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It is fairly uncontroversial to remark that continental Europe owes a considerable debt to the British Armed Forces. Despite the tendency of patriotic historians to construct myths about the Second World War, the material which exalts the conduct of soldiers in the D-Day landings or the pilots of the Battle of Britain is rooted in palpable truth. Britain held out after others had long given up, standing bold and alone against the cruellest experiment in political history.

At the close of the war, Germany lay in well-deserved ruins, the territory itself divided in two – one half enslaved to the Communism it had vainly sought to destroy, and the other half humbled to the democracy of which it had vainly sought to take advantage. The French and the Scandinavians, though liberated, were still dulled from the heavy sleep of German bondage. In the fading smoke of the post-war years, Britain’s army was the most highly developed and capable in Europe.

As the cold war took shape and America’s primacy became undeniable, Britain quickly and successfully shifted into its new role as ‘Lieutenant’ to the US ‘General’. In less than a decade, London moved its foreign policy orientation away from the pursuit of colonialism and towards the cooperative defence of Western freedom.

And for many years, we excelled at this role. Britain was among the first Western countries to successfully test a nuclear warhead; the RAF was a leading edge in technical research and radar development, and British bases (the only positive legacy of empire) gave the UK a reach other European states could only dream of.

This splendored history only makes what has happened since it all the more tragic.

Over the past two decades, the British military has been dismantled. The RAF and ground army has declined or been held in stasis even as the world outside has become a far more dangerous place. Our leaders (from Thatcher onward) have felt secure enough to roll back the acquisition of tanks, ground personnel and fighter planes, preferring to direct the military budget into costly electronic, reconnaissance, and guidance systems, as well as monumentally expensive aircraft carriers. While the justifications used for this ‘modernisation’ have been convincing to some, they seem shakier with me every passing year.

As Conservative MP John Baron put it: “(We are) developing expensive bits of kit whilst reducing our manpower and thus ability to deploy force overseas. The old adage of there being no substitute to boots on the ground needs remembering.”

Indeed, what good are aircraft carriers – machines designed for preparatory warfare against a country – if there is no military to impose a lasting decision on that country afterward? There is much more to warfare than bombing, and for illustration, one need only return to the Second World War.

When Dresden was levelled by the RAF and USAF in 1945, nobody – not even the most starry-eyed optimist – would have called the Nazi problem dealt with. Troops are necessary to create a new order and construct a favourable peace. By cutting its numbers so deeply and so quickly, Britain may eventually relax into a state of Luxembourgian irrelevance.


Since it is widely regarded that the death-knell to Britain’s Empire came at Suez in 1956 (by the inability to either suppress Egypt or acquire American backing for doing so), it might be illustrative to speculate what might become of such an adventure today. Have the gaps been plugged? Has Britain got stronger? Have the billions of pounds spent on its military in the intervening period served to redress the problems encountered? On the contrary. Britain’s military today is weaker than that of Egypt by quite some distance.

Would it surprise you to learn that the British army currently possesses less than 500 tanks, and that the army of Egypt boasts more than 3000? How about the fact that the RAF currently operates around 120 4th Generation warplanes, whereas Egypt possesses 240 F-16s? What about the fact that the UK has a combined active and reserve manpower of 300,000 and Egypt over 1 million?

Put simply (and starkly), whereas we were once capable of sustaining the largest Empire in history, we cannot now defeat a mid-sized third-world state.

So who is responsible for this? The most obvious target for the finger of blame is the EU, and the false sense of security a seemingly quiescent Europe provides for our military planners. It is true of course that another war with Germany is a near-impossible prospect and that French animosity has more to do with language-envy and cuisine than a hatred translatable into war.

But the EU security delusion is otherwise extremely naïve. The Brussels experiment is heading for a potentially stormy break-up, the outcomes of which are nearly impossible to predict. Enemies abroad from the continent are not thin on the ground either. In our confrontation with Islamism, we currently face a human resource potential of over one billion.

There are people (usually on the Libertarian right) who perceive a more shadowy reason for Britain’s disarmament, often involving a future ‘New World Order’ in which nation states are levelled to a peaceable parity and a one-world government reigns unchallenged over them all. But if this is a conspiracy, it is very unevenly applied. Germany isn’t getting weaker. France isn’t either. India, China, Turkey, America, Russia – none of these are disarming themselves. In reality no conspiracy. Other countries merely perceive a more dangerous and unstable world than we do.

That might well be of no import were it not for the fact that these countries inhabit the same world as ourselves.