Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Defence of the Realm

Reading today on the BBC News website, I discovered the imminent demise of the Royal Navy's flagship, the Aircraft Carrier 'HMS Ark Royal'. I hate to say it, but something about it just doesn't sit right with me.

Our current coalition government is in the process of sweeping cuts and reforms, the system having been left in such a dire state by its former carers. But while significant belt-tightening has clearly been required, as cut after cut is announced, you can't help wondering if they're getting carried away in the momentum of all this money saving.

Now we learn that our country's defence budget is being cut drastically, and the equipment being scaled back. The list is as follows:

  • The Ark Royal, launched in 1985, will be decommissioned almost immediately, rather than in 2014, as previously planned
  • The construction of two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, will go ahead, as it would cost more to cancel the projects than proceed with them
  • The navy will lose 4,000 personnel and its surface fleet will be cut from 24 to 19
  • Some squadrons of RAF Tornado jets will be saved - although some air force bases will close
  • The Army will have to cut up to 7,000 or so personnel over the next five years, and lose 100 tanks and heavy artillery
  • The Ministry of Defence itself will face substantial cuts to its civilian staff

(I hasten to add, the above list is only what David Cameron is expected to say, but at the time of writing this, could change.)

Britain is a country in a peculiar situation. Due to our Colonial and Naval past, we have continued to punch above our weight on the world stage, but in reality, we are just a small country with limited financial abilities. Not only that, having only recently paid off the enormous WWII debt owed to America, we're now in enormous new debt, from mismanagement over the last 10 years or more.

The question is, do we try our best to keep hold of our tenuous and somewhat mocked position (Or at any rate, slow its diminishing). Or do we accept that we are no longer what we once were, and give in to being an increasingly smaller player on the world stage? Especially given our financially crumbling infrastructure.

I can't help feeling a sigh of inevitable defeatism at the thought of our protective and highly regarded military being increasingly sidelined and undermined. But am I just feeling that way, because of a pride in our country's past magnitude and glories, that we should now accept are distinctly in the past?

There are those who would say that our country has an inflated ego with regards to its position in the modern world. Then again, doesn't every country try to improve and/or maintain its standing, as highly as possible? If so, why should we not try to maintain what is left of the position our former history established, even knowing it can't last indefinitely? Maybe we're clinging to the coat tails of our past with our fingernails, but given that the position is unlikely to be obtainable ever again, what is wrong with trying to stay there a little longer?

Some might say that our inflated global position is due to the past exploitation of others, and therefore we have no right to it. Whatever your opinion on those issues, the point is, they were in the past. I'd be surprised if any country in the entire world couldn't go back into its history and find that it exploited others for its own benefit at some point. So I don't believe in that argument, because if you do, you may as well say that every country of influence in the world should give it up, because its power is most probably based on historically stepping on others to get there.

So the question remains, should we spend money to keep our military in a position of reasonable strength, or save it for running the country? It's all too easy to initially say 'save it', because the average person sees little direct benefit from our military presence in the world. However, we must remember that our military is a major representation of our position in the world (And that's without even getting into the actual tangible benefits of physical defence). What economic strength we have is intrinsically linked to our perceived global standing. So by lessening our military, do we lesson our world standing, and thus lessen our potential long-term economic stability and strength? Our position in the world might well be linked to ego based on former glories, it may even be somewhat illusory, but should that stop us trying to maintain it as long as we can?

It's difficult to say what the right path should be, as issues could be argued equally either way, but there does seem something distasteful about the momentum with which our military, with all its lauded history, has its abilities lessened in the global arena.

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