BRITAIN RISKS LOSING ITS GLOBAL INFLUENCE IF WE DON’T INVEST IN DEFENCE
02 Mar 09. The next Prime Minister must choose between a world role alongside America or relegation to the ‘second division’
Britain will cease to be a major player in world affairs and we will lose our influence with the United States unless there is a significant increase in funding for our armed forces. This decision cannot wait until after the next General Election but must be made now.
In a hard-hitting policy paper, “A decision the next Prime Minister must make”, published by the United Kingdom National Defence Association (UKNDA) and endorsed by former Chief of the Defence Staff General Lord Guthrie and former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen, the UKNDA’s Tony Edwards says that Britain has a clear choice: to continue with proactive foreign & defence policies – and fund them – or compromise towards purely reactive policies.
The UKNDA paper, which is also endorsed by Marshal of the RAF Sir Peter Harding, Air Marshal Ian Macfadyen and Admiral Sir John Treacher, argues that Britain’s armed forces are already so severely under-funded and over-stretched that within five years we will have plummeted from the ‘first division’ (in terms of military capability) to the middle of the second division, below France, Russia, China, India, Germany and Japan.
Edwards, an independent industrialist and former Head of Defence Export Services in the Ministry of Defence, with extensive experience in the defence and aerospace industries, asserts that while Government Ministers claim the UK “punches above its weight” in world affairs, the reality is that our armed forces are required to “punch above their budget” – and they cannot do so any longer.
Consistent under-investment in defence since the last Strategic Defence Review in 1998 has left Britain with a cumulative defence deficit of up to £20Bn. In addition to this, there is a capital equipment spending gap of at least £15Bn. “With the possible exception of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” writes Edwards, “the Ministry of Defence has been the lowest funding priority of any Government department since 1997. This is inconsistent with the ambitious foreign and defence policies pursued by the Government in the same period.”
Edwards argues that to close the gap and repair the damage done to our military capability by years of under-investment, there must be an increase in the defence budget of £5Bn in the first year followed by £10Bn in the second and then £15Bn extra every year until the appropriate balance has been restored. If these increases are not forthcoming, the UK must learn to accept a diminishing role in the world and must rely instead on other countries to play what has historically been Britain’s role as “a force for good in the world”.
In his foreword to the paper, UKNDA President Winston S. Churchill, whose grandfather waged a virtually single-handed campaign for British rearmament throughout the 1930s, writes that if we wish to continue to be a significant player on the world stage “the next Prime Minister… will have no choice but to offer decisive leadership to the nation and personally demonstrate the courage to make good the shortfall in defence funding of the past 10 ‘locust years’, during which the armed forces have been stretched to breaking point by a combination of over-commitment and under-resourcing.”
The paper concludes: “At stake is Britain’s future: our ability to defend our country and our world-wide interests, our global influence through the UN and international alliances, and, not least, our special relationship with the United States.”
He paper quotes the “influential” official as telling union official that manufacturing had “no value” but the financial sector had to be
“supported at all costs”.
The alleged comments, made before the collapse of Northern Rock but only now made public, appear to shed new light on the Government’s decision to press ahead