Currently Trident missile submarines and Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers are being built for tens of billion pounds. Neither have a strategic purpose. Britain can’t initiate or repulse conflict independently. Since the Falklands war in 1982, all eleven conflicts where Britain has fought have been coalition enterprises. The Royal Navy was peripheral to the RAF and Army in all of them. As recently as 2016, parliament approved further expenditure on Trident submarines and their missiles. The Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier programme is incomplete and massively over budget as is usual in Britain. This naval expenditure is long-term. It consumes capital and revenue, which by global standards is barely average, (see Addendum) though it’s a huge burden for our economy. The more expenditure which is committed, the less willing politicians will be to terminate the programmes, despite them having no purpose. Only a courageous politician, like Harold Wilson, could resolve this problem.
Two years after the Falklands war, Michael Heseltine insisted,…there is no escape from the fact that behind that conventional force we shall need nuclear deterrence if we are to provide a credible deterrence to the Soviets at every level.** Britain’s nuclear weapons were operationally useless in 1982. Argentinian Exocets were the only missiles successfully used, sinking HMS Sheffield to the horror of the Thatcher government.
The Soviet Union imploded in 1991 along with Heseltine’s justification for “credible deterrence”. In 2016, MPs quixotically voted for a multi-billion pound extension of Trident.
Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers
A coercive and deterrent effect when deployed to a trouble spot***
‘Coercive‘and ‘deterrent‘are quaint concepts in a 21st century British diplomatic and military context. Firstly, who are Britain’s aircraft carriers intended to ‘coerce’? Secondly, who’s being deterred? In the thirty-eight years post-Falklands, there’s been British engagement in eleven conflicts. None would have been deterred by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. We know this because the USA has twenty aircraft carriers. The USA’s armada hasn’t prevented their twenty-six conflicts post-1982. Nor has their armada won those campaigns. Combatants weren’t coerced or deterred by American military might and they won’t be by the Royal Navy either.
The two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers are a diplomatic and military delusion.
This continuing delusion is illustrated by the September, 2020 quotes by the current Defence Secretary, the chief of defence intelligence and the Labour party’s shadow defence minister.
“The global picture has changed. Our enemies have studied up on our abilities and adapted far more quickly than us,” Wallace said. “The static concept of war versus peace no longer applies as we are contested on either side of the threshold of armed conflict on a regular basis.”
Wallace said the UK would need an armed force that is “more forward-deployed, deterring Russian activity in Europe, combating terror in the Middle East and the Sahel and countering Chinese activity in the Asia Pacific”. **** Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary
He believes in the delusion Britain is a global military power notwithstanding evidence to the contrary. Harold Wilson in 1967 took the correct and hard-headed decision to withdraw British forces from East of Suez. By 2016, Britain’s global status was reduced in comparison to 1967 and MPs are trying to resurrect a global military role.
Meanwhile,….”the chief of defence intelligence, Lt Gen Jim Hockenhull, has warned that the UK’s adversaries are presenting a threat both digitally and in space. “Whilst conventional threats remain, we have seen our adversaries invest in artificial intelligence, machine learning and other groundbreaking technologies, whilst also supercharging more traditional techniques of influence and leverage.” There isn’t a justification for either Trident or Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers.
Finally, John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary said, without irony, “First and foremost, this review must safeguard Britain’s capacity to maintain a world-class fighting force. Britain cannot afford ministers who repeat the mistakes of their past.”In the context, Healey means “a world-class fighting“Army, RAF and Royal Navy, which was abandoned as unaffordable sixty years ago.
These quotes illustrate Britain’s political delusions of military grandeur. Pouring tens of billions into ‘defence’ against countries who don’t declare war and asymmetric warlike activities, is insanity. This insanity is driven by the momentum of sunk capital. Only a very courageous government will call a halt.
Addendum: Britain’s defence expenditure in a global context
Britain comes eighth in the global defence expenditure list. This provides a context for the empty rhetoric of politicians who have delusions about, “…..this review must safeguard Britain’s capacity to maintain a world-class fighting force.” John Healey, Labour shadow minister.
*** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Elizabeth-class_aircraft_carrier#Strategic_Defence_Review Report July 1998 Defence Review
**** All quotes are from https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/rivals-have-surged-ahead-of-uk-s-armed-forces-ben-wallace-warns/ar-BB191KuW?ocid=msedgntp 14th Sept 2020
For Trident see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trident_(missile)
For the cost of the Trident programme see https://cnduk.org/resources/205-billion-cost-trident/ see also https://fullfact.org/economy/trident-nuclear-cost/ For a government statement on costs see https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8166/
For a list of wars with British involvement since 1982 see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_the_United_Kingdom#United_Kingdom_of_Great_Britain_and_Northern_Ireland_(1922%E2%80%93present)
For Exocet missiles and the Royal Navy see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falklands_War#Sinking_of_HMS_Sheffield
For USA aircraft carriers see https://www.businessinsider.com/aircraft-carriers-list-in-service-patrolling-the-world-2018-2?r=US&IR=T
For USA military operations since 1982 see https://military.wikia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_the_United_States
For the use of the Royal Navy to prevent illegal immigration see https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/royal-navy-patrol-english-channel-migrant-crossings-france-574360
For Gavin Williamson’s bombastic statement about the use of British armed forces see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6689439/Were-ready-strike-against-Russia-China.html See also the East of Suez debate https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1967/jul/20/east-of-suez