National Observer: Australia and World Affairs, No. 85, 2012

Britain’s cowardly officers?

by Hal G.P. Colebatch



Why are Britain’s retired middle-rank and senior navy, army and air force officers — who in total must number at least hundreds, from lieutenant-commanders, majors and squadron leaders, all the way up to admirals of the fleet, field marshals and marshals of the RAF — so silent about the destruction of Britain’s armed forces?

If they are on the retired list, they risk no punishment for speaking out. The only answer seems to be that these men — who, it goes without saying, have been truly brave in the face of physical danger — are afflicted with a sort of moral cowardice and laziness. It is easier to skulk in clubs over whisky-and-sodas and hope the country will hold together for their lifetimes. It is a hope that may be disappointed.

Perhaps one of the psychological problems is that they and their fathers grew up in an era when many politicians themselves had had experience with the defence forces and when, in any event, the fundamental patriotism of political leaders could be taken for granted.

In the later days of the Gordon Brown Labour Government, the last five service chiefs did speak out about the parlous state of Britain’s defences, but it was a one-off and quickly forgotten.

Their token duty done, these professional organisers of large bodies of men and women lapsed back into silence. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition under David Cameron has treated them, and the defence forces, with contempt, scrapping one defence capability after another — the Nimrod long-range aircraft, the Harrier jets, the aircraft-carriers. The list goes on and on. And, after all, it is not they who will have to do the dying. There are just four aircraft to defend the Falkland Islands. The Royal Navy is now down to 19 frigates and destroyers. In 1960, with a smaller GNP and population, Britain had a battleship, eight aircraft-carriers, 30 cruisers and 150 frigates and destroyers.

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines seem — partly because of their miserable size, partly because of international human rights law, but also partly because of what looks like a deep-seated rottenness of spirit in the higher command (the saying that there are no bad men, only bad officers, is relevant) — to be incapable of protecting British ship even from Somali pirates in open boats. (When pirates tried to seize a Russian ship, the curiously-named Moscow University, the authorities apparently decided to teach them a lesson, stormed the ship, captured the pirates and sent them home but without benefit of a boat. No more Russian ships have been attacked).

Serving British officers, who are effectively gagged by the government, have dutifully stated that that there is no more money for defence and that a bankrupt country cannot defend itself. This is of course true as far as it goes, but in Britain there are many economies which could be made.

Britain spends very slightly more than France on defence, but by many measurements — such as numbers of men in the ground — its forces are far smaller. France has a far larger navy, including a nuclear aircraft-carrier, though, of course, France is not an island. The London Daily Telegraph has pointed out: “Last year’s defence review took 7.5 per cent out of the defence budget and committed the Ministry of Defence to eliminating its famous ‘black hole’ of unfunded future commitments that was, in reality, about $54 billion net.”

Here are some areas where, I suggest, there are opportunities for large savings:

Foreign aid, totalling about $48 billion. Prime Minister David Cameron has previously announced that foreign aid will be “ring-fenced” against cuts. The thinking behind this is incomprehensible. Not only is there considerable evidence that aid is useless and even counter-productive from the point of view of those it is meant to help, it often goes to swell the bank accounts of tyrannical dictators such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Britain is, crazily, borrowing money at interest to give to India, which has an economy twice as big as Britain’s, and which squanders money on a space programme and nuclear weapons. India proved itself a bad international citizen by a murderous and unprovoked attack in 1961 on Britain’s faithful ally, Portugal, to seize the tiny enclave of Goa, and commenced nuclear proliferation in Asia. India receives about US$3 billion in British aid. About $266 million goes to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose name says it all, and about $200 million to Vietnam, a communist police-state where there is almost no political or religious liberty.

British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell recently approved a 57 per cent increase in aid to Rwanda — which will see Britain giving a total of about $700 million? over the next four years, despite Rwanda’s appalling record of genocide and blatantly corrupt elections.

Some aid projects are not only useless but ludicrous, such as a ferris wheel for Burka-wearing Muslim women in Lashkar Gah, southern Afghanistan. Never mind David Cameron’s alleged “victory” over European monetary union, this looks like fundamental national betrayal.

A well-equipped navy and marine force would be more useful for humanitarian purposes than Britain’s present foreign aid budget, because it would be able to deliver disaster relief and protect threatened populations, such as Egypt’s Coptic Christians, from riots and massacres — one of the situations where foreign intervention really is useful.

Bloated public sector payrolls and pensions. Even listing these would be a major exercise. It is normal for CEOs of local authorities and others to receive six-figure salaries in no way commensurate with the work they do. There have been some cuts recently, but not enough.

Numerous Quangos which a conservative government has no business supporting. Currently existing quangos include bodies concerned with policing gender equality, or supporting avant-garde “arts” of interest to only a tiny, and overwhelmingly left-wing, minority, These could be cut. (Under the previous Labour government, one arts grant was given to write words on the backs of sheep, so they would form “poems” when seen from the air).

The BBC. Britain’s publicly-funded broadcaster has abandoned the objectives of its charter and its founders and has become the left’s major propaganda arm. It could be cut back to non-political activities such as classical music or abolished altogether. Some of its news services are still good, but they are not essential. The more people talk about such abolition, the easier it will become.

The Olympic Games. The construction of this festival of waste and corruption is all but complete, but earlier on the games could still have been reduced to sane proportions, similar to the austerity Olympics held after World War II. For a government with a sane scheme of priorities it would be better that the games had been reduced than that the Royal Navy lose another rowing-boat.

Benefits, including legal aid, to illegal immigrants should be withdrawn. Deportation procedures should be speeded up. One foreign criminal was recently spared deportation because it was found that his human rights would be violated if he was separated from his cat.


About the author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer.



National Observer: Australia and World Affairs, No. 85, 2012