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Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
This book does exactly what it says on the cover; it examines the state of the UK’s Armed Forces. The authors, one a Lord, former Conservative Party chairman and Privy Councillor the other a former political editor of The Sunday Times and The Daily Mail, clearly have formidable access to influential members of both government and the defence industry and they have used it. The net result is a close to indisputable analysis of our Armed Forces. The picture is bleak, at best.

As the book demonstrates is a monumental (and growing) shortage of service people, a shortage of equipment and a lack of coherent thought behind the organisations whose prime purpose is to deliver the first duty of government, the defence of the realm. Oh yes, and the funds are insufficient, the equipment programmes repeatedly in hock and developing further black holes. The UK may or may not be a Tier One military power (whatever that may be) but even if it is, it won’t be for much longer. The evidence is so compelling that quoting the last words of the book’s conclusion won’t spoil your read:

“In recent decades, governments have had the luxury of deciding how much defence they can afford, and how much they wish to use that capability. Tomorrow the initiative may not be in our hands. Then our armed forces will have to deal with problems in the way they are presented – not in the way that is convenient.

The job of the armed forces is to be ready to fight war at its most feral: not the war they last fought, or the war they would like to fight, but the war they may have no choice but to fight.

It is time for political leaders to ensure they are ready to meet that grave challenge.”

So far, so good then. There is one chapter (titled “Imagine, A Note on A New Brigade) which describes a potential deployment by a strike brigade form the UK to Romania by road in a couple of days. The brigade is comprised of Ajax and Boxer, which use Eurotunnel and the European road network to deploy – filling up at service stations and Pizza Express. Travelling in company group packets they manage to get there in three days, undetected by the Russians (who are contemplating annexing Moldova) due to asocial media based deception plan. The last day of their journey is across Romania through forests which apparently renders them “almost undetectable.” So they’re detectable then (radar, thermal etc.). The chapter is almost our of a sales pitch – at first I hoped that is was tongue in cheek, but I have an awful feeling that it isn’t.

That aside, the book makes a compelling, lucid and clear case for the contention that our armed forces are paddle-less up a malodorous creek. It does an excellent job of explaining how it got there in political terms – and rightly lambastes the idiots in the MOD who allowed the treasury to dump the costs of Trident replacement onto the MOD budget. The discussion of the rationale for Trident itself is sober and balanced.

In as far as it goes, White flag? Does exactly what is says on the tin; its conclusion will be no surprise to ARRSE members. What is a shame is that it does not look in any detail and how we got here (although en passsant it does disprove the contention that “there are no votes in defence”). Nor does it propose and solutions. Maybe that is the next book, in which case I look forward to reading it.

This is a book that will tell you what you thought was true. It will also inform (and probably persuade) those who don’t think that the Armed Forces are in crisis. Buy copies for you militarily ignorant friends, read one yourself. Think about how to fix it.

4 mushrooms


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