• 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
    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.

    the rest of the article

    10, 2010

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