National Service, really?

There has been a buzz in the press about the potential need for the UK to reintroduce national service due to the increased threats to UK security on the continent of Europe. Wow this will excite certain trotskyists i.e. those who support workers militias, but this is unlikely to happen for two reasons.

It seems that commentators have forgotten the reason the UK abolished national service is that the army no longer wanted the responsibility and cost of turning unwilling volunteers into effective soldiers and this is an even bigger problem in the Air Force and Navy.

still from “Carry on Sergant”, no copyright assertion found using tineye

Second reason is that this is a problem caused by governments, specifically Tory governments. Cameron’s defence review in 2010 cut all three forces and delayed numerous procurement/re-equipment programmes. We note that Cameron’s 2010 review was so bad, that he had to do another one in 2015. I commented mainly on the nuclear deterrent, but in this article, I argued [and on Medium] that a weak conventional defence makes nuclear escalation more likely and identified significant failings in all three wings of the armed services.

Johnson’s review of 2021 was an attempt to reposition the UK armed forces so better support Johnson’s vison of a post-Brexit global Britain. In shorthand, the Navy won the review with a promise to double the number of non-carrier surface warships over the coming decade. To pay for this the British Army is now the smallest it’s been since Napoleonic time;  beyond the manpower statistics this has been shown as its  ammunition stores are insufficient to enable the UK to be a constant ally to Ukraine.

For the British Army the last thing it needs is the additional work in training unwilling and often ill-educated recruits.

 …

Labour’s defence promises

Labour’s defence promises

“Labour to Win ensured the motion topic “Defence” was debated at Labour Conference 23. . In this article, I review the debate and then make some criticisms of the way in which the issues are being handled. The motion states that Labour will continue to support NATO, the need for a nuclear deterrent and that its support the armed forces will be absolute, whatever that means. It also argues that a Labour government will continue to meet the UK’s NATO commitments, 2.0% of GDP and that a Labour Government will invest in the UK’s defence manufacturing capability, continue to support Ukraine, engage in a ‘new’ EU-UK security pact and develop the AUKUS partnership. It also commits to engaging in multilateral disarmament talks.

I look at what the motion doesn’t say, starting with the suggestion that financial targets are not the same as quality. The motion reads as if it’s designed to troll the pacifist and soviet nostalgic left but fails to address the dire state that Cameron’s “Defence Review” left the armed forces in. A defence policy needs to be based on an effective threat analysis, not on the needs of worker’s jobs nor of business profit. A private weapons supply industry doubles the criminality of war. I also look at the reliability of NATO and find it wanting. We need the rest of the EU and the UK contribution to the defence of Europe needs to be within the EU and its “strategic compass”.

There is more detail overleaf; please use the 'Read more' button ...

GMB23; the war in Ukraine

Congress then moved onto debate international issues, which this year, means the War in Ukraine. This was captured on the video stream, and I post the text of the main composite motion which was on the Ukraine war and a second motion on the arms industry and defence. I have clipped the video stream to include the whole debate. Both motions were opposed by a speaker from the floor, who unlike at Labour Party conference was heard and replied to with respect.

I didn’t speak in this debate, there follows below/overleaf the motions and the qualification. The clip above has the whole debate, including the CEC qualification speech together with the one speaker who opposed the two motions. … …

Is Brexit worse than expected?

Is Brexit worse than expected?

I was talking to a friend, who asked if anyone had predicted the current chaos caused by Brexit, which led me to look for and find my personal manifesto for remain [ or on medium ], both published in May 2016

I got the economy, rights, and the loss of freedom of movement right. I was also right on sovereignty and remain so on peace and hope!

I didn’t predict the collapse of offshore fishing industry, food rationing, or an energy cost crisis or that we would have a trade agreement that didn’t allow people to come here to work, although on fish & food, others did. I, and I think most people, have a better understanding of what we’ve lost. I think we’ll be back. …

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Lawyers, Guns and Money

So Ukraine gets Tanks. Lots of Tanks, well not so many but let’s see what Poland does. I wrote this over a couple of week and wondered if it was worth saying and or if my readership wanted something like this, but the Guardian ran a similar story so I decided to go-ahead.

Two weeks ago the UK Government, agreed to send a dozen 20 year old tanks to Ukraine. Ukraine had been asking the German government for permission to take the German Leopard from Poland and it seems the UK offered some of theirs. The Challenger 2 has a different gun to the rest of NATO, the British Gun is not designed for anti-tank use, and will require specially trained personnel. It’s possible that Ukraine would prefer the Challenger because of its gun, as it is designed for infantry support but there are reasons that we plan to replace them; the age of the vehicles and the technology being two reasons.

And the jets? The UK has two warplanes in its inventory. The US F35 Lightening and the Euro-fighter, Typhoon. The former might be best obtained from the US as the ones the Brits have bought have been customised for specific purposes i.e. STOL although this may make them suitable to perform the role for which Ukraine is asking for F16s. Both are multi-role warplanes, but the British are still acquiring the planes from the US as we do not have enough, although the need is alleviated by the Prince of Wales’ reliability problems.

This leaves the Typhoon. The oldest of the Typhoons in service with the RAF were optimised for air-defence and have a weaker air-to-ground capability. The Typhoon is a notoriously hard plan to fly and will again, require long training periods but it is in use with the German, Italian and Spanish air forces. It’s highly likely that to let the Typhoons go to Ukraine, will require the permission of Germany Italy and Spain, our development partners. Most of its users are considering replacements. Do Ukraine really want 15 year old Typhoons, although 15 years is not so old for a warplane and they want planes for air-to-air combat against planes and drones? (The Guardian’s sources disagree and think that ground attack is the priority.) Maybe, but they are asking for F16s. Can an air force the size of Ukraine’s cope  with the logistics and personnel issues in flying two such warplanes, although its personnel cadre is roughly the same as the RAF and it flies two such planes.

This last fact shows the damage done to the UK’s defence capability by 12 years of Tory rule; the 2021 White Paper, with its ambition to return east of Suez effectively reduced our capability of defending our European allies. The reduction in the Army & RAF personnel and the reliance on US supply chains weakens the UK’s real defence capability and Brexit has weakened our capability of co-operating with other European powers in the extra-NATO European military co-operation regimes that the EU is slowly building.

While Sunak has asked the MOD to look at options for shipping warplanes to Ukraine they have also said only if it can be done safely for British lives and the Guardian reports that the MOD is not happy as the Typhoons are exceedingly busy. Will we give Ukraine the tanks and jets it’s asking for? Probably, but the gifting is more symbolic than effective, which is why Zelenski is asking us for them.

All this militaristic bravado diverts from, and hides, the questions of Russian money in British politics, sanctions against war criminals, and support for the Russian peace movement and draft dodgers. Westminster is ignoring things we can do to help; we can and should do more than just ship the Ukraine some old shite we don’t need any more.


The featured image is CC0 from https://www.publicdomainpictures.net. …

Britain’s aircraft carriers, bought but not paid for yet

The Prince of Wales, the newer of the two aircraft carriers costing £3.5bn has broken down in the Solent. I had planned and still plan to write a piece about the 2020-21 Defence Reviews and have already written about it briefly on this blog.  

HMS Prince of Wales R09
HMS Prince of Wales, in Portsmouth, CC Rab Lawrence 2019 BY from flickr

These aircraft carriers, at 64,000 tons are three times bigger than their predecessors which were used to provide air combat capability during the Falklands War. I cannot see a need for such vessels, and it is my view they were authorised to create jobs in the Scottish dockyards that built them albeit under massive US pressure. They are calculated to cost about £3½ bn and the inconvenient truth is they are estimated to have £½m running costs/day!  That makes a fifteen year life time cost of £2.7bn and a full lifetime cost over 50 years of £9.1bn for each aircraft carrier. Over 70% of the whole lifetime cost of the aircraft carriers is running costs and yet to be incurred.

We should sell them, although who would want a ¾ size fleet carrier? Maybe we could sell one each to India and Pakistan, or maybe the Argentines would like one. …

Ukraine, war & Britain

Ukraine, war & Britain

I wrote a piece two days ago, focusing on what UK  citizens and residents of good will should do about the war in Ukraine but feel I need to clarify.

I congratulate the Ukrainian people and their armed forces for the defence they have put up. It proves to me that the UK, because that is what I know , was fooled by the hybrid war conducted by Russia who weakened the UK’s will to resist its imperial adventures and defend its own democracy. Russia funded the Brexit campaign and much of the Tory Party; Brexit is a massive weakening of the European self defence capability as we can see by the EU’s speed in responding to the Russian invasion compared with the UK’s pedestrian pace. Russia’s propaganda presented us with a view as to the invincibility and overwhelming numeric superiority of the Russian Army.  This imbued in some British people, including me, a moral cowardice. This cowardice, equivalent to appeasement in the 30’s will have been reinforced by the moral subversion of NATO due to its US led adventurism in the Middle East.

NATO is the only alliance that can act but to call it a great achievement is hubristic and sectarian overstatement. Today’s NATO is not the same organisation as it was thirty years ago. The need for NATO will be proven if Sweden and Finland seek to join but all its fans need to recognise that the US is not the reliable and generous ally it once was. Trump explicitly questioned the US commitment to Article 5 and Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was not agreed by NATO.

The Ukrainian state is not pretty, it has the 3rd worst record in front of the European Court of Human Rights, and is judged by the EIU democracy index as a Hybrid State. In terms of both metrics the Russian record is worse. NATO member Turkey is the second most frequent breacher of the ECHR. But the Russian invasion is a war crime which it seems will now be investigated by the ICC. Good!

Throughout this we must not forget the brave Russians who are expressing their opposition to the war.

At home, a government that speaks for me must

  • Implement effective sanctions
  • Set up effective and generous refugee acceptance programmes
  • Purge itself of Russian funded corruption
  • Develop a defence policy that defends us against real threats not fake ones.

I would add that we should rejoin the EU but that will not happen until it ceases to be a partisan issue, however this will take much less than 50 years. …

NATO & democracy

The Economist Intelligence Unit has produced its 2021 Democracy Index, which I have not yet read in detail as it would seem there are some interesting things to pick up and comment on, such as how the UK is not considered a ‘flawed democracy’ while Spain is? Is there a link between the Democracy score and GDP? But what this article looks at is the democratic credentials of NATO’s membership vs. those of the Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This is ordered west to east.

Nato members and democracy from the EIU 2021

In other work I am doing I note that over 50% of the European Court of Human Rights cases involves Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine, who are the top three defenders.

Flawed democracies are described as follows,

These countries also have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation

The EIU Democracy Index 2021

I last looked at the EIU index in my article, How democratic is the UK? …

Don’t start from here

Don’t start from here

Paul Mason comments on the crisis in the Ukraine and outlines Russia’s goals and some counter strategies. He argues that one of Putin’s Russia’s goals is to diminish the EU as a world class power. This will be why he is demanding that NATO withdraw troops from the ex-Warsaw pact countries and that the EU non-member states are prohibited from joining NATO. This would include Sweden , Finland together with the Baltic states and Romania & Bulgaria.

It’s a strange serendipity that the Queen Elizabeth has returned from the far east today as it symbolises everything wrong with the UK’s defence strategy (Medium | my blog) where we have an ill equipped and tiny Army. It’s unlikely that aircraft carrier could survive in the Baltic or Black Sea. It’s a weapon of prestige and can do little to help during an escalating crisis on the EU/Russian border. Our defence strategy is based on a flawed threat analysis. A post Brexit global Britain is weak and has little influence; before Brexit the UK military could only operate in alliance and now it’s just turned away from the EU and  both Trump and even Biden are undermining NATO as an effective defensive alliance for Europe.

Furthermore, the UK is a victim of Russia’s “Hybrid Warfare”. Its funding and cyber support of the Brexit Campaign and latterly the Tories not to mention Boris Johnson’s receipt of oligarch’s bunga bunga hospitality.  The closest the Govt has come to considering this threat is the delayed and unfinished Russia report from Parliament’s Intelligence Services Committee. The Tory Govt has refused to follow up.

We shouldn’t have stepped away from Europe because NATO maybe past its sell-by date; the obvious desire to avoid sanctions against Russian UK based assets leads the Govt. to unbelievable sabre rattling. It will make us look very stupid.


The featured images is, Nekhoteevka customs on Russia-Ukraine border. by Дар Ветер from wikimedia, CC 2020 BY-SA v3. …

Tanks

I went to the Tank Museum yesterday and took some pictures.

Challanger

It was interesting to visit the the week following the fall of Kabul; it makes at least one of the exhibits look a bit vainglorious. It also reminds me that I didn’t finish my story of the future of the Royal Armoured Corps from Boris’ defence review. It all makes me wonder about whether NATO can survive, and yet again, whether in areas of defence policy we see another dimension of the stupidity of Brexit.

There’s more to learn; on one slide they observe how the Army is always preparing for the last war. Reinforcing that I note that Tanks were invented during WWI in a Navy project, that like so many stories, the adoption in this case of the Tank was adopted by odd balls and that their was significant opposition bypowerul conservative (not Tory) factions in the Army, to the extent that during WW2 the Army fired Major General Hobart, and had to bring him back. Hobart, was not born into a military family and was assigned to the Royal Engineers; he became the Deputy Director of Staff Duties (Armoured Fighting Vehicles), he later became Director of Military Training and was the founder of the 7th Armoured Division, the Desert Rats. There are many more examples of the slow adoption by the Army of the necessary tactics and technology, perhaps I’ll look them up and write something, if its not been done (I am sure it has).

As one walks in, the first exhibit talks about the design trilemma, of armour, firepower and mobility, a theme they revisit in commenting on a number of exhibits but if one recognises that the best tanks of the WWII were the US designed Sherman and Soviet T34, it becomes clear that cost, and manufacturing simplicity were also key. While tank on tank the allied tanks were inferior to their opponents, the allied forces had more than enough because they were simpler to make by design and the allied manufacturing capability was so much greater.  …