The journalist, Simon Jenkins, is advocating the complete, entire, total abolition of the Armed Forces. Despite having written some quite good stuff in the past, he now has utterly lost his marbles.
I should very quickly say that the number and size of those marbles is no larger or bigger than the number and size of those lost by the johnnies who have written the Defence Review. Jenkins is spot on with his excoriating exposure of the facile and ludicrous preamble to the Review in which those loons at the Ministry of Defence list – and often repetitively – a host of threats and “threats” which are in very large part not the core business of Armed Forces, and which, moot point or not, could be attended to by other agencies.
Jenkins is, I think, an educated, well-read, even cultured, chap who has dived through a fair amount of history. Has he forgotten it? Or does he think that human nature has changed in the last 60 years in a way completely at odds with our understanding of human nature over the past 7 millenia?
The start to a Defence Review has to be a re-ordering of Foreign Policy – in the present and for the future. Boil it all down to the vital – apply Occam’s Razor. Cease foreign adventures immediately. Geopolitical strategists will explain why this is not possible without a catastrophic destabilization of critical regions. This is untrue. Stability can be shored up – perhaps even reinforced - through other means; it’s just that there aren’t enough thinkers at the highest levels of government able to identify what those might be. Whilst it would be foolish to pull out leaving everything in the lap of the gods, other strategies exist that stand at least some hope of success which is more than can be said for naïve arguments expounded by the current proponents of continued occupation. And, if you don’t realize that what we are doing is absolutely “Occupation” you don’t understand the forces, parties, and perceptions on the ground. And you don’t understand Karzai – our puppet who has looked upwards and now tugs our strings.
And let’s get one thing out of the way now. Every intelligent commentator of any hue agrees that GW Bush’s “War on Terror” (what a crass and ridiculous term which again exposes that man’s wooden intellect – can one use the word “intellect” in any context with Dubya?) has drastically made the safety of citizens of the USA and UK immeasurably more perilous.
As for the argument that to withdraw would make the sacrifice of our soldiers to date meaningless? This sounds a noble, caring, and worthy argument but actually flip it over and the message is that to justify the blowing up of a thousand young men and women we have to blow up another several thousand. It is a sophistic and emotional argument which ignores that the inevitable further deaths will only aggravate the ultimate fiasco once we finally do pull out declaring victory. It temporizes away from a difficult decision that needs taking now. You may fool the living masses (actually, you don’t), you certainly will not fool history.
But, Jenkins has a point. There are no threats on the immediate horizon, although I think he’s pushing optimism to mittyesque lengths to suggest that a future threat is inconceivable. He is right that all the hyperbole about “punching above our weight” and “sitting at the top table” is just the pseudo sophisticated claptrap used by Whitehall mandarins et al (et al being the chaps in uniform who take a year or two out to further their careers learning the jargon and acquiring the manner of Sir Humphrey; sadly they rarely rise above Bernard – stout-hearted yeoman though he may be). France does all the “punching” and “top table” posturing she likes, but with obsessions and expenses rather different from our own.
So, what do we need Defence for? Firstly to defend the Realm should it ever face a threat – or be able to fight a holding action whilst whatever capability retained has been expanded to meet that threat. Secondly, to conduct very limited operations abroad to provide uncontentious protection of our interests, and so we don’t look like complete wimps on the international stage. By “uncontentious” I do not mean that a third party should “have the chop” on whether we deploy; simply that if something is “uncontentious” it is probably good. I am thinking here of humanitarian crises and the evacuation of our citizens from conflict zones. In some situations this second reason quite clearly tips its hat to the political dimension which actually represents a fair return on cash – not so big that we can impress the World by occupying other countries but big enough to do right by those who need it. As part of this we need to continue contributions to multi-national forces (ARRC/NATO) but perhaps not on the current scale. Thirdly, we should see what can be afforded to provide global reach - eg Nimrods over the Gulf – and it might not be much.
And what do we need for this in 2011? A well supported, balanced Army Division, capable of swift deployment to a low to medium intensity operation with excellent logistics (this means a tad more than a division given operational cycles). And we need to retain all our Special Forces elements – paras, marines and SAS/SBS. We need to be able to deploy a viable small Navy with its own integral air cover and attack aircraft (whoever provides it), focused on home waters but able to support limited action abroad. We need to be able to defend the shores of our islands with Air, Navy and land forces (probably through a viable reserve element – Territorial Army). As for nuclear weapons? Well, yes, but not Trident for Christ’s sake. Something useable in all scenarios even if measures of success may seem a bit dim if we suddenly find ourselves alone facing the entire Russian/Chinese stockpile. Each of the three elements needs its own command – Naval power is complicated and no one dares threaten the Navy with subsumption into the Royal Logistic Corps. Air warfare is a complicated business too – more than any other - and left to Army generals would be over-simplified and inept.
Is this enough to recapture the Falkland Islands, to carry out two simultaneous Service assisted evacuations, to poodle fake up the rectum of the USA? Well, probably not, infact, no. But it is enough to do the best our money will allow and to retain essential capability for the unknown future.
Having said all this, I can agree with Jenkins if we make a philosophical shift of epic proportions. Ghandi shaped the Asian sub-continent with a loin cloth and no guns. Let’s abolish the Armed Forces and issue out the saffron robes. You think I’m joking?
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