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


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.

Published by: bobshepherdauthor

Bestselling author Bob Shepherd has spent nearly forty years operating in conflict areas around the world. A twenty year veteran of Britain’s elite 22 SAS Regiment with nearly two decades of private security work to his credit, Bob has successfully negotiated some of the most dangerous places on earth as a special forces soldier and a private citizen. Bob comments regularly on security issues and has appeared on CNN International, BBC, SKY News, and BBC Radio. He has also authored numerous articles and books including the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Circuit. In addition to writing and lecturing, Bob continues to advise individuals operating in hostile environments. For more of his insights on security and geopolitics visit

Categories British Defence, British PoliticsTags, , , 9 Comments

9 thoughts on “British Defence Cuts: A Battle for the Nation’s Soul”

  1. Bravo, bloody great article as usual Bob and currently reading “The Infidel” which I am very much enjoying, or should I call you John (or Dusty).
    Regards to you and yours

  2. Bob

    Totally agree with you. The previous American trend of downsizing and bringing commercial technics into running the counrty like a business is putting the country defence at risk.

    Nothing against the TA, but if greater requirements for foreign service is being expected from the TA, people will stop joining or leave as regular jobs and requirements from employers are also getting tighter.


  3. Bob,

    Totally agree with your latest blog, as a serving member of HM Armed Forces I can assure you that the recent Governments announcements that you allude to have not been received well. I am now serving my 20th year, and like you, perhaps could name a handful of CO’s who’s first priority was being a “yes man” and climbing up the promotion ladder. I believe that the reason a lot of the high rankers remain silent is because they are simply not that worried, as long as they are still going to move sideways into the newly created civilian post and keep getting their £50K a year pension, they are happy.

    Just finished “The Circuit” by the way, and now onto “The Infidel”.

    1. Thank you for your comment John,

      That means heaps coming from a serving member of our armed forces, well done.

      Please pass on the blog post to whoever you may think will appreciate it. I hope that you enjoy The Infidel.
      Very best, you all deserve much much more!

  4. Hi Bob,

    On my two previous tours of Afghanistan in 2008 and 2006, we had 30 member of the Australian army come over to deploy with us. They arrived in UK 6 months prior to deploy to train with us and conduct our SOP’s. Although I do not have a bad word to say about them as they were fantastic, reliable soldiers. Why were they here in the first place?. I know that they will be with us again on the next tour, so when the British soldier gets “laid off” they will just get filled my Australian soldiers.

  5. Great article again Bob.
    I think that we as a nation completely underestimate what our armed forces achieve with the resources they are given. The defence cuts make even less sense when we are commited to further campaigns such as Libya.
    The TA furfil a vital role, but they should not be the core of our armed forces.

    As to privatisation, we can see how well that has worked out for the American military with the reports of vast wastage starting to come out.



  6. I agree with your article Bob and i think it is a real shame. I am in the Cadets at school and i would really love to join the Army when i leave but i am worried there wont be a job left for me and i will have to do something boring. Like you i believe in professionalism and i have a patrol competition with the Cadets in a few weeks but it really annoys me when the rest of the team mess around.
    Just reading “The Circuit” for the third time. Its great and i cant wait to get my hands on your other books.

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