Letter: Defence cuts ignore UN's needs

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The Independent Online
Sir: The recent decisions to send an infantry battalion to join the United Nations force in Bosnia and to station another in Northern Ireland illustrate an important feature of life in the infantry for most of this century. Too few units to go round, resulting in too rapid a turnover of personnel. Many of the more senior and skilled find the amount of time spent away from their families hard to take. It is not that they lack commitment, just that too often the balance between active service and retraining and recuperation has not been maintained. All of this leads to loss of morale and efficiency.

The latest Defence White Paper, which has yet to be debated in Parliament, places the emphasis on equipment at the expense of manpower. Of course the Army must be properly equipped, but without well-trained men of high morale, such equipment is worthless. In addition, there is clear evidence of an increasing demand for the UN to intervene in trouble spots throughout the world.

The United Kingdom, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a key part to play in the provision of forces. The release from the pressures of the Cold War allows the West to devote more of its resources and energies to bringing peace elsewhere in the world. This is the real peace dividend, but such tasks are manpower intensive.

We are committed to continue the campaign, which has been running of more than a year, to save the Royal Scots from amalgamation. This is not just because we are the oldest regiment, with a record of nearly 360 years' unbroken service, or because we are and have been an integral part of the history and life of the city of Edinburgh and the surrounding district. Nor is it because we have been able to recruit men of good quality, and can do so in the future, to maintain the regiment up to strength. Rather, it is because we are firmly of the view that there remains a need for sufficient infantry, not only to meet our present commitments, but to provide for the unforeseen following the demise of the Warsaw Pact.

We believe the Government should now embark on a re-examination of its plans to reduce our defence forces to take account of the changes in commitments since last year, and, more importantly, the expanding role of the UN. Such a re-examination must involve a widespread debate, not just an in-house review by the Ministry of Defence.

Yours faithfully,

DAVID YOUNG

BOB RICHARDSON

MICHAEL ASHMORE

The Royal Scots Club

Edinburgh

14 September

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