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.

52 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve still got my fingers crossed for the arrival of the Modernising Defence Review. Hopefully only good will come from it but knowing our luck it will be a mix of sweet and sour.

  2. it,s not just funding that is the issue,when soldiers are sent into conflict armed or humanitarian by the government they should not have to face a witch hunt by greedy back stabbing solicitors if a soldier commits an offence the military has it,s own discipline procedure,and the government need to stop this allowing of persecuting soldiers…plus they need to get rid of capita and bring back real recruiting without the minefield of red tape..when i joined at the age of 16 in 1989 it took 6 weeks from walking into the careers office to training depot…now my nephew tried to join he gave up after waiting 6 months with hardly any word..when he finally got word he told them to stick it he lost all interest…

    • Took me 4 weeks in1973, took my son 12 months in 2013.

      Although some of that time was due due to extra vetting and interviews due the corps he wish to join.

    • andy – if I had my way be it through an act of law ,an act of Parliament or even a Covenant I would give any serving member of our Armed Forces total and irrefutable immunity from any Legal Prosecution whilst engaged in any Military Operations on behalf of HM Government.

      • Err…no.
        Doing that and the next Mai Li would be around the corner and no one would be held accountable for their illegal actions.
        There needs to be better protection from no win no fee fishing expeditions that have and still do hound serving members who where doing there job. If when serving or have subsequently left and they broke the rules and commit a crime they should be prosecuted quickly and efficiently which is something the current system will not allow.

        • Gunbuster – a bit of clarification,im not suggesting for one minute that serving personnel should not be subject to any disciplinary measures,far from it but as andy’s comment said these can be dealt with internally under the Military’s own rules of conduct.As is sometimes the case now I’m certainly not in favour of any actions resulting from combat being brought up years or decades later to be dragged through the civil law courts.Any servicemen/women in my opinion are servants of the Crown and representatives of HM Government,they don’t choose to go to war off their own back,this has to be approved by Parliament,any problems or issues arising thereof should be accountable by HM government.

  3. This article fails to address several important points:
    1) The voting public generally favor less or at most, steady spending on defense, not more.
    2) While the press predominantly reports on the perceived fall in defense spending, the reality is that it is just not true. Defense spending has fluctuated slightly in recent years, but in real terms it has remained fairly steady.
    3) Labor is often accused of decimating defense spending which is wholly inaccurate. It’s easy to pin the blame on lefties hating the armed forces, but Conservative and Coalition government spending tended to push downwards. This is in keeping with their desire to reduce government spending, and reducing taxes. But you can’t have it both ways.
    4) While it is true that there are less troops, less ships, less aircraft etc. the reality is that the cost of weapons systems is increasing every year due to increasing complexity, more research and development time, and longer lead times. These are not factors that can be readily resolved with pumping more money into the defense budget. These factors mean that if Britain is to have the best equipment, while remaining within the bounds of what the electorate consider reasonable, something inevitably has to give. So we ask the armed forces to do more with less. Some countries favor quantity over quality – Britain does not.
    The article does a good job of demonizing politicians as deceptive and cowardly. This may be true, but it is only part of the story. If pushing defense spending is not a vote winner, why would we expect politicians to push policies that the majority of the population do not support? Or at least, only support if the funds come from programs they hate, not through higher taxes.

    Sources:
    https://theconversation.com/the-truth-about-uk-defence-spending-51758

    • ‘but Conservative and Coalition government spending tended to push downwards. This is in keeping with their desire to reduce government spending, and reducing taxes. But you can’t have it both ways’

      Damn right – if Labour had made the cuts the tories have the right wing press would (rightly) be howling loud and long. They are strangely generally silent.

    • The armed forces were cut from 179,000 active duty regulars to 142,000 between 2010 and 2017. George Osborne arrived at a defense budget by multiplying everything by about 0.8. There is never a constituency for increased defense spending until the excrement hits the rotating air impellors.

  4. Nigel Collins the UK spent more on defence than Russia the last Two years and that’s without NATO .. Russia doesn’t spend large on defence it’s simply not got the money that’s a fact .. Nato tec will always be far better … Russia is always bragging about future weapons that never happen in the real world … Russia without Nukes is nothing NATO would wipe the floor with Russia none nuke war it would not even be a contest ..

    • You can’t directly compare the two, since reduced personal costs and health/safety, plus massively more natural resoruces means Russia can get way more for their money than the west.

      • Steve we get better value simply because we share the cost of weapon development with the US and Nato …The ,f35 is only possible due to massive USA development funding …

        • Whilst true the US brought gear is only a fraction of our defence budget. Most of the budget goes to personal costs.

          • Steve also Russia have to pay for a large land army what in to days modern warfare would be cannon fodder up against modern apache gun ships and modern weapons it s impossible to move large ground forces these days in warfare spy in the sky simply follow them for the kil! ..

          • There is definitely a tipping point in terms of quality and quantity. Europe can barely pull together 100 Apache attach helicopters on its own, 50% of which have likely been cannibalized. Put that against several thousand tanks, heavy artillery and mobile SAMs. Europe is also not known for stockpiling large amounts of missiles due to their cost and complexity. Without US support they would need to make every single one of them count as they would run out very very quickly.

      • Got to agree with ‘P’. Russia wouldn’t have a chance against NATO. Putin’s propaganda machine and their nuclear weapons are their only effective forces.

    • P tattersall, and the Japanese could’nt see in the dark, right ? Arrogance and complacency results in you getting your *ss kicked.

  5. Large sums have been spent. Badly. There must be zero confidence in any organisation that cannot bring sufficient financial controls to bear on projects that absorb money and underperform going back decades. I realise this is true of all countries – large and small; it seems endemic here. The fault is not always military. The west as a whole was wrong footed by Putin who has behaved in a truly dreadful way since seizing power to himself. The hoped for ‘peace dividend’ dazzled politicians and the current confusions stem from laziness and near Appeasement Era belief “this would all go away”. However I do think we have Putin to thank for something: A more realistic outlook today and a revival of international co-operation.

  6. There’s so much wrong with this article it is hard to know where to start. The main thing is the absence of any assessment of what our defence priorities should be, what defence posture is needed to address them and how much it wouls cost. There are no painful choices suggested, either in wider government spending or within defence spending. Clearly we’re going to have smaller forces than when we were maintaining an empire, fighting world wars or containing the Soviets. There will also be something of a capability gap between a mass, horse-based army of the Boer war and today’s mechanised infantryman. There isnt even a reference to the strategic deterrent or NATO.

    • QE Class carriers, two new classes of frigate and two new classes of submarine, Poseidon and F35, new tankers and solid support ships. Sounds like quite a bit of good investment to me. Yes half to one percent more GDP is warranted given our strategic challenges but it should be targeted at strategic capabilites that complement our collective defence arrangements.

    • The Boer War 1899-1902 was fought by smaller forces than you seem to believe. The British response in 1914 to Germany’s Fourth War of Aggression was also very small (“Contemptible little army” – The Kaiser). The need for a mass army, and conscripted at that, came only in 1916. Great Britain has been for much of its history a maritime nation. Since Elizabeth I English then British policy has been not to engage in Continental land wars without allies since it never has had the man power available (There were more Americans inside Yorktown than outside). From Marlborough to Montgomery our British armies campaigns have included many from other nations.

      • It is estimated around 300k empire troops served in the Boer war. My point is how daft it is to compare today’s forces with those of a hundred years ago. Tiday, a large army would come at the cost of a reduction in capability or readiness.

      • @Barry Larking. I don’t know who writes British History books, but whoever it is sure doesn’t know much about the Siege of Yorktown. Yorktown only had 200 buildings at the time of the siege. The number of Americans inside the town is unknown but could not have been more than 2,000, probably much less since the townspeople had adequate time to evacuate before Lord Cornwallis arrived. The latest American scholarship has put Washington’s besieging Continental Army, massively reinforced by militia units, at 14,000. The French Army numbered 8,600. British muster rolls indicate that Lord Cornwallis had approximately 5,000 effectives at the time of surrender.

  7. My main problem with all of this is the lack of integrity.

    Let’s be honest about this – Labour Governments dont want to fund defence but are often the first to deploy. The last/current Conservative government have been dealt a pretty rough hand, but are also no supporters of defence, and who can blame them given the woeful track record of our admirals, generals and air Marshall’s.

    I think Gavin Williamson is the man for our time and if he does do something with Defence that will give him credibility with the voters on being strong and foreign policy and then he can use his chief whip position to set his stall out as a political motivator.

    It’s time for the UK to decide what it wants to be (perhaps it already has) and if that means a weakened global status – I am ok with that but dont pretend we are a major player if we dont fund the things that give us that status – this includes defence and also the arts (which we gain an awful lot of soft power from)..

  8. This is perhaps one of my favorite articles on this site, and you guys have made some great ones, let’s hope HMG sees this and takes note.

  9. Whilst I agree the government should be spending more, and I agree with the articles argument, when people say this when talking about more funding for the armed forces it does annoy me a little bit…

    “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”

    That’s absolute guff

    The BEF was a highly trained volunteer force, are land Army was prioritised for garrisons, we did have an empire to protect after all, so the BEF was the best we could have under those circumstances. We were never geared for a dominating napoleon like steamroll through Europe in 500 years why would we be in 1940?

    In 1939 we had 6 aircraft carriers, 5 battleships, 23 cruisers, 52 destroyers, 9 submarines and 9 patrol boats under construction, yes that’s just under construction, all those had been laid down throughout the late 1930’s.

    So after WW1, the empire expanding to its largest after it, the Great Depression, you’re expecting Britain to spend more to win the battle of France in 1940? Exactly what could we have purchased to win the battle of France, I’d love to hear this, remember France had more men and tanks than Germany and still lost.

    The Germans won the the battle of France through innovative tactics (radio communications in tanks & blitzkrieg to name just two) and better use of the technology, no amount of money spent would of won that land battle.

    Trying to say if spent a few more quid in the 30’s we could of saved millions of lives 😂 come on mate ffs.

    • Correct. Chamberlain was no shrinking violet; he openly despised most of his colleagues as second raters. He understood Hitler all too well but had to play for time. The Dominions also urged him to pursue peace and might not agree to supply troops required. As usual the War Office was to blame for early British defeats with woeful organisation and staffing.

      • I was going to write this but there was no need as you have put it very well. Chamberlain has been very unfairly treated by history.

        • Chamberlain’s papers have been released containing his views leading up to the declaration of war in 1939. It explicitly states how he detested dealing with Hitler but also how the Munich Agreement was a bid by him to delay Britain entering the war. The delay was to allow industry and the military to plan for a long term engagement in a peer vs peer war, where the country with the best infrastructure, planning and logistics would win.
          At this point in time leading up to 1938 we were just out of a recession and rebuilding, we had a fractious Empire to police and our army was not designed to fight another WW1 style campaign. Unfortunately a lot of the information was being fed to the USSR by high placed spies in the Home Office, which I’m sure was then being given to Hitler. It could be postulated that this information gave Hitler the impetus to sped up his designs on Poland, knowing our land forces were not in a position to impede him.
          Chamberlain secretly had our industry forewarned for gearing up to war production. Its a shame that Parliament didn’t see it that way. In some respect Chamberlain might have been a better war PM than Churchill, as his ego had to be continually reigned in with over ambitious plans to counter Germany.

  10. I’ve often said that the Defence budget should be pegged at 3% GDB and ring fenced.

    But its more than spend, its about sensible procurement, no more of the utter madness that gave us Westland built AH64D’s at double the cost of US production!

    If the Government want to secure UK Defence industry, we simply must not and cannot let the Defence budget absorb these political decisions.

    This extra money must come from the DTI.

  11. I enjoyed the article. It saddens me to say but HMG has absolutely no intention of spending more on defence – just not going to happen. Maybe the retraction of the Iran nuclear deal by the US today may make HMG nervous enough to avoid any further cuts – for now – but mark my words, there will be no new money.

  12. The most scurrilous remark I have ever heard from a Senior Politician was from Hammond when he reportedly said “There are no votes in Defence spending”, In other words the defence of the Nation is not as important as getting into power, , H,s since proved that attitude with his grubby hand firmly closed around the defence purse. He,s a disgrace

  13. A first step should be to reverse the decision Osborne made in 2010 and shift the responsibility for paying for Trident back to the Treasury. That would save a few pennies.

  14. As an American combat vet who’s served alongside British officers in joint HQ’s in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I find the current size of the British military disregardful. I don’t expect an nation your size to try and maintain a massive force that it had at the height of the Cold War but at this point its a matter of capability. I’d like to see a much stronger navy with expanded submarine warfare capabilities both surface and subsurface. If that’s a mix of drones, helicopters, aircraft and subs/ships..so be it. Two carriers may well be enough if supported by as many as 12 US ships at any one time. The Army needs to be bigger then a football stadium in manpower. I believe the current Canadian military would fit comfortably within our own American football stadiums. As Americans, we can’t have our only really reliable and competent allies sold out by the politicians. As good as your folks are, training will suffer. We only have to look at the state of the German Army to see how bad things can get. You’re not there yet.

  15. I bet Iran this morning are on to Putin demanding a refund on the S300 more Russian junk all false propaganda isreal.have been saying for ages the S300 and S 400 are useless

  16. when the uk stops importing islamofascist parasites & appeasing fags, it might have some $ for self defense.i

  17. What a lot of excellent posts in response to a rather superficial article. This Times report is a reminder that our democracy is on the case.
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/mod-is-billions-short-for-new-ships-and-jets-after-losing-control-of-costs-97hx79bgl
    As I understand it then, we are planning to spend about £2billion per year more than we currently spend (£35billion). I.e. About a 6% shortfall. So the defence budget needs to rise from 2% to 2.12% of current GDP to remove the deficit, and presumably avoid the threatened cuts: losing the LPDs, troop reductions etc. Right?

  18. Apparently President Trump has put a cat amongst the pidgeons in the NATO Brussels summit – he wants the minimum spend on Defense to be doubled from 2% to 4%,that should make for an interesting few years ahead.

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