Which war? -The potential one for which we aren’t properly planning.
The UK Parliament will end in two week’s time when the general election campaign begins ahead of the May 6th vote. Defence issues, indeed foreign policy in general, is not expected to feature other than in a peripheral manner.
Is it the economy, stupid? Yes, as always economic questions will drive voting intentions, and to have a robust defence policy you need a robust economy, but the UK is slowly joining the rest of Western Europe in sleepwalking towards a potential war without planning for it.
A military intervention in Syria, Iraq, or Libya remains unlikely, but as we’ve seen in the Falklands, Kosovo, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the unexpected does happen.
If there were to be a Falklands scenario now the UK could not launch a Task Force, more an ‘Ask Force’. It would have to ask France if it cared enough about whatever crisis the UK found itself in to hand over an aircraft carrier for a few months.
Closer to home, the EU is fraying at the edges. Russia is cosying up to an old orthodox friend – Greece, and President Putin has redrawn Eastern Europe’s borders while suffering few meaningful consequences. Sanctions? Russia is a country which survived Stalin and Stalingrad – given that the media is now almost completely controlled by the Kremlin – it can withstand several years of sanctions, especially when the oil price begins to rise again.
As Moscow eyes the Baltic States the response from the West European NATO countries has been to cut defence spending. The UK, which prided itself on a clear eyed view of the dangers in the world, has lost its capability to track the increasing number of Russian submarines in the North Sea, may cut its army to below 60,000, and none of the major political parties will commit to NATO’s target that all members should spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence.
What sort of a role does the UK want to play in the world? If it is one such as that played by Sweden, then let us say so. If that is the view of the British political parties, the politicians need to tell us and stop writing cheques the military cannot cash and will end up paying in blood.
The Americans are increasingly concerned about Europe’s inability to defend itself, and increasingly intellectually inclined not to fight to the last American to help.
There has been a spate of publicity recently by military, ex military, and those that care, to wake up the slumbering debate. In these pages former Defence Secretary John Hutton wrote that a ‘conspiracy of silence will prevail’ during the coming election campaign. He and others know that many of the current generation of political leaders just want to limp past the finishing post on May 6th without having to tackle the difficult and pressing defence and foreign policy issues we all face.
An example of this is seen in today’s Times of London newspaper where Prime Minister Cameron has responded to those criticizing his stance of defence spending by saying they were merely hungry for publicity for books they may be writing.
In the Baltics meanwhile there is a partial mobilization and partial return to conscription. What is it they can see that we cannot? To the east they can see the threat, and to the west they see that the political elite have their heads buried deep in votes.