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 It must be accepted that even if the notional British presence that remains in Iraq were now withdrawn, it would not solve the overstretch problem of which Lord Guthrie speaks.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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Sales Apprentice

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £20,000 - £60,000

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Team Leader

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Engineer - Linux, Windows, Cloud - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would ramp up Britain's spending on science

Paul Nurse
A family remain in the open for the third night following the 7.8 quake in Nepal  

Nepal earthquake: Mobs of looters roam the camps and the smell of burning flesh fills the air, but still we survive

Bidushi Dhungel
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence