Defence basics


Jun 21, 2024By Pete North

Pete has a special interest in the military (check his X profile) and is again disdainful of a threadbare Reform strategy. So here is a proposed big picture defence review and it makes simple sense. The elephant in the room is the question of Ukraine and who is playing what game. At moments like this it can help to assess the EU position, and do precisely the opposite...

On defence, Reform is as bad as all the other parties. Pledging to increase troop numbers, and defence spending to 3% GDP, is just not serious policy. Standing armies are expensive and wasteful. You only increase troop numbers if you're planning on having a war, and as I understand it, Farage (rightly) favours de-escalation in Ukraine. 

In peacetime, we need three basic things from the army: Training excellence, logistics, and readily deployable special forces. In the event of war it should be able to turn all of its professional soldiers into NCOs capable of training civilians into soldiers. As such, a peacetime army is a standby war college. 

In terms of maintaining readiness, we are better off expanding the civilian reserve. It should be promoted as a good way to acquire new skills, make friends and earn a supplementary income. 

Defence, though, is ultimately downstream of foreign policy. If you don't know what your foreign policy is, or where your interests lie, you will never have fit for purpose armed forces. Equipping the army in abstract of a coherent foreign policy is why procurement is messed up and there's so much waste. As usual, it comes down to a definition problem. 

I would venture that if we are to increase spending, it should not be to arbitrary targets. Defence spending should be as much as needs be - no more, no less. Arbitrary targets killed intelligent policymaking in every strand of governance. 

I would further venture that the Royal Navy is where we need the investment. We have a pitifully small surface fleet, and a serious manpower shortage. With current pay levels and limited career opportunities in such a small organisation, it just isn't the attractive career it once was. 

In terms of procurement, we have a system wide problem where most essential kit is becoming too expensive to lose. Drones and tanks, for example, are expendable battlefield assets, but not after we've goldplated the requirements and the cost several million a pop. We may have the best tanks and helicopters money can buy, but they can't be in two places at once, and we just don't have enough of them - even to support a small army like ours. 

The watchword for defence should be readiness, with the capacity to quadruple in scale in a short time if circumstances demand it, but the last thing we need is bloated armed services with bored, demotivated sailors and soldiers. 

It's true that Reform's defence policy would struggle to be more asinine than the Tory national service policy, but you can't expect to be taken seriously as a patriotic party without a detailed and credible defence policy. aims to provide efficient and common sense government without the millstone of dogmatic politics