The current situation faced by the RN is reminiscent to that when King William III ascended the throne; neglected and underfunded. His ambition was to rebuild the Navy to a position of pre-eminence; his problem was the lack of funds. His solution was to borrow the money and thereby created the Bank of England and the National Debt, which are still with us. It has been mooted that our current Debt is the equivalent of the cost of all the wars fought since. There was a consequence arising from the building programme, the oak forests of Britain and Ireland were laid waste. The construction of ships was a massive enterprise that stimulated the economy and did lead to the industrial revolution. Britannia really did rule the waves as the RN won control of the seas. Control of the seas resulted in control of the world and the British Empire. Our modern desires for the RN are less ambitious and relatively less costly. We merely want to save the RN.
Our concerns about the state of the UK Armed Forces are extensive, particularly so with the RN which is at a very low ebb. Each year Navy Books publishes a Complete Guide to the ships and aircraft of the Fleet. This is authored and compiled by Steve Bush. For twenty-two years he served in the RN. On leaving in 2000 he joined Maritime Books and from 2003 has been editor of Warship World. There is no better person to comment on the state of the RN, so for your information we republish his Introduction to the 2017 British Warships & Auxiliaries. Read the rest of this entry »
CDP policies are framed by reference to the essential ‘six systems of community’ as listed in categories 2 to 7 in the sidebar to the right. Over and above those is the duty to ensure that the country is secure and stable; as this enables and allows the ‘six systems’ to flourish. Since ancient times the prime duty of a King has been to protect his subjects, mainly against external threats, but also internally by imposition of law and order. In modern times this prime duty, to protect its citizens, rests with the executive government overseen by the people’s representatives. The duty to protect its citizens can now be more widely defined to include environmental and health hazards, as well as the unscrupulous behaviour of conmen and carpet-baggers. However, for the elaboration and discussion of this category we are limiting our coverage to the three sub-elements of foreign policy, defence and civil protection.
For a rollicking sea yarn it is hard to beat ‘Master and Commander – the Far side of the World’ by Patrick O’Brian. The film starred Russell Crowe as the Captain of HMS Surprise, fighting the old enemy during the Napoleonic War. In one scene the ships officers are sat around the dinner table, when Captain Jack Aubrey asks the ship’s surgeon his opinion on two weevils that have emerged from the hard-tack on a plate. Doctor Stephen Maturin, who is also a naturalist, ventures a description of them with the opinion they are identical. Captain Jack presses him to say which one Stephen would choose. Forced to make a choice he goes for the slightly fatter and longer weevil. “There I have you”, declares the Captain, “do you not know that in the Service one must always choose the lesser of two weevils”. With much laughter the officers toast, “The lesser of two weevils”.
This play on words of the maxim ‘the lesser of two evils’ has been proved to be lost on NATO politicians when it comes to the Middle East and in particular Syria. The UK and US in particular have let their obsession with ousting President Assad undermine and override the fight against barbaric ISIL. In this they are totally at odds with public opinion where common sense has prevailed because it is patently clear that whatever faults the Assad regime has, Syria was a modern and pluralistic society that respected the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. In no way is this intended to condone the repression of political opponents by the regime (which coincides with the various Muslim denominations), but this does not justify the obsession of the UK and US with regime change and being the champions of democracy that must be forced on peoples no matter what; even when they are not ready for it or it does not fit with their national psyche. After all, regime change (for which the UK and US have form) is strictly forbidden by the UN Charter. They may have relaxed their demands that Assad must go, but it is still their ultimate aim, and it is clear they have not thought through the end-game.
Keep your enemies close and your friends even closer. This quote from the Godfather seems to contradict perceived wisdom that would dictate you place some distance between an aggressor and yourself. The problem is to know who is your enemy and to question if your friend is really your friend. A new Labour Member of Parliament described the opposition benches as the enemy, but was advised by a wise and experienced Labour MP, “no son the enemy are on this side behind you”. The current civil-war in the Labour Party proves the point. I also have personal experience as an ex-member of the Labour Party when branch meetings were fractious and vicious, with the comrades only too pleased to knife each other in the back. At the same time, as the chief negotiator for my local government union branch, the best industrial relations that we enjoyed was when the Conservative Party won control of the local authority. Just goes to show, beware of presumption.
When it comes to nations and states the situation can be confusing when countries change sides to serve their national interests, and this swing can be like a pendulum. The US and UK have had a stormy relationship ever since the American War of Independence and with the British burning down the White House in the short-lived war of 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars. During the American Civil War the relationship was ambiguous, but since the Great War of 1914-1918 the US and UK have been allies and friends? Except, that during the inter-war years the US adopted a policy of ‘second to none’ and the Washington Naval Treaty ensured parity with the diminution of British naval power. The US had contingency plans for a war against Britain and an aim for the dismantling of the British Empire. The alliance between Japan and Britain, based on naval co-operation, was smashed by the US. Japan an ally in WW1 became an enemy in WW2. During WW2 the US and UK, together with Canada, co-operated in the Manhattan Project for nuclear development of weapons of war. This resulted in the two nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seventy years ago.
George Osborne has announced a significant expenditure for the upgrade of the Royal Navy submarine base at Faslane. The SNP who oppose the Trident replacement programme have responded with outrage, but their opposition is as usual not clearly defined and is perceived as anti-English in sentiment. There are many good and practical reasons for opposing the Trident programme and the SNP will have the opportunity to make their case in the House of Commons, but they cannot demand a national veto just because the submarines are based on the Clyde in Scotland. The base may be close to heavily populated Glasgow and the potential target for a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile but moving the base, to say Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, would not make them any more safer. Defence is not a devolved issue, it affects everyone in the UK. Even if Scotland did become independent, and based on the Irish example, it is more than likely that Faslane would become a treaty-port. If the SNP wants to gain any traction on this issue they need to be pragmatic and make the argument from an UK perspective.
The main reason why the UK should have the nuclear deterrent is because France has its own independent nuclear deterrent. It is not that France is a threat to the UK, even though the Entente Cordiale does get strained at times, it is about the historical rivalry between the two nations and national pride. The maritime rivalry goes back for hundreds of years and even existed during the Crimean War when the two nations were allies against Russia. Each country still perceived the other as a potential enemy and tried to outdo the other with advances in ship design as they leapfrogged each other in an arms race. The rise of Germany and their naval ambitions was the main catalyst for the Entente Cordiale, with an agreement that France would be the major naval force and power in the Mediterranean Sea while Great Britain would control the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. This underlying rivalry still persists and to a large extent determines UK defence policy. You may think that this is silly, but it is an important factor in Whitehall especially with regard to foreign policy. The French will only cooperate in joint arms programmes if they can take the lead, otherwise they go their own way with the result that two very similar fighter aircraft (Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon) end up being constructed and compete against each other for export orders. The new aircraft-carriers being constructed for the Royal Navy have been designed deliberately to be bigger than France’s carrier. The UK submarines are bigger than their French equivalent. Once you understand this reality it is much easier to fathom what is happening.
David Cameron is a worry. He has only been Prime Minister for a few weeks and he is already getting carried away with his own rhetoric. It is difficult to rationalise his words and actions. Returning from the G8 and G20 meetings in Canada his message was, the world does not owe us a living and the UK will have to reboot its economy in order to survive. His three point plan for recovery is; get to grip with the deficit; slash benefits to make work pay; and kick-start international trade. In relation to the last point he said that British businessmen and diplomats must do more to attract foreign investors and develop business opportunities abroad. This corresponds with Chancellor Osborne’s Budget plan to reduce the size of the public sector and increase the size of the manufacturing and export sector.
How can this be reconciled with the decision earlier this month by LibDem Treasury Minister, Danny Alexander, to axe a commitment by the outgoing Labour government to make an £80million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. This was described by LibDem Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP, Nick Clegg, as a calculated ploy by Labour to win support in Sheffield just ahead of the election. If the timing of the announcement of the loan was a calculated partisan act it would indeed be reprehensible. It also seems ridiculous for the Government to borrow money and then lend it for a commercial operation. David Cameron justified the axing of the loan, which he ventured offered little value for money, by saying that commercial banking should stump up the money. The reality is somewhat different and Nick Clegg, as a local MP, should know that.