Last year’s Integrated Review, which set the direction for UK defence policy, now feels a lifetime ago — suddenly outdated as armies march in Europe. In the blink of an eye, politics more or less is defence.
British military thinking has not come to grips with the menace of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which should have thrust the role of Britain’s Armed Forces firmly back into the public eye. That it did not was in part understandable, with political attention successively taken by concluding Brexit, devising a broad post-EU role on the global stage, the Covid-19 pandemic and then the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Still, if the choices made in the Integrated Review last year were troubling at the time, they now seem jaw-dropping. Most of all, the Ministry of Defence’s announced yet another cut to the British Army’s already sparse troop numbers, slashed from 82,000 full-time soldiers to merely 72,500 — an entire Division’s worth, gone with the stroke of a pen.
Why slash British troops to their lowest since the 18th century?
The 2021 Integrated Review effectively ended the doctrine of British managed decline, heralding a major new role for Britain in the world through the so-called “Indo-Pacific tilt”. Given that the Review crystallised the imminent threats to British national security as led by the systematic challenges of a revisionist Russia and China, who both clearly sought to destabilise the post-Cold War liberal order, why did this paper also see fit to slash British troop numbers to their lowest point since the 18th century?
This was the trade-off that then-Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter chose to make, hedging his bets that a reduction in conventional mass — meaning armour and troop numbers — would be prudent if compensated for with an uplift in cyber, space and unconventional forces. Just last year, Boris Johnson himself told the Defence Select Committee that “the old concepts of fighting big tank battles on European land mass [are] over”. So no insurance policy was needed.
Where does this leave our ever-depleting armed forces, at a time when war threatens to spill over Ukraine’s borders and place further strain on British defence resources?
For a start, one can see this week just how crucial morale is on the battlefield. The brave Ukrainians have it in bucketloads, whilst the bruised Russian forces are increasingly running low. Often regarded as the second most important principle of warfare (after selection and maintenance of the aim), morale is now being progressively eroded across the British Armed Forces, not just through deep and unnecessary personnel cuts, but by one of the few areas where the Army has been allowed to spend growing sums of money: on the woke Commissars who have seized control of large parts of the defence establishment.
Only last week, it was revealed that a report commissioned in December by the National Security Advisor, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, told intelligence officials to check their “white privilege” and avoid mansplaining to colleagues. This is the same man who has expressed support for BLM, whose aims include to “dismantle capitalism” and “defund” the police.
The military surrendered an entire day’s training to non-gendered pronouns
This happened at a time when Britain’s defence and intelligence community should have been focused on the Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s borders, not alienating its core recruitment demographic and imposing woke language to appease a misguided civilian agenda. This report was swiftly followed by the British military surrendering an entire day’s training in February to learning non-gendered pronouns and mandatory unconscious bias training.
As war ravages eastern Europe, the British military is being subjected to an increasingly daft — and, frankly, poisonous — woke culture which is harming the operational capability of the forces we will have left. This is strategically incoherent and leaves our military weaker.
The increased resources we now clearly need should be prioritised in two ways. The first is on long-range artillery systems. The second is to reverse the drastic cuts from last year’s defence paper to our heavy armour capability. The British Army had nearly 450 main battle tanks a decade ago. We now have only 227 and will soon be left with less than 150, leaving Britain unable to field a single war-fighting armoured division.
There is hope for the political and military leadership. Boris Johnson has shown resolve during the Ukrainian crisis, as undoubtedly President Zelensky’s most dependable European ally. The incoming Chief of the General Staff General Sir Patrick Sanders, a man grounded in the realities of combat from Afghanistan and a favourite among the troops, may steer the politicians away from further eroding the combat effectiveness of the British Armed Forces through the disaster of woke agendas and personnel cuts.
Our security ultimately rests on the capacity to defend ourselves from external aggression. That test is being meted out just a short flight from London on NATO’s flanks. The time has come to reverse the decline of the British military, and re-learn the doctrine of lethality.
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