British Defence Cuts: A Battle for the Nation’s Soul

Pride

Never in my lifetime has Britain’s future been more in peril.  The government’s plan to cut roughly 19,000 full-time soldiers and replace them with part-time TA reservists is not merely an ill-conceived cost-saving exercise that will weaken our defensive capabilities. It is a declaration of war against one of the last British institutions that places the welfare of the nation above the interests of the ruling elite.

I’m not taking anything away from the TA, especially those who have and continue to serve in theatres of war. Their bravery and sacrifice are to be commended.  But the argument that combat readiness will not be compromised because more TA will be trained for frontline operations is bogus.  As someone who served 23 years in the military, I can tell you from experience that regular forces barely have time to hone all their soldering skills to perfection.    Furthermore, slashing regular troop numbers will have a devastating impact on our Special Forces. Our SF are arguably the best in the world because only the highest calibre candidates are admitted.  Shrink the recruiting pool however and the Special Forces will be faced with the stark choice; lower selection standards or be woefully undermanned.

Our national security is clearly on the line.  Indeed it has been the focal point of most criticisms of all defence cuts.   But something equally important also hangs in the balance; something which has largely been ignored by the mainstream media. Namely, the core values our armed forces embody.

When a young man or woman enlists in the military, they are not simply taking a job.  They are joining a community in which excellence, loyalty, discipline, courage, self-sacrifice, honour and the promotion of the common good are valued more highly than individual earning power.  Few if any professions in the private or public sector today impart such a sense of pride and self-worth.

Soldiers aren’t in it for the money. They have answered a higher calling. I believe this goes a long way toward explaining why so many of today’s soldiers have difficulty reintegrating into civilian life.  In the past, many rankers from working class backgrounds could return to tightly knit communities that shared many of the military’s values.  But three decades of profit-driven market reforms have decimated our working class communities. The steady manufacturing jobs that sustained them have been shipped overseas and the homes they lived in sold off in a wave of privatization.   What does a retired, working class soldier who has served on the frontlines have to return to today but a soul-sucking, poorly paid, service sector job and a rundown flat owned by a slum lord cashing in on the shortage of social housing.

Successive governments have justified the destruction of working class institutions on the grounds that what’s good for business is good for the nation.  That same argument is now being used to eviscerate our armed forces and privatize vast swaths of the military to enrich profit driven companies.  Rather than take a scalpel to bank bonuses, Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet of ruling elites are giving their mates in the City of London a free pass, arguing that tax hikes on banking profits will drive the financial sector abroad.  Meanwhile, they savage our defensive capabilities to pay for the crisis the bankers created.  If that weren’t obscene enough, the proposed defence cuts are also laying the groundwork for an even greater transfer of public tax funds into private pockets, for should our military find itself short of manpower to defend our sovereignty, it will have no choice but to fill the void with commercial security contractors.

I can scream from the rooftops against the wholesale gutting of our armed forces. But those best positioned to stop it are the officers tasked with carrying it out.  The odds aren’t good. In 23 years of military service I knew perhaps a dozen officers who were truly worthy of their command.   Thus far, the response from the military’s top brass has been true to form.  The Generals carp behind closed doors about their shrinking fiefdoms or leak anonymous statements to the press but to date, not a single one has resigned over defence cuts (speaking out against them after they’ve retired is too little too late).

I’m not aware of an officer from the rank of Brigadier or above who hails from a working class background, so this total impotence is not surprising.  A high-profile, public stand against defence cuts could jeopardize the top brass’s social standing within the ruling elite (not to mention the highly lucrative positions in the private security industry some are no doubt planning to retire to).

If the leaders at the top won’t save our military and defend its values, then the officers below them must act; the Colonels, half Colonels, Majors and Captains.   Many will hold their tongues, reasoning that there is nothing to be gained from a lower ranking officer falling on their sword.  But they can make a difference.

A crucial difference.

During the Falklands War, my Squadron Commander resigned over an operational plan that would have needlessly massacred the troops under his command.  He sacrificed his career so that his men could live to fight another day for this country.  Now more than never, what Britain needs are a few good officers like that Major; patriots who are willing to put the greater good before their careers.  If just one officer were to say a very public NO to defence cuts by openly resigning, others may follow that brave example and eventually the government would be forced to rethink its policy.  Those few good officers won’t receive medals or titles. But when they look in the mirror, they’ll see a genuine hero.

Aid Cuts to Pakistan Need to Go Deeper

Having bitten the hand that feeds it too often, Pakistan is being punished with the loss of $800 million in US military aid.  Withholding the portion earmarked for training and equipping Pakistani forces will sting. But the biggest blow is the $300 million cash reimbursement for money Pakistan has already spent on operations along the Afghan border; a penalty some commentators claim will end up harming the broader economy because the payment goes directly into Pakistan’s treasury.

When I hear such warnings, I can’t help but wonder how much of those treasury funds end up lining the pockets of the country’s military elite, not to mention the ISI (which is largely staffed by former military)? In my view, it’s pointless separating Pakistan’s broader economy from the military because the army controls how the country’s resources are allocated.  The real question to ask therefore is not who will aid cuts impact, but why should the west continue to provide any form of aid to Pakistan?

Take Britain for example. In April, Prime Minister David Cameron outlined plans to make Islamabad the single biggest recipient of British foreign aid by increasing the amount of education aid to Pakistan to £650 million over the next four years (the total UK aid spend to Pakistan for 2009-10 was £140.4 million).   Honestly, I don’t know why Mr. Cameron doesn’t simply bypass the middleman and wire the funds directly into the offshore bank accounts of corrupt Pakistani officials because that’s where much of it will likely end up. Mr. Cameron put a national security spin on the proposed package, claiming that by tackling illiteracy in Pakistan we will be eliminating a “root cause” of Islamic extremism and terrorism.  I hate to break it to the Prime Minister, but over the past six years, I’ve met a handful of captured, hard-line Taliban from Pakistan and all of them had university educations.  It wasn’t illiteracy that had radicalized them, but western policies in South Asia and the Middle East (the same policies have radicalized British-born Pakistani militants as well).

 

It’s time to face facts: education and other hearts and minds initiatives in Pakistan have a dismal track record and to throw good money after bad at a time when Britain is closing libraries, village schools and pricing higher education beyond the reach of the average citizen is grossly irresponsible.

Some will counter that if the West doesn’t buy influence in Pakistan, China will step into the vacuum.  Beijing already has by investing billions in Pakistan. And unlike the west, it does not conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas or demand Pakistan’s military weed out Afghan Taliban, nor does it make a big deal about human rights violations.  In fact, Beijing turns a blind eye to the systematic oppression of ethnic Baluch in Baluchistan province where it is developing a treasured deep water port.

So far, China is getting a great return on its investment, gaining a strategic foothold in the Arabian Gulf and selling Pakistan military aircraft and submarines. But should Pakistan’s millions of downtrodden rise up and demand their fair cut, Beijing and every other nation that has propped up Pakistan’s corrupt and ineffective establishment could very well get their comeuppance. In the meantime, Pakistan’s military will continue to play its double game of going after anti-Islamabad militants while coddling Afghan Taliban targeting coalition forces.

So let’s cut all of  our aid to Pakistan and spend the money at home.  Islamabad can go cap in hand to some other nation.  Because until they are challenged from within, Pakistan’s corrupt elite will do as they like, aid or no aid.