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By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners

14 Jun 11. At last, some small sign of hope that the UK defence debate might now be re-opened. Staring out at the unfolding tragedy that is current UK coalition government defence strategy it has been left to the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope to break cover and to tell the world exactly how it is. Creaking at the seams the Royal Navy has laid itself bare and very much on the line by effectively saying that without additional resource enough is enough. Of course that is true of some of our other armed force organisations too such as the Royal Air Force and that I will be making separate observations in a speech in London later this week. Meanwhile with Royal Navy capability now stretched to almost breaking point we should perhaps not be that surprised that the period of controlled silence should end.

In a somewhat rare briefing to media yesterday Admiral Stanhope provided a pertinent and timely view that British military intervention in Libya was unsustainable beyond another three months – unless serious cuts in capability requirement are made elsewhere. Telling the world what many of us have been voicing for months one may hope that the Coalition government including the Prime Minister, the Treasury and particularly the Cabinet Office will listen to the seriousness of what Admiral Stanhope said. The message is simple – there is no longer sufficient capability to go round. Neither do we have an adequate number of surface ship to do the job or personnel. For many this new message from 1SL is nothing more than a common sense approach from a highly respected military man. Mild mannered and having come through the Royal Navy as a submariner Mark Stanhope is universally respected by all who have had the pleasure of knowing him through these past few very difficult years. In terms of military strategy he is on top of his game and yet he full knows and accepts the need for change.

Remarks with regard to capability and Libya from the head of the Royal Navy should not be taken lightly and one hopes that at the very least this will re-open the debate on the extent of planned cuts in defence capability proposed and already put into effect by the government. If the government has ambitions for Britain to play a significant role in the world – which it certainly should – then it must put adequate resources behind defence. If we believe in ourselves and our future and when a real and lasting forward strategy to achieve what we desire to be is required it is absolutely no use the government cowering behind issues of short term affordability. History tells us that defence should always be placed on a very important pedestal above all of the rest. Britain is in a mess – be in no doubt about that – but the incoherent strategy that this government has adopted toward existing and future capability need has in my book completely failed. If the government is serious as it should be that Britain should play a leading role in the world, if we seek to continue to be a member of the Security Council let alone worthy global government council organisations such as G7 and others, if we really do believe in ourselves, believe in future prosperity, believe in freedom and rights of the individual and nations states and believe in NATO then we must have in our possession not only self determination but also significant deterrent defence capability.

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