UK DEFENCE – ROYAL NAVY, FORCE PROTECTION AT ITS VERY BEST
By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
28 Jul 10. As the SDSR moves into a final phase and just three months before the government deliberates policy that will reshape the UK’s armed forces we must ensure that we understand the full implications of the defence cuts that will inevitably follow. There are many differentiators that separate the current Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) from the previous Strategic Defence Review (SDR) held back in 1997/8. One is that SDR was unlike SDSR not conducted wholly in private with the majority of evidence and formal debate engaging only those in the military, in parliament and maybe a handful of fortunate defence academics. Unsurprisingly I regret the lack of wider involvement in the current SDSR debate. Nevertheless the lack of independent specialists invited to give views has done nothing to halt the wider public debate of the future needs for UK defence taking place in the press and media. Indeed, unlike the official SDSR debate the public debate prefers to include issues such as replacement of Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine right through to open discussion whether Britain still needs three separate Army, Royal Navy and RAF command structures. For the record I too remain firmly wedded to the ongoing commitment that both the last and current governments have shown for Trident replacement albeit accepting that we may not necessarily require a true like for like replacement in terms of submarine numbers. I also remain firmly committed to retention of the three individual command structures.
In terms of national UK defence the word deterrence can mean different things to different men. One that can hardly be argued is the ability to show and demonstrate power and it is this new equality that to a great extent has kept the mature world at peace with itself for so long. One trouble with a public debate on the armed forces is that it will always tend to provide a springboard of lobby support to one force operation while being antagonistic to the another often on the grounds of cost and affordability losing sight of why in the post cold war world we still need any form of deterrence let alone defence at all. Too easily we take the need for defend our shores or play a part in NATO for granted ignoring that at no time over the past sixty years have we ever managed to successfully forecast a conflict that we would soon be embroiled in! Too often also the public and media debate accelerates myths built up over time whilst ignoring modern day fact. Nowhere is this more true than in the current debate on the future of the Royal Navy – although I might also add that sadly the same is too often true of the Royal Air Force as well.
In an ideal world it might not be necessary to lobby support for one or other of Britain’s three main armed force organisations but such is the public and media pressure exerted against one or other of our three armed forces that those of us that recognise the crucially important supporting role played by both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force find an urgent need to mobilise forces to provide necessary support. I will come back to the all important Royal Air Force role next week but today my intention is to concentrate on the Royal Navy. In doing so I will seek to not only to explain and provide views as to why the Royal Navy’s role is of crucial importance to the nations defence in my view and also to that of our dependent territories and to play out the crucially important role we have within NATO but also to ridicule some myths exposed by those that all too willingly fail to understand what the Royal Navy actually does.
In looking at the specific importance of the Royal Navy today we need to constantly remind ourselves of two issues that are ironically the same today as they had been back when the Royal Navy was founded by statute (The Navy Discipline Act) in 1661