Excellent article from former Defence Secretary Lord Heseltine in this morning’s Daily Mail.  Here are some key extracts of a piece in which he lays a large part of the blame on Gordon Brown for underfunding Britain’s overstrectched armed services:

This has been a terrible low point for the global reputation of Britain’s armed services: "Throughout my career, I have had huge admiration for the armed services, heightened by my spell at the Ministry of Defence. Without them, our liberty would be at risk.  Through their resolution, with our Nato allies we emerged victorious from the Cold War, achieving the end of Soviet tyranny.  During the past three decades, they have helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, rid the Falkland Islanders of foreign occupation, ended ethnic conflict in the Balkans, upheld democracy in Sierra Leone and conducted a host of humanitarian missions throughout the Third World.  In the past we have always been – quite rightly – proud of our armed forces.  But the Iranian farce marks a low point. Everyone, from the Government down, is tainted by its outcome, which has been a propaganda disaster for us across the world."

At the heart of the farce has been Gordon Brown’s underfunding of the military: "Frontline units have been starved of resources and personnel, condemning them to severe overstretching, often inadequate equipment and even poor housing when returning to home duties.  And Gordon Brown has shown nothing like the same enthusiasm for funding the military as he has for pouring money into State bureaucracy and his vast welfare schemes.  That indifference towards effective provision seems to have played its part in the Iranian affair, since the Royal Navy’s exercise appears to have been conducted without proper equipment or support, making it easy for Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards to seize the unit without a fight.  Good communications, armament and helicopter back-up all seem to have been lacking, even though the Iranians had made it obvious that they were looking for a chance to interfere."

The need for a fully inquiry: "Given the extent of this mess, we must have a public inquiry into what has happened. Such an inquiry would have to examine three fundamental issues.  First, it should look into the exact circumstances of the detention of the Royal Navy party, studying in particular the alleged lack of support from the nearby task force headed by HMS Cornwall.  We need to know why the raiding party was so pitifully armed and seemed to have no cover from any helicopter. We also need to find out what actually occurred in Iran, beyond the empty propaganda of the Tehran regime and the stories of the detainees.  Second, we have to find out who actually took the decision to allow the personnel to sell their stories. At what level was it made in the MoD? Was the Defence Secretary consulted, or indeed the Prime Minister? What was the reasoning behind this radical departure from official policy? …Third, any inquiry must address the damage done to the armed forces’ prestige and morale. By all accounts, anger is now running high in the rest of the military, and the families of those lost in recent conflicts are bound to feel betrayed."

Editor’s note: "Lord Heseltine is surely right about the underfunding of Britain’s armed forces.  Although Liam Fox is looking for ways of better using the existing budget it is vital that George Osborne finds room for a steady year-on-year increase in funding for the nation’s defence.  It must be any Conservative Government’s first priority and certainly must come before any more squandering of resources on unreformed public services."

Related link on 25 years after the Falkland War – The ten weaknesses of Britain

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