Leading article: Renew the Military Covenant - in full

Share

'I certainly viewed Brown as unsympathetic to defence," says Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of the Defence Staff. In an interview with this newspaper he reveals that he came within a "couple of hours" of resigning over the 1998 review of defence spending. Was he saying that the spending he thought vital was approved by the Prime Minister but blocked by the Chancellor? "That is exactly right," he says.

This is an important warning to Gordon Brown. Lord Guthrie is one of the patrons of the UK National Defence Association launched last week. Formed to campaign for higher defence spending, the association is part of a growing movement demanding that the armed forces be given the resources they need to do the job we ask of them. It is a movement in which this newspaper is proud to claim a leading role.

That is why we devote so much space, on this Sunday above all others, to the question of renewing the Military Covenant. This is the document that sets out the terms of the deal: they risk their lives for our security; we undertake to give them the resources they need and to look after them and their families.

One of the consequences of British deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq is that Remembrance Sunday, which had increasingly become an occasion for re-learning history, has been infused with the new meaning of contemporary experience. What is striking is that the mood for this renewal of the Covenant is so broad-based. The situation is different from that of the Falklands war 25 years ago when large parts of supposedly progressive opinion regarded any show of pride in our armed forces as "jingoism". Today, a newspaper such as this one, which was most strongly opposed to the invasion of Iraq, is completely unembarrassed to demand that our military should be accorded more respect.

The Independent on Sunday supports the mission of our forces in Afghanistan and has always accepted that seeing through our obligations in that country is an expensive, long-term commitment. Indeed, one of our arguments against the Iraq war was that it would divert resources and attention from the Afghan theatre. So it proved, but that argument is in the past now. It must be accepted that even if the notional British presence that remains in Iraq were now withdrawn, it would not solve the overstretch problem of which Lord Guthrie speaks. Deployment in two major combat theatres simultaneously over the past five years has exposed the underlying shortfalls that have developed since the end of the cold war.

As we report today, the resource constraints – and, it must be said, the bureaucratic inflexibility – of the Ministry of Defence have resulted in too many avoidable deaths and injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week, a coroner confirmed that Fusilier Gordon Gentle died after the equipment that could have saved him was stuck in a warehouse. But the continuing human cost of those operations has exposed inadequacies in the aftercare to which soldiers and their families are entitled.

We have sought in recent years to draw attention to the poor state of much of the Forces' accommodation; to the failure to anticipate the need for separate military wards in NHS hospitals; and to the patchy provision of care for soldiers with combat-related mental illness.

So when Lord Guthrie says that defence spending was cut too far after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this should no longer be interpreted, as once it might have been, as a general trying to defend the purchase of hi-tech weaponry. Any more than it should be when General Sir Mike Jackson told this newspaper recently that "all roads lead to the Treasury", as he made the case for better armed forces' pay. If we are to fulfil our side of the bargain, we will have to spend more, not just on equipment, but on housing, health care and pay for our troops.

Well, the roads that once led to the Treasury now lead to No 10: the Prime Minister no longer has Mr Brown next door to stop him doing what is needed. Since 1984, defence spending as a share of national income has fallen from 5.3 to 2.2 per cent. Last month's spending plans give the MoD just enough to cover inflation over the next three years. At a time of two active operations, this is not enough. And last week's Command Paper rushed out to accompany the Queen's Speech is one of the more feeble "long grass" exercises we have seen. It fails to offer an honest appraisal of where the Military Covenant is broken and how it might be fixed.

This Remembrance Sunday, we hope that the Prime Minister, recent author of a book about military courage, will pause to consider Lord Guthrie's words about our obligation to our armed forces: "You've got to do a bit more than talk about it."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£30,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a perso...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

£45,000 - £55,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified accountant...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
Anthony Burgess, the author of 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Earthly Powers,' died 17 years ago  

If Anthony Burgess doesn’t merit a blue plaque, then few do

John Walsh
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor