Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday, 22 July 2004

Government plans major cuts in UK military

The government yesterday announced major cuts in Britain's military strength affecting all sectors of our armed forces.

The changes are said to be part of a plan to make them, according to Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker:

"more suited to 21st Century challenges",
and would
"allow Britain's armed forces to remain... the best in the world".

Some are criticising the moves, specially various of the opposition political parties (Conservative, Liberal Democrat and SNP - that I have heard about so far), no doubt at least partly because it will have a major effect in areas of the country affected by military bases being closed or reduced in size. It is estimated that 20,000 jobs will be lost as part of the efforts to modernise the forces. On the other hand, Army head General Sir Mike Jackson has been quoted as saying they would provide:

"increased capability, greater continuity",
and
"A lot of what has come out is exactly what we want from our future army structure".

The heads of the other two main arms of the military were perhaps less enthusiastic in their reactions.

As a non-military person I do not feel qualified to make any comment about the merits of the changes, although it does seem that whilst our smaller forces will at least remain reasonably close to the forefront of the 'technology of war', the raw ability to place boots on the ground to deal with crises in various parts of the world at short notice will inevitably be curtailed. I have been reading for months about the strain of maintaining, and providing acceptable duty rotation for, our forces in various areas (Northern Ireland at home and Afghanistan, Iraq and perhaps Sudan in the near future); also the capability of ensuring that the value of military intervention is not lessened by an inability to provide the personnel to help rebuild afterwards - Iraq and Afganistan are examples of this, both for for the UK and the US. What seems to be happening is that very difficult choices are having to be made to make the best use of what are finite resources - as a taxpayer and a citizen I have a foot in both sides of this argument.

These cuts are not the first, of course, to have happened in the last few decades; I recall hearing every few years during my adult life that force reductions were being undertaken. There is an excellent graphic in today's Daily Telegraph (print edition only) showing the changes which have occurred between as recently as 1990 and the present. More tenchant views on what is going on are expressed here than are used in some of the other links I have used.

The cuts will particularly affect Scotland in that the six (remaining) Scots army regiments will be merged into only one or two units. However according to this report the notion that any of the six will disappear entirely, in some form (specifically referring to the Black Watch and the Highlanders), is discounted by Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin; as not all the details have yet been published, or perhaps even decided (amazing - perhaps they were awaiting reactions before doing so!), we will just have to wait for this to become clear.

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