The UK’s Armed Forces have once again become a matter for terribly serious discussion in the media. Partly prompted by the forthcoming Armistice Day Remembrance events with the added topicality of the closure of naval shipbuilding at Portsmouth. Most of this discussion, it is hardly a debate, comes from the establishment and their friends in the media. A classic example was a recent article for the Telegraph by Fraser Nelson.
Mr Nelson does not believe in pulling his punches, nor in leaving his readers with any doubt. His article, which you can read here, is captioned, We must fund the Armed Forces properly – before disaster strikes. The addition of the phrase, before disaster strikes, is a non too subtle attempt to absolve Mr Nelson of the need for any analytical thinking or reasoning. In the face of disaster, what else can you do, but fund our Armed Forces properly.
The sub heading of the article is another give away – For years now, Britain has lacked the will and the means to finish the battles it has started. Mr Nelson’s real target is the British people and their political leaders. The Armed Forces are wonderful, but clearly lack a deserving public. It is not far short of the infamous stab in the back approach to military thinking. The final few words of the sub heading – the battles it has started – is also very revealing, no doubt in an unintentional way, of the UK’s fondness for starting wars. For even a cursory glance at the UK’s wars post WW11 show that almost all of them have been wars of choice.
Now for the likes of Mr Nelson and our establishment this is just fine and dandy. Starting wars is precisely what a great global power like the UK should be able to do. Britain is a war-fighting nation. Or at least it should be. For this is the rub, and the real worry for Mr Nelson and our military top brass. There are signs that Britain is losing its taste for war-fighting. And he doesn’t like it.
When it comes to our politicians, there is a distinct ambivalence between their words and deeds. The financial realities of the UK, its apparently irresistible decline as a major economic power, have forced successive governments to spend less and less on our Armed Forces. However these same politicians are desperate to hang on to the glory and kudos that they associate with military power. Mr Nelson neatly describes this fear when he writes this after parliament voted against military intervention in Syria: “In the aftermath of the Commons defeat, it was as if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had caught a glimpse of what the world would look like if they did not have such a strong military at their disposal. They were terrified. It would mean fewer one-to-one meetings with American presidents. Less clout at G20 summits.” Poor Britain, no long Great, but merely a middling sized country reduced to peacekeeping roles in the world. Oh how the mighty have fallen!
What is of course conspicuously missing from Mr Nelson’s article is any alternative view. Is he seriously suggesting that, for example, the leader of Germany does not have one-to-one meetings with American Presidents? And precisely what clout does the UK have at G20 summits. Russia still has a very large and varied military with a proven war-fighting capacity. Does this give Russia extra clout at G20 and other international meetings? If so, where is the evidence? If war-fighting capacity is the key to power and influence in the world, why is the UK so opposed to the military ambitions of other countries? Presumably the acquisition of nuclear weapons would increase Iran’s power and influence.
But, silly me, it is only the UK’s power and influence that matter. Other countries clearly do not count. As Mr Nelson puts it, “Britain is a globally minded nation, keen to shape the world rather than be shaped by it.” The mindlessness of such statements is quite breathtaking. It clearly never occurs to the likes of Mr Nelson that such arrogance increases feelings of hostility to the UK. The ability of any one country to “shape” the world is likely to be quite limited anyway. Co-operating with other countries is far more likely to achieve long lasting results in combatting climate change, security and economic development. War-fighting contributes little, if anything, to solving the real issues that face the world.
In fact war-fighting only serves to make things worse. Mr Nelson predicts various disasters if we do not spend more and more money on our Armed Forces – a major military defeat, an embassy overrun or a patrol wiped out. However the most effective way of preventing such disasters is to stop participating in the bombing, invading and occupying of other countries. All these wars of choice do not seem to have served any conceivable British interest. Other than preserving our place at the top table and getting our leaders one-to-one meetings with American Presidents. Too high, much too high a price has been paid for this illusion of power. The sooner we can get out of this mindset the better. In Scotland we can achieve this in next year’s referendum on Scottish independence. Vote YES to end British war-fighting.