There is no more important duty of government than the defence of the Realm. The armed forces are in a special relationship with the Crown, and not only through the command in chief. There has been a long tradition that members of the Royal Family serve in the forces and hold positions of honour in particular regiments.
But recent measures taken in both Australia and the United Kingdom are cause for concern.
That some politicians fail us in matters relating to defence is nothing new.
In the first version of the constitutional monarchy, the King, William III, seriously considered abdication when the politicians in the House of Commons foolishly insisted on winding down the defence forces.
The King knew that war with France was not long away. He was right.
Successive Australian governments before the Second World War ran down the defence of Australia
There were recent reports that the Australian government is considering whether Australian forces in Afghanistan should be allowed to detain suspected insurgents for longer than four days in order to interrogate them.( Des Harrison, Interrogations 'too short',The Sydney Morning Herald, 15/12)
It surely came as some surprise to most readers that Australia conducts only the initial screening of those people it captures, transferring them to US or Afghan custody or releasing them within 96 hours.
Neil James, Executive Director of The Australian Defence Association told the Herald that the result is that Australian forces are not allowed to hold people for long enough to assess their intelligence value.
''There is a growing morale problem in the force, both among the troops who capture the people, only to see them released three days later [and] … among the interrogators who aren't allowed to interrogate,'' he said.
Perhaps the lawyers have too much say over combat operations. Can anyone imagine what would have happened is we had done this in either of the World Wars?
Now the internationally respected Australian author, lawyer, editor and historian, Dr Hal Colebatch, has declared the British Coalition government in important ways to be “actually worse than its disastrous Blair-Brown predecessor.” (“Tories fail first test of government,” The Australian 22/12)
Dr. Colebatch, who was a keynote speaker to the Perth ACM National Conference points out that the first responsibility of any government is national defence and security writes:
“The present (British) government's record in this area is so shocking it can only be called national betrayal.
The navy is being reduced to 12 destroyers and 12 frigates. That's about all. Its last small aircraft carrier and the Harrier jets are being scrapped. Two new carriers will not be ready for years and will apparently have no aircraft. One is to be sold soon after completion.”
The head of the RAF's fighter and bomber force, Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, says that the cuts would leave the Royal Air Force only "slightly above Belgium" in squadron numbers
Dr. Colebatch also quotes from a speech comment by the Armed Forces Minister of State, Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey, (whom he says is “a former public relations marketing director and student unionist who previously voted against Britain retaining Trident”)
Harvey says that Britain's armed forces under the Tory- Liberal Democrat will become "smaller, lighter and more dependent on allies". The British military, he says, has to become better merged with "other levels of national power and influence, at home and abroad".
Dr Colebatch comments:
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“If a meaning can be dissected out of this gobbledegook it reminds one of the scene in Aliens where – the marines having been disarmed before facing an unknown enemy – the veteran grunt asks sarcastically: ‘What are we supposed to use? Harsh language?’
But what was extraordinary, and insulting to the armed forces was when Harvey said: "Let me be quite clear: change is coming – the armed forces will need to be less focused on scale when contributing to multinational operations, with the emphasis moving to quality."
The failure in many overseas land operations was not in the quality of the soldiers. It was, according to those generals who spoke out, a failure in the quality of the equipment provided by government.
In the meantime the British government has given in to financial demands from the European Union. Mr. Cameron should of course hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, something all political parties once promised.
The Commonwealth – and the Anglosphere, too – are closer to the British people. In comparison with the EU such bargains. And they don’t intrude into the internal affairs of the UK.
Note incidentally the video clip above on the Harrier, a marvellous example of brilliant engineering innovation. How could any government abandon it? Instead, a new version should surely be developed.