Thursday, August 28, 2008

If the Russians do come, it's good to know we have the best Pilots.

We had some friends round for drinks last night and along with several thousands of others we watched the awesome display by the Red Arrows. As they swooped and dived with our beautiful bay as a backdrop I couldn't help but feel proud.

Unfortunately the over-use of our military in a number of international conflicts in recent years has blunted in the public mind that our armed services primary role is to defend this country from attack.

Up until the collapse of the Soviet Union all of Europe, including Britain, was facing the clear and present danger of invasion by the Soviet Union, a fact quickly forgotten during the 1990's. For forty years after the end of WW11 the Russians had tanks and guns ready to flood across their (very nearby) borders to invade neighbouring states and at fairly regular intervals they did it, in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary and in Afghanistan.

Our airspace was regularly intruded upon illegally by Soviet spyplanes and our air defences were routinely tested by Soviet fighter jets and bombers who wandered into restricted airspace to see how quickly the RAF would respond; and of course we knew the co-ordinates of our major towns and cities remained programmed into hundreds of Soviet Nuclear missiles.

The public were only too keen to ensure our military had the best equipment and the highest standards of training and personnel and they were happy to pay for the security and peace of mind - throughout the cold war the percentage of our national wealth spent on defence remained above 4% and was often at 5 or 6%.

How different are things today. Figures from Nato show that Britain lags behind the United States and France as well as smaller countries such as Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey in the share of national wealth it spends on defence.

Government figures show that 2.5 per cent of the UK's GDP — or around £32 billion — was likely to be spent on defence in 2005/6 compared with 4.4 per cent in 1987/88.

The MoD has been forced to borrow from private companies through the Private Finance Initiative to ensure that the Armed Forces are prepared for the 21st century.
Figures obtained by the Conservatives show that troop numbers fell to an all-time low in 2007, our entire available army could sit and watch a match together in Wembley Stadium. The Royal Air Force has seen offensive squadrons fall from 16 to 11, and the Navy has lost eight destroyers and six frigates. Soldiers' leave and training has also been squeezed.

The peace dividend has been a mirage, Russia is once again flexing her muscles and the diplomatic temperature has cooled to it's lowest since the 1980's.

Russian aggression is nothing new, but perhaps the war in Georgia has acted as a timely reminder of just why we need to maintain an armed service corp that is fit for purpose, not against terrorists on the underground or for 'peacekeeping' in some far away desert but for defending our island against attack by another country, however unlikely that may seem.

The lesson of history is that conflict is more likely to come to those who are unprepared for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had no idea the army had got that small.

And meanwhile how much time and manpower are we frittering away in an unwinnable 'war' in Afghanistan?