There is an interview with Britain’s top soldier in The Times today. Much of it is silly “Britain contra mundom” fantasy – grotesque and silly exceptionalism. The decline in numbers of our Armed Forces is recorded and NATO gets a brief mention. But the reality is that it is only as a part of alliances that the U.K. matters at all. We do not need to be a major military power in our own right and haven’t been for decades. Of course when Russia is militarily strong and on Europe’s borders it needs to be kept in check. But that is not a concern for Britain alone.
new European defence model is urgently needed and, despite Brexit, Britain needs to be part of it. A European Defence Force (EDF), politically accountable to the EU and to the European Parliament, is the way forward. That’s direct accountability not the accountability by proxy of NATO.
If Russia is in our backyard it is not the only global threat – but again we need to get real. Britain alone can do nothing about Iran or China or North Korea all arguably real threats to global peace. Sending gunboats to the South China Sea to protest about Hong Kong is as laughable as it is pointless. Being a division of America’s military might in Iraq, when our European neighbours sensibly kept their distance, was surely the last instance of Britain’s delusion of independent military significance.
If the Falklands was invaded again we certainly couldn’t defend it on our own. And there are no other distant possessions that we could defend either. Our global role, on our own, and our ability to be able to assemble a task force has gone and will not return.
Threats need to be met first and foremost with diplomacy not with weapons. But it helps to carry a big stick. The gunboats near Hong Kong and the ludicrous threat to use them to defend our fishing rights close at home were utterly preposterous. The stick was barely visible and waving it made us look ludicrous.
When there was an empire to defend then Britain did need to rule the waves. Today in retreat in our lonely island offshore of Europe and isolated from it we may posture about military significance – but the reality is we have none. Except , of course, with our allies. We should play an appropriate and active part in NATO and in due course in an EDF. We have a lot to offer as part of an alliance – nothing at all as a flag-waving faux great power stick in the past.