You may have seen the moving article in a recent Daily Telegraph headed “Haunted by the ghosts of dead soldiers”. This illustrates a subject on which I have long held clear views. Years ago when I wore uniform we were all supported by a comprehensive medical establishment. This was manned and equipped to deal with whatever afflicted anyone, whether physical or mental. It was not restricted to the serving but also had a measure of responsibility for the retired, or pensioners. Then, in line with the change of administrative ethos launched in the 1990s and on-going, this was changed from ‘support in-Service on demand’ to ‘cost-effective management of support resources’. In medical terms, this has meant that very often there is no RAMC support in barracks where soldiers and their families now queue like everyone else for the local GP. If they are hospitalised, it is to an NHS facility, not to a BMH. Such changes run hand in glove with the change from an ethos of “command” (with all that that implies) to one of “management” (which is effected with the eye prioritised on budgetary micro-control). The result is that resources have ceased to be applied as needed for support of the key component of armed strength, its people. This, more broadly, was observed during the redundancy programmes of recent years when soldiers (and other Services people) were discarded with no in-Service provision for lasting medical conditions (let alone those which surfaced later, as PTSD is prone to do). Services people were then given payments and struck off, and that was that – because money was involved? The result has been fear, fury and frustration along with the anticipated failure of the idiotic policy of filling the ranks with more reservists, and the current difficulties with regular recruiting as well. The employment of high visibility commercial consultants to achieve these changes was plainly a waste of money spent:
Not only are the Services below required strength and inadequately equipped, but the needs of the human beings who serve do not attract the attention of the “managers” in the Ministry of Defence. It used to be a principle of management that a person who interferes lifts responsibility for an action from the person who is charged with its delivery. In this case, it is the Treasury which interferes - but assumes no responsibility for the resolution of a military situation in which we may be involved anywhere in the world. It is high time that the Treasury was confined to its counting house. Services people should have the confidence and support of Services medical facilities during their service, and after it for as long as they need them. The merits of dismissal on redundancy and/or for any medical reason, with a large payment, needs to be re-examined against the individually valuable solution of ready access to appropriate Services medical and social care facilities for as long as a problem caused in or by military service continues. This could be based on a system of In- and Out- Pensioners such as the Services enjoyed hundreds of years ago. Today, however, this could be more efficiently administered, and be infinitely better for the morale of all concerned.
As a retired merchant seaman of 45 years experience, I thank my lucky stars for the existence of the nuclear deterrent. Had it not been for that, I believe there is a good chance my bones would now be resting at the bottom of the North Atlantic or some other inhospitable stretch of water.
I now listen with concern to the increasing chorus of voices that speak out against the deterrent in general and the Trident system in particular. Often people who represent various organisations, some of them political and with the ear of the media, seldom miss an opportunity to pass negative comment. They often give sweeping and erroneous statements that go unchallenged and one group, the CND, have infiltrated one political party to such an extent that they dominate that party's defence policy and are using a recent wave of regional nationalism as a 'Trojan Horse' in order to advance their agenda. When the challenge to this wave of comment does come it is often shallow in content and lacklustre in delivery. I feel that it is time for supporters of the nuclear deterrent to step forward and deliver their message with the same or greater robustness and repetitiveness with which the opposing view is aired.
Some of the statements put forward by those who wish to see the UK's nuclear deterrent scrapped are listed below. Alongside them I have written why they are wrong or where a question has been asked, what the answer should be.
1. Statement: We can't afford the Trident replacement.
Answer: Wrong - The government estimates that the Trident replacement will cost about £24 billion while CND say it will cost 100 billion over 40 years. If we assume that one is an under estimate and the other an over exaggeration but that the true figure comes somewhere in the middle, say 60 billion over 40 years, then that works out at about 1.5 billion a year, for a nuclear insurance policy. When you consider that the present annual spend on defence is about £39 billion, the NHS about £115 billion and welfare a staggering £217-231 billion, we very obviously can afford it. Further to that, many of the detractors say that the money saved should be used to strengthen our conventional forces, which rather flies in the face of none affordability.
2. Statement: It is not independent because the system is maintained by an American company and the US controls the GPS positioning/targeting system.
Answer: Wrong - An American company may service the system but the UK/RN control it when the submarine is conducting its deterrent patrol. GPS is not the only guidance system and when that is degraded, as it might be by enemy action, others, such as inertial tracking or the shortly to be commissioned European Galileo satellite system, will come into play. People who claim that Trident is solely dependent on the GPS system should ask themselves how the Germans guided their V2 rockets in 1945; systems have developed somewhat since then.
3. Statement: We don't need it.
Answer: Wrong - How many people are the nuclear abolitionists prepared to see killed in a conventional war before they would give each side a weapon so awful that neither would dare use it for fear of retaliation in kind but would instead cease hostilities and revert to the negotiating table? Would 50 million be enough or even 85 million; let's go for something in the middle, say 65 million - equivalent to the population of the UK. Those are the estimates for deaths caused by World War 2 - a 6 year conventional war for all bar the last 4 weeks. If in 1945, the Japanese had possessed the ability to retaliate by dropping atom bombs on San Francisco and Los Angeles, would the Americans have bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? If you believe that they probably would not have done so - then you believe in the power of nuclear deterrence. For the past 70 years, the nuclear deterrent has stopped wars directly between the forces of those so armed and it continues to do so. We do need it.
4. Statement: Denmark hasn't got a deterrent and they haven't been attacked.
Answer: Wrong - They have not been attacked, but the Danes do have a nuclear deterrent - they have ours. The UK, USA and France are the guardians of the nuclear umbrella that covers the whole of NATO - all 28 nations. An attack on any one of them is an attack on us all and that is the essence of an alliance. America however, who is starting to pivot her forces to face the problems of Asia is increasingly asking why she should continue to provide 70% of NATO's resources. It is possible that cancellation of the UK nuclear deterrent, indicating a loss of will on our part, would result in the distancing of the US from European defence. The defence capability vacuum produced would weaken the alliance and could lead to its disintegration. The subsequent feeling of vulnerability might induce some front line states to procure nuclear weapons of their own; thus stimulating nuclear proliferation (nature abhors a vacuum). Those who think this would not happen need to take notice of events in the Persian Gulf where Saudi Arabia, a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is concerned over America's decreasing reliance on Gulf oil and their distrust of efforts to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions is fuelling opinion that they should themselves acquire nuclear weapons. Allegedly, Saudi Arabia funded 60% of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme and has an agreement to acquire nuclear warheads from that source, should they be needed!
5. Statement: It can't be used.
Answer: Wrong - We use it every day. It keeps the lid on events by putting a cap on militaristic adventurism; a red line beyond which a potential aggressor will know that any possible perceived victory from the use of nuclear weapons would very much be a pyrrhic one.
6. Question: Under what moral code would we ever drop a nuclear bomb on a city?
A simple question to a complex issue and one which is designed to appeal to the emotions, pluck at the heart strings and ignore reason.
Answer: Two Codes: a) The 'Right of Reply'.
b) The Code that says 'Might is Right'.
a) I do not believe that we would ever consider bombing a city with nuclear weapons unless one of our cities had first been so bombed. If that should ever happen we would have to make the choice between immediate capitulation or replying in kind and then saying to the aggressor, "like you, we have plenty of those things, how long do you want to continue with this?" My inclination would be to follow the latter course.
b) If however, surrender and subsequent subjugation are to be our default response, then we really will be giving credence to the truth that 'Might is Right'. People should ask themselves, what happened to the moral values of the citizens of Kabul when the Taliban rolled in - answer: they adopted the moral codes of the Taliban or they were dead! What happened to the women of Berlin when the soviet army arrived in 1945 - answer: they took Russian boyfriends so that they could be raped by only one man instead of many! The lesson to be learnt from those stories and others like them is that your moral values are only as good as your ability to defend them or your willingness to die for them. I believe that should we ever be attacked by nuclear weapons, the benign morality of the secure will very quickly give way to the survival requirements of the threatened, as we struggle to establish 'who's might is right'.
Some groups and individuals have voiced the opinion that we can maintain the deterrent but at a lower availability and subsequent lesser cost. Their proposals suggest that we either cancel the Trident replacement and use nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from the Astute class submarines or have fewer Trident subs and sail them only in times of crisis. Both proposals are flawed. The RAF was shooting down cruise missiles in 1944 and while the missiles have improved since then, so have the defences. As for the suggestion that we sail a Trident submarine when there is a crisis, the proposers of that scenario should consider this - on July 29th 1914, during a period of intense international tension, Germany warned Russia that if they mobilized their forces it would be taken as a declaration of war! Realising how long their inefficient administration would take to mobilize, the Russians went ahead anyway and war quickly followed. If our politicians and diplomats were ever faced with a similar situation and were trying to calm things down would the sailing of a Trident submarine be considered an escalation and thus a declaration of war? I think it might. Best to keep that sub at sea so that our stance does not have to change at a critical moment, where experience in its operation can be maintained and the deterrent is not stuck in port where it can easily be destroyed.
Would the people who propose that Britain's and possibly NATO's defence rely solely upon conventional forces really send our soldiers to face a nuclear armed foe? If they did, they would possibly be guilty of replicating the actions of the generals who 100 years ago marched men in their tens of thousands directly into the muzzles of machine guns. Without similar weapons, there is no defence against a nuclear armed foe who is prepared to use them. Those that suggest we do not need a 'Rolls Royce' of systems to act as a deterrent need to think again. If we ever have to face down a foe who is capable of wreaking Armageddon upon us, we had better make sure he is in no doubt that our system, should it be used, would equally destroy him.
Many people have forgotten or possibly they never knew that Britain has already suffered an attack by a nuclear weapon! In November 2006, two Russian agents entered the UK with a portion of Polonium-210 and with it murdered Alexander Litvinenko; a naturalised British citizen. Polonium-210 is only manufactured in Russia and those agents left behind them a trail of contamination. I suggest the psyche that would do that, would in other circumstances, not balk from sending that radioactive isotope on the tip of a missile. It is alleged that the quantity of Polonium-210 required was first tested on Lecha Islamov, a Chechen prisoner in a Russian jail who died very quickly afterwards and the substance has also been implicated in the deaths/assassinations of other Russian dissidents. In essence, the Litvinenko murder was not so different to the killing of Trotsky (another enemy of the soviet administration) by a Russian agent in Mexico, 66 years previously. The 'Old Bear' hasn't changed that much!
I view those well-meaning individuals and groups who propose the abolition of our nuclear deterrent as being historically unaware, strategically naive, tactically ignorant, lacking in foresight and irresponsibly trusting. In their hands, the deterrent would be useless because the message they send is that they would not have the resolve to use it; which is why they say it cannot be used. What they are really saying is that 'they' could not use it! The deterrent works however because those that presently control it have said what they will do if we are attacked and those who take notice know that they will do what they say. It is that possession of the 'ability and the will' that persuades a potential foe to tread carefully.
Our layered defence forces are capped by the nuclear deterrent. Accounting for only 3-4% of our defence expenditure and providing only a small part of the nuclear weaponry available to the nine nations that presently possess them, the UK nuclear deterrent is the locking stitch that holds many parts and partners together. It is the ultimate defence for our institutions, administration, social structure and moral code; which includes our right to question their very existence. Long may our 'ability and will' to defend that right continue.
The recent commitment of 2% GDP for defence spending will not reverse the massive reduction in our armed forces; in fact it may not even stop a further reduction but it will at least slow the attrition. The hope is of course that an increased awareness by politicians and possibly the public at large will enable more funds to be directed to the defence of the realm. That awareness can be partially stimulated by the efforts of the UKNDA and further publication of bodies like the 'Phoenix Think Tank'. Engagement of the public and a robust verbal confrontation with the growing culture of naive pacifism must be the order of the day if recent trends are to be reversed.
The forthcoming Strategic Defence Review to be announced next month will affect our defence posture for the next quarter century. That being the case it is obvious that while small increases in vessel numbers and equipment may be possible, a large increase in numbers will not take place unless the nation deems itself to be in imminent danger and then the time frame for procurement, recruitment and training may be too short.
I recently read a comment that said "when budgets are tight act in peace as you would in war". This comment, which I believe has great merit, was aimed primarily at vessel and equipment procurement across the three services. While it would be nice to have 30+ frigates and destroyers with a dozen or more hunter killers, this is unlikely to happen and I believe that it is time a two tier navy was built. At the top end would be the hard hitting QE carriers, the T45's/26's, Astute submarines and an amphibious element. At the lower end would be the cheaper, far less capable but more expendable vessels that would provide 'a presence' and a platform for capable systems. I believe that the 'Black Swan Sloop' concept is exactly the way the RN should go for this lower tier. Built on merchant ship lines (albeit a little faster) they are in concept not dissimilar to modern oil field support vessels. Offshore oil & gas have been champions of the modular philosophy for decades; where the oxy-acetylene gas axe and the welding machine has meant that one vessel could change within days (and sometimes hours) between being a supply boat, dive support vessel, ROV command ship, survey vessel, topside and/or seabed construction vessel, pipe/cable layer or floatel with helicopter support, safety standby/rescue, pollution control vessel, deep-sea tug and yes, even a patrol boat. All of this may I suggest is done at a fraction of time and cost that a naval service could expect to pay. Six Black Swans for the price of one T26 or twelve for two might be a price worth paying.
Following is the full article on which I based my submission to the 2015 SDSR public engagement. It was précised to 1484 characters and spaces in order to fit the box provided and is, of course, a limited wish list. If, however, enough people speak up, the message might start getting through to the people who control the purse strings.
Manpower shortages, especially skilled, are affecting all 3 of the armed forces - address this and emphasise the recruitment of speciality skills in and through the reserves.
Expand the Defence Centre for Languages & Culture; increase linguists in the reserves.
The RN, in particular, is poorly equipped to engage in asymmetric warfare of the type that Iceland conducted in the 1960/70's, the Chinese Navy is becoming skilled at and the Argentines may choose to follow.
Reinforce the structures of all 4 Mk.1 River class OPV's, especially the bows, shoulders & quarters for glancing type collisions.
Start the Black Swan building programme, in England to maintain a 2nd. surface warship building yard and build them strong to withstand minor collisions. Give them a capable Dynamic Positioning (DP) control system and shoulder doors for the deployment of tethered remotely piloted vehicles (ROV's).
Employ naval personnel with the offshore oil and gas service companies to build operating skills and experience with DP systems and ROV's. Further to that have the commercial operators review 'none security sensitive' naval operations and equipment. They are widely experienced in some parallel operations and commercial pressures have made them very innovative.
From the foreign aid budget, fund the building or merchant vessel conversions of a permanent Caribbean Guard Ship and a hospital ship to replace RFA Argus.
Continue with the Trident replacement & formalise the contingency for bringing them and their related infrastructure south of the border; in the event that Scotland separates from the UK.
Acquire MPA's, build an HMS Ocean replacement and additional T26's, Astutes and/or SSk's as funds allow. Purchase sufficient F35's for 2 mixed carrier battle groups.
Develop an alternative Carrier launch/recovery system for heavyweight UAV's (not EMAL's as it is unclear how the electro-magnetic pulse of that system can be masked) and give each of the QE carriers an organic full spectrum area/point air and ballistic missile defence to supplement that of the T45's and T26's.
Retain the Tranch 1 Eurofighters (with upgrades) for pure air defence, after the Tranch 3's become fully operational and also the C130J's with remaining airframe hours, after A4000M Atlas becomes operational.
Develop munitions to kill Russian T14 tanks (metallised paint spray clouds fog optics?) and flood the infantry with silenced quad bikes to make them very mobile.
24th September 2015
The Chancellor has pledged to deliver the NATO target of 2% of GDP to defence spending. He has also effectively ring fenced that figure for the lifetime of this parliament. So far so good.
The Defence Secretary has already admitted that money already allocated to another department is going to be transferred to the defence budget, thereby reaching the 2% target without actually putting any more money into defence. This is a cynical move made with no thought given to the assurances that the nation’s security is still the first priority of government.
Since the SDSR of 2010, so much damage has been done to the structure and balance of the armed forces that an extra injection of money is needed to get back to anything like a sensible level. The Royal Navy needs to increase its complement of escorts considerably to ensure it can fulfil its obligations, including protecting the new aircraft carriers. The recruitment of Army reservists is below target as expected, so the gap, which could never have been filled by reservists anyway, needs filling to bring the numbers up to at least 100,000, and the RAF needs to re-equip with airborne early warning aircraft to replace those scrapped with indecent haste in 2010. These actions are examples of the very least required to repair the damage caused by SDSR 2010.
The Prime Minister has recently asked for the numbers of Special Forces to be increased, but he doesn’t seem to realise that these people are recruited from the Regular Army whose numbers are decreasing by about 20%. We cannot, and must not, decrease the quality of our Special Forces just to increase numbers quickly. I hope Mr Cameron heard General Shaw make this point forcibly on “The World at One”.
The general public is beginning to realise that we are unable properly to defend ourselves against ever increasing threats, never mind fulfil our overseas obligations. We have to be prepared for every possibility. To paraphrase Professor Andrew Roberts in his Richard Holmes Lecture last year: “Our wars are never the ones we think they’re going to be.”
I suppose I should not have been surprised to find the defence sections of the manifestos very near the end. So much for “the first priority of government”. Perhaps there is no need to be unduly cynical about this. After all, what is important is what they say or, in most cases what they don’t say.
We can’t judge the policies by their length, although there is no getting away from the fact that the longest is also the one which most closely matches UKNDA thinking and, coincidentally or not, is produced by the party whose name starts with the same initials. Whether UKIP will have enough MPs to have any influence is a moot point but they do, largely, have the right idea and seem to know what is required.
Otherwise, there is little new or unexpected in the manifestos, which range from the almost acceptable to the downright dangerous. Are there still politicians who believe that there is such a thing as a part-time deterrent? Is this any worse than those whose main priority seems to be to have bases and defence manufacturing centred in a particular part of the UK? Maybe there aren’t any votes in defence, and the main parties are playing on the public’s dislike of the recent overseas deployments and think that, by reducing the size of the armed forces, they will avoid being able to do the same again. Can we persuade the public that the present state of the forces is such that we cannot properly defend our own shores?
What about the figure of 2% of GDP which our membership of NATO commits us to spending on defence? Two parties are committed to it; another two say they have met it, but don’t promise to continue and the others don’t mention it. How relevant is this figure in reality? Is it just a number picked out of the blue as a guideline? The danger with such a precise definition is that it will be seen as a maximum, rather than the bare minimum it is. Not so long ago 2% would have been thought extremely low, but we are probably stuck with it as a target even if the major parties are keen not to be committed to it.
Once the election is over, and the SDSR looms into view, we have got to ensure that it is the proper review of the defences that the country needs to ensure safety, security and stability.
UKNDA played a major part in bringing defence into the election debate, but our work is just beginning. We are funded solely by membership subscriptions and donations. We would appreciate your support, and you can discover how you can help by selecting “Join/Donate” from the Home Page.