in the Government’s willingness to invest in our armed forces.
Despite the Royal Navy requesting thirteen of the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship, only eight are to be ordered, with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) now filling the gap with 5 smaller, less capable Type 31e frigates. More worryingly the size of the army has been greatly reduced with fewer soldiers available now than at any time in the past century. Yet, despite continuous cuts since 2010 it was only last December that Phillip Hammond suggested that the British Army ‘only needs 50,000 troops’. If this were to happen it would make the army smaller than it has even been. Stern opposition from Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and the threat of a major rebellion in the Commons caused the Government to abandon any plans for further cuts. But nevertheless, for the party that is supposedly the “most patriotic”, it is hard to defend the willingness to slash defensive spending to save money.
The downward trend in defensive spending has been long and arduous: during the Falklands war in 1982, defence spending stood at 4.8% of GDP, in 1991 that Figure had been reduced to 3.6% and by 2009 it was 2.5%. When it dropped below the NATO guideline of 2%, the Government changed how the budget was calculated by incorporating factors such as Army pensions, a move that was both deceptive and cowardly. Sadly, however, a move such as this by a British government is nothing new. Politics has consistently got in the way of the Armed Services from doing their job. A good example of this was the development of the SA80. Introduced in 1985, it earned the nickname of the ‘Civil Servant’ as it ‘wouldn’t work and couldn’t be fired’. Whilst newer versions of the general-purpose bullpup assault rifle have improved its effectiveness, the aggravation caused to the common soldier is burdensome. Many experts on modern military weaponry have commented on this phenomenon, with most coming to the conclusion that the British Government had invested too much money into the development of the rifle and, therefore, to spare the blushes of the civil service and ministers who pushed for this rifle, the Government opted to continue its use rather than replace it with more effective foreign assault rifles.
Do not misunderstand this as a suggestion that our Armed Services are not capable – far from it. By all accounts the British Armed Forces remain one of the world’s most effective and elite fighting forces. Considering that the Top 4 countries (India, China, Russia and the United States) all posses military forces with over 1 million personnel this only proves that Her Majesty’s Armed Forces posses a quality of servicemen and women that most countries can only dream of. Yet the Government’s unwillingness to provide the necessary number of men and women with the necessary funding is nevertheless alarming.
One of my Father’s favourite sayings from his thirty years of service as an Army Officer was the idea of ‘train hard, fight easy’. Essentially, failure to prepare is preparing to fail. A grim example of this is the Snatch Land Rover. This vehicle was heavily outdated and ill-suited to the desert environment of Afghanistan and Iraq. A minimum of thirty six unnecessary Army casualties were caused in Iraq alone due to this oversight, the Blair administration were even warned about this, yet the Government ‘knew better’ which led to unnecessary casualties. How can we expect our military personnel to put their lives on the life for their country if we do not provide them with adequate funding?
Aside from the defensive aspects there are other highly pragmatic reasons for the government to open the purse strings. Economically increasing defence spending creates high-paying jobs and encourages investment in the United Kingdom. In November 2015, after David Cameron announced an additional £2 Billion for the Armed Forces, there was a surge in the price of BAE Systems shares, and the Pound increased in value. Businesses were excited by the opportunities military funding could provide. Military-backed research from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has shaped the modern technology market with the internet, GPS and even Siri owing their existence to DARPA’s research.
Diplomatically speaking, increasing defence spending also makes sense as it shows commitment to our allies whilst providing a superior bargaining position over our adversaries. Following Cameron’s November 2015 announcement, for example, former President Barack Obama tweeted that the US had ‘no stronger ally’, whilst the establishment of UK military advisors to aid and train Ukrainian Forces helped to expand Western influence and safeguard their democracy from Russian aggression.
Bertrand Russell said it best: ‘War does not determine who is right – only who is left.’ War should always be the last resort as its impact and cost far outweigh any benefits. Yet, due to the unjust nature of our world, sometimes war is necessary, with military intervention being the only tangible way to solve a crisis. If we as a nation willingly bury our heads in the sand in the face of increasing world tension then we are simply sowing the seeds of our own suffering. Neville Chamberlain failed to prepare Britain for war against Hitler, leading to a six-year conflict that claimed the lives of over sixty million people. Had our country been better prepared then Germany may well have failed in 1940, ending the war and saving countless lives.
Ultimately, if the Government doesn’t stop twisting the numbers, and if it continues to properly fund our Armed Forces – reflecting our position as a global power – then Britain may well pay a grave price in the future.
This article also appeared in the 1828 Journal, it can be found here.