Following the launch of a review led by the Prime Minister’s national security, the defence cuts that have taken place over the past few months have been under immense scrutiny. In this article, Ben criticises the government’s organisation and lack of funding regarding the military, and discusses some of its implications.
The Government- Britain’s Brighter Future or Greatest Threat?
Conflict, instability and uncertainty. These things plague not just the United Kingdom but the rest of the world too. Tensions are on the rise between the world’s superpowers and one only has to glance at a newspaper to see this. In the Far East, the ongoing disputes between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have brought us closer to Nuclear War since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Closer to home, only months have passed since Russia seemed to be on the brink of launching an invasion into Eastern Europe. Furthermore, various events have shaken the country, with tragic terrorist attacks occurring on home soil, both in Manchester and London. With the world in a state like this, it would seem obvious that the government give special attention to the nation’s security and armed forces – right?
In reality, this is far from the case. Since coming to office in 2010, the conservative government has made budget cut after budget cut, crippling our once illustrious armed forces. What was once one of the world’s most respected fighting forces has been turned into a laughing stock and a far cry from what it needs to be to ensure the country’s security.
The government currently claims to be “committed to spending 2% of Britain’s G.D.P on defence”. However, it has become apparent that this is simply not the case, and as a result the armed forces is being starved of the equipment it needs. This 2% may be the result of clever accounting which, while very clever on a financial level, is not clever from a security point of view.
The numbers are staggering. In 2010 the army’s total manpower (active servicemen and women) stood at roughly 102,000. Now, after 7 years of Conservative government, this number has dropped to beneath 80,000. But it isn’t just the army’s numbers that have suffered. The number of total military personnel (across all branches of the armed forces) currently stands at around 141,260, even though the official personnel requirement is 147,000.
But why is this? Why are the numbers for the armed forces so embarrassingly low? Speaking to the Mirror on the 7th of May this year, Labour MP Dan Jarvis (ex-British Army Major who saw action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Northern Ireland) has slammed the Conservatives’ treatment of the armed forces, labelling this as the cause. He says, “Thousands of highly experienced war veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are leaving (the armed forces) earlier than they would have done because they see no future under the Tory Party”. Although some bias is to be expected from a Labour MP’s criticism on the Tories, further research would appear to confirm this statement.
Whilst researching the topic, I came across a Facebook page titled “Fill Your Boots”. The page, as of the time of writing this article, has 132,862 “likes”, most coming from active and ex-servicemen. Run by Alfie Usher, a former paratrooper (one of the British army’s most elite units), the page focuses on satire directed towards the armed forces. Although Mr Usher was unable to comment on the state of the armed forces under the Tory government, a simple scan down the page told me all I needed to know. Many of his uploads slated the current, poor state of the British Army, with countless fellow servicemen commenting in agreement, all suggesting that the army was, quite simply, a shambles, and that costs are being cut wherever possible, often at the expense of those serving.
Mr Jarvis MP continues to criticise the government’s treatment of the armed forces saying, “(Tory MPs) should be embarrassed by the damage their party has done to our armed forces…Britain’s defences under Tory leadership are almost unrecognisable to how they were left by the last Labour government”. Unfortunately, Mr Jarvis’ criticisms extend beyond just the lack of personnel. The budget cuts have left the services desperately short of equipment. For example, in 1990, Britain had a total of 1198 tanks, essential pieces of equipment for a modern army. In 2015, this had dropped to only 242, a fraction of what it had been before. In 1992, Britain had a 411 active military aircraft. Now, this number stands at 207, almost half of what it had been. Finally, in 1975, the Royal Navy consisted of 70 destroyers and frigates (fighting vessels). By 2015 this had dropped to just 19. Of course, these dramatic drops in numbers cannot all be blamed on the Conservative party as cuts still occurred under governments before. Indeed with the recession in 2010 it was only natural savings would need to be made elsewhere. However, the current and previous government certainly contributed to this decay and has shown no sign of improving the situation. In their first year in office (2010), the Government scrapped almost £4 billion worth of submarine-hunting aircraft, only to then ask for Canada, the U.S and France to lend them the same type of aircraft when a Russian submarine sailed into British waters. Although it may be just one small example, it highlights the severity of the issue and how serious the situation could potentially become.
To conclude, the Conservative government has left Britain’s armed forces desperately underfunded, leaving us under protected, and those who have been dedicated to serving our country underpaid and without enough support. In a survey conducted by the Express which saw over 2,100 responses, 95% of people agreed that the armed forces have been poorly treated and that more funding should be provided for them. In other words, 95% of people agree that Britain’s capability to defend itself is being sold away by a reckless government, who believe profit is more important than national security.
35 years ago, the United Kingdom went to war with Argentina after their invasion of the British Falkland Isles. 33 years ago, we triumphed over our aggressors, and thanks to our superior armed forces, the Falklands had been recaptured and Argentina had surrendered. Today, we would be powerless to stop them, should they invade once more.
By Ben Farrington