Johnny Mercer is the prospective Conservative candidate for Plymouth Moorview.
The debate surrounding the reconfiguration of the UK’s Armed Forces intensified again last weekend with Lord Dannatt putting the case for an extra brigade to be stationed in Germany as a statement of intent from the UK Government for investment in, and commitment to, peace and security. Dannatt’s key point however was that strategic shocks still happen – despite the treaty’s and safeguards forged in blood and war that have established a seemingly stable Europe. Dannatt suggested that a regular Army force of 82,000 and a target of 30,000 reserves might not be sufficient for our needs.
The sad truth is that no numbers targets will currently satisfy our needs for projecting and protecting our interests both at home and abroad; the problems are political. Take Syria; the Prime Minister took a strategic decision that we could not stand by as chemical weapons were used against a civilian population by their own head of state. All observers, from Obama down, agreed that Assad had crossed a “red-line” and something must be done. But we have become so war-weary, so utterly dejected by our foreign policy ‘failures’ of the last decade, that intervening was never going to get past Parliament. The turkey’s will indeed, never vote for Christmas. Because voting for action would mean a risk, a step outside of our comfortable existence to challenge the unparalleled evil currently pervading every sinew of that country. Constituents not in full possession of the facts would never sanction an intervention in another middle-eastern country. So what do we now have – a system that allows children and women to be executed and tortured, not 2,200 miles from our sitting rooms, whilst we have the capability and morality, but crucially not the intent, to intervene.
In November last year, a member of the French Government gave an interesting speech in Westminster to a collection of UK Defence Specialists to celebrate the signing of a recent treaty designed to facilitate closer cooperation between our two countries. I asked him what he and his peers genuinely thought of the changes occurring in the UK Military. He gave a very interesting response. He asked me to consider Mali – a conflict where the French intervened, unilaterally, to protect their interests, and asked if Britain could react in the same way, in the same time frame, with the same capabilities. The answer was clearly no; I could feel the shift in European Politics beneath my feet.
Some aspects of Defence are absolute; change will always happen, strategic shocks can and will occur, and our enemies (and indeed our allies) will never behave as we expect them to. We need a Force that can act unilaterally, projected at speed to protect. But you can have the most agile, best-equipped, fittest and meanest Brigade on the Planet – what is the point if you do not have the Political skill to use them?
Dannatt is a good man. This soldier served under his command, and the Army advanced ten years in his three in tenure. He is guided by a moral compass – not given to the political waters of the day. He almost single-handedly ensured we got paid more, were better equipped and advanced us faster than anyone else in that role before or since. There is an argument in reducing numbers in the Armed Forces to save money; better technology requires less people at a more remote location to operate it. However until we can have a political class that can inspire a modern isolationist society, busy gorging itself on celebrity, to stand up for the values that made the nation great, Putin, Assad, and their like will continue to push the envelope. Was it not always thus?