Patrick Mercer: Review the review. Our options in Libya are too limited

Share
Related Topics

The only thing certain about war is uncertainty. That's why getting your forces into the right size and shape for what lies ahead is so tricky – and why nations often get it wrong. Add in an island's need for strong maritime and aerial forces and it's easy to see why, from Dunkirk to the Falklands, we've been wrong-footed. One of the givens about Britain's place in modern warfare is that we always fight in an alliance – yet the South Atlantic and, more recently, Sierra Leone showed how uncertain even that can be. Now, just when the latest defence review has been completed and our forces start to be "rebalanced", a largely unpredictable crisis in the Middle East blows up.

No one can doubt the depth of the financial difficulties that Britain faces, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the budget sheets of the Ministry of Defence. The MoD must find savings like every other government department and, with five overblown headquarters to control forces that are smaller than at any time since the Crimea, and more civil servants within it than soldiers, there is plenty of scope. But the MoD is the only department that deals in the business of taking and saving lives, and whose employees have to swear an oath to the boss. That's why the level of risk accepted in the stampede to save money should be revisited.

The careful plans for Future Force 2020 provide "coherent, efficient and cutting-edge Armed Forces prepared for the challenges of the future", that will require "real terms, year-on-year increases in the defence budget in the second half of the decade". But the Middle East crisis is with us now. Less than six months ago, we could have responded to events in Libya and whatever lies ahead with an ageing but capable combination of HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier fleet. Equally, it's a mercy that things went wrong when they did; any later and HMS Cumberland would have been beaten into plough shares.

Some say that future wars will look much like today's, our forces dealing primarily with counterinsurgency operations, probably in hot climates. So fast jets, aircraft carriers, heavy artillery and the like could be sacrificed, in order to move fast and "fight light". But, as the Middle East demonstrates, that would be wrong. The National Security Council's recommendations to invest in a new carrier programme, submarines, transport aircraft and more are welcome. But we need them now.

Plans to reduce the Army to 80,000 from its current 102,000 are similarly misguided. History is littered with similar, noble ideas, not least the wholesale reduction of the infantry in the late Sixties: it had just started to be implemented when Northern Ireland erupted and foot soldiers were needed in quantity. Some thinking about reserves, and the implications of cyber warfare, is sensible, but now is not the time to reduce our pool of ready manpower, nor to stop recruitment.

There have been some very successful defence reviews in the past: Haldane's vision allowed our troops to keep the Kaiser at bay in 1914. Now, we need something similar. The events that stretch from Egypt to Yemen and beyond are, I believe, as cataclysmic as those of September 2001 and our defences must not be dominated by financial considerations. As the signatories to the IoS's letter agree, the Strategic Defence and Security Review needs to be readdressed.

Patrick Mercer served in Northern Ireland and the Balkans. He is Conservative MP for Newark

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high