The Guns of Britain


We've all been burned by politicians promising to cut the size of government, so it's natural to be wary about the wonderful rhetoric that's been coming out of London since the Tory/Lib Dem coalition came to power. One way to test their willingness to make serious reductions: See if they'll stand by their call for substantial cuts in the military budget.

Simon Jenkins comments:

Push having come to shove, the coalition is now asking direct questions—such as why does Britain's defence require a nuclear capability? [Defence Minister Liam] Fox and the service chiefs were desperately reduced to pleading that renewing Trident was not about defence but about "politics". Its cost should therefore be removed from the defence budget and borne centrally, presumably by the Foreign or Cabinet Offices.

That sold the nuclear pass. If renewing Trident is not about defending Britain but about some global diplomatic posture, then not renewing Trident cannot jeopardise Britain's defence….

Darker questions swim into view when [Chancellor of the Exchequer George] Osborne demands cuts options of between 25% and 40%. The old arguments long paraded in parliament and the press suddenly dissolve into glibness. We apparently need a navy to defend our food supplies. Against whom? We need £50m Eurofighters to skirmish with Russian MiGs. Really? We might lose the Falklands again and need a fleet to recapture them. If so, the entire defence ministry should be shot. We apparently need to transport troops at the drop of a hat anywhere round the world, served by air bases, naval depots and barracks and training facilities, just in case another Blair wants to fight someone. Besides, you never know.

You never know what? No area of public spending is so imbued with intellectual sloppiness as defence. At a time when Britain's wars are "wars of choice", not necessity, there is no such thing as a defence strategy. There is a standing military capability and a burning itch to use it by politicians and generals alike, like Plantagenet barons in the hundred years war.

With an opposing view on Britain's nuclear arsenal, here's Sir Humphrey Appleby: