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Our Armed forces should defend Britain, not promote Liberal neo-colonial interventionism

For the British political elite the loss of empire did not signal the end of the imperial mentality. As a consequence, Britain’s defence capability continued for decades to be built upon the ridiculous assumption that she still had the military responsibilities of a great power. This has meant until recent years that Britain has shaped her defence to be able to operate, in theory at least, anywhere in the world, with a very full range of expensive military toys such as aircraft carriers and heavy tanks, neither of which is necessary for the defence of modern Britain.

That policy was mistaken but not inherently dangerous. It cost the British taxpayer a great deal of money spent unnecessarily, but it did not commit Britain to dangerous adventures or leave Britain incapable of defending herself.

In Tony Blair’s hands this “great power” mentality has transmuted into an ideology what might be described as liberal neo-colonial interventionism, crystallised in what became known as the “Blair Doctrine” which overthrew the idea of national sovereignty on which the UN was founded by advocating that the “international community” had the right to intervene in any country militarily if the government of the country was behaving in a vicious manner towards its people,

Because of the difference between the forces and equipment needed to handle such large scale foreign interventions and what is required to defend the UK, such a policy implied that Britain’s armed forces were no longer to be primarily designed to protect British territory, but would exist to operate as an agent of some ill-defined international order, be that the UN, Nato or some other association. This is what has happened. To call them defence forces is rapidly becoming a misnomer.

Creating the liberal neo-colonial armed forces of tomorrow

The shaping of our armed forces to implement the Blair Doctrine rather than British needs is already well under way. This is exemplified by recent equipment proposals which, at massive cost, lumber Britain with weapons which are not needed. Two giant aircraft carriers have already been ordered at a current estimated cost of £13 billion and a new “mini-tank” which can be lifted to foreign fields by air is proposed at another £6 billion (Sunday Telegraph London 5 Oct 2003).

In addition to these vast equipment projects, Britain is committed to providing a rapid-response force for “international emergencies” and is being gradually and secretly lured into an EU defence force. The effect of this reshaping of our armed forces is to starve them of the means to defend Britain. The aircraft carrier project alone will take a quite disproportionate amount of the defence procurement budget for many years, while the mini-tank project, if it goes ahead, will result in the end of our heavy armour regiments altogether. Perhaps most damagingly in the long run the manpower of the British army is to be reduced to 82,000 regulars with recent rumours of a further cut to 60,000 after the 2015 election.

The defence policy Britain needs

It is improbable that Britain in the foreseeable future will have to fight, as a matter of necessity, either an aggressive war abroad on its own or in alliance with another country such as the USA. What Britain needs are armed forces which will prevent attacks on Britain itself, guard her waters and (just conceivably) allow her to break a blockade. Such a policy could be easily met within Britain’ s present spending, because it is always easier and cheaper to defend your own territory than to have to invade another territory.

Having armed forces which are designed to operate only in the defence of Britain should mean that recruitment of both regulars and reservists becomes easier because long and frequent tours of duty abroad would no longer be a problem. In particular, shortages of specialists such as military medics should become a non-issue. The policy would have the further great advantage of hamstringing politicians. Whatever their natural inclinations, even the most reckless politician is constrained in what he can do by simple practicalities. If Britain has armed forces which are only equipped to defend British territory, they cannot easily be sent to fight abroad, even in conjunction with a power such as the US.

What are we guarding against?

There are three general threats to Britain, nuclear war, conventional war/blockade/sanctions against Britain and terrorist attacks from within and without.

Nuclear war we can only deter by possessing a credible independent deterrent, which would also deter a direct conventional attack. As for blockades and sanctions, these can be resisted by ensuring we are self-sufficient in necessities.

At present we have Trident and that is it for nuclear weapons. Trident may not be under our control – Tony Benn believed that it could not be operated without the release of American codes because it is dependent upon US satellites for its guidance system – and we scrapped our freefall nuclear bombs in 2003. Britain should develop a variety of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

To have a potent threat below the nuclear, Britain should also pursue the development of weapons such as the neutron bomb and lasers and any other appropriate sub-nuclear new technology which arises. Such technology would permit Britain to defend the Falklands with some certainty whilst deploying little manpower.

The Navy and Airforce should be reshaped utterly. To defend Britain, we require not giant carriers but plenty of submarines, minesweepers and small assault ships such as destroyers to police our immediate seas. The airforce should turn its efforts towards the development of unmanned planes and a space programme capable of at least launching our own satellites – at present we are entirely dependent on Nasa or European Space Agency satellites the use of which could be denied at any time. The space programme would be run in conjunction with general missile development.

The regular army would be large enough at 120,000 and it is supplemented by a decent sized TA and properly organised reservists, that is the regular soldiers who have completed their service and then go onto the reserve list. (Editor’s Note: The problem with creating this at the moment is that soldiers leaving the Army are tired of overseas deployments, as being a reservist would perpetuate that agony. Reducing overseas deployments would make this recruiting task easier.)

Military procurement

In the end, the only certain defence is that which a country can provide for itself. Relying on foreign suppliers for military equipment is self-evidently dangerous because it places us in their hands. There is also the inability of Britain to ensure that foreign equipment is upgraded through further development.

A country like Britain has it within its power to produce all the weaponry and associated equipment it needs. That is especially so if the defence of British territory is the sole concern of Britain, because the range of equipment needed becomes much reduced, for example, we would not need heavy tanks or aircraft carriers.

Those who doubt that Britain could go it alone in producing their own equipment should reflect on the fact that until the early sixties Britain produced virtually all its defence equipment, including cutting edge planes such as the Lightning fighter and the V bombers, when our national wealth was, in real terms, very much less than it is today.
To those who argue for the economies of scale in joint-projects with other countries I would simply say one word “Eurofighter”. Originally intended to enter service in the 1990s, it did not become operational until well into the 2000s.

Nor is simply buying foreign a panacea. You have to take what the foreign manufacturer is willing to supply, which is not necessarily what you want. Take the case of the Apache Helicoptors purchased from the USA some years back. These have a rather distinctive design fault: rockets can only be fired from the right-hand side of helicopter because if they are fired from the left hand side debris may hit the tail rotor which is situated on the left-hand side.

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About Robert Henderson (108 Articles)
Robert is a retired civil servant with a history and politics degree. He lives in London and runs the England Calling Blog amongst others

24 Comments on Our Armed forces should defend Britain, not promote Liberal neo-colonial interventionism

  1. Just an overnight thought, watching the news this morning.
    Report on refugees fleeing Boko Haram and ending up in fear for their lives in Cameroon.
    One interviewee pointed out the Nigerian Army (Defence Force?) were ineffective, in fact he inferred they seemed to be “hand in glove” with the terrorists.
    Didn`t I hear that tale before in Northern Iraq? – the army (Defence Force meant to guard the population) just ran away, colluded by handing over all their weapons etc.
    No Names no packdrills – but I don`t like the sounds of “Defence Force only”

  2. I note that a spokesman for UKIP has recently issued a policy statement on defence, which roughly echoes the tone of this article – God Help us, I stick to my original comments given below .
    When we BRexit and stand alone – it`s the big wide world we take on,We must keep all our global options open and that is the semblance of power (not just the illusion), at least we will have to go readily to the aid of any Commonwealth country where required

  3. So Nigel did not attend as busy. This party is very weird sometimes. It was a high profile event and no UKIP. Mind you when people say Ms Bennett was good I think we might be f ooked anyway. RIP Britain 2015.

  4. What about militant Islam, we cannot avoid the need to crush it, because that`s what it wants to do with us.
    Even if we are not on the ground in the Middle East, I am sure we have to go to the aid of a Commonwealth member – Nigeria
    and it will be better if we do it “mob handed” and promptly.

  5. How right you are, Robert, and how cruel! You want to deprive our labcon politicians from being able to strut on the world stage, huffing and puffing as if Lord Palmerston were still alive and ready to send warships out to warn those in the world who aren’t behaving themselves as they should. Blair enjoyed it all mightily and had the messianic view that he could save the world. Cameron had to be restrained from bombing Syria, but at least he got to visit the troops in Afghanistan and didn’t he love being lionised in Libya after he sent the planes out? What grown-up little boy doesn’t enjoy playing with the fighter planes, tanks, troops and ships he has at his disposal? The last justified war we were in was when Thatcher pulled out all the stops to defend the Falklands from foreign aggression. That was defending our own territory and our own people from a Fascist junta. Today we need to stick to the defence of Britain from within and without, forget the rest and mind our own business. Some soldiers stationed at Calais and other ports where illegal immigrants try to get in would be a good start.

    • Sorry Panmelia I cannot reconcile withdrawal of our defences to such strict limits with UKIP policy of Brexit.
      It`s more “stop the world I want to get off”
      t has everything to do with the regaining the sense of “belonging” amongst civilised “goodies” Victory in the Falklands engendered.
      PS I supported our re-entry in Iraq -we didn`t have a proper plan for the aftermath.
      I also would not like any association with us and “The European Army” = too handy to be involved in the Ukraine, which I have thoughts on EU meddling

      • We don’t have an Empire anymore, and any influence we do have is a shadow of what it was, and mainly due to our historic association with the USA. Unfortunately, it was this very association that resulted in our being dragged into Iraq, and Afghanistan before it. What good did we do? It seems that for every Islamic terrorist that existed before, these conflicts bred thousands more and they continue to spread like a plague in the Middle East and Pakistan. Blair was warned he would make this country into a target for terrorists and that prediction was fulfilled. He didn’t care as long as got his moment of glory with the hand of history on his shoulder.
        As members of the EU our borders are open to criminals and terrorists, not that we don’t breed our home grown ones as well.
        ‘Stop the world, we want to get off’? No, it’s more a case of ‘Circle the wagons’ and concentrate our resources on defending ourselves from attack from without while rooting out traitors from within. It’s time we realised that even America has tired of being world policeman and our role as deputy world policeman is no longer viable.

  6. Hugo van Randwyck // January 31, 2015 at 10:09 am //

    Good topic 🙂
    Since Britain is a global trading country, then it’s military is a form of ‘aid’, since by protecting the sea lanes, is allowing trade to flow more freely, and countries to work their way to prosperity – which is better than corrupting aid money.
    The issue of vast equipment purchases – which are sometimes spent in marginal constituencies – is worth evaluating. It does make more sense to have more boots on the ground, to win the peace in any conflict or post-conflict zone. The facts are that given a choice between driving out bandits in a country, many people prefer British troops, than most any other country’s troops – people like hospitals, bridges, roads being built/rebuilt and also help with agriculture productivity.
    Since the author has rightly stated that the military needed for the past, is no longer relevant, so why spend on equipment for which there is likely no need? Why not just buy the same planes that we have been buying and the same, or simpler, tanks? Yes, drones can do a lot as well.
    Good article, with lots of good questions and looking at options not really discussed in the news.

    • “Has rightly stated that the military needed for the past is no longer relevant”. To say in a throw away manner that the past is no longer relevant is quite frankly wrong. Many aspects of warfare are the same even counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations. Putting British boots on the ground is nothing new. The thing that has changed is the technology of warfare: once you might have killed at a distance with a carefully aimed musket and in the future a laser perhaps. To maintain our military capability it is vitally important that we continually stay abreast of the technology. This includes planes and tanks. So often I hear the opinion that main battle tanks (MBT) are no longer relevant. This is a dangerous assumption and I can say from experience that the presence of superior MBTs (supported by other Arms) on the enemy is remarkable.

  7. Sounds like the writter is a “Green” sympathiser

    • What? How is it ‘Green’ to want to exclusively defend your own country instead of becoming embroiled in foreign wars? Were the Greens in favour of the Iraq war then? Come on, surprise us.

  8. One of the benefits of being militarily active in many regions is the training dimension. Through involvement our Armed Forces and equipment is kept in a ready to fight state. The knife has to kept sharp otherwise when it is really needed it will not be up to the job. That is the danger of becoming purely a “Defence Force”.

    • Thank god to read some sense

    • John Cairns – it is precisely that mentality which constantly entangles Britain in war. Concentrating on the defence of Britain does not mean losing any vital battle readiness because the battle readiness which requires it to defend its territory is largely technological in the first instance eg nuclear weapons and in the case of an invasion of the country – very improbable if one is a nuclear power – the motivation to fight is at its highest.

      As for Britain’s overseas trade, the vast majority is with Europe and North America and it is difficult to see how that would be militarily disrupted unless open war exists between Britain and other powers. As for the rest of the world if rising nuclear powers such as China and India become militarily belligerent towards Britain in terms of our exports to the world outside of North America and Europe there would be nothing we could do to force them to desist.

      • Been re-reading the last Para of your comment John, from which I deduce that you do not consider a presence “East of Suez” practical or vital to our interests.
        I disagreed with our withdrawal from Suez at the USA behest and I disagreed with MacMillan almost completely, although I accepted the “wind of change” was blowing through Africa, before he got going.
        But World Commonwealth Trade at least, much of which was forfeit on our joining the EU,together with mutual “defence” of the Commonwealth must return on Brexit (providing they still want us)
        I believe we have already returned East of Suez, read we are constructing a new base in the Persian Gulf (?)

        • One of the benefits of our action (mainly the US) in the ME is to limit the “conflict” to that theatre. The US foreign and military policy to destabilise has so far been successful despite the criticism it often receives. There has not been a major terrorist attack on the US since 9/11.
          If only the US had backed Britain, France and Israel in Suez perhaps and I mean perhaps the world would not be in the position it is today. Of course in 1956 the US was determined to neuter Britain because it wanted the spoils and to control what the US believed to be the remnants of our Imperial ambition. How times have changed: the recent Libya crisis showed just how relaxed the US was in letting Britain and France lead. We only have ourselves to blame for giving in.over Suez.

      • It’s not a question of “that mentality”. History shows that you can have the best equipment and a technical lead but if you don’t have the battle trained personnel to operate the systems you will have a significant weakness. The Chiefs of the Defence Staff realise this and because personnel move in and out of the Armed Forces it is better to regularly engage in conflict and other situations. I do not say this to glorify war but purely to point out the importance of personnel and their training to conduct the many various forms of warfare. Remember, that attacks to our homeland can come in many different ways.

    • John Cairns – it is precisely that mentality which constantly entangles Britain in war. Concentrating on the defence of Britain does not mean losing any vital battle readiness because the battle readiness which requires it to defend its territory is largely technological in the first instance eg nuclear weapons and in the case of an invasion of the country – very improbable if one is a nuclear power – the motivation to fight is at its highest.

      As for Britain’s overseas trade, the vast majority is with Europe and North America and it is difficult to see how that would be militarily disrupted unless open war exists between Britain and other powers. As for the rest of the world if rising nuclear powers such as China and India become militarily belligerent towards Britain in terms of our exports to the world outside of North America and Europe there would be nothing we could do to force them to desist.

    • It did cross my mind that the services were awfully eager to go into Afghanistan, they certainly did keep the knife “sharp”
      Pity our politicians didn`t (always) back them up

  9. The Emperors New Clothes // January 30, 2015 at 6:50 pm //

    What is being done to our military is tantamount to treason. We as an island country need a navy to patrol our shores. It does need aircraft carriers also to defend our interests abroad, to protect our trading routes and partners. It should all be home produced to have control of supply and quality.
    What we have done is surrender control of many aspects of defence to foreign powers, that could be our enemy in a couple of years time.
    The biggest danger though is the enemy within. The enemy within is more dangerous than any enemy tanks, fighter planes, guns bombs and bullets, for they have dominated positions in government for at least 50 years, surrendering sovereignty to a foreign organisation called the European Union.

  10. This is probably a very sound appreciation of our present military strength and our needs for the future, unfortunately in that it forsees and advocates the abandonment of our external responsibilities and dare I say it follows those who already have been denigrating our standing, dictated by our actually winning the 2nd World War and reinforced by our resumption of some standing after regaining the Falklands (If we had had a Labour Govt, I am sure we wouldn`t have them now.)
    We are an island race and a trading nation, we depend for our sustenance on imported foods and our wealth on our imports and exports – worldwide. True we no longer have an empire, but we do have residual responsibilities to many members of the Commonwealth, many of them who are our kith and kin and gave unreservedly of their blood in the effort of two world wars.
    UKIP primary purpose is Brexit – we then stand alone as the original independent nation we once were.
    Winning the world war, whether we like it or not, establishes responsibilities towards the vanquished, we are founder members of the Security Council, It is expected that we will maintain sufficient power if required to act in concert if so voted.
    We cannot be seen to be evading that responsibility.
    I don`t believe we should be “patsies” in arms provision and purpose, but we have responsibilities to defend any member of the Commonwealth who require it.
    (Nigeria springs to mind at the moment Boko Haram cannot be allowed to get away with it)

  11. We don’t have the military clout to be a policeman of the world. Bring back our armed forces to defend Britain I have a feeling we are going to need them

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