My Once-in-a-Generation Cut? The Armed Forces. All of Them

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I say cut
defence. I don’t mean nibble at it or slice it. I mean cut it, all
£45bn of it
. George Osborne yesterday asked the nation
"for
once in a generation
" to think the unthinkable, to offer
not just percentage cuts but "whether government needs to provide
certain public services at all".

What do we
really get from the army, the navy and the air force beyond soldiers
dying in distant wars and a tingle when the band marches by? Is
the tingle worth £45bn, more than the
total spent on schools
? Why does Osborne "ringfence"
defence when everyone knows its budget is a bankruptcy waiting to
happen, when Labour ministers bought the wrong kit for wars that
they insisted it fight?

Osborne cannot
believe the armed forces are so vital or so efficient as to be excused
the star chamber’s "fundamental re-evaluation of their role".
He knows their management and procurement have long been an insult
to the taxpayer. The reason for his timidity must be that, like
David Cameron, he is a young man scared of old generals.

I was content
to be expensively defended against the threat of global communism.
With the end of the cold war in the 1990s that threat vanished.
In its place was a fantasy proposition, that some unspecified but
potent "enemy" lurked in the seas and skies around Britain.
Where is it?

Each incoming
government since 1990 has held so-called defence reviews "to
match capabilities to policy objectives". I helped with one
in 1997, and it was rubbish from start to finish, a cosmetic attempt
to justify the colossal procurements then in train, and in such
a way that any cut would present Labour as "soft" on defence.

Tony Blair,
Gordon Brown and George Robertson, the then defence secretary were
terrified into submission. They agreed to a parody of generals fighting
the last war but one. They bought new destroyers to defeat the U-boat
menace. They bought new carriers to save the British empire. They
bought Eurofighters to duel with Russian air aces. Trident submarines
with nuclear warheads went on cruising the deep, deterring no one,
just so Blair could walk tall at conferences.

Each weekend,
the tranquillity of the Welsh countryside is shattered by inane
jets screaming through the mountain valleys playing at Lord of
the Rings. With modern bombs, no plane need fly that low, and
the jets are said to burn more fuel in half an hour than a school
in a year. Any other service wasting so much money would be laughed
out of court. Yet the Treasury grovels before the exotic virility
of it all.

Labour lacked
the guts to admit that it was crazy to plan for another Falklands
war. It dared not admit that the procurement executive was fit for
nothing but appeasing weapons manufacturers. No armies were massing
on the continent poised to attack. No navies were plotting to throttle
our islands and starve us into submission. No missiles were fizzing
in bunkers across Asia with Birmingham or Leeds in their sights.
As for the colonies, if it costs £45bn to protect the Falklands,
Gibraltar and the Caymans, it must be the most ridiculous empire
in history. It would be cheaper to give each colony independence
and a billion a year.

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the rest of the article

June
10, 2010

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