Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Could we Really Abolish the Defence Budget?
Wow, it's a queer do and no mistake. You would expect a raving leftie to urge the abolition of all the armed forces, but a former editor of The Times? In his piece today the Guardian columnist advocates no half measures but an across the board abolition of our defence budget. To even those left of centre moderates like me, this seems bizarre. We surely need to be sure we can protect ourselves against present and unforeseen theats do we not? Jenkins argues that there aren't any:
There are many evils that threaten the British people at present, but I cannot think of one that absolutely demands £45bn to deter it. Soldiers, sailors and air crews are no protection against terrorists, who anyway are not that much of a threat. No country is an aggressor against the British state. No country would attack us were the government to put its troops into reserve and mothball its ships, tanks and planes. Let us get real.
It's a bold and provocative proposal, the more so because the Conservatives wish to 'ringfence' this item. Some of the older Establishment Tories are probably spluttering over their late morning brandies in The Athenaeum and Army and Navy Club as they discover that one whom they thought was of their own number, has unforgivably gone all pacifist and a bit bonkers with it.
And it is a bit bonkers. I can think immediately of two reasons to keep reasonbably formidable armed forces.
1. Suppose any country, in Europe, Asia or even Africa, came to be ruled by an expansionist and agressive leader; this is by no means an unlikely scenario. They could merely sail a ship into the Channel or UK waters and either threaten us or attack us until, like modern day Vikings, they had helped themselves from a country which could not resist and which, by giving up its armed forces, had virtually issued an invitation to agressors everywhere. Even a revived IRA might fancy blackmailing such a weakened state. In those circumstances, who would defend us? Ultimately, only ourselves. I'd pay insurance against such a situation developing.
2. Looking to the medium term future, climate change is likely to displace millions of people as they migrate northwards to relatively cool environments such as the UK. In those circumstances it would be foolish indeed to be defenceless.
One can also invoke the duty responsible nations have to support international initiatives to calm or sort out those 'bush-fire' wars likely to spring up anywhere. I can only conclude Sir Simon is being deliberately provocative as this suggestion is manifestly absurd. Pull out of Afghanistan, maybe, get rid of Trident certainly, but leave our shores undefended against everyone, Hamas, or even Somali pirates? It's a silly idea, more worthy of a CND supporter than a serious commentator. It's worth remembering we used to think a war in Europe was unthinkable, out of the question and then we got Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo ethnic cleansing and genocide. And once you abolish a capability nourished and practiced over centuries, it would be too late once the threats arrive. Sir Simon would do well to ponder the wise words of Benjamin Disraeli:
"What we anticipate seldom occurs: but what we least expect generally happens."
As Sir Humphrey commented, "If I could foresee them, they wouldn't be unforeseen"
I agree wholeheartedly Skipper, a lovely idea but sadly highly impracticable.
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