Revising British defence spending is long overdue. Simply allocating £40 on defence a year is an absurd cost to maintain its supposed global leverage when Britain no longer acts as a sovereign state in relationship with the USA, as Iraq clearly proved.
Yet 40,000 troops were committed in 2003. Afghanistan has proved a futile war with no possible successful conclusion in sight. Again Britian has sunk blood and treasure in pursuing a foreign policy only indirectly connected to what could be called its interests.
With news that HMS Ark Royal and the fleet of Harrier Jump Jets are to be axed, some have felt so annoyed that they have lost all sense of proportion or, indeed, of reality. Fulminating in The Guardian, John Muxworthy, stated
Gunboat diplomacy has not been an option since the demise of the British Empire. It is about time many connected with the Defence Establishment stopped the delusion that Britain is a "global player" no less than the politicians who keep alive this by hanging upon the coat tails of US global power.
"It is upon the Navy under the providence of God that the safety, honour and welfare of this realm do chiefly attend."
This quotation is carved in stone over the now threatened Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth.
Nothing has changed since Charles II had those words printed in his Articles of War. It is as true today as it was when written more than 300 years ago. However, from what we already know about the results of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, the UK seems to have forgotten that declaration.
....the Royal Navy is in danger of losing its main capability: that of being able to project such national power and authority that we have left to us – which is still considerable – wherever and whenever we chose to do so. "Talk softly, but have a big stick."
As Corelli Barnett puts it in We Can't Afford to Police the World ( Daily Mail September 29 2010 ),
Dr Fox, a renowned hawk and admirer of the former President Bush’s Washington neo-cons, sees Western democracy as engaged in a global struggle with the forces of darkness — not only Al-Qaeda, but also Iran and potentially China and Russia.Moreover, it is bizarre to maintain that Britain has some seamless connection with a maritime past and thus the projection global power which applies in 2010 just as it did in the time of Charles II. There is virtually no independent national power left.
He therefore believes that Britain must be able to ‘project power’ around the globe.
The danger with this thinking lies in its lack of realism about Britain’s true weight in the world today and in the future.
People such as Dr Fox ignore the dire British record of strategic and financial overstretch caused by all governments since World War II waiting to be a global military and naval power on the back of a second-rank industrial economy which is chronically short of money.
Our foreign policy is determined largely by Washington.In the case of Iraq it was largely determined in Washington when Blair was prepared to back anything that Bush had already decided upon irrespective of international opinion or the fabricated pretext of WMD.
Muxworthy produces guff about national power and that a navy is essential to protect sea routes. 90% of Britain's trade does arrive by sea but most of it is with Europe and there's little chance of France imposing a blockade.
No, the navy was "the big stick" .
For centuries the navy has been the "big stick" that won us the greatest empire the world has ever seen – or ever will see again.....
Any navy worth its salt – and this nation is entirely dependent on the sea for its food and fuel supplies – needs at least two carriers to ensure that, at any time, one might well be available to deal with any contingency.
Not since the rise of air power has the key to global hegemony been dependent upon sea power, though aircraft carriers such as HMS Ark Royal play an auxiliary role in military operations on land. But whilst they were of use back in the Falklands they are not now.
For the cuts reflect the fact that Britain is now merely an auxiliary arm of the USA's global military power.Muxworthy still holds to delusions that,
This country is avowedly the seventh richest in the world, and is still greatly respected by many nations. However, we have sat on our laurels and for half a century since the end of the second world war we have been steadily disarming.Britain has not been disarming. On the contrary, it has continually shifted resources into being a nuclear power. With the end of the Cold War, the USA has made it clear it wants the UK to retain its deterrent and so Britain genuflects to that accordingly.
Nor is Britain respected, not least after Blair backed the invasion of Iraq, a war that has had catastrophic consequences ( over a million Iraqis dead ) and that was launched simply because Britain wanted to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the USA and uphold its power thereby.
Nor is Britain actually the seventh richest nation. According to the World Bank, its GDP per capita places Britain 19th in the world ranking behind nations that do not have such a large military capability such as Belgium ( 18th ), Denmark ( 17th ) and Sweden ( 16th ).
Long overdue is the recognition that Britain is no longer a global power and the UN Security Council permanent seat for Britain is simply an anachronism left over from World War Two. In the trade off between guns and butter, many of the guns need to go.
The world has changed immensely since 1945. According to Muxworthy, Britain's sea borne capacity and the need for it has not changed since Charles II. This is pure nostalgia. As a naval man Muxworthy is bound to feel this. Yet the time has come to accept this loss of power.
Instead money should be invested in large infrastructure projects and R & D. High speed rail links need the investment to bring Britain in line with France and Germany. Reasearch into alternatives to oil and gas. Investment in nuclear power stations.
Though Britain is in the top ten richest nations, this is mostly in servicing larger super economies elsewhere and represents foreign economic activity on British territory, what Will Hutton calls "the Wimbledon effect" where we merely play host to global players.
By investing money in R & D, as Germany does, we just might be able to correct the imbalance in the economy and regain a sense of pride in making hi-tech goods and trying to provide technological adaptations to the facts of diminishing oil and gas.
Desperately trying to cling on to the past glory of Britain's Imperial role as an auxiliary backing the USA does nothing for Britain. If strategy has no change, then so too does the foreign policy that drives it with its delusions of Britain's role as global policeman.