Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

October 27, 2010

“Defense” spending in a post-imperial United Kingdom

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 4:39 pm

I find it hard to better Daniel Larison in relation to his analysis of British defense spending cuts:

Hawks often make the claim that any and all military spending is essential for defending freedom or guarding liberty, and that significantly reducing any military spending must mean a reduced ability to protect “liberty.” This takes the basic claim that a military deterrent can protect a reasonably free society from external threats and exaggerates it beyond all recognition. Reducing Britain’s ability to launch overseas expeditions has no real relationship with political liberty, except possibly to increase it in Britain by making British participation in unnecessary foreign wars less likely.

Britain’s ability to defend itself is not being endangered. The coalition government is proving that it is interested in a strong defense. What it is not willing or able to pay for any longer is the ability to intervene on the other side of the planet in wars that don’t actually have anything to do with British security. In [the Hawks’] world, where 9/11 was the result of “insufficient assertiveness,” the unwillingness of U.S. allies to waste their resources on neo-imperial missions abroad is scandalous. Obviously, the coalition government is going to continue honoring the commitments of previous governments to the war in Afghanistan, but it has given notice that there probably won’t be significant British involvement in other wars in the near future.

Exactly. From where do we suppose an existential threat shall come? Are the armies of China and Russia planning to make their way over the Asian steppes and through mainland Europe to crush us at a blow? Does Tehran have some design on our soil and our treasure? Is anyone reasonably suggesting that in a conventional war on British soil, any force with which we have been engaged since the second world war would have made anything other than an utterly laughable attempt at invasion?

No. The truth is that our military power is almost redundant in the face of modern threats, such as they are. I’d have more time for the arguments of the hawks, if they were just honest and said that they wished to maintain this country’s ability to wage war wherever the government of the day might decree. My basic position these days is that any war worth fighting would have enough enlistments for a volunteer force that would win it, or die valiantly trying. There is no such aggressor, and in order for one to rise, the geopolitical shift from where we are today would have to be so cataclysmic, that we would have ample time to prepare.

And spare me the line that our armed forces have anything to do with the “war on terror”. On 7 July 2005, was the airforce scrambled? Did the British army march through London? Could a robust naval presence in the Thames have prevented the suicide bombings? Again – no. For all the “war” rhetoric, the terrorist threat came from within the country itself and virtually every aspect in its immediacy was dealt with by the emergency services. It was a mixture of crime and disaster, and although incredibly brutal, humbling and horrifying, was not an action that a body of troops that could have met or prevented. If it was an act of war, then the opposing belligerents were five young pissed off British men and are themselves now no longer a threat.In any event what has this threat yielded in terms of loss? A civilian death rate of just over 10 a year versus that of, say, 2,200 for road traffic accidents.

That such a gross distortion of the threat we face, both in terms of actual military logic and in scale, can still receive a hearing in supposedly reasonable circles is astounding. And we should face facts, Britain doesn’t really have anything resembling a credible expeditionary force, cannot afford one, and following our actions from the Suez crisis onwards, probably shouldn’t have one anyway. The only country that does is one of our NATO allies and that is not likely to change. Any upgrading in the threat of a terrorist attack is not an argument for raising military spending, it is one for focusing our law enforcement and intelligence services at its prevention. Nothing more, nothing less. The argument that we wouldn’t be able to launch another Afghanistan or Iraq is an argument for the cuts, not against them.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable


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