Tag Archives: David Cameron

Kirchner’s Argentina: externalising domestic tensions

Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner, the President of Argentina, started the year in typical fashion by publishing an ‘open letter’ in the Guardian and the Independent, calling for negotiations over the status of the Falkland Islands.

In the letter Fernandez Kirchner argues that the islands were stripped from Argentina in an act of 19th Century colonialism:

“The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule. Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.”

The letter ends: 

“In the name of the Argentine people, I reiterate our invitation for us to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations.”

The historical account put forward by Argentina differs starkly not only from the one on the Foreign Office website, but also general consensus. Ironically, Argentina itself was settled as an act of Nineteenth Century colonialism. It’s like asking the spanish-descended Argentinians to bugger off home, and leave the indigenous peoples in peace.

It is tempting to ask why the Guardian and the Independent published the ‘letter’. However, they are two of Britain’s more forward-thinking newspapers, and advertising income is advertising income, even if it comes from the Argentine Government.

If I was an Argentine citizen, I would be wondering how come my President could find not only the time to worry about publishing an ‘open letter’ in British newspapers, but also how the Argentine Treasury could afford to fund such a grandiose publicity stunt.

The British Government, quite rightly, points out that the Falklands is not a colony, and its relationship with the Falkland Islands is by choice of the islanders, not coercion. Therefore, not only is there nothing for the UK Government to negotiate over, but the islanders have a universal human right, enshrined in the very basic UN principles, to determine their own government and sovereignty.

The answer as to why the issue keeps re-appearing, as so often with latin american politics, lies within. Listed below are just a few of the news stories regarding Argentina from the BBC website in the past few months:

Widespread unrest and looting in Argentina; troops deployed

Seized Argentine Navy ship leaves Ghana

IMF data deadline looms for Argentine fagile economy

Argentina wins court delay over debt

Argentina default over debt likely

So… rioting on the streets and supermarkets being looted; Navy ship seized in a foreign port over unpaid debts; the IMF questioning Argentine honesty regarding financial data; and the possibility of a default over foreign debt… still wondering why Fernandez-Kirchner is trying to divert the attention of her people outside the country’s borders? It’s an ever-present in Argentine politics – when there are problems, the Malvinas issue is dragged out. It’s route one politics and not all that indistinguishable from Galtieri’s methodology in 1982.

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Another F-35 Volte Face

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II, bu...

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you all about today announcement by the Defence Secretary in the House of Commons explaining the Government’s decision to backtrack and purchase the STOVL version of the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter, instead of the conventional carrier version. The original plan was, of course, to purchase the STOVL version – ie F-35B – as replacement for the Harriers, to operate from the new Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers.

The coalition has now performed two u-turns on the Joint Strike Fighter issue. First, soon after coming into office they abandoned the vertical take-off verson, in favour of  the higher performance variant. Now, having seen the costs for installing catapults and traps on the aircraft carriers spiral, they have decided to go back to the vertical take off variant.

One cannot help but feel that this constant to-ing and fro-ing has probably added a significant amount to the cost, for no discernible gain, and will almost certainly delay their introduction into service. And as anyone who has worked in retail will tell you, there is nothing more annoying than a customer who keeps changing their mind every five minutes. It’s bad enough if someone is buying a book or a loaf of bread, but 50+ fighter aircraft?

There are some upshots to the decision. It is possible that both aircraft carriers will come into service, and slightly earlier in 2018, compared to lengthy delays if they had to be converted to ‘cat and trap’. There have been some concerns that the B version has a less impressive performance than the C version. Compare the following specs:

  • Range – B version, 900 nautical miles; C Version, 1,400 nautical miles
  • combat radius – B version, 469 nautical miles; C Version, 615 nautical miles

The lack of range is apparently due to the B version having to accomodate extra plant for vertical landing, which eats into its fuel capacity. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the differences do not seem too critical – isn’t the beauty of an aircraft carrier that you can move it 100 miles closer in if need be, and if safe to do so? Apparently the B version will be able to carry less weapons than the C version as well, however I am having trouble finding firm specifications for this. It should also be remembered that the B version will, in theory, be able to operate short-term or in an emergency from other ships that have landing spaces, or from rough airstrips on land – neither of which the F-35 C can do. By way of a contrast, the Sea Harrier had a combat radius of 540 nautical miles, but didn’t have such a high performance as the F-35 in other respects. I seem to recall that the SHAR was hardly bristling with armaments either.

The decision making regarding the Joint Strike Fighter project has been flawed from day one. Perhaps setting out to buy the STOVL versions was not the wisest decision in hindsight, but to decide to switch to the C version, and then back to the B version again in a year shows a serious case of indecision and narrow-mindedness. A decision that was supposed to save money in the long run, ended up costing us more money in the short term and not happening anyway. Let’s hope that this kind of defence procurement strategic direction never transgresses into decision making in war.

Still, I cannot help but feel that we would have been far better off purchasing some F-18’s off the shelf in the first place – both in terms of cost and capabilitity.

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Wootton Bassett to be given Royal prefix

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A cortege passes through Wootton Bassett (Image by stuff_and_nonsense via Flickr)

The town of Wootton Bassett is to be known as ‘Royal Wootton Bassett’, the Prime Minister announced earlier today. The honour has been personally approved by the Queen.

David Cameron told the House of Commons that the Queen had agreed to the tribute as “an enduring symbol of the nation’s admiration and our gratitude to the people of that town”. He also told MP’s:  “Their deeply moving and dignified demonstrations of respect and mourning have shown the deep bond between the public and our armed forces.”

Mary Champion, Mayor of Wootton Bassett, said: “This is a great honour for our community as the repatriations move away from Wootton Bassett.Whilst we have never sought recognition for our simple act of respect I am certain that this will serve to reinforce the pride and gratitude we feel for the members of our armed services who will always be in our thoughts.”

Fallen British servicemen and women are repatriated from Afghanistan to nearby RAF Lyneham. A cortege – and there have been over 150 of them to date- then carries them through Wootton Bassett on their way to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, via the M4. Initially the corteges drove through the quiet streets. Then several ex-servicemen turned out with medals to pay their respects, and before long the whole town was coming out to mark the return of fallen servicemen and women. Now, thousands of people travel from all round the country to pay their respects, in what has become an incredibly moving ritual. Its impossible not to be moved by the sight of so many people lining the streets.

RAF Lyneham is due to close in 2012, however, and as from September this year repatriation flights will be moving to RAF Brize Norton. This is a fitting tribute for a remarkable town in modern British history, and is only the third time that a town has been given the royal prefix, after Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells. Bognor was granted the suffix ‘Regis’ by George V after he recovered from illness in the town. It is thought that initially the people of Wootton Bassett had refused the honour, but that the looming closure of RAF Lyneham has fortunately brought about a rethink. I’m glad – it puts down a lasting marker for history.

I think its fair to say that until recently the British Government – and indeed the British public – did not really get remembrance. Sure, we all wore our poppies every November, but when the Iraq War took place in 2003 the vast majority of people felt a serious disdain for the then Government and how it committed the military to action on very dubious grounds. There was a very real risk of the reputation of the military becoming entangled in that, and the remembrance of today’s casualties could have so easily been forgotten.

Yet alongside initiaties such as Help for Heroes, Wootton Bassett has been at the forefront of a real shift in British culture. There is a very clear dividing line now between what we think of the Government on the one hand, and what we think of our serving sailors, soldiers and airmen on the other. People really do care now about our men and women on the front-line. The last time you could have really felt this was back in 1982 immediately after the Falklands War. It must make a world of difference to know that millions of people back home really do give a damm about you.

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PM refuses to rule out the use of force in Libya

I’ve seen various articles in recent days where the Prime Minister has been quoted as saying that he refuses to rule out the use of force in Libya. Sadly it seems to be the the same old story of politicians cutting Defence to the bone and then when the proverbial hits the fan being only too happy to over-commit whats left.

I’m not sure on what mandate an international force could intervene in Libya. After the fiasco surrounding the United Nations and the lack of a resolution for action in Iraq, it is extremely unlikely that any unilateral action could take place. The international community has little stomach for intervention at present – the debacle in Iraq – and to a lesser extent Afghanistan – has made politicians very wary of military action. US political and public opinion has never been overly keen on foreign intervention at the best of times, and with Gadaffi promising ‘another Vietnam’, many will be wary of getting involved. And the problems in Libya at the moment are not just limited to that country alone – they were sparked by protests in Tunisia and then Egypt, and there is similar unrest in other North African and Middle Eastern countries. How come the international community considers intervention in one case but not in others? Admittedly there is a difference in that Gadaffi is using his aircraft to bomb civilians protesting against him, and he has a track record of being an extremely difficult character.

Secondly, where are these military units going to come from that the Prime Minister plans to send to Libya? I wouldn’t mind betting that the Chiefs of Staff almost fainted when they read that Cameron plans to commit their ever-shrinking forces in another troublespot. Even as part of an international force within the UN, or more likely NATO – the UK would be able to contribute virtually nothing. It shows just how little Cameron and his Government understand about Defence, and how wrong it is that people with such poor judgement are running the Country’s defence.

Regular readers won’t need reminding that the Royal Navy warship leading the evacuation of British Citizens – HMS Cumberland – was on her last journey home before decommissioning. The other ship standing by, HMS York, is even more elderly than Cumberland. But using Frigates and Destroyers for evacuating British nationals from a trouble spot is ever so slightly overkill – like using a Ferrari to pop to the shop. A Bay Class LPD with a few Landing Craft and a helicopter or two would be ideal. If the worst come to the worst, it wouldn’t even need to dock, it could just sit off the coast and pick people up and drop off aid.

There has been talk of basing RAF fighters on Cyprus to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. Yet the range from Cyrpus to Libya is considerable, and would prevent aircraft being on station for any length of time. The maximum operational range of the Eurofighter is 2,900 miles. Inn the Air Defence role with a 3 hour CAP it can operate at 185 kilometres, and with a ten minute loiter at 1,389 kilometres. It is at least 800 kilometres from Cyprus to the very western border of Libya, and twice that to Tripoli. Therefore Cyprus is barely an option, and the number of aircraft and air and ground crew required to maintain a worthwhile patrol would be considerable – aircraft that we simply do not have. Two years ago we could have sent an Aircraft Carrier plus escort to sit off the North African Coast. Not now – we don’t have one. It seems that ignorance of the flexibility and utility of the aircraft carrier is coming home to roost. Neither do we have the aircraft that could have overflown Libya and told us what Gadaffi is up to – ie, the scrapped Nimrod airframes.

Where are the ground forces to come from? Special Forces have almost certainly been in Libya already, providing close protection for RAF Hercules Transports evacuating Brits from remote desert locations. Given the frequency of tours to Afghanistan, and then when you factor in training, roulement, post-op shake down and the like, the maximum the Army could contribute would be in the region of one to three Battalions. Even then, that would place a huge strain alongside Afghanistan, particularly if any deployment in Lybia went on for too long. Rapid Reaction Forces used to be maintained for such an eventuality – particularly 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade – but at any given time these Brigades are usually either in Afghanistan, preparing to go or recuperating from a deployment.

If you want to be able to intervene in global troublespots as a world policeman – with the personal kudos that goes with it – then you need to back your armed forces to be able to do that job. If, however, you want to asset strip your Defence, then you have to accept that there will be things that you just cannot do any more. The situation is more serious than after the Nott cuts in 1981, when the Royal Navy just about managed to scrape together a task force.

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Anglo-French alliance – does history matter?

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill (in his a...

Churchill and de Gaulle: the uneasiest of allies (Image via Wikipedia)

Not many of you might know this, but the Anglo-French Defence Agreement was due to be signed onboard HMS Ark Royal in Portsmouth. Until she was hatcheted in the Strategic Defence Review, cue a new plan to spare Dave C any embarassment. Even though the SDSR itself was one big embarassment.

Anyhow, on to my main point. When it comes to the UK and France working more closely together, does history matter? As one of my lecturers told us at Uni, ‘we spent most of the eighteenth century at war with the  French, one – because they deserved it, and two – because they needed the practice’. Even though in recent times Britain has been allied with France and Germany has been the more recent enemy, you cannot help but feel that the man on the street has very little time for our cheese-eating cousins across La Manche.

Anglo-French rivalry begins in earnest in 1066, with the arrival of William the Conqueror. After his death his realms in France and England were divided amongst his sons, sparking a rivalry that led to frequent wars between English Kings and various French Kings, nobles and other factions for hundreds of years. The Plantagenets in particular built up an impressive cross-Channel Angevin Empire, through dynastic marriages and conquest. Battles such as Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt heralded British military superiority during the Hundred Years War.

During the reign of Henry VIII we once again gain of feeling of Henry trying to outdo his French ‘cousin’ King Francis, both in war and in chivalry. The Field of Cloth of Gold was nothing more than an elaborate attempt to outwrestle each other, literally at one point. Early modern international politics saw Kings one moment allying with each other, the next trying to attack each other. Later, after the English Reformation and the coming to the throne of Charles I, his French – and Catholic – Queen was the source of much suspicion, particularly for Puritans who suspected a French-backed scheme to re-impose Catholicism. After the accession of the house of Hanover, attempts to re-install Stuart Pretenders to the throne were more often than not launched from France.

Things really hot up during the eighteenth century. Increasingly Imperial rivals – especially in India – Britain found herself at war with France in the middle of the eighteenth century during the thirty years war, and then in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars between 1787 and 1815. This ‘War of wars’ defined modern European, and really was a titanic struggle between a France buoyed firstly by revolutionary fervour and then by Napoleon Bonaparte; and on the other hand a number of coalitions of European nations, bankrolled by British finance. Rather cleverly, Britain refrained from using her land forces in Europe for much of the period, preferring instead to rely on a naval blockade of European ports which strangled French trade. Although Napoleon marched all through Europe, he could not defeat the Wooden Walls bearing the White Ensign.

After co-operation during the Crimean War, the mid to late nineteenth century was again hallmarked by suspicion, with a min-arms race, involving ironclad warships such as HMS Warrior, and the new rifled, breech loading guns requiring whole new lines of fortifications, such as Palmerston’s Folly’s around Portsmouth. Therefore the Entente Cordial, signed in 1904, came as something of an oddity in Anglo-French relations. Forced into an alliance by German expansionism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Britain and France have none the less been uneasy bedfellows since.

Although nominally on the same side in the Second World War, there was much acrimony between both sides. After the fall of France many felt that the BEF had turned tail and ran. I’m not sure quite what else they expected Gort to do; he was following French strategy after all, which had caused the problem in the first place. Even the free French who fought under allied patronage were prickly, particularly de Gaulle, who only really thought of himself, let alone France. In 1940 the Royal Navy was forced to bombard the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir in order to prevent it falling into German hands. The incident still causes high feelings even today. Whilst the French might have promised not to let their ships fall to the Germans, this was a promise they were unable to make. I’m not sure what else they expected us to do.

Even after being liberated in 1944, the French had a bizarre way of showing gratitude. Gaullism brought about a fiercely independent outlook, which vetoed UK entry into the EEC for many years, and also withdrew France from NATO – a nonsensical decision during the Cold War, which left the western world highly vulnerable, all for the sake of French pride. During one famous argument, the French Foreign Minister ordered that all US troops were to leave French soil at once. Quick as a flash, his American counterpart enquired whether that included those that were buried there. In a funny kind of way, Gaullism is an example of how a sovereign state should look after its own interests, but its belligerent manner – personified by one Jacques Chirac – has probably caused France more problems than anything else.

So, co-operation with France is very much against the historical grain. Even in recent history where France has nominally been an ally, relations have been uneasy. It will probably take a lot of effort on behalf of the Sarkozy Government to change French domestic thinking in favour of closer military co-operation. Put crudely, the French will have to show more ‘backbone’, and stop building walls between themselves and the rest of the world. During the Cold War France was not part of the military structure of NATO, although French forces were in Germany facing the Warsaw Pact, and also in Berlin. These units were not allowed to plan with their NATO colleagues, meaning that if the balloon went up allied planning would have been in a vacuum. Lunacy indeed, dictated by French selfishness.

Personally, I am more in favour of European military co-operation being on a ‘cluster’ basis. Take for example the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. Britain is the framework nation, providing the Headquarters, signals units, etc. When required, NATO state will assign Divisions to the Corps. Several nations have units designated for quick allocation, and this took place in Kosovo in 1999. Britain has long had a fruitful link-up with the Dutch amphibious forces, with Dutch ships and Marine Battalions operating in an integrated manner with the British Commando Brigade. In this case the synergy is definitely there. During the Cold War, the commander of the British Army of the Rhine also served as NATO’s Commander of the Northern Army Group, with Dutch and German troops under command. Again, the synergy was there, as it had to be. But is that synergy there with the French? Does it make sense for two of the largest militaries in Europe to spontaneously and bilaterally tie themselves together with no planning regarding other states?

Before I finish off this post, let me share something that I found on a well-known British forces discussion website, which gives an idea of how the French military is regarded…

 

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Defence Review – correspondence with my MP

Motivated by the balls-up of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, the hammering that the Royal Navy took and how the RAF somehow managed to escape with its Bugatti Veyron‘s intact, I took WEBF’s suggestion and emailed my local MP, Penny Mordaunt (Con, Portsmouth North) to express my views. Now, it would not be a surprise to many to state that my political views lean towards the left, but its only fair to see what my MP thinks.

Just to give a bit of background about the constituency, Ms Mordaunt was elected in May 2010 with a majority of 7,289. The seat had previously been held by Labour since the 1997 landslide. MP’s for Portsmouth North traditionally take a very strong interest in defence and naval affairs, given the proximity of the naval dockyard and the importance of the defence industry to the area. MP’s such as Frank Judd and Syd Rapson showed strong defence interests. Interestingly, Ms Mordaunt is currently training to be a naval reservist.

Here’s the email that I sent Ms Mordaunt:

Dear Penny Mordaunt,                        

I am a historian, specialising in military and naval history, inparticular modern conflicts such as WW1, WW1 and the Falklands War. Ialso run a blog discussing military history issues, in particular naval history analysis. I am writing to express my dismay at the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review. I am sure as a naval reservist you will share my incomprehension at how imbalanced the Review is. I feel that there isno overarching strategy to the Review, and that it leaves our armed forces serious imbalanced and in a very difficult position for facing uncertain times.

Scrapping the Invincible Class Carriers – and by default naval fixed wing aviation – as well as the bulk of the Royal Navy’s amphibious assets makes little sense, particularly when compared to the Army keeping the majority of its armoured units, and the RAF retaining the majority of its fast jets. The skills and expertise to not only run carrier-borne aircraft but to operate them to the high standard that the Fleet Air Arm historically has cannot simply be ‘turned off’ for 10 years and then turned on again as if nothing has happened. Naval aviation has repeatedly been proven to be more efficient and effective than land-based aviation in any case.

It would make far more sense to retain HMS Illustrious instead of HMS Ocean (which was built to inferior commercial standards and isreportedly in a poor state) – the Invincible Class carriers have acted effectively as helicopter carriers in the past. Maintaining a carrier capable of operating harriers would also allow us to host US, Spanish and Italian Harriers. Illustrious is also in the middle of an extensive refit, which would make her fit to continue operating for some years tocome.

That the RN is being forced to lose its Harriers (a proven, flexible and effective aircraft) while the RAF somehow manages to retain the Tornado (which is due to be replaced by Eurofighter in any case) issurely down more to inter-service politics than front-line effectiveness, namely the RAF trying to undermine the Fleet Air Arm.

Our forces in Afghanistan are in need of effective close air support, a task for which the Harrier is far more suited than the Tornado. But the RAF has never really been bothered about the Harrier, even thought the cost of retaining a naval strike wing of c.12 Harriers offers far better value than scores of Tornados.

The steep cut in number of destroyer and frigate hulls will no doubtmean that many routine tasks – such as patrols and guardship duties -will not be able to be performed. In addition, ships and crews will be under far more pressure with less time for training and rest between deployments. In my opinion these cuts send out a terrible signal, not least to an Argentina that is seeking to purchase a Landing Ship from France, while we cut ours. With no aircraft carriers and minimal amphibious capability we would be in no position to retake the Falklands.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing your views.

Yours sincerely,
James Daly

And this is the reply that I received:

Dear Mr Daly,   

 

Thank you for contacting me regarding the SDSR. I agree with you that we are not in an ideal place.

I was pleased that we managed to secure more funding for the defence budget and that we proceeded with the carriers, which in turn will enable Portsmouth Dockyard to develop as the home of the surface fleet. However I am concerned at the gap in CSF and the hit the FAA have taken.

I have tabled some written questions on the costs of the harriers vs. other aircraft and will be meeting with the Secretary of State on the subjects you raise. Next week I have requested to speak in a debate on carrier maintenance (1st November) and on the SDSR (4th November) and I will send you copies of the debate once Hansard is published.

I will also be looking to guard against future imbalance – for example when the refit for tornado engines falls about the same time as the T26 will come to the table, and in understanding what are the long-term plans for some of our surface ships.

The review was a dramatic event, but it is not the end of campaigning or talks on the matter, and I will continue to make the case for the navy, now and in the future.

I will keep you informed, meantime please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any other concerns.

Yours Sincerely,

Penny Mordaunt

I’m glad that the issue of Harriers vs. Tornados is at the forefront of thinking, and I have to admit I had not realised that Tornado engines will be due for replacement around the same time as the Type 26’s are due for committal. Sadly however I’m not really sure what campaigning now after the Review can achieve – any backtracking is a political climb-down, which never makes anyones career – even in the event of War (Nott, Carrington for example).

I’ve also had a look at Hansard records of recent debates in the House of Commons…

House of Commons SDSR Debate 19 October 2010

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North, Con): I welcome the decision that we will build the new carriers. Can the Prime Minister confirm that Portsmouth will be their home and that the Navy can meet its commitments with a surface fleet of 19?

Prime Minister: I can say yes to both those questions, particularly the second, which is: do we have the naval assets to meet the tasks of tackling piracy, combating drug running, maintaining patrols and suchlike? Yes, we do have that capability, and it is extremely important that that should be on the record.

How anyone can think that the Royal Navy can perform its current global roles with 19 escort hulls is beyond sanity. Those 19 ships will consist of the six Type 45 Destroyers, the Type 23 Frigates and the remaining Type 42 Destroyers. History would suggest that of that deceptive figure of 19 you can instantly half it to take into account ships in refit, and either working up or shaking down. That leaves us with say 9 or 10 Frigates of Destroyers available. Obviously these can’t always be on station, so with handovers ships will be sailing to and from patrol locations. And thats even before we factor in the likelihood of ships hitting uncharted rocks, flooding, etc etc and being taken out of the RN’s Orbat.

At present Royal Navy Destroyers and Frigates are deployed in the South Atlantic, the Carribean, off the Horn of Africa, in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf. Thats five standing patrol tasks. With 9 or 10 active ships in the fleet, thats cutting things fine. Also, for most exercises and other such deployments one or two frigates or destroyers will accompany a carrier of amphibious task force. Already in recent years we have seen auxilliary vessels taking on Frigate patrol duties. Its also inevitable that the Type 45 Destroyers will spend most of their time acting as gunboats rather than providing area defence for Aircraft Carriers. The impact on men and machines is going to be brutal in terms of sea time, rest, refits and wear and tear.

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The John Nott 1981 Defence Cuts revisited

British Royal Marines in the Falkland Islands ...

An image we ever want to see again? (Image via Wikipedia)

The parallels with 1982 are all to worrying. An aggressively-sounding Government in Buenos Aries (even though technically Democratic), a newly elected but unpopular Conservative Government seeking to slash public expenditure, and economic problems in both countries.

In 1982 the Secretary of State for Defence had just implemented a Defence Review the previous year. It was conducted in the context of economic problems, a Thatcher-led desire to slash budgets, and a Soviet build-up during the era of ‘reaganomics’. Nott’s solution was to concentrate almost solely on Britain’s role in NATO. The purchase of Trident was confirmed. The British Army of the Rhine, although the centrepiece of British defence within NATO, was to be limited to 55,000 men. The Royal Navy was to lose one fifth of its 60 Destroyers and Frigates. Aircraft Carriers were to be phased out, with the sale of HMS Hermes and the newly-built ‘through deck cruiserHMS Invincible. Amphibious ships were to be scrapped too, meaning the end of HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless. Essentially, the Navy was to become an anti-submarine force to operate in the North Sea, North Atlantic and the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap. The ability to act independently out of the NATO area was effectively being given up. And amongst other things, the Royal Navy Dockyards were to be drastically wound down and privatised, meaning thousands of redundancies. One of the lesser-known items in the review was the withdrawal of the antartic patrol ship, HMS Endurance.

These proposals were underway when the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982. The kind of crisis that the Nott review hard ruled out had happened. Reportedly MOD Civil Servants were most upset that the Falklands War had scuppered their beautiful review. When the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, obtained permission from Margaret Thatcher to assemble a Task Force, apparently John Nott went as white as a sheet. He knew that his career was finished. Somehow I cant help feeling that for a lot of people their careers were more important than the fate of British Citizens in the South Atlantic, and the fate of the men sent to fight for them.

The upshot of the Falklands War was that almost everything that had been offered up as savings was rescued at the eleventh hour. Hermes was sold, but the three Invincible Class Carriers -as we are allowed to call them now – were retained. Fearless and Intrepid were reprieved, and replaced with HMS Albion and Bulwark recently. HMS Ocean has also added to the Royal Navy’s expeditionary capability. Endurance was also reprieved, and replaced in the early 1990’s with a modern vessel. The Destroyer and Frigate fleet was pegged – in the short term – at 55 ships.

The cost of the Falklands War – financial, human, and material – has been far in excess of the relatively meagre savings sought by Nott. The hundreds of lives lost in 1982. The ships sunk, aircraft lost, ammunition expended. The cost of a sizeable garrison, and building a military base at Mount Pleasant. The Falklands Island has had a patrol ship,  a Frigate or Destroyer on guard, and auxiliary vessels since the war. The running cost – to this day, and still rising – must be incredible. All inspired to save a few quid. Evidence, if any is needed, that Defence cuts can be shortsighted and a false economy. Argentinian sources suggest that the decision to invade, although largely spurred on by domestic unrest, was further emboldened by the Nott cuts. The Junta’s reasoning was that if the British were cutting their forces – and the ice patrol ship in particular – not only would they be unable to respond to an invasion, but they obviously did not care about their overseas posessions enough to defend them in the first place.

Fortunately, British resolve was restored by the war. Although it is tragic that in the modern world we even need to resort to force, had Britain capitulated in 1982 we would, in Henry Leach’s words, have been living in a very different country were words counted for little. Britain’s role as a force on the world state was maintained, a brutal military dictatorship fell, and the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact received a timely reminder of the quality of NATO standard troops. But all by the skin of our teeth, and if Nott’s cuts had been fully implemented, we would have not been able to act.

Whilst Mrs Thatcher received plaudits for her handling of the Falklands War, more searching inquiries suggest that the war needn’t have happened in the first place. If only the Foreign Office under Lord Carrington had not been so clueless, the Defence Secretary not so subservient, and if Thatcher had not been so single minded and ideological in wishing to strip public spending. Worryingly, the upcoming Defence Review may once again remove Britain’s ability to react adequately to any crisis in the world, particularly in the South Atlantic. This cannot have been lost on the Argentinians. Do we really trust David Cameron and ‘Boy’ George Osborne to sort things out for us if their cuts go badly wrong?

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