Supporting a cut in our defence budget


9:12 am - July 6th 2009

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post by regular commenter pagar

An IPPR report on defence procurement, published last week, questioned spending on resources used to fight wars against conventional armed forces and suggests a defence strategy concentrating on combating unconventional, terrorist and economic threats.

It questioned spending £10 billion on new aircraft carriers and £20 billion on Trident and says that the UK should stop trying to “punch above it’s weight” in international affairs.

It proposes a closer alignment with like minded European states with the benefits and cost savings this could bring though it stops short of advocating a European army.

It comes out against the introduction of ID cards and, finally, it finds that our strategy in Afghanistan is flawed and states that, unless it is changed, the result will be failure.

Everyone knows that we are going to have to slash public spending over the next ten years and it seems to me that military spending is by far the best place to start. Or should we start with schools and hospitals?

We don’t need aircraft carriers. Why would we want to impose our will on other countries? Do we still see ourselves as a colonial power?

We don’t need a nuclear arsenal. Who are we proposing to deter? From doing what?

Of course we need to ensure that our hard pressed and under equipped armed forces are capable of defending us, but I have been commenting for sometime on Liberal Conspiracy that I am sickened by the tragic waste of the young lives lost in the futile conflict in Afghanistan.

This war is more objectionable from a moral standpoint than was Iraq and it has the added demerit of being impossible to win. For those reasons, I have been very surprised and disappointed that a policy of disengagement has not been more enthusiastically supported here.

So come on, lets have everyone here get behind the proposals in this report.

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Hear! Hear!

£20 billion on Trident

This is over 20 years and thus represents £16 per person per year, or 5p per day. Not really such a big sum.

We don’t need aircraft carriers.

I agree. It’s been obvious since Taranto in 1940 that large warships are terribly vulnerable to aircraft, and obvious since the sinking of the Roma in 1943 that they’re vulnerable to anti-ship missiles.

If these ships were built, it would be impossible for the UK to put them in harm’s way against any mid-level country because of the serious danger that they’d be sunk with immense loss of lives (and of the political careers of the people giving the orders).

(By “mid-level country” I mean one with roughly the same level of economic and military power as Argentina, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, South Africa, etc — all these countries will have the technology to build effective anti-ship missiles in the lifetime of these aircraft carriers; probably so will many TPLACs).

Why would we want to impose our will on other countries?

To put it bluntly, because sometimes you can get good results from threatening people with violence or in extremis using it. For example, deposing the Taliban was a good thing, and destroying their insurgency would also be in our national interest.

And also, with weapons, we can prevent others from imposing their will on us.

We don’t need a nuclear arsenal. Who are we proposing to deter?

Other nuclear-weapon states.

From doing what?

From using nukes agianst us, or threatening to do so (including implied threats).

This war is more objectionable from a moral standpoint than was Iraq

I don’t see why. Expalin your reasoning, please.

and it has the added demerit of being impossible to win.

This is not obvious to be either, especially given that the West has several orders of magnitude more wealth than the Taliban.

3. the a&e charge nurse

Surely a doomsday device is the only sane option in an insane world?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmCKJi3CKGE

Even if you accept that we need a nuclear deterrent, something of Trident’s complexity and expense is pointless – all we need is are a few dozen bombs that are capable of bypassing Iran/Pakistan/North Korea/$other_nuclear_state_that_isn’t_the_US’s virtually-non-existent anti-missile defences.

Aircraft carriers have the advantage of enabling a military force force to be based outside of a country and over the horizon. If the UN ever needed to intervene , the UK is one of the few countries with the will and ability to help. Jugloslavia was a perfect example of international hand wringing which did much to increase Islamic Jihadi support. Britain could have stationed aircraft carriers offshore in order to suport operations in Jugoslavia.

The Taliban are unlikley to be beaten and some form of surrender with them id ever likley to be signed . However, allowing Afghanis to enjoy being educated without teachers being murdered in front of their children requires the military to create secure areas within the country. If Afghnaistan is to increase the quality of life of the poor , then the military are required to create secure areas where reconstruction can occur. The problem for the UK ,is that Labour did not commit the resources( helicopers, armoured vehicles and manpower) even when the army asked for more troops. The Army asked for 2,500 more troops in the Helmand Province and only received 700. This is is typical example of middle class left wingers treating the Armed Forces with indifference . Callaghan and Healey had an understanding of conflict which the present Labour Party does not and respect for the armed forces.

With the caveat that I’m far from a military expert, two pence-worth. Defence spending is essential, but it needs to be focused on application; and according to a basic policy of defending British interests.

“Application`’ to me means stuff you can actually use. So out goes Trident – totally pointless. Even during the Cold War, strategic nuclear weaponry was of questionable application. Would any major aggressor risk a few nuclear tipped cruise missiles or bomber-launched bombs getting through? Stick to the tactical stuff for basic deterrence and get rid of the rest. (Oh, and Cabalamat: save the silly maths…)

That said, I wonder whether small aircraft carriers aren’t a pretty good idea. I don’t know enough about the ones in question, but getting troops and materiel to places where they’re needed – if not actually fighting at sea against “mid-sized” foes – seems like a good idea, especially for missions like Sierra Leone (which most people accept was a Good Thing, both for British interests and for humanitarian reasons).

The “interests” thing is harder, and here’s where we need a big – and difficult to sell – change. Too many people in this country are fixated on our ability to fight wars of choice. While it’s true that joining operations in Iraq and Afghanistan gives us a seat at the big table, I’m still at a loss to see how that translates into furthering an ethical British foreign policy. It’s not even a case of the ends justifying the means. Both are pretty shaky.

So… we need a minimum tactical nuclear deterrent, probably based on ship- and aircraft- launched missiles; a half-decent force of fighter aircraft or anti-aircraft capability in the North Sea; the ability to deploy reasonable forces anywhere in the world at short notice (heavy air transport and a few small carriers, then); and decent protection for our troops (in the shape of proven equipment – and that probably means buying off-the-shelf, instead of wasting billions on stupid procurement and design programmes). Not having the capability to fight sustained and large-scale conflicts in remote places both reflects our (in)ability to expend blood and treasure; and would rein in the more adventurist wonks in government.

In short: there’s plenty we can cut while keeping a viable defence position. We just need to be able to sell it as a beefing up of what we’re good at (“Brave SAS get cash injection”, “Our boys to get air support” etc…)

Britain could have stationed aircraft carriers offshore in order to suport operations in Jugoslavia.

Britain could’ve stationed Mecha-Godzilla offshore in order to support operations in Yugoslavia, to roughly the same effect, i.e. none whatsoever.

Re: Afghanistan and extortionately expensive military toys – I suppose we could drop leaflets on the Taliban telling them we have aircraft carriers and nuclear warhead delivery systems, although sadly we won’t actually be using them on landlocked Afghanistan. They might even be fairly impressed, although probably not deterred.

The idea that a lack of multi-billion pound military toys are to blame for the heinous situation British troops are in over there defies belief – never mind anything else, thousands of US troops and support units have just landed there. From what I’ve read, the squaddies on the ground want 1) Decent, reliable air support, 2) More boots on the ground and 3) any kind of plan beyond “let’s airdrop a load of guys onto the side of a mountain and let the Taliban shoot at them for a week or two”. I suggest that 3) is the sticking point here.

This is is typical example of middle class left wingers treating the Armed Forces with indifference .

This is a typical example of miraculous, telepathic bullshit.

I’ll support a cut in our defence budget, but I’m still defending our involvement in Afghanistan (however much of a twat Bush was) and our attempts there to bring some stability to the country and get rid of the Taliban.

@5: Aircraft carriers have the advantage of enabling a military force force to be based outside of a country and over the horizon. […] Britain could have stationed aircraft carriers offshore in order to suport operations in Jugoslavia.

Yes, but it would be cheaper to use military airbases in Germany and Italy. These would have other advantages too:

1. the runways are longer than a carrier’s flight deck, which means a larger variety of aircraft could use them, carrying larger payloads, for example non-carrier-enabled fighters such as the Eurofighter, or transport aircraft such as the C-130 or A400M.

2. military bases are larger than aircraft carriers and can therefore hold more stuff (planes, soldiers, vehicles, fuel, supplies of all sorts)

3. Germany and Italy are unsinkable; in the timeframes we’re considering, Serbia will have the technology to build effective long range anti-ship missiles if it chooses to do so.

The only capability aircraft carriers would give us is the ability to intervene without having a country nearby to base stuff at; in my opinion such a capability is unnecessary for the sorts of wars it would be in Britain’s interest to fight.

The Army asked for 2,500 more troops in the Helmand Province and only received 700.

Clearly we should either commit enough resources to do the job properly, or not do it at all. Though I don’t see why the troops have to be British — aren’t there any Afghans willing to fight for the Karzai government? (If the answer is “no”, it would suggest we’ve backed a loser).

This is is typical example of middle class left wingers treating the Armed Forces with indifference . Callaghan and Healey had an understanding of conflict which the present Labour Party does not and respect for the armed forces.

Do you think Cameron would be any better? His only skills, as far as I can tell, lie in bullshit and spin.

@8: I’ll support a cut in our defence budget, but I’m still defending our involvement in Afghanistan

Like you, I’m in favour of British troops being in Afghanistan, but if Britain is to engage in similar operations in future, it’s going to involve an increase in some parts of the miliaraty budget — the army, particularly the infantry.

9. Cabalamat. I agree Cameron is very reticent on defence . Your right on the army which needs more combat troops , helicopters and armoured vehicles. The Danes have Leopold 2 tanks which are often used against buildings and cause less fatalities to civilians than using aeroplanes but Brown is not prepared to pay for Challenger 2 tanks to be sent to Afghanistan.

A few points.

Nobody is threatening to “nuke” us and they never will. We have alliances with the US and other European countries that means that will not happen. Trident is an expensive anachronism.

Aircraft carriers are only useful in waging war in other parts of the world, not I defending our islands. As a post-colonial power, this is something we should cease to do.

Which brings us to Afghanistan. Since Alexander the Great every invader has lost their war and there is no reason to think we will be any different. The only time the Afghans stop squabbling amongst themselves is when their country is invaded. Then they unite and kick them out and quite right too. The alleged purpose of our current involvement is to confront the Taliban and effect regime change. Why? What business is it of ours? OK the Taliban are unpleasant but are we saying that we are going to try to overturn every unpleasant political regime in the world?

The IPPR report is saying that is not a role we can afford to play and that fact should inform our decisions on defence spending.

With a realignment of priorities, we could have more operationally-useful armed forces on a drastically reduced budget. We spent £35.7bn on defence in 07/08, more than India or Japan. It is forecast to hit £39bn by 09/10, then fall back to £36.7bn in 10/11. Hopefully the fall will continue.

“This war is more objectionable from a moral standpoint than was Iraq”

Yeah what?

Iraq at least had the consequence of deposing a corrupt genocidal tyrant and his regime. The Taliban, though objectionable, are not quite in that league-though if we keep pushing them they may become so.

There are many ways to be creative with defence spending without losing some of the capabilities we cannot all agree on.

For example, replace the trident deterrent with SSGNs carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Ohio_(SSGN-726). Not as capable but certainly much cheaper in the short and long term, credible (because submarine-based) and still a big stick to wield if you like that sort of thing.

@15, given that Saddam hadn’t actually done any genociding for a decade, whereas the Taliban were active in executing women for being schoolteachers etc, I think you’ll struggle to make any clear comparison. If given the choice, I’d much rather live in 2001-era Iraq than 2001-era Afghanistan… although I’d probably rather live in either than 2009-era Iraq or 2009-era Afghanistan.


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