WAR WEARY HAMMOND HINTS AT MORE STRUCTURAL CUTS
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
10 Oct 13. My apologies for writing a third defence commentary piece in less than a week but this one has been necessitated by events. It concerns evidence given yesterday by Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond to a House of Commons Defence Select Committee hearing in which he suggested that Britain is ‘war-weary’ and that only in extreme circumstances could the public be persuaded to back a British troops being deployed abroad.
During his evidence Mr. Hammond said that “public appetite for expeditionary warfare is pretty low and that based on the experience of ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan it would be realistic to say that I would not expect, except in the most extreme circumstances, a manifestation of great appetite for plunging [our military] into a prolonged period of expeditionary warfare any time soon”. Mr. Hammond went on to say that “it would take several years before politicians and military leaders could start to rebuild public support for military operations abroad although he accepted that unexpected events can and do act to very quickly transform public opinion.
So, from this we may believe that the political view from the 5th floor of MOD ‘Main Building’ is that there will be no [further] significant military operations [involving British forces] any time soon and that Mr. Hammond believes once Britain’s mission in Afghanistan ends next year that our armed forces are unlikely to be involved in foreign deployments for many years to come.
The sceptic could be easily tempted to argue that with early work now being done to formulate proposals that will eventually constitute SDSR 2015 and that will appear before publication of the UK Security Strategy suggests that Mr. Hammond is being rather fleet of foot by choosing to use the ‘get out of jail free card’ that might just allow him to support further cuts in our armed forces and get away with it. Not so and more likely on this occasion combined with remarks I have listed toward the end of this document he is in fact being rather more open and honest suggesting if whoever is in charge of the next government fails to fund the defence based on at least existing amount big structural cuts lie ahead.
As with many people what you see in Mr. Hammond isn’t always what you get and his additional remarks yesterday suggesting that the rise in powers such as China means that Britain’s economic future depends on a willingness to defend western values of democracy and the rule of law meant that we are a nation far more dependent than others on an open global trading system, the survival of which is not a given is a side of the Secretary of State that is all too rarely heard or seen.
It would be churlish of me to argue against the notion that voters are, following a long period of involvement in the wars of others anything other than ‘war weary’. Nobody wants war and it would be ridiculous to believe otherwise. History shows that while there have been long periods when the world has seemingly been at peace with itself a war is almost always being fought out somewhere. Europe has thankfully been at peace with itself for the best part of seventy years and NATO has provided us not only with knowledge that those within its membership will act together against the threat of aggression but it has since the end of the second world war provided the very foundation of peace and reconciliation.
I can also observe with experience that Britain went into campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan because the Government that we had elected at the time believed it was right and proper that we should. No matter what has transpired since in terms of perceived knowledge or evidence of whether our involvement in Iraq was right or wrong we did so because we genuinely believed it was right to do so at the time. In the process of so doing we stood alongside our alli