The recently announced cuts to the British Armed Forces, including the slashing of the Army to below 100,000 Regular Soldiers for the first time since The Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon, are a terrible example of disastrous spending priorities which compromise a core function of government; the defence of the realm. As Conservatives, we have placed great importance on a strong military deterrent. If we can defend trident, surely we must begin defending the Army?
Since the onset of the financial crisis and the subsequent recession of 2007, the Conservative Party has, rightfully, advocated cuts to public expenditure to reduce the structural deficit. We are constantly reminded by ministers of the need, for every Whitehall Department, including the MoD, to make cutbacks. This point would be perfectly acceptable, if only the policy substance actually measured up!
If it did, then we would not have real terms increases in NHS spending or heavy investment in climate change policy – and we certainly wouldn’t be legislating for a statutory minimum in International Development spending or throwing money at the EU and the IMF. Why then, is the Government abandoning its main function, that of protecting the people of the UK from attack, in favour of less vital spending?
It is clear that a strong, robust and positive case for a more sensible prioritisation of cuts needs to be made. In an age of austerity and public sector cutbacks, the most important functions of government must be defended – even at the expense of more sensitive areas of spending.
We must make it very clear that this is not merely an old school Conservative reaction to defend an institution that that is steeped in tradition; something we greatly appreciate. Instead, the arguments for preservation of our regular army are about the future.
As has been pointed out by defence chiefs, slashing the size of the army during demanding operational commitments is a highly reckless course of action. It will leave an already over stretched, under funded military incapable of carrying out the demands of today’s world. It seems inexcusable to have troops coming back from Afghanistan and being denied leave because there aren’t enough available to guard the Olympics.
Besides, it isn’t just operational expenditure that the military struggles to deal with. Post-service care for veterans is lacking at best, with many suffering from the mental and physical effects of war, with an often-insulting amount of Government help. With even less funding available, the sight of ex-servicemen living homeless on the street will inevitably become more common.
Apparently we need not worry. Politicians have devised a way to replace our internationally respected professional army with a merry band of weekend warriors – the TA. They are to be respected as an incredibly capable reserve force; that is what they are – but that is what they should remain.
The notion that this group of quasi-professional part-timers can effectively fill in for regular troops across the world, whilst still holding down the day job, is, quite frankly, preposterous. It is hardly surprising that the plan is already on the road to failure - with most TA units found to be unable to even recruit enough to cover the loss of regular troops.
Finally, there has been a lamentable lack of explanation on how these cuts will be integrated with a medium to long-term defence strategy. The quid pro quo of more reserves in exchange for fewer regulars is far too simplistic a solution for our complex defence needs. The Army 2020 review explained the structure, but failed to go into detail about the means to those ends, particularly regarding issues such as funding and training.
There are other options for cuts that could reduce the impact of defence reductions. The excesses of the welfare state, the promised ‘bonfire’ of the Quangos, departmental bureaucracy and the statutory obligation for international aid are all areas the government could cut back on, but has not. Because of this inexcusable and poorly explained prioritisation, one of the states’ primary functions; the defence of the nation, is being severely compromised.
If cuts in the MoD budget must go ahead, politicians need to sit down with defence chiefs to answer the questions surrounding the future of the army and incorporate cuts around the answers. Otherwise, the British army is in danger of impotence in the face of the threats of the 21st century, all due to the whimsical wishes of Whitehall mandarins.