Britain must invest more to modernise national defence

The caricature of rusty Russian warships is now more suited to Britain

Image: Freedom House

A common simile employed in the world of politics is that Russia is like one of its old, rusty and battered warships trundling along the waves. However, Britain now looks rather more like that than the Russians, flush from all the new cash Putin is putting into the military instead of using it for his people. Britain used to be the pioneer of reliable and useful technology for warfare: from tanks developed by Churchill, to the Dreadnought on the seas. Nonetheless, it has apparently all gone a little bit wrong with respect to kit and equipment in the military, according to a recent investigation.

The Times unveiled their investigation on Sunday. It disclosed that “the army 54 Watchkeeper reconnaissance drones, which have cost £1.2bn, have not entered full service 12 years after they were ordered because of technical glitches and that our freshly bought spyplanes are susceptible to hacking by others. The investigation unearthed the true impact of the Conservative government’s austerity is having on the ability of the armed forces to actually do their job effectively.

This is not the first time poor equipment has hampered the armed forces because of government interference, as was demonstrated in the Iraq War. For instance, as was stated in the Chilcot Report, there was “wholly inadequate” kit and equipment for the invasion of Iraq because the army were so unprepared for the conflict. Furthermore, there were too few vehicles and personnel, which coupled with the inability of the Snatch Land Rovers to deal with the IEDs, led to increased causalties for the British military. The equipment has been improved and changed. However these improvements were largely symbolic, and much of the kit has either still not arrived or is becoming even more expensive each year.

For a long time, the Conservative government and the Coalition said that all the government had to do was to get the deficit down: cut, cut and cut some more. However, Cameron and Osborne only had eyes on the economy and used those scissors on every department they could, from the Ministry for Culture to Defence. When they did try to intervene, they failed, as Libya has now become a stronghold for ISIS, and for all intents and purposes, a failed state. Even in the Libya intervention against Gaddafi, it was not a wholescale war (more of a liberal intervention with precision bombing and airstrikes) and thus failed to fully test our capability to defend ourselves.

The cutting of the armed forces and the increased spending on aid, during the Cameronisation of government with a chummier and more cosy relationship with China, has failed as the threats have become more dynamic since they took and left office. ISIS, Russia, and hacking are the new breed of challenge likely to threaten Britain in the future. This report and other evidence indicates that Britain is not at all ready for an attack. Neither is it interested in national security, as Brexit and Trump have stolen the thunder from all the other threats facing us.

Nevertheless, these threats will return at some time and in some place, perhaps in the form of terrorism or Russia invading a NATO state in a former Yugoslavian nation such as Latvia, Estonia or Lithuania. If the UK’s defences are not ready to defend Britain from attack, then Britain needs to rearrange its priorities away from the bureaucratic haggling with Brussels and Trump, and instead, towards protecting itself, as well as its citizens.