Monday, July 13, 2009

Shame And Anger

More demands - less resources*

Not for the first time, Tyler is feeling ashamed and angry.

How can these politicos - the ones we're responsible for because we elected them - have committed our troops to a war with such half-baked and unachievable objectives? Surely they can't really believe we can establish democracy and the rule of law in Afghanistan?

And why have they sent the troops in with such hopelessly inadequate force and equipment? Who do they think they are to put lives on the line in such a contemptible manner?

Of course, the Defence Secretary says the head of the Army is plain wrong. Apparently, there are plenty of men and helicopters. And it is perfectly true that Generals always want more resources.

But who are we going to believe - General Sir Richard Dannatt, a career soldier with nearly 40 years distinguished service to the nation; or Bob Ainsworth, an ex-trade union official from the Red Robbo 70s car industry and a former candidate member of the International Marxist Group?

Quite apart from the fact that Ainsworth looks and sounds like a jobsworth district council official in charge of dockets, his entire experience of defence comprises just 24 months behind a Whitehall desk (apart, that is, from his time with IMG, when they were supporting the IRA in its "armed struggle" against the very army he's now responsible for).

And let's just remind ourselves of the background here.

Even though it has made our troops fight two simultaneous wars, this government's commitment to defence has been dismal. In the last five years there have been no fewer than five defence secretaries, an average of one a year. And not one of them has been what you'd describe as a star.

On the money front, their performance has been even more shameful. Despite an endless series of dangerous foreign ventures since 1997, and despite the fact that they increased every other major department's budget as a share of GDP, they actually reduced MoD's share.

In 1997, defence spending was 3.1% of GDP . Last year, it was 2.7%, which represents the lowest level of defence spending since Ramsay MacDonald's disastrous pacifist policy during the thirties (average spending of 2.7% from 1929 to 1934).

But in MacDonald's case, at least low spending was consistent with his pacifist policies. This lot have held down resources while at the same time being quite happy to strut about on the world stage committing our boys here there and everywhere.

Cameron has to do better than this. It is wholly unacceptable to have our troops thrown into major wars without sufficient numbers and kit.

*Footnote - The chart above is lifted from the excellent Far superior to HM Treasury's own site, it lets you look at all the main categories of public spending both in money terms and as a percentage of GDP. Plus, it has data going back to the Nineteenth Century. Here's defence:

So we can see the two peaks for WW1 and WW2, the latter being far more costly in GDP terms (even if much less costly in terms of British service lives). We can also see the smaller peaks for the Boer War and Korea. But perhaps the most striking thing is the low burden prior to 1900 - after all, weren't we running half the world at that point? Answer - yes, we were. But the Pax Britannica must have been so powerful, we didn't actually need to spend all that much to keep it in place. Although we might just note that for the Second Afghan War (1878-80), we did need to send 40,000 troops, as opposed to the mere 8,000 we have there now. We reportedly won the war, but lost 1630 men, and got out as quickly as possible.

The Battle of Kandahar 1880

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