Why the Military is Still Important

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The utilisation of military resources – in combat or non-combatant roles – is commonly viewed as an admission that something, somewhere, has gone badly wrong. Negotiations might have failed, strikers might not be mollified, or, in the most recent case, a security company contracted to oversee the Olympics appears to have forgotten the date and realized it cannot hope to provide enough personnel for full security, meaning that an additional 3500 military personal are required; many of whom have just completed tours of duty in Afghanistan. [1]

In the past, the military has been asked to provide support during strikes, disease outbreaks such as foot and mouth, disasters such as floods and also search and rescue operations. This is in addition to commitments in foreign arenas. Whether acting as combatants in Afghanistan and Iraq, as enforcers in anti-pirate operations off the Somali coast or as state builders in the previously ungovernable Sierra Leone, the army has proven an invaluable tool in protecting British interests, and foreign nationals, from repression.

Just like an insurance policy however, the military must be paid for, and adequately funded, a fact that is apparently lost on the current government. In this respect, the Coalition might be compared to a household, cutting its insurance spending while still expecting the military to cover everything: in essence, to do more with less. Since 2010 Defense Secretary Phil Hammond has managed to completely eradicate the deficit of the Ministry of Defense (M.O.D.) with further cuts to military expenditure expected. There has been scant agreement over the extent of further cuts, and how they will be achieved. [2]

However, some of these savings have come from front-line personnel being made redundant – the latest round of defense cuts meant more than 4200 troops have been made redundant in order to help balance the books[3]; the government’s long term plan is for the British Army to consist of only 82,000 soldiers by 2020, as opposed to its operating strength in 2011 of almost 112, 000 soldiers.

This poses a significant problem if the military is to be used as widely as it is now. Already, the Royal Navy has had to scale back anti-pirate operations off the coast of Somalia[4], and there are concerns that the scale of personnel losses may mean that important skills are lost in the MOD[5]. Should we continue to scale back defense spending, particularly in terms of numbers of front-line troops, we run the risk of not being able to fulfill our commitments.

This will inevitably damage morale, leading to resignations among more experienced staffers, and a drain on potential new recruits. In addition, we would also be forced to scale back our capabilities; lowering our international standing and potentially threatening British interests – one senior officer has already warned that, should Argentina invade the Falklands, Britain would be unlikely to reclaim them as easily as it did in 1982.[6]

Moreover, such a pared down military will have less capability to rapidly respond to unforeseeable situations – precisely the type of situations the military is meant to deal with. The future cannot be predicted, but reckless cuts to the military will undoubtedly hurt our ability to engage with them. A flexible and well-funded military is vital to ensure that the United Kingdom stays strong and secure well into the next century. Whilst many MOD cuts are necessary, and indeed could well be for the best, the massive reduction in troop numbers is a policy of foolishness.

Cutting defense spending is perhaps more politically palatable than other areas, such as the NHS, benefits, education and so forth. Generally, although this is starting to change, the military does not publicly protest against such cuts, and cannot go on strike, in stark contrast to most other public services. Also, the public tend to be less directly and immediately affected by defense spending cuts compared to those of other services. Whilst there may be indignation about cuts to the armed forces, this indignation tends to be muted, short lived, and less politically damaging to the government.

The government must recognize that we must always maintain a strong military presence; that having a larger army allows us to better support both British interests and our international commitments; and that it has a moral duty to support the armed services, in return for the services the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines provide for our country. The Olympic fiasco highlights how important it is that this country has a strong and flexible force, able to respond to whatever sudden and unexpected challenges the country faces.

Article by James Wilson. Edited by Chris Olewicz.