Yesterday, (the 11th July), Jeremy Hunt wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph where he outlined his plans to increase funding for the Royal Navy. This comes amid growing tensions with Iran, and the country’s intent to seize or harass merchant traffic passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Hunt is, of course, playing the game of realpolitik, and is unlikely to make good on his commitment for future increases in defence spending.
Indeed, people with even a limited grasp of politics will remember it was actually the Conservative Party who drastically cut our Armed Forces as part of the Coalition Government’s security review in 2010. It has taken nearly a whole decade to re-establish our status an ‘aircraft carrier nation’, though even now we still do not have the capability to deploy this ship to war with fighter jets.
And then, on top of all of that, there is the spectre of the Labour Party’s own destructive tendencies toward our Armed Forces. It was the Labour Government of 2007-2010, under Gordon Brown, who did not provide enough helicopters for our troops during the Helmand campaign in Afghanistan. Now, the Labour Party is much further to the political left, and their manifesto commitments in regards to defence spending are very misleading. For example, the Labour Party currently claims in their defence manifesto that ‘Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.’ This is, of course, absurd, because we know Jeremy Corbyn does not support Britain having nuclear weapons, and has consistently campaigned against them.
Labour also seem to want to tilt Britain’s military in favour of UN peacekeeping operations, rather than a force to help project the West’s power. The manifesto talks of helping to create a ‘UN Emergency Peace Service’, which sounds like an exact replica of the UN peacekeepers, which are already long established around the globe. It is probably on the topic of defence that the Labour Party is most divided, with the centre-left of the party advocating a moderate continuation of the status-quo, whilst the far-left of the party want to essentially dismantle our defence infrastructure. The latter’s view would put thousands of jobs at BAE and our shipyards at risk.
It is in the RAF though that the most damaging cuts have been made, especially with regards to Britain’s fast jet fleet. This year, our entire Tornado fleet was retired after a long and distinguished career. This is not surprising, as the jets are old and had fallen out of favour. What is surprising though is that in the last year Britain’s fixed-wing fleet has dropped by 10%. This percentage comes from the Ministry of Defence’s own figures, which were released a few days ago. In 2017, Britain had 714 fixed-wing aircraft, and this has fallen to 646 in recent months. When you consider that many of the fixed-wing aircraft in this category are actually drones, rather than jets or other conventional planes, you begin to see how much Britain’s defence assets are shrinking over such a short period of time.
Germany is in an even worse state, with reports indicating that none of their submarines is currently available for active duty, with only 4 of their fighter jets available for service at any given time. Despite prolonged wars and a continually unstable world, Europe has become too complacent on its defence spending, with many nations not meeting their 2% target set by NATO as a condition of membership.
If the West is to continue as the prominent force in world events, then military spending must be taken more seriously and made a top priority long into the future.