Let's Face It - We Can No Longer Afford to Police the World. but History Tells Us We Must Defend Our Own Shores at All Costs

Daily Mail (London), September 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

Let's Face It - We Can No Longer Afford to Police the World. but History Tells Us We Must Defend Our Own Shores at All Costs


Byline: by Correlli Barnett

WHILE the bodies of our slaughtered sol -diers and Royal Marines continue to be flown home from Afghanistan, the Coalition Government agonises about the contents of the Defence Review.

Already the new and grandly named National Defence Counci l has debated the whole question of Britain's future role in the world -- and in doing so has exposed deep splits in opinion.

In a letter to David Cameron (which was leaked to the media), Defence Secretary Liam Fox set out his wholesale opposition to a ten per cent cut in the defence budget as part of the Government's programme to reduce the deficit.

Dr Fox, a renowned hawk and admirer of the former President Bush's Washington neo-cons, sees Western democracy as engaged in a global struggle with the forces of darkness -- not only Al-Qaeda, but also Iran and potentially China and Russia.

He therefore believes that Britain must be able to 'project power' around the globe.

Damage

The danger with this thinking lies in its lack of realism about Britain's true weight in the world today and in the future.

People such as Dr Fox ignore the dire British record of strategic and financial overstretch caused by all governments since World War II waiting to be a global military and naval power on the back of a second-rank industrial economy which is chronically short of money.

So, today, I await the Coalition's Defence Review with a real sense of foreboding.

I fear it will trot out al l the old nostalgic guff about how we must preserve Britain's global 'status', 'standing' and 'influence', hence we must have Armed Forces to match.

Admirals (serving and retired) and maritime historians are busy pleading for two 60,000-ton aircraft carriers which are essential to the 21 st -centuryvers ion of gunboat diplomacy.

These navalists argue that 90 per cent of our trade comes and goes by sea (although in truth the bulk of it involves only Europe), and therefore we must have a strong navy.

For their part, generals and military commentators plead for expedi t ionary forces capable of intervening in trouble-spots anywhere in the world where they will help prevent one group of foreigners from massacring another group.

Others also warn that if Britain reduces its Armed Forces to the level that our hard-up finances can comfortably afford, (say, for example, a cut of 27 per cent to give a defence budget similar to France or Germany), it would damage the 'Special Relationship' with the U.S. But why on earth should Britain, an island nation of only 60 million people, ranking seventh in the world as an economy, and cur rently suffering a financial crisis, want to 'project power'?

China, the world's leading exporter, doesn't see the need to 'project' military and naval power beyond its own east-Asian region.

Instead, it wisely concentrates on developing sources of food, raw materials and energy in Africa and elsewhere.

Much the same sense of strategic restraint applies to Japan, the world's secondlargest exporter.

As for Germany, the world's fourth-largest economy and highly dependent on imports of energy and raw materials, did we see it supply 40,000 military personnel to join the invasion of Iraq in 2003? No, we did not. Are 10,000 German troops now deployed in Afghanistan? No.

And, for that matter, do we see either Japan or Germany suffer in any way because they are not permanent members of the UN Security Council? Again, no, we do not. In fact, they are lucky because, as Britain has found, permanent membership entails more obligation than advantage. The truth is that since World War II, British foreign and defence policy has been driven by history, not by a sense of realism. …

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