Cracking article in "The Business" - don't know who wrote the article, or the publication but a bloody good read! Perhaps the author should get honorary membership of BAFF?
Immorality of forcing the military
Britain had 72 helicopters in Northern Ireland at the height of the IRA; but only 28 in Iraq last year. Over the past decade the government has failed the one public service that never fails the country
In Iraq and Afghanistan, British troops are confronted daily with the shameful fact that they are now, more than ever, the best-trained but worst equipped advanced military in the world. Servicemen's lives are regularly and unnecessarily put in harm's way as a result of the use of obsolete or defective equipment and weaponry, in an unforgivable dereliction of duty on the part of the political classes towards those who put their lives on the line.
Given the current state of the world, the belief that there remains a peace dividend to be spent is utterly misguided. One vivid illustration of this short-sighted and destructive policy - one of the great but still largely untold disasters of the Blair years - were the devastating pictures published last week of two British soldiers clinging to the sides of an Apache helicopter on a rescue mission. An RAF Chinook was two minutes away, but it is a flying bus and an easy bulls-eye for the Taliban; the soldiers were safer hanging on the side of the Apache than inside the Chinook. Had the Canadian, American or Dutch forces been on a similar mission in enemy territory to rescue a fallen comrade, their troops would not be dangling from the outside of a helicopter but travelling in one: probably a Huey, a Eurocopter or one of the many troop-carrying helicopters which their governments have furnished them with.
The extent of the demise of the British military is truly shocking. Britain's defence spending has been steadily falling from a Cold War peak of 5.3% in 1983-84 to a paltry 2.3% today; while this might be enough for a country with no geopolitical ambitions or one content with sheltering under America's nuclear umbrella, it is far too little for a country that still hopes to punch above its weight in international affairs. By Nato's own figures, British spending on defence as a share of national income is now smaller that that of Turkey (3.2%), Greece (3.1%), Bulgaria (2.5%), and even France (2.4%). An analysis by the US Department of Defence showed that every single US ally in the Gulf devotes a greater percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) to its military than Britain.
Perhaps most damningly of all, military spending in Britain has now collapsed to its lowest level as a proportion of GDP since 1930. Because of the way it exposes him as the wrecker of the British military, Chancellor Gordon Brown bridles at the use of this GDP measure, even though he will relentlessly use it to assess spending in health and education.
But the Chancellor is right to say it does not give the full story, albeit for the wrong reasons. Canada's military spending is a paltry 1.1% of GDP - yet its troops are better-equipped than Britain's. In Afghanistan, the Canadians use G-Wagon armoured cars and the heavily-armoured LAV-3 whose 10 inches of armour can withstand rocket propelled grenades. By contrast, the British must rely on the deeply inadequate WIMIK jeep and the "Snatch" Land Rover designed for service in Northern Ireland, exposing servicemen to great peril.
The British government spends $809 per capita on defence compared to $1,604 in the United States, $1,403 in Israel and $1,025 in Saudi Arabia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Britain spends only $16.8bn on military personnel compared to France's $26.8bn. Even Germany, with its strict constitutional limits on deployments overseas, spends substantially more than Britain on its soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Even more disturbing, spending on military personnel declined in 2005 after only staying steady in 2004. Spending on equipment declined every year between 2000 and 2004, which helps to explain why 2,200 troops were sent to war in Iraq without sufficient body armour. The state of the current shortfall is brought home by the fact that Britain had 72 helicopters in Northern Ireland at the height of the IRA's terror campaign; but only 28 helicopters in Iraq last year. Amazingly, more than a third of British helicopters are not operational and it now takes eight years to bring a new version of a helicopter into service, a rate of change which wouldn't have been much use during either of the last century's World Wars.
The government likes to boast that it has presided over the "largest increase since the end of the Cold War" in defence spending. This is not much of a claim. Defence spending in real terms fell by 0.3% a year between 1979 and 1997, led by cuts in the later years as the then Tory government made the most of the peace dividend following the collapse of the Soviet Union. During Blair's first term defence spending grew by 1.7% a year in real terms; but during his second term - which included 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq - it increased by a mere 0.4% a year in real terms. Spending will have risen by a paltry 1.4% a year in real terms between 2004 and 2007.
Labour's shameful neglect of those who are prepared to sacrifice all for Queen and country is made clear by the fact that under Labour spending on the NHS has risen by 6.1% a year, transport by 5.1%, public order and safety by 4.9%, education by 4.7%, and social security by 2.3%. For all its meaningless rhetoric, and reckless use of the British armed forces around the world, defence is not one of this government's priorities.
There is little hope of reinforcements arriving when Mr Brown finally enters Number 10: the Chancellor loathes the military as an institution and considers it to be culturally Tory. His henchman, Des Browne, has been a predictable disaster as Secretary of State for Defence, blithely insisting to aides that the military is stretched, not over stretched. Mr Brown once famously told the Prime Minister that he could have more money for education "if you didn't spend so much on defence". One trembles at what the Chancellor will do if he thinks that Blair has been feather-bedding the forces. The other great danger is that Prime Minister Brown will consider replacing Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent to be a proxy for equipping troops in the field of battle, or housing them.
Britain's generals, men not prone to whingeing, are deeply worried. As General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the Army, said last September: "We are running hot, certainly running hot. Can we cope? I pause. I say 'just'." A report by the National Audit Office offers further evidence of this. It found that the guidelines for how much rest servicemen should get between deployments have been routinely broken during the last five years. It also discovered that in a multitude of key areas the forces were perilously short-staffed.
The armed forces will have even more to do in the coming months. This terrible overstretch is only going to get worse. The surge of US forces into Iraq is likely to lessen the strength of the Shi'ite militias in Baghdad. They will choose to demonstrate their continuing force in Basra: a city that is overwhelmingly Shi'ite, close to their Iranian patrons - and garrisoned by the British.
If the Americans continue with their new tough approach to Iranian influence in Iraq, the British deployment in the south is going to bear the brunt of any response. Britain also has to fill in for other Nato countries that routinely shirk their responsibilities; Great Britain is set to answer the call for more troops in Afghanistan, a demand which will get even more urgent if President Bush transfers troops from Afghanistan to Iraq.
These are just the current crises. It is perfectly conceivable that the military could be called on to dispatch forces to a humanitarian disaster somewhere or that another global trouble spot could flare up. It is quite clear that over time significantly more resources will have to be devoted to the military if it is to continue its global role.
The government's disgraceful treatment of service personnel is not just confined to war zones where too few troops are fighting with too little kit. About 22,000 British servicemen are based in Germany; shockingly, this relic of the Cold War is in large part due to the lack of accommodation for them at home. An audit by the Armed Forces Pay Review found that 40% of married quarters and 99% of accommodation in Germany is officially substandard. The official minutes of a Ministry of Defence forum in June last year, which this magazine has obtained, reveal the outrageous conditions that these families are forced to live in, including broken windows, no central heating and defective gas fires.
Pay is also abysmal: a private serving in Afghanistan is paid Â£13,800 gross on the current salary schemes, less than a traffic warden. In a speech this month, Mr Blair reiterated that Britain must be able and prepared to fight wars if it wishes to maintain global influence, shaping world events rather than just clearing up after them. Despite the debacle that has been Iraq, his analysis remains correct. Yet this also means the government must be prepared to spend the necessary money.
Over the past decade, the government has failed the one public service that never fails the country. The remedy is not for Britain to imitate its European neighbours and develop a post-modern army that is neither equipped nor trained to fight; that way lies irrelevance. Rather, a greater share of the public spending pie should go to defence, while existing spending should be reallocated by abandoning costly, inefficient and politically-motivated procurement decisions designed to appease Europe, not equip British troops. When it comes to Britain's armed forces, it is a case of giving them the tools and they will finish the job.