The Libertarian Party in the United Kingdom commissioned Godfrey Bloom to give an independent analysis as to the state of our military defences and procurement. For Libertarians, Defence is the only legitimate role of the State, our stance is purely on defence not speculative overseas adventures by our political masters.
Godfrey confirms the feeling the Defence Policy Committee of the Party had, that for all the defence spending, much is misdirected and strategically unsound.
The following is not current party policy but reflects our thinking. Our policy will be put to our Conference in February 2019.
Defence of the realm, the primary role of government? No longer it seems. Indeed almost everything but. The NATO target for British defence spending is 2% of GDP. An eccentric measure but let us take that as a fair figure for the defence of modern Britain. Properly allocated it is plenty. Sadly defence budgets are & have been squandered for over 150 years. Defence now is all about pork barrel politics in the western democracies coupled with political & bureaucratic incompetence.
Here I want to look at how things could be drastically improved with no increase in expenditure, just some common sense & a realistic strategic geo political strategy.
What is Defence For?
Amazingly this question is never answered. Senior military, naval & air commanders can’t agree amongst themselves. Resentment is sometimes caused inter service because airmen seem to have the ear of politicians, or at least are better at presenting their budgetary case to ministers who prefer their priority, the distribution of wealth to their political clientele. There are few votes in defence in times of peace.
Defence should be just that, not military adventurism, aggressive posturing or subjection to the geo political manoeuvring of American or Continental powers.
Since the winding down of the British Empire the UK has remained a maritime trading nation but only a regional military power.
The British have had trouble accepting this since the end of WWII. The structure of British defence since the collapse of the Soviet Union has morphed into a subdivision of the American military super power NATO forward policy. America has over two hundred thousand overseas military personnel & eight hundred overseas bases. This is a significantly broader military footprint than the British Empire even at its zenith.
The United States might not need British military or naval support, but the US State Dept. craves international credibility, with Britain as its bitch the Americans can give a veneer of respectability to military adventurism in Africa, the Middle East & South China Sea.
This is both irrational, dangerous & expensive.
For a realistic defence strategy a threat has to be established. This was easy in the old days of the Soviet Union. They were the bad guys, the bogeymen. Them & us. NATO was the counter to it. Largely American manned & funded with a small but significant contribution by the British Army of the Rhine. I was a tiny cog in that machine for twenty years.
However those days like the days of empire have gone. From where now is the threat?
Spheres of Influence
I go into this subject in a little more detail in a previous article for Going Postal & British Reform magazines but simplistically the concept is a pragmatic assessment of who has a right to be where. Now the libertarian fundamentalist would no doubt argue no one has a right to be anywhere expect their own house & garden. They would of course be correct. But if libertarian solutions are to escape the philosophical laboratory they have to meet reasonable expectations of the citizen who feels entitled to a degree of national protection.
The CIA strategic dogma is & has been since 1960 that the Americans are the saviours of the world & there is no corner of the globe which should not succumb to their influence & enslavement to the petro dollar. (often referred to as regime change).
This view is endorsed by the budget hungry military industrial congressional complex of which President Eisenhower warned. Interestingly often forgotten now a similar warning was given over one hundred & seventy years earlier by none other than George Washington. Sadly the western democracies don’t teach history.
Which countries have legitimate spheres of influence? Every one of course. But not all have the wherewithal to enforce them. Turning to Great Britain in days of empire the route to India was accepted as such, the Suez Canal, Mediterranean, plus the global trading routes, the empire counter intuitively was based primarily on trade not military conquest. Hence a small army but massive navy. Those days have gone, as indeed has the Soviet Empire, so spheres of influence have reduced but are none the less deemed vital for powerful nations.
The world would be safer if these spheres of influence were accepted by negotiation & protocol in the interest of a lasting peace, which is generally desired by most of us who are not registered Washington neo con nut jobs or huge shareholders in armament manufacturers.
Britain must accept the Russian Federation has legitimate interests in the Baltic, Black Sea & land borders, that China has interests, as a major exporter,in the South China Sea. America would do best to rein in the global pursuit of world military domination for which they borrow $800 billion pa and accept their sphere of influence is the North Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico & eastern Pacific.
Britain has legitimate interest in the North Sea, English Channel, Western Approaches & extended air space as an island nation.
The UK has no business putting troops into the Middle East, Baltic states or The Ukraine nor sponsoring the new forward NATO policy.
UK defence policy should be just that. DEFENCE. In other words Great Britain must be strong to deter attack. Other countries must look to their own defence. Treaties since the collapse of communism are anachronistic.
The new proposed Entente Cordiale with the European Union (European Defence Union see previous articles) is especially dangerous.
Oh dear there we go again history, an unknown discipline to the modern politician.
What Does Britain Need for all Round Defence?
A new strategic dogma.
The old dogma looks to the past, the military & naval high command love to fight past wars but with a hunger for updated weapons of yesteryear. This is & always has been disastrous. History is littered with examples. I offer just a few.
The failure of Britain & her allies to learn the consequences of trench warfare from the American war of southern independence in 1861/4.
The reliance on capital ships & failure to comprehend submarine warfare from 1914 particularly in merchant ship protection. Failure of modernising Royal Navy gunnery systems & training pre 1914 (see Sir Percy Scott Autobiography).
The air threat at sea to capital ships, HMS Prince of Wales & Repulse sunk by the Japanese, even after sea exercises in the Mediterranean in 1938 highlighted capital ship vulnerability.
The dangers of static defence against co ordinated & concentrated air & armour (Maginot Line) no lessons learned from Namur, Metz & Sedan in 1914. (Exposed in French military exercises in 1937).
The most effective way of protecting the UK from threat from any quarter is to refrain wherever possible of provoking a war. Most wars are expensive in blood & treasure & benefit no one.
Occasionally war is inevitable, a classic example for Britain was the Falkland Islands.
British flag, British people, invaded by a totalitarian foreign power. No arguments, straight forward black & white, we had to fight.
But do the British want a war to promote an American sponsored pipeline in Southern Syria? Or increase the export of marijuana from Afghanistan, or immigrants from the Horn of Africa. Do we want to indulge in regime change in countries most Brits or Americans couldn’t mark on a map?
Has anybody read up on Russian history to ascertain why Russia feels The Crimea & Ukraine are legitimate spheres of influence?
Do we really believe the Chinese are going to sail up the Channel & shell Brighton or somehow they don’t have a legitimate presence in the South China Sea?
Britain has to be ready for war, including cyber war, a likely future battlefield.
So how can we go about it ?
Where are we Now?
Defence budgets are interesting to examine. Numbers always cut through propaganda.
The USA spend just under $800 billion every year (unaudited), a mind boggling figure. The increase this year at $81 billion alone is more than the entire Russian Federation defence budget. The US Navy has eleven aircraft carrier groups with two more on the way. Carriers incidentally are force projectors, nothing much to do with defence. The British will have two when they eventually become operational, the French one, China one & one pending Russia likewise.
The pecking order in military spending is America, China, Russia, Saudi & Great Britain at fifth.
Given the UK has no land border to protect & has a tiny fraction of land mass of Russia or China it is an astonishingly generous budget.
Which country is a threat therefore, if we assume Great Britain doesn’t provoke a confrontation?
Correct, none, win a coconut.
What do we get for our annual £35 billion? Fascinatingly the smallest army per capita in our history & more civilian employees than the navy, marines & air force combined. We get four on station nuclear deterrent submarines. Nuclear deterrence is a necessary evil given the inevitable proliferation of nuclear weapons. Yet the Trident system is an unnecessary expense. The astute class submarine can deliver home manufactured tactical nuclear warheads up to a range of one thousand miles. Moreover they would be genuinely independent, free of any American involvement. A huge cost saving for exactly the same deterrent effect. Britain has seven hunter killer submarines, this should be expanded to twelve. Remember if we had left one on station the Falkland Islands would never have been taken. The Astute submarine is a first division vessel. A strategic submarine force of this capacity is an unanswerable international bargaining chip.
The Royal Navy has always had an important global international relations role, frigates are ideal for policing international waters where piracy is rife & all round merchant marine protection. Traditional goodwill, showing the flag visits are a natural extension of their duties. It is also a popular recruitment & retention policy.
The need for mobile & rapid response demands a significant increase in Royal Marine Commandos & special forces. Britain remains a regional power, it must retain teeth at a tactical level.
Fighter squadrons are an integral part of our island defence programme & have been since 1940. I am assured after a recent USAF briefing in Arizona this year the latest F35 is far & away the most effective air combat machine in an air to air role. Weaknesses in payloads, range & carrier capability are less relevant for home based defence.
The ludicrous aircraft carrier vanity project must go. A huge expensive white elephant, a weapon system of a bygone age. A retired American Cold War pilot friend quipped to me last month in Philadelphia “they’ve been redundant since Okinawa”. Submariners have suggested to me under the Chatham House rule they would not last long in theatre against a first rate power.
Inshore vessels are essential for coastal protection, the main likelihood of confrontation is low level terrorist activity, fishery protection & illegal economic immigration. Purpose built vessels are essential under a new Royal Navy (Coast Guard Arm). Forty fast vessels with a small complement of Royal Marines on permanent coastal patrol, with Integral shore based drone capability.
Is there a solution to the perennial problem of a small army with no apparent role?
There is. A return to the concept of a properly equipped Territorial Army. As recently as the early 1980s the Territorial Army was both funded & trained to a very high level. Divisional exercises Crusader & Lion Heart proved their worth in bringing the regular army to fighting corps strength.
The emphasis should be on specialist & logistical roles where civilian skills dovetail.
As the Territorials don’t qualify for pensions annual bounties can be very generous, civilian employers must be incentivised to co operate fully. In past years employers realised the benefit of having military trained personnel working for them, especially in junior executive roles.
Senior regular peacetime officers have never fully understood the benefit of a volunteer wing (unlike their wartime forbears), they pay lip service but Territorial experience is not a requirement for senior command. It should be, officer roles for regulars currently include warrant officers, adjutants, training majors & commanding officers. It must be remembered big wars are won by civilians in uniform.
For those in any doubt research the Yeomanry in North Africa & Normandy. Or the battle of Kohima in Burma, fought & won largely by Territorials. The role of Territorials should be taught at RMA Sandhurst & Staff Colleges.
The contribution in the last war by the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve speaks for itself.
Army recruitment & retention has been shambolic in recent years, abandonment of Crown Exemption, harassment of elderly veterans, limited career prospects as the forces shrink & criminal underfunding of the reserves, in some cases just paper soldiers. The most recent disaster £130 million wasted on trying to recruit on line. Any junior NCO could have foreseen that horlicks. No one takes ‘the Queen’s shilling’ on line. Only a bureaucrat could have come up with that idea.
Where do we go from Here?
A root & branch reappraisal of geo political strategy. A complete withdrawal from any treaty entanglements.
The re enforcement of soft power influence, international encouragement for army, naval & air force officer training. Sandhurst, Cranwell, Dartmouth, Joint Services Staff College Shrivenham, Royal College of Defence Studies. International exchanges & secondment all have a role.
A major cull of the 60,000 ministry civilian staff. Per capita & budget appropriation show Israel manage with 12% of this number.
The MoD must roll over annual budgets, no more blind ammunition firing to secure next year’s allocation. Abandon ‘use it or lose it’ an eccentric public sector phenomenon.
Procurement is the black hole of military, naval & air budgets.
There is an inherent weakness in the entire public sector where fiscal discipline is not an inherent in the civil service DNA. Defence is not as spendthrift as the NHS but there is much to do.
Significant penalty clauses for weapon system development late or faulty delivery. Disciplinary measures for military procurement incompetence. Does the army really need a top civilian spec German truck for £120k? Would not four basically equipped helicopters be more useful than one highly specced?
Certainly that was the feed back I got when in Afghanistan from field commanders.
The Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme facilitating open access for parliamentarians, a concept initiated by a great patriot General Sir Neil Thorne must be re enforced. A visiting VIP minister will only ever hear what a senior officer believes he wants to hear. Graduation from the scheme should be mandatory for all defence ministers whose quality & commitment appear to deteriorate with each new appointment.
Significant bounties to retain key personnel are much cheaper than the stop go recruitment & training merry go round.
Enhanced pensions for lower ranks paid for by capping the almost ludicrous excesses of public sector pensions.
A government initiative to encourage higher quality of defence correspondents in the MSM. Particularly public service broadcasting.
The current crop of journalists are very poor quality. Most could not even identify badges of rank, regimental or corps cap badges. Yet MSM paper or TV programme editors & producers insist on top sportsman for the sports pages. Perhaps favoured access to more committed correspondents.
There is a strong role for middle management input on procurement & recruitment policy. Very senior officers can lose touch, worse become politicised.
Promotion to three star rank should not be dependent on political correctness, a policy that has all but killed the police force. Beware the phrase used of a general or admiral ‘who knows his way around Whitehall’, it will portend transgender vegans for command appointments by quota.
Recruitment based on skin colour or gender is abhorrent, patronising & counter productive. Currently the MoD website promotes this policy on its website. Naval & military recruitment & promotion should be on merit & merit alone.
The quality of British working uniforms should be brought back up to scratch, overseas poor quality kit brings down morale, false economy, dress a man like a loser & he will become one. Incredibly recently moved from Yorkshire to China.
There should be a much tighter safety net for discharged soldiers who have suffered trauma. Personnel selected for this duty should be better trained than currently seems the case. There is no shortage of funds in military charities for this project.
Godfrey Bloom is the holder of the Territorial Decoration & bar & Sovereign’s Medal,
Senior graduate of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.
He is a published military historian & Ass. Member of the Royal College of Defence Studies.