Some thoughts on how to improve Britains defenses

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by htjyang, Mar 5, 2008.

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  1. I'm an American civilian with an interest in British politics and defense. I hope I won't intrude too much in the proceedings here to offer some of my thoughts regarding the unfortunate decline of Britain's defense so well documented day after day around here.

    Many people here say that the reason why Britain has been cutting its defense spending (not in terms of actual spending but in terms of a percent of GDP) is because "there are no votes in defense". In my view, it's worse than that. There is a vicious cycle at work here:

    i. The typical MP might think: There are few people in my constituency who care about defense. He then concludes that he can cut defense to fund NHS, education, more community outreach advisers,...etc. with little to no repercussions.
    ii. As a result, troop numbers are slashed, defense procurement is cut.
    iii. That in turn further decreases the number of people interested in defense because fewer people join Britain's armed forces. People who work in the defense industry get laid off. As a result of fewer current servicemen, there will be fewer veterans in the future. Current veterans will die off.
    iv. As a result of (iii), with every passing year, fewer people will care about defense, making it even easier to initiate a new round of cuts. The cycle repeats itself. In time, Britain will join Iceland as one of the countries in the world with no armed forces of its own.

    How to reverse this vicious cycle? Fortunately, there is a way to turn this vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle. It works like this:

    i. A party leader who recognizes the importance of defense insists upon increasing defense spending.
    ii. As a result, there is an increase in troop numbers and defense procurement projects.
    iii. That increases the number of people interested in defense because there are more current servicemen, more people who work in the defense industry, and more veterans in the future.
    iv. As a result of (iii), with every passing year, more people will care about defense, making it even easier to initiate a new round of defense increases.

    Allow me to use the US as an example. President Eisenhower was the one who warned about a "military-industrial complex" but it is my contention that this complex is what prevented Bill Clinton from gutting defense. (The Clinton Administration eliminated half of the navy's ships, half of the air force, and 8 of 18 divisions from the army.) I firmly believe that if it wasn't for the fact that the US had a large defense establishment of veterans and defense industry employees, US defenses would have been gutted 15 years ago.

    The relatively large defense establishment in the US (Estimates vary as to exactly how large it is. The active service numbers about 1.3 million. That does not include National Guard and Reserves, which may double the active service. Nor does it include these people's families, defense industry workers and their families, veterans,...etc. One estimate is that this defense establishment includes about 7.5 million people. The voting strength of the armed forces is disproportionately high because they vote at a higher rate than the general population. In addition, because of the location of military bases and defense industries, the defense vote is somewhat concentrated in certain states and districts, guaranteeing that the senators and congressmen representing them will be that much more attentive to their concerns.) enables the US to maintain fairly impressive forces even in the 1990s when everybody was demanding a "peace dividend".

    The armed forces in the US is usually associated with the Republican Party. (Studies suggest about 2/3 of active servicemen regularly vote Republican.) That guarantees at least one major party will always be in favor of increasing defense spending. But the size of the defense establishment in the US is such that there are several Democratic Congressmen who come from districts with sizeable defense industries or military bases who will oppose drastic cuts in defense when their own party controls the White House. (Opinion polls in the 1990s actually showed that the general population was in favor of even deeper cuts.)

    The virtuous cycle suggests that you don't even need a politician who cares about defense of the realm. The virtuous cycle promises support from an enlarged defense establishment to any party that increases defense spending. Therefore, all you need is a politician who cares about his career and is sufficiently far-sighted to realize that there are votes in defense, as long as he's willing to spend money on it.

    I don't know much about the voting patterns of British servicemen. In the US, servicemen vote above the national average. That gives them added clout. In fact, Senator John McCain's presidential campaign was widely thought to be dead 2 months ago. Now he is the nominee of his party. Many people have noted that McCain's service in Vietnam endeared him to veterans who voted for him in Republican primaries overwhelmingly and that played a major role in the resurrection of his political career.

    In other words, one can trace a straight line from the defense vote to the presidential nominee of one of the 2 major parties. (Though Democrats get far fewer defense votes, they apparently thought it wise to nominate another Vietnam War veteran in 2004.)

    If British politicians can be convinced that increasing spending for defense can also help boost their party's support, then the vicious cycle will be overturned.

    P.S. Alternatively, I can get together with some other Americans around here and send a petition to the State Department and ask them to intercede with your government on your behalf. :) Though considering how unsuccessful the US has been over the past 2 decades trying to get Canada to increase their defense spending, don't get your hopes up.
  2. I believe that there was a thread not so long ago actually citing how many MP's in the cabinet there are now (in Broon's cabinet) with any military experience/knowledge compared to Maggie Thatchers Cabinet of 20 years ago.. the difference is vast.. I'll have to try and dig it out..

    MP's dont like soldiers and vice versa... its a fact, espcially over in the UK.
  3. htjyang,

    Thanks for this - all fair points. Sadly, as Exscaleybleep pointed out, British MPs don't feel any need to support the troops, except on a very occasional basis. Add this to the fact that there is very little military activism in the UK (I know that in the US the vets lobby pretty hard on a variety of topics, which in turn reminds your politicians that the vets views are important). Now, maybe there will be some changes within the military as we really start to get piss*d off about rubbish kit and poor aftercare for wounded soldiers. At that point, if enough within the military mobilised their opinions, then MPs might take notice - but I won't hold my breath.
  4. Even the traditional 'military' party, the Conservatives have done little to back up their rhetoric over the years and they too have a history of starving the Forces of funding and cutting units.

    Go back to the Falklands and you will see comparisons with to-day especially in the areas of individual kit and weapons.

    Currently we have the Leader of HM Opposition, David Cameron setting of a 'Commission' to examine the state of the Military Covenant. It is of course all wind and gas but makes him look as if he cares about defence and he has even put a high profile celebrity author at its head.

    Given that neither Party (forget the others) has indicated that they will either reduce commitments or increase Defence spending very little is likely to change.

    Probably the best way forward would be to detach from the EU and the European aspects of NATO and absorb the whole of the British Forces as a grand Foreign Legion within the US Defence establishment. That way there would be fixed costs for UK defence and the troops may get some decent kit.
  5. I think you'll find that 20 years ago there was a far higher proportion of ex-servicemen across all aspects of society. Even the Labour benches 20 years ago had a higher proportion. It's not too surprising that Tory benches tend to be warmed by rather more military buttocks, but what is surprising is that they don't push harder to get a fair deal for their former comrades.
  6. But your talking about actions to support offensive operations not defense. Our EU allies do more for the defense of this country than we do, we've layers and layers of barriers that need to be broken to get to us. Our foes are their foes.
  7. Interesting to see two such similar posts on cosecutive days. Especially bearing in mind his 14 posts and your 4...

    Perhaps this is your first stop!

  8. Hmm, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Austria and Malta in front and Eire behind. I feel so warm and secure. :wink:
  9. Alright, name the closest country that is a potential threat to us?

  10. Whoooooooosh.
    May I draw the honourable gentlemans attention to the winky thingy at the end of my post?
  11. Bradford!

    In conventional terms Russia but neither Iraq or Afghanistan present or did present the slightest threat to the UK in conventional terms. Our country is threatened from within and those supporting this are based in many places where we need to project military force on land masses that present no local threat to us.

    As a postscript our European cousins have a tradition of crumbling at the first threat and can normally only be called upon to halt anything from the East once we supply a BEF. The exception to this was Germany who hauled our backsides out at Waterloo and did a good job at slowing down, but not halting the soviets in WW2. Traditionally it requires the intervention of the USA to win any major European war.
  12. Oops, sorry.
  13. France. Those shifty,smelly, garlic chomping, cheese eating, surrender monkeys are always looking to do us over.
  14. If were talking about defence, we are talking about defence of the home nation and not some tin pot nation on the other side of the planet.


    1. Ban all imigrants from outside europe, or those from within europe that can't prove at least 6 years of living within europe.
    2. National border patrol run by ex military and not some bunch of minimum wage illegal imigrants.
    3. Actually deport those that fail the asylum process and not just bung them in a taxi to Slough.
    4. Either enter europe fully, or pull out altogether.
    5. Educate children on christianity and not everything but.

    But obviously that would create an orwellian nation that would be a horrible place to live.

    So you could start by just making British people feel British again.
  15. De nada :)