Leading Article: Putting defence cuts in context

Share
Related Topics
YESTERDAY'S Defence White Paper was delivered within a rare historical context. Never before in this century, and rarely in preceding ones, has this country faced so little external threat to its security. For the first 45 years Germany was the potential or actual aggressor, bent on changing the status quo. Twice it was defeated, only to be succeeded by the Soviet Union for the second 45 years. Now the Soviet Union is no more, undone from within. With the likelihood of Russia reverting to militaristic expansionism fading, the only power with sufficient military capability and grievances to shake the status quo would be a China whose products were kept out of world markets.

It is true that Britain's interest in an orderly international system may be threatened by conflicts in the Balkans, the former Soviet Union or in the Middle East; but there is no discernible menace to the nation itself from air, land or sea. The world may be more unstable, and bloodier. But the Government's primary responsibility of defending these shores could be achieved with forces reduced well below those laid out in the White Paper.

As in Options for Change in 1991, the Defence Ministry's analysis makes numerous generally sensible recommendations for cuts, and even for some additions. Thanks to the reduced threat from the former Soviet navy in the North Atlantic, the Royal Navy's hardware and manpower are being significantly trimmed. To help meet demand for infantry the projected size of the Army is being increased by 3,000 men, and a helicopter carrier is being built to boost their mobility.

Such moves deserve a more reasoned response than the Pavlovian hostility evinced yesterday by some Tory backbenchers. But they beg the large questions posed by today's wholly changed geo-strategic situation. It is illogical to attempt to adjust the nation's force levels to a changed world without at the same time reviewing the foreign policy assumptions on which our military commitments are based.

Some resources might be better spent, for example, finding diplomatic alternatives to our military presence in Belize, Gibraltar and the Falklands. The biggest distortion of all is created by the need to keep 20,000 troops in Northern Ireland: an apparently insoluble problem crying out for a political solution.

As for Britain's nuclear deterrent, in an era of nuclear proliferation in which the member states of the EC are striving to form a coherent security policy within the Western European Union, there is a good case for retaining it. But that too, given the changed circumstances, deserves proper debate - even if, given Labour's past traumas, it is unlikely to get it.

There is a strong case for a review of how this country's national interests can best be projected abroad, taking in the subjects of overseas aid, the British Council, the Foreign Office, the BBC's External Service, MI6 - and the armed services. To argue, as the Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind does, that such reviews are always condemned as out-of- date when they are published, is pathetic.

One important item in that debate would be the benefits and obligations of Britain's permanent membership of the UN Security Council. If the conclusion is that this is of considerable benefit to the country, then the case for having the military capacity to boost Britain's contribution to actual UN peacekeeping operations should be examined. That would bring out the value of Britain's permanent membership, which some critics consider anachronistic. To the Ministry of Defence, these forces are 'discretionary'. Yet to many people, they seem a much more desirable recipient of tax revenue than defence measures based on a worst-case scenario that is ever more improbable. Seen from almost any angle, the case for a comprehensive reassessment looks overwhelming.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The demise of a Sixties monster

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A CCTV camera is seen in front of a large poster opposite in central London  

Home Office is creating more powers to turn everyone into suspects – but leave us no safer

Shami Chakrabarti
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?