STEPHEN GLOVER: In a post-Brexit world, we MUST spend more on defenceJanuary 9, 2020
STEPHEN GLOVER: Forget new railways… In a post-Brexit world, we simply MUST spend more on defence
STEPHEN GLOVER Global Britain. What does it mean? It entails trading with the four corners of the earth. I’ve no doubt it also suggests being a force for good in the world.
We surely don’t want to be a bigger version of Switzerland — somewhat smug and insular, playing little part in international affairs, and relying on other countries (principally the United States) to guarantee the security of Europe.
But how can we carve out a significant role after Brexit? There is a school of thought, particularly represented by distinguished former ambassadors, that Britain will find itself alone on the wide, wide sea.
Such people have been having a field day this week. It is the settled view of the Foreign Office past and present, the BBC and foreign policy academics that the UK outside the EU will be a much diminished power.
They cite Donald Trump’s failure to forewarn Boris Johnson that he was going to take out Iranian general Qassem Soleimani even though Britain has 400 servicemen in Iraq, who have been placed in jeopardy by American action, as well as two warships in the Gulf.
Sailors from the Royal Navy perform the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. It is the settled view of the Foreign Office past and present, the BBC and foreign policy academics that the UK outside the EU will be a much diminished power
President Donald Trump pictured on January 3. They cite Donald Trump’s failure to forewarn Boris Johnson that he was going to take out Iranian general Qassem Soleimani even though Britain has 400 servicemen in Iraq, who have been placed in jeopardy by American action, as well as two warships in the Gulf
Shrapnel from an Iranian missile initially fired at Iraqi bases housing US and other US-led coalition troops in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Bardarash on January 8
Grand former Foreign Office panjandrums such as Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Lord Hannay and Sir Simon Fraser often pop up on our screens warning us that Britain risks becoming irrelevant once we leave the EU.
Lord Ricketts, a former ambassador to France, was at it again the other night on BBC2’s Newsnight. In his view, Boris Johnson will have to go ‘cap in hand’ to President Trump to get a trade deal, and dare not criticise him for killing Soleimani.
There’s a long history of Uncle Sam ignoring us. In 1983, Ronald Reagan ordered the invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada without bothering to tell the PM, Margaret Thatcher. This was more than an oversight since the Queen was its head of state.
More recently, in 2011 the Obama administration despatched al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before telling the UK Government. Yet at the time thousands of British soldiers were fighting alongside Americans in Afghanistan.
Lord Ricketts, a former ambassador to France, was at it again the other night on BBC2’s Newsnight. In his view, Boris Johnson will have to go ‘cap in hand’ to President Trump to get a trade deal, and dare not criticise him for killing Qassem Soleimani (pictured)
So Mr Trump’s failure to keep Britain in the loop is part of a familiar pattern, and I don’t think Lord Ricketts or anyone else should take it as proof that we have suddenly slid off the White House radar.
And, by the way, it’s nonsense to say Mr Johnson will seek a trade deal ‘cap in hand’. The United States wants to negotiate such an arrangement in its own interests, not as some kind of favour to its transatlantic cousin.
Still, the events of the past week in the Middle East will be useful if they make us think about how Britain can make its voice heard once it is no longer part of the EU, and becomes an independent country again.
We’ll still be one of the five permanent members of the United Nations security council, a nuclear power and one of the leading members of Nato. We’ll have sophisticated diplomats, even if some of them struggle to come to terms with a post-Brexit world.
But that won’t be enough. There is a missing component in the Government’s thinking. Or, to be more precise, I don’t think Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings have fully grasped that a global Britain will need credible armed forces.
Admiral Lord West, a former head of the Navy, wrote in the Mail earlier this week that ‘since 2010 the UK’s military capability has been cut by 30 per cent’. He might have added that in the previous decade the defence budget had also been hacked back.
The Army is the smallest for 150 years. The Navy is unable to muster more than a few warships at a time, and can’t provide adequate protection for two recently built aircraft carriers. The number of RAF fighter jets has fallen by 43 per cent since 2007.
As recently as 1993, 4 per cent of GDP (the value of all goods and services) was spent on defence. The proportion now hovers about 2 per cent. No wonder American generals are said to wonder whether to take Britain seriously as a military power.
What do Messrs Johnson and Cummings think about all this? I mention the two of them because they are apparently doing the lion’s share of Government thinking.
During the Tory leadership campaign last summer, Boris didn’t go as far as his rival, Jeremy Hunt, who promised a 25 per cent increase in the armed forces budget to £54 billion by 2023. But he did speak about building more warships.
Since he became Prime Minister, however, the talk has been about pouring extra billions into the NHS, funding 20,000 more police officers, and (following his victory) massive infrastructure spending in the North to satisfy ex-Labour voters who backed the Tories.
As for Mr Cummings, nothing he has said or done suggests he favours boosting defence expenditure. He has instead expressed concerns about the ‘waste and inefficiency’ in huge defence procurement programmes.
He’s completely right, of course. The Ministry of Defence needs a total shake-up. Its record on large projects is appalling. Billions might be saved. Even if they are, though, that won’t be enough to give the armed forces the extra resources they need.
Maybe I’m being over suspicious, but I fear there’s limited appetite to increase defence spending above the relatively modest commitment already made to raise it by 0.5 per cent every year above the rate of inflation during this Parliament.
The fact remains that the best way for Britain to be respected by its allies and potential enemies in a post-Brexit world is for it to have formidable armed forces. Global Britain partly involves being able to project global power.
Let me cite the example of Russia. Its GDP is barely 60 per cent of the UK’s. But it packs a much greater punch in the world, largely because it devotes a greater proportion of its resources to defence.
Needless to say, I’m not suggesting Mr Johnson adopts an aggressive foreign policy such as Russia’s. Nor do I advocate higher defence spending in order to cut a dash. We need to spend more on our armed forces because this is a very dangerous world.
Russia continues to present a severe threat. China is a rising, and possibly expansionist, power. As the past week has shown, the Middle East is a cauldron of danger — not that I am remotely recommending any kind of intervention.
Russia continues to present a severe threat. China is a rising, and possibly expansionist, power. As the past week has shown, the Middle East is a cauldron of danger — not that I am remotely recommending any kind of intervention
A defence review has been promised for this year. It obviously needs to consider the risks this country faces, of which cyber warfare is possibly the most frightening. Something needs to be done about persistent overspending in defence procurement.
But I hope that Mr Johnson will draw his eyes away from splashing out tens of billions of pounds on new railways, roads and hospitals, and dramatically reverse the relentless chipping away at our defence capabilities by successive governments.
I doubt even Labour would oppose such a policy. The patriotic people in the North and Midlands who voted Tory for the first time last month would cheer him on.
And those querulous former ambassadors who bleat endlessly about national decline, and are so terrified of life after Brexit, would discover to their surprise that Brita
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