It should be obvious, but the question must be asked.
UKNDA has been worried about this issue for some time. The government has been heard to say that they don’t want to hear from retired senior officers. This view doesn’t seem to be shared by the Defence Select Committee who have recently interviewed several of them. Recent retirees, such as Admiral Zambellas and General Barrons have expressed considerable concern about the state of the Armed Forces and potential further cuts in capability. Surely the government cannot ignore their warnings?
The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), in an interview last Sunday, said that the Armed Forces are sufficient for “what they are asked to do”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of present capabilities. He also said that he was not involved in politics and that his boss was the Defence Secretary and talk of his inexperience was irrelevant.
We cannot blame the CDS, or other service chiefs, for not speaking out publicly about their concerns because they are not allowed to. Herein lies the problem: the views of those with good, recent senior experience are not wanted, and the views of those still serving are not heard. Meanwhile the Armed Forces, the maintenance of which falls into the “First Duty of Government”, are caught in the middle with spurious financial arguments being put forward to support the view that sufficient resources are being provided.
I’m not sure about the value of petitions, but I have signed the one urging the government not to get rid of the Royal Navy’s amphibious capability, nor 1000 Royal Marines. After it passed 10,000 signatures the government was obliged to respond by email. It is these responses which can be fascinating and revealing. One sentence particularly caught my eye: “This Review is to ensure that the United Kingdom’s investment in capabilities is as joined-up, effective and efficient as possible, and will cover areas including Defence, counter terrorism, national resilience and cyber.”
Am I being too cynical to suggest that the government is going to justify defence cuts in order to support “counter terrorism, national resilience and cyber.”? After all, spending in those areas can be controlled quite easily within quite small limits.
Of course there are new threats, but we must not forget the wise words of Dr Andrew Roberts, the leading military historian, which I paraphrase as follows: “The next conflict is never the one you expect”.
We need to be prepared for anything and cutting capability is not the way forward.