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Half-Empty Spectrum

Britain is now a second-rate military power
and pretty soon won’t be asked to help America rid the world of what a
former occupant of the White House once called ‘bad folk’.

So
says Robert Gates, a former US
Secretary of Defense.  Not in so many
words, of course.  Mr. Gates speaks in
the opaque gobbledygook of the American defence establishment. Britain’s military
degeneration, as he sees it, has deprived the country of ‘full spectrum
capabilities’.

What
these full spectrum capabilities are supposed to be he doesn’t articulate.  You’ll have to read his new book to find
out.  Well, he doesn’t have to articulate,
really.  We already know. Our army will
shortly be reduced to fewer than 100,000 heads. 
The once mighty Royal Navy could these days sail up the Thames and scarcely be noticed by the commuters hurrying
across the bridges.  Ditto a fly-past by
the Royal Air Force.  Right now the navy
doesn’t even have an aircraft carrier, Ark
Royal
having just gone to the knacker’s yard and two commissioned
replacements still in the early stages of construction for a few years.

But
here is the question.  How many citizens
of these islands are tossing in their sleep at night, terrified that they might
wake up one morning to find that a defenceless nation is under siege?  Not many, I’ll warrant, and not because they
are fat and complacent – although many may fit that description – but because
they feel perfectly safe.  They, rather
we, are sleeping well because, while many of us may secretly regret the decline
of Britain as a world power, even yearn for the imperial days of gunboat
diplomacy, we can’t imagine what or who the islands are in any danger from.

Russia has been and always will be
distrusted, but Vladimir Putin’s edition of the angry bear is benign compared
to the Soviet version – and even that one turned out to be a Teddy Bear.  North Korea tops everyone’s list of
rogue states, especially as it’s ruled by a psychotic buffoon whose father now
seems a model of moderation and common sense. 
But while Kim might pose a threat to his immediate neighbours, he’s
hardly in a position to menace us.  Iran, Iraq,
Afghanistan and Pakistan all
spell Trouble, but threaten no one but themselves.     

Aircraft-carriers
are a perfect symbol of Cold War thinking. 
Once useful for deploying aircraft in the world’s trouble spots, they
now merely present perfect sitting targets for madmen armed with missiles.  Interventions are now a thing of the past,
even if the Americans haven’t yet twigged. 
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
were fought by troops on the ground, delivered by long-range troop-carrying air
buses.  Both arguably have been
lost.  Iraq, wracked by tribal and
religious rivalries, is slowly but surely descending into anarchy.  Afghanistan has been stabilised,
kind of, by the presence of NATO forces but only because the Taliban prefers to
wait for their withdrawal rather than expend further money and blood in
fighting.        

Gates
is right.  Britain is finished as a global
military power, because there is nothing left to conquer or liberate and
nothing left to defend.

While we’re at
it, and since we’re never likely to use it, let’s wind down Trident.

The
Americans will squeal, our own generals and admirals will squawk.  But our spectrum is, as it were, already less
than half full – and think of the money we’ll save.  And we could usefully spend that on upgrading
our coastal defences to keep at bay an enemy that was once our friend: the sea.

 

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