by Karl Johnson
It’s good to know what other countries are thinking about us. I was drawn to a recent article in the American Spectator by Australian lawyer Hal G P Colebatch, entitled Setting the Stage for a Losing Falklands War: Are Britain’s Armed Forces Going Over a Cliff? It mentions our delays in completing our new aircraft carriers, speculative reports in our press that the British army might be cut to 60,000 troops in the near future, and the sale of Russian fast jets and helicopters to Argentina. Colebatch concludes that with a defence budget of less than 2% of national income and a ‘bath-tub Royal Navy’, Britain will be unable to protect its territorial interests against an increasingly nationalistic Argentina, with the inference that we will similarly fail to add our weight against Russian expansionism and the spread of Islamist extremism.
My first impression was that it’s encouraging to know that there are sufficient Anglophiles in America to warrant a concerned piece about the state of our armed forces. Then I considered that the article was quite misleading. Yet I still find myself in broad agreement with its substance.
Colebatch’s argument is one that needs taking down and building up again slightly differently, because it is very nearly right. The truth is that the Falklands are fine. The British armed forces have undergone a painful reduction in the past 25 years, but this is part of a wider trend of demobilisation that has affected most of the world since the end of the cold war. The dissolution of the iron curtain led to an era of globalisation and growth in trade in which large-scale defence expenditure was a hindrance. Britain’s defence cuts have been less stringent than those of most other countries in recent years, and our budget is still one of the largest in the world even at 2.3% of our GDP.
Argentina remains in steep national decline and has not experienced any substantial military engagement since the 1982 conflict. There are mischievous rumours that the Argentine government is reluctant to let its warships visit foreign ports for fear of them being seized by creditors (a result of their policy of using the state’s assets as collateral for debts), and according to the South American Mercopress, a flypast of the air force to mark the country’s bicentenary in 2010 was cancelled due to “the risk of the obsolete aircraft over Buenos Aires.”