UNITED KINGDOM by Hal G.P. ColebatchNews Weekly
Goodbye to Britain's nuclear deterrent?
, April 25, 2015
I have written in several places about the parlous state of Britain’s defence and the present and previous governments’ culpable failure in this regard. The calling of a May election makes the matter particularly fraught.
Russia’s long-ranger bomber,
the Tupolev Tu-160M “Blackjack”
The Royal Air Force has gone from 17 fighter squadrons to just 7 of all types in 15 years. Its bombers, the Nimrod long-range patrol aircraft and the Royal Navy’s Harriers, which could take off from improvised flight decks, like container-loaded ships, have been disposed of. The projected American F-35 fighters are coming under severe questioning.
The famous Ghurkhas have gone in the past few years from 30,000 to 3,000 and even this number may be halved. Ghurkhas are said to be the finest all-round soldiers in the world, but excel as infantry. A strong Ghurkha force might have been just the right medicine against the abominable ISIS.
Latest news is that the British army, cut from 102,000 to 82,000 personnel, may be cut to 60,000 and perhaps even further — all this despite the fact that the international situation has seldom been more turbulent. This is a country which, a couple of generations ago, with a far smaller population and economy, was able to field an army of about 50 divisions and a navy of about 20 capital ships alone.
In modern highly mechanised warfare, with its voracious consumption of material, it is said that, as a rough rule of thumb, every soldier deployed overseas in the field needs a “tail” of about nine support and administrative troops.
Famous military writer Frederick Forsyth has said: “Five years ago a Conservative-led government (of all things) stripped British armed forces to the bone in the most stupid defence and strategic review we have ever had, abandoning centuries as a formidable power and treating our servicemen as criminals for the slightest misdemeanours.”
The obsolete but still potent “Bear” Russian bombers which, Cold-War style, have recently been probing Britain’s air defences, are being replaced by Tu-160M “Blackjacks” which, with a top speed of mach 2 (2,400km/h), are as fast as Britain’s interceptors and have many times the range.
However, a new threat has emerged that represents an unforeseen and potentially critical menace to Britain’s defence capability.
When Scottish nationalism was seen as no more than a joke, Britain wound down and ultimately scrapped its strategic nuclear-capable V-bomber force and reduced its strategic nuclear deterrent to a force of ballistic-missile submarines based at Faslane in Scotland.
The anti-nuclear Scottish National Party (SNP) was decisively defeated at the recent secessionist referendum. However, according to the polls, with both major parties struggling, it seems possible that following the next election it will hold the balance of power in Westminster.
A study of marginal constituencies suggests Labour and the Conservatives are heading for electoral deadlock at the general election in May, with neither party able to govern. It also revealed a dramatic surge in support for the SNP.
It might have been better for Britain’s security if the Scottish secessionist referendum had succeeded. Scottish nationalism in its present form has nothing to do with the Highlands romanticism of tartans, kilts, bagpipes and tossing the caber. It is a rather grubby brand of resentment-fuelled socialism that subscribes to the whole left-wing package deal.
During the referendum campaign the then Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond said he wanted the nuclear subs out of Faslane and out of Scottish bases. His successors have carried this policy on.
The Royal Navy was making contingency plans to home-port the subs at an English base such as Portsmouth. This would have been an added heavy expense for the underfunded British defence forces (funding is already will below the agreed NATO minimum of 2 per cent of GDP) but was at least possible.
However, if the SNP holds government in the palm of its hand, its leaders have given notice that the price of their support for any party will include not merely the removal of the subs from Scotland but the abolition of the nuclear deterrent altogether.
The fairyland-inhabiting Greens will certainly also support this if they gain any seats (and they have had up to 11 per cent in the polls). The Greens’ policy calls for not merely the scrapping of the nuclear deterrent but, ultimately, of all defence forces.
Both the SNP and the Greens have a visceral hatred of the Conservatives as they have of things like defence forces and have said they will never enter into coalition with them, though the right-of-centre UK Independence Party could conceivably do so.
Defence policy for the Greens will be replaced by “town twinning” and the defence bases converted into National Parks. Economic growth will be reduced to zero, and everybody will get a non-means-tested gift from the taxpayer of $142 a week.
The Greens could be laughed off except for their poll numbers — up to 11 per cent — and the possibility of a de-facto anti-nuclear alliance with the SNP.
Further, if Britain proves unwilling to defend itself, will Obama’s America be prepared to go to war for it? Given a newly bellicose Russia, plainly testing Britain’s defences with bomber flights near Britain’s coast, it all sounds unpleasantly like Constantine Fitzgibbons 1960s novel, When the Kissing Had to Stop, which ends with the Russian occupation of a disarmed Britain.
Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer. He was recently joint winner of the Prime Minister’s $80,000 history prize for his book, Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II, which is available from News Weekly Books.