Surely, Government cannot be serious about a further reduction of the strength of our country’s armed forces?, writes Steve Lane, Werrington First councillor.
Since 2010 there has been a number of cuts in armed forces personnel that they are now less able to sustain a presence in future conflicts. At a time when the country faces its greatest threat to national security in decades, where is the sense in it?
Following last year’s announcement of a National Security Capability Review (NSCR), I read there has been speculation about the UK’s amphibious requirements. Some suggest there may be a reduction in the strength of the Royal Marines by up to 2,000, along with the mothballing of an amphibious landing ship, a threat that led to the resignation of a Rear Admiral, the Royal Navy’s Commander of UK Maritime Forces.
As part of the evidence delivered to the NSCR, it has been said that since 2015 the threat to UK security has intensified, and there is a need to strengthen various elements of the Security Strategy. But then it confuses this by making a case for meeting the MoD’s challenge with inflation and growing costs and “continue to modernise the way we work …. to deliver a stronger and more secure defence”.
The phrase ‘modernise’ leads me to think it’s a short-term solution to fit a treasury requirement. And here’s another point that brings out the cynic in me. The rationale for this review is supposed to remain “fiscally neutral”, and that “the purpose in doing it is to see if the money that is already allocated is allocated in the right way.”
So, let me see if I have this right. Theoretically, a department puts in a budgetary requirement that is considered and then granted, either wholly or in part. Further down the line someone else feels it is necessary to sacrifice that department’s capability to meet another’s. Surely, we should ask, if the need was there in the first place, what has changed - other than, perhaps, someone else cannot manage their budget?
I will argue that it is a matter of national importance that, after more than 350 years of service to this island nation, the Royal Marines must be protected. They have one of the most rigorous and demanding military training regimes in the world that provides the skills needed to fulfil the UK’s standing commitment to places such as Norway, a NATO ally, in the event of armed attack. The resurgence of Russia’s military strength and its recent manoeuvres brings a new significance to this; and despite having a smaller economy than that of the UK, its military budget is far greater. Our leaders just have to maintain the level of commitment we share with our NATO partners.
Couple that combat capability with that of being trained to confront adversity and operational hardships, and we have a force that remains in constant readiness to offer support for any civilian or environmental emergency. The Royal Navy and the Marines deployed to aid the recovery for victims of the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines and last year’s Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean. They are well-trained, well-prepared and have a proven track record in responding to natural disasters all over the world.
Thankfully, although the NSCR is nearing its conclusion, the new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, has managed to extricate the defence element from the main review, and hopes that this particular work will be completed by the summer. Entitled the Defence Modernisation Programme, it has received cross-party support and I hope it will recognise and support the requirement of maintaining a strength to face the number of threats to the UK.
The world is changing, with multiple dangers that must be tackled head-on, and it is a government’s duty to create a long-term strategy, not a shorter fiscal one, to meet any potential threat.