Magazine article The Spectator

The High Cost of Cuts

Magazine article The Spectator

The High Cost of Cuts

Article excerpt

BEYOND ENDURANCE: AN EPIC OF WHITEHALL AND THE SOUTH ATLANTIC by Nicholas Barker

Leo Cooper, 19.95, pp. 244 Captain Nick Barker RN (who sadly died on 7 April at the age of 63), captain of HMS Endurance during the Falklands War, tells a convincing and enraging story of the wilful stupidity of intellectually arrogant diplomats, civil-service mandarins, admirals and politicians, and of the needless conflict and loss of life that resulted.

His starting point is the 1981 Defence Review by John Nott, the then Secretary of State for Defence, which sought drastically to cut defence costs. The aim was reasonable enough, for in 1981 Britain was still carrying a proportionately much heavier defence burden than her commercial rivals, such as Germany and Japan. Nott wished to put greater emphasis on the Nato defence of Europe at the expense of `out of area' commitments. Of the three services, the Royal Navy was the least involved with Continental Europe and the most involved in global reach. It therefore seemed to Nott that it was the Navy that could most readily be shrunk. Hence his proposal to sell one of the Navy's only three carriers to Australia, as well as to cut the numbers of other types of ship.

Among these was the Falklands `guardship', the Endurance, an adapted Danish Baltic trader armed with 16 AS 12 air-tosurface missiles and equipped with sophisticated electronic listening gear. Nott announced that she would be withdrawn in 1982 and not replaced. This would leave the Falkland Isles (with its population of British stock) and other British dependencies in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic to be defended by a few lightly armed Royal Marines. A clearer signal of British abdication of interest in this region could not have been sent to the Argentinians, notoriously obsessed with recovering `the Malvinas'.

Captain Barker therefore lobbied hard in Whitehall, and through influential friends such as Lord Shackleton, to have this decision reversed. The Establishment closed ranks: to Parliament it was averred that the Royal Marines on the Falklands were defence or deterrence enough; to Barker that as a serving officer he was acting improperly. Henceforward, any warnings from him about warlike Argentinian preparations which he had personally observed were to be read in the MoD as `Barker trying to save his ship' and instantly binned. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.