Monday, 9 May 2016

It's all going up in smoke

Don't call it a comeback. Because it's probably not. 

I've been out of blogging for a while now for various reasons. But this whole EU referendum business has caught my eye and given me a reason to sit down and type. Aside from the quite ludicruous arguments going around that somehow the EU is responsible for keeping the peace in Europe since the end of the second world war - as opposed to say the several decades long stand off between NATO and the USSR which kept things decidedly quiet for the most part - I'm also interested because of how the debate has highlighted the way many of our political leaders look at the UK.

Bizarrely on the "vote remain" side we've seen a mix of two types; those who seem to believe that the UK is nothing without the EU and those who seem to think being in the EU makes Britain a top tier player on a par with the US and China. Thankfully the leave campaign has been far more pragmatic (guess where my sympathies lie) about the idea that Britain outside of the EU can unlock more of its potential without sugar coating the argument and pretending that it is a prelude to ascending to world dominance.

The reason this interests me is because of how often arguments about defence are shaped by our ambitions. People are forever arguing about having this tool or that tool in the defence repertoire because it maintains the UK's position as a top player. And anyone that dare suggest that maybe the UK doesn't need to position itself as an equal of the US, Russia or China, or even as an equal of France or Germany say, is shouted down as being a supporter of "managed decline".

It speaks to me about the remarkable capacity human beings have for not being able to accept the reality of the world around them. I'm just as guilty of it as anyone. I smoke. Everyday I tell myself I'll get around to quitting soon. And everyday I convince myself I'll be one of the lucky ones that lives to old age despite chuffing twenty a day. It's not a plan based on reason. It's a plan based on hope and the flimsy evidence of the occasional senior citizen smoker. In truth it ignores the reality that gradually, day by day, cig by cig, I'm slowly poisoning myself.

Yet I still get amused as a I jump on my high horse and watch politicians and commentators refuse to accept the fact that Britain is not quite the power it once was. There was a time when Britain almost literally ruled the world. But like the Roman empire, the Macedonian hegemony, and a score of other empires, Britain's grasp on the world slowly slipped away. It happens to everyone. It is inevitable. Even the mighty US, today the world's only true superpower, will one day slip from its place on the mountain top and gradually give way to others. It's a question not so much of if, but when (though the when is still in all likelyhood a long way off).

The reason this matters is because a failure to acknowledge the reality of the world is a sure path to watching it slide by without you. The first step in overcoming a problem is to realise you have one. How can you possibly take measures to correct issues if you don't acknowledge the issues in the first place? In the defence context what I see is a UK government that - like with the issue of the EU - refuses to accept how the world actually is in favour of how they would like it to be.

Much time and money has thus been spent over the last few years on the two new aircraft carriers, even as the number of aircraft that will sit on them has dwindled, in the vain attempt to chase the ambition of being a global power. This error as I see it is done and is now too far gone to be reversed. All that's left is to make the best of what I consider a bad hand. That's not to say the carriers are not useful. They clearly are. Whether or not they are actually an appropriate use of the country's limited defence resources is another matter entirely. 

The shaping of the army to prepare it for another potential enduring engagement along the lines of those in Iraq and Afghanistan is also a mistake I feel. These operations entailed the vast expenditure of resources, both financial, political and in manpower, yet produced very modest results compared to said expense. The need to shape the army with a view to carrying out this kind of operation again, at least on the same scale as before, would be the last conclusion I would have drawn from the post-conflict analysis.

Meanwhile the air force chugs along in a weird state of what might indeed be called managed decline. As the years pass it progressively moves further away from the skills that historically proved most useful to it such as deep strike and Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). What's gradually being left is a mish-mash of penny packet capabilities of dubious utility in the grand scheme of things. Once Tornado retires it's difficult to see how the F-35 will pick up this old workhorses load considering the fleets other commitments.

I'm not saying it's an easy situation to master. If the solutions were easy to come by then chances are we would already have them. And I appreciate that it takes a bit of getting used to to wrap ones head (for one is in posh mode) around the idea of simultaneously not being too ambitious but not being too glum either. It is however a vital outlook in my opinion. I believe that the UK, economically and in defence terms (as well as some other areas) is being held back unnecessarily, with the cause frequently being its own ambition. Money that could be spent making UK defence (in the literal sense) strong and yet an incredibly versatile ally to whomever should need our assistance is instead being squandered on ambitions of being a USA-lite.

The same mentality seems to pervade the "remain" campaign in this EU referendum. Rather than freeing Britain from its European shackles to allow it to become a more dynamic and vibrant economy, it seems the remain campaign would sooner cling to the coat tails of those in Brussels in the hope that one day the UK could be part of a USA-lite style continental government. It's both depressing and frustrating to watch well meaning individuals (at least some of them) trying to carry the country down this path, as indeed has happened in defence.

I'm not sure if people still stop by to read this blog since it fell dormant, though the analytics section seems to suggest that the Russians have been having a good old read of certain older articles lately, but if people want me to elaborate on this a bit more (the defence bit at any rate, and the economic bit as well if enough people are interested), then I may do so.

For now though all this typing has given me the urge to go and have a smoke.


  1. The impression I get seems to be that most of people for remain dismiss the view of further integration into a US of E, though they don't seem to have to argue how the E.U or Eurozone is going to save itself. While saying how the E.U is this wonder that has opened trade and created peace, stability and security. Which is rather funny as it believes in free trade only within its domain, not mentioning all the rules/regulations that it imposes, because it knows best. As for the other's we just need to look at Greece,Ukraine, and Syria (migration crisis) to blow that argument out of the water. Let's not forget that even those from Brussels admit they don't believe it can exist in its current form this is ignored by those in favour of remaining. Brussels has agreed with austerity and cutting budgets while demanding more money for itself. As for Cameron and his implied "crap" about peace even if that argument was remotely true then there would be no such thing as a civil war! I can't think of a single reason to say in!

    1. It never ceases to amaze me how many of the remain campaigners refuse to accept the notion that EU leaders and many MEPs want to move progressively towards a United States of Europe. The real power brokers and people that run the EU parliament on a day to day basis have repeatedly stated in open terms that they want the EU to form a political union at some point, and have enacted many steps towards this aim such as the single currency.

      It's folly of the highest order for them to deny that this is the ultimate aim of the EU.