A few years ago, I asked an Air Marshal, “If the government decides we should bomb Libya, will both our aircraft be involved?”
Emphatically: “No – one of them is out of service.”
Things are not as bad as that – quite or yet. But the number of our military personnel – army, navy and air force – now stands at 143,000, down from 176.000 five years ago.
Of course, when asked why the reduction, the government blames the economies which have to be made following the financial crisis. Agreed, economies have to be made, but is military provision the right place to make them?
The world-political scene would suggest not. The Russia-Ukraine conflict shows no sign of abating and, more generally, there is plenty of evidence for believing that the Cold War is hotting up.
And, unless you’ve been asleep for the last twenty years, you have probably noticed that there is a violent Muslim insurgency in west Africa, central Africa, north Africa, all across the Middle East and as far as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Given recent local atrocities – and the un-stemmed tide of immigration – this shows every sign of moving imminently into Europe.
Is the minister of defence confident that we have the forces to counteract this threat?
We have limited resources, so what are our spending priorities? An out-of-control benefits racket, a national health service that is not fit for purpose and foreign aid – including to countries such as India which are wealthy enough to boast a space programme; as well as to profligate African states where our hand-outs disappear into the pockets of crooks and dictators.
The first duty of government – some would argue the only duty of government – is to preserve the peace in our streets and to defend us from foreign enemies. But we conspicuously fail to honour these responsibilities because we are spending our resources on items not essential to our survival.
When a breadwinner loses his job and belts have to be tightened, the household does not look first to cut back on necessities but on optional extras. And so it should be with the national defence.
I have just read a very disturbing sentence from Professor Keith Hartley, a defence expert at York University. Asked to comment on the reduction in our armed forces, he says: “We can’t fight in as many wars as we used to.”
But we don’t always have a choice when it comes to which battles we are obliged to fight. Often war is thrust on us.
Clearly Professor Hartley has not thought through to the shocking implications of his statement. He is as good as saying to any enemy, “Please don’t attack us, because we are unable to defend ourselves.”
Pre-emptive self-abasement. Cowardice and abject surrender.
It’s a serious crime to give such comfort to the Queen’s enemies. A crime almost as serious as our government’s refusal to arrange for the national defence.