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September 30th 2015 print

Hal G.P. Colebatch

Disarming in a Dangerous World

From the Baltic to the Middle East the threats are rising, yet across the Anglosphere defence budgets are slashed and a blind eye turned to perils that range from Russian adventurism to Islamic aggression. Never have so many been protected by so few

plane scissorsMany in the British defence establishment and private think-tanks were dismayed when David Cameron’s coalition government, despite international turbulence, cut Britain’s army from 100,000 to 82,000 men, its smallest size since before the Napoleonic wars. More recently, in the face of obvious international instability, Cameron has announced defence spending will be increased to the agreed Nato minimum of 2 per cent of GDP over the next few years. It appears to be a U-turn away from a policy of steady and increasingly dangerous defence cuts.

This will be welcome news, as far as it goes, to the many senior figures in the defence establishment and the many retired senior officers of all three services who have been warning with increasing urgency over the last few years about the parlous state of Britain’s armed forces. Further, a new Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) has been promised for this year.

However, the conservative Bow Group, a think-tank with some highly qualified members, has recently made the point that simply budgeting towards an arbitrary figure does not necessarily mean that the spending priorities will be right. It calls for an extended and less hasty review that takes full consideration of the range of inputs needed. It argues that the SDSR should be sufficiently resourced to give due consideration to the UK’s national objectives, operational sovereignty, and the views of industry and major allies. This could enhance the UK’s international standing and security. Otherwise the promised increase may not be as good as it looks.

Sir Edward Leigh MP, said: “Chancellor George Osborne’s pledge to commit to spending an annual 2 per cent of national income to be dedicated to the military is welcome news, but it is how this money is being spent that is important.” Harry Malins, co-author of the group’s paper, said:

We now need to ensure that the money translates into increased military effectiveness by conducting the SDSR properly.

I am concerned that a review developed in haste over the summer to meet an autumn publishing deadline, without sufficient consideration of the range of inputs needed for such a complex exercise, will become little more than a glossy PR document with limited genuinely strategic content … It isn’t yet clear that the 2% of GDP allocated to defence will enhance military effectiveness, with the potential inclusion of new “extras” such as war pensions meaning that defence spending is not really protected at all.

He believes the review should be delayed until next year to give time to discuss it thoroughly.

And the build-up has not yet happened. It is still a politicians’ promise.

Meanwhile the extreme leftist Jeremy Corbyn appears, at the time of writing, to be powering to the leadership of the Labour Party. Corbyn is not only opposed to the British nuclear deterrent, being a long-time eminence of CND, but even to the existence of Nato (he seems to prefer the IRA). Merely as Leader of the Opposition Corbyn might drag British politics far to the left and throw Cameron’s proposed (and fairly minimal) re-armament back into the melting-pot.

The irrational Greens, Corbyn’s natural allies, also aim for the abolition of the armed forces, with Britain’s security to be ensured by such policies as town-twinning (a pity the Foreign Office did not think to twin London with Berlin in 1939), and “exchange visits and internet-based methods of learning about other countries and cultures by direct contact” (such as ISIS, perhaps, with lessons in the culture of decapitating Christians?).

So the question is: Does Cameron mean it? Is the world compelling him at last to face facts?

The Falklands, which it cost hundreds of British lives and five front-line ships of the shrunken, bathtub Royal Navy to recapture from rather poor Argentinean forces in 1982 (and then with American and Chilean help), are defended by, apart from ageing Rapier ground-to-air missiles, just four Typhoon fighters and 1200 ground troops, including cooks and clerks.

It has recently been announced that additional small packets of troops will be rotated through the islands for training purposes. A single warship makes visits. And forces must still be found for the Middle East, Nato and elsewhere—a small training force has just been sent to Ukraine, not to mention calls to intervene against the massacres of Christians in various places and to support the weak sub-Saharan African armies against the fanatical Boko Haram. These operations are voracious consumers of equipment and supplies.

America, though it has singularly failed to provide leadership, and under the present administration seems intent on weakening itself, is reported to be angry at the free-riding of other members. At present America pays for about 70 per cent of Nato.

Lord Richards, the former chief of the defence forces, has previously accused Britain’s political leadership of “sleepwalking” on defence, and has said it needed to treat the threat of ISIS as seriously as a world war.

Ex-Minister of State for the Armed Forces Sir Nick Harvey, a Liberal Democrat whose public biography suggests, to say the least, a questionable interest in defence matters, said in Parliament before the latest announcement that the government was studying proposals to axe a further 22,000 troops: “There are already paper exercises going on looking at what an army of just 60,000 would look like because of the financial crunch that the department is going to be facing.” It is only too easy to imagine what it will look like, to Britain’s allies and enemies, and to servicemen seeking careers that offer a future.

Apparently oblivious to the conflicts now raging and the massive Russian re-armament, Harvey blithely claimed large standing armies were no longer relevant. He said Britain’s armed forces must become “better merged with other levels of national power and influence at home and abroad”, whatever that means. Remember the scene in the film Aliens, in which, the troops having been disarmed in the face of a dangerous enemy, one hard-bitten grunt demands: “What are we supposed to use? Harsh language?”

Harvey also told the United Services Institute: “Let me be quite clear. Change is coming. The armed forces will need to be less focused on scale when contributing to multi-national operations, the emphasis moving to quality.” But wasn’t there always supposed to be an emphasis on quality?

General Raymond Odierno, the US Army Chief of Staff, has admitted he was “very concerned” about the British cuts, warning they would diminish Britain’s ability to fight future campaigns. He indicated that the cuts had diminished America’s confidence in Britain as an ally.

British General Sir Peter Wall, a former Chief of the General Staff, has also warned against plans to cut Britain’s defence budget, citing the Ukrainian crisis and the threat of ISIS. Sir Peter urged before the last election: “We military folk would like to see manifesto commitments to levels of defence expenditure and it’s of concern to us that all parties would probably be content to have this conversation not happening at the moment.”

Although it is impossible to know for certain, the Tories’ unexpected majority at the election may reflect popular concern about defence. Not that the Tories’ record on defence has been good—on the contrary it has up to now been disgraceful—but there are on the Conservative back benches a considerable number of defence-minded MPs. More importantly, the leftist parties could be expected to be even worse.

Britain has a population of about 65 million and the fourth-largest economy in the world after several years of uninterrupted economic growth. If the latest cuts go ahead, it would mean less than one person in a thousand is in the army. At the Coronation in 1953 Britain, with a far smaller economy and population than today, had armed forces of 820,000. At the Coronation Naval Review there was a whole line of aircraft-carriers and cruisers, and even a battleship (still useful for shore bombardment, and in these days of asymmetrical warfare, possibly, with modern guns, missiles and ample space for volume-critical electronics, even more useful now than in the recent past). By way of contrast, Britain in 2014 had 563,000 estate agents and 250,000 hairdressers.

Sir Nick Harvey has said: “We do not hear from any of the political parties—not mine, nor anybody else’s—that defence is going to be insulated or protected from a tough comprehensive spending review later this year.” The Daily Mail reports Britain is giving half a billion dollars to India this year, which will just about cover the cost of India’s burgeoning manned space program (Britain hasn’t got one for itself). Britain has spent about $120 billion on foreign aid projects in the last four years with no discernable benefit to its interests or security, including such less-than-vital projects as swings for burka-clad women in Islamic countries.

Former Cameron speechwriter Ian Birrell said before the latest announcement:

At a time of global uncertainty, another £500 million is coming off the defence budget. Yet every year the Government happily hands out a sum approaching this to Pakistan, whose security forces assisted the Taliban militants who killed British soldiers, and whose politicians do not pay tax.

Research conducted by the House of Commons Library has found that aid spending could eclipse defence by 2031, assuming current spending changes continue under successor governments: defence spending would be £27.1 billion by 2031, but the aid budget would be £28.3 billion. In recent years, the Department for International Development has seen its budget increase sharply as ministers try to hit the target of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid.

Even the generally leftist and anti-defence-minded US President Obama, presumably acting on professional advice, has told the UK to shape up on defence.

Meanwhile an increasingly aggressive Russia has agreed to supply Argentina with twelve high-performance Sukhoi Su-24 “Fencer” supersonic, all-weather attack aircraft. They have a range of about 3500 kilometres and laser-guided missiles. The aircraft would easily be able to reach the Falklands. Argentina is not going to need them against its neighbours like Paraguay, Uruguay, or even Brazil. The only imaginable use Argentina has for them would be another attempt to seize the Falklands by military invasion. In addition, Argentina is reported to be buying about twenty top-of-the-range “Thunder” fighters from China. What for?

Tensions over the Falklands resurfaced after exploratory seabed drilling revealed the promise of an oil bonanza. President Putin’s visit to Argentina in July laid the groundwork for exchanging Russian military hardware for wheat, beef and other goods Moscow needs due to EU food embargoes. Russia has been increasing its links with Argentina since 2010, when it provided Mi17 assault helicopters. Moscow’s Realpolitik interest in the area, apart from perhaps getting its hands on putative South Atlantic oil, appears to be to divert British defence assets from Nato.

British defence officials fear Buenos Aires will take delivery of the planes well before the deployment in 2020 of the Navy’s 65,000-tonne aircraft-carrier Queen Elizabeth and its handful of F-35B fighters, leaving a period of vulnerability. Argentina has just released a new banknote with a map of the Falklands on one side and anti-British propaganda on the other. The only explanation for such inflammatory behaviour is as part of a campaign to rouse the population to war-hysteria.

In the event of another Argentine attack on the Falklands the British nuclear deterrent would be useless: Britain is not going to nuke Argentina. Britain no longer has the Harrier jump-jets which gave a good account of themselves in the 1982 war, and which might at a pinch be flown off small and improvised flight-decks, or the long-range Vulcan bombers which cratered the Port Stanley runway and denied it to enemy forces, or the Nimrod long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. A few years ago Britain’s force of hunter-killer nuclear submarines were found to have a dangerous defect which necessitated them all being docked for repairs. Britain had no conventional submarines and had to borrow a German U-boat to guard its coast. (What would Grand Admiral Doenitz have said?)

A glance at the map shows the Falklands have hundreds of kilometres of deeply-indented coast which must be defended against landings. Once an Argentine invasion force was ashore in the Falklands it is very difficult to see how the small British garrison and four Typhoons could be relieved or reinforced—modern war, with rapid-firing, highly destructive weapons, is more than ever a matter of re-supply. Putin could be expected to enjoy the defeat and humiliation of a leading Nato member at no cost to Russia.

Nor is Obama’s America necessarily the reliable ally that Reagan’s was. Obama has made obvious his distaste for British colonialism and even for the Anglo-American “special relationship”. Apart from his dutiful pronouncements as President, Obama might relish Britain’s humiliation and impotence almost as much as Putin would. Why, in any case, should America help Britain, and attract the enmity of Latin America, if Britain is patently unprepared to help itself?

Further, Britain in 1982 received important if clandestine help from the right-of-centre government of Chile under General Pinochet, who was able to think in geostrategic terms and appreciated Britain’s value to the whole Western alliance. (Britain under Tony Blair gave him scurvy reward for the British lives he helped save.) Chile now has a left-of-centre government which would almost certainly not act in the same way.

Despite having no local enemies and plenty of economic problems, Argentina has been making other expensive efforts to upgrade its airforce. Last October it announced it would buy twenty-four Saab Gripen fighters from Brazil, which has just purchased thirty-six, but Britain squashed the deal as some of the jet’s parts are made in the UK.

Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, of the UK National Defence Association—a group of former military chiefs and politicians—said:

The Ministry of Defence should be worried. It always trots out the mantra of reviewing force levels but the only real solution is to deploy a sizeable force of Typhoons, at least a squadron, to buy us time to formulate a proper reinforcement package.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We regularly review force levels around the world, though we wouldn’t comment on the detail of this for obvious reasons.”

In August last year the former head of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, said Britain must increase defence spending “immediately” to send a clear signal to opponents. It had only seven combat-capable squadrons (due to fall to six) compared to France’s fifteen (even Belgium has five), and only eighteen major surface combatants—five destroyers and thirteen frigates—to France’s twenty-four, despite the obvious fact that Britain is an island and France is not. In a joint letter with leading historian Andrew Roberts, Sir Michael called on Britain to take the lead in Europe and increase spending to “implement an updated strategy which takes full account of today’s changed reality”. Sir Michael and Mr Roberts said the country’s armed forces were “too small, too unbalanced, with many serious gaps”. They called for an immediate stop to defence cuts and for Britain’s defence budget to be ring-fenced against further cuts (the foreign aid budget has been “ring-fenced”, though it is hard to see how it serves comparable national interests). “Not to do so would suggest that defence is not the first duty of government, but a lower priority than several ring-fenced social services,” they said. “Such a commitment would send a clear signal not only to Russia, but to the rest of Nato, and our opponents elsewhere. “

Britain has signed up to a Nato initiative to share billions of pounds of military hardware with other countries, potentially leaving the UK incapable of fighting its own wars. Under the scheme, heavy weapons, aircraft and ships would be pooled in an effort to save money and promote co-operation. The fact that all major countries at different times have different interests is ignored. Should Argentina invade the Falklands, or Spain invade Gibraltar, can one imagine France lending Britain its only aircraft-carrier and its air-group to help retake them? Retired Air Vice-Marshal Sir John Walker has warned that independent military actions such as defending the Falklands would be impossible if Britain was sharing large parts of its small stock of vital equipment.

The moral importance of preserving a tradition and ethos of regimental identity, long a central part of British military tradition and arguably a major reason for the heroism British soldiers have so often displayed, has also been ignored. In Germany in 1919 the few surviving regiments of the German army were each appointed bearers of the—to them almost physically real—traditions and ethos of several disbanded regiments. In Britain public money is spent on left-wing anti-military propaganda of various kinds. It takes no great forensic skills to work out whodunit in the average BBC police television mystery or new “edgy” drama—the villain and murderer, if not a Tory politician, is always the respectable army officer or other “establishment” figure. How important this relentless barrage of anti-military propaganda, this attack on the whole penumbra of military and national ethos and tradition, is, it is hard to say.

Meanwhile, the number of Russian military flights probing Baltic airspace has trebled in the past year, according to Nato. Estonia says that one of its security service officers was kidnapped on the border last year and is being held in Russia. Russia has also obtained a new naval base in Cyprus.

Many defence analysts have questioned whether Nato’s eastern members could cope with a covert, multi-level campaign like that in Ukraine—irregular troops, cyber attack and skilful propaganda being used to exploit internal tensions with ethnic Russian minorities, quite large in all of the Baltic states, and particularly Estonia. The armed forces of the Baltic states, like those of Ukraine and Georgia, are desperately short of equipment.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:

It’s a very real and present danger. Putin was testing Nato all last year, if you look at the number of flights and the maritime activity. He flew two Russian bombers down the English Channel two weeks ago. We had to scramble jets very quickly to see them off. It’s the first time since the height of the Cold War that that’s happened. That just shows you, each time he does something like that, you need to be ready to respond.

Britain has scrapped the Nimrod reconnaissance planes, which were used to track intrusive Russian submarines. The Russian “Bear” nuclear-capable heavy bombers, piston-engined, are obsolete but they do not need to be up to date if they can launch up-to-date missiles. There is no innocent reason why Bears should be flown down the English Channel. In 2014 there were more than 100 interceptions of Russian warplanes, three times more than the previous year, and plainly deliberate provocation.

Putin has never treated Nato as anything but an enemy. Even if he is not the kind of psychopathic war-monger that Hitler was, the West still needs force, military mass and demonstrable determination capable of deterring Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Baltic and possibly Poland and central Europe.

The sharp increase in Russian defence spending is “clearly worrying”, Fallon said. “They are modernising their conventional forces, they are modernising their nuclear forces and they are testing Nato, so we need to respond.” He went on: “There are lots of worries. I’m worried about Putin. There’s no effective control of the border, I’m worried about his pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing Nato, the submarines and aircraft.” This increase in armament cannot be defensive: Nato does not threaten Russia.

A chart published in the Daily Mail shows that in numbers of defence units—planes, tanks, guns, personnel and so on—Russia outnumbers Britain in many categories by at least ten to one.

In the 1950s film Dunkirk, a British soldier, crouching on the beach under air-attack, says, “I suppose they think we’ve made a muck of it.” A civilian journalist tells him: “Somebody’s made a muck of it, but it isn’t the Army. They had what we gave them …”

Meanwhile, the abominable ISIS is, according to Libyan spokesmen, preparing to re-launch large-scale piracy in the Mediterranean, an extra potential demand on the hopelessly overstretched Royal Navy. HMS Cumberland, which previously evacuated civilians from Benghazi, has been scrapped.

It is tentatively planned to merge the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment, an act described by Major General Julian Thompson, who led 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands, as “barmy”. The two units have different training and are equipped for different tasks. The merger would further weaken Britain’s capacity to respond to global events.

Yet another authority, Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, the service dealing with foreign intelligence, has warned that Russia poses a state-to-state threat and dealing with it requires more defence spending:

The stability that we had during the Cold War, or the predominance of the West that we had in the decade or two after the Cold War, that is now changing … and there are real dangers associated with that.

He said Russia had always been a concern for the security services. “Europe and Russia are not converging with one another so we’re going to have to find a new way to co-exist. This crisis at the moment—it’s focused on Ukraine, but Ukraine is a symptom. It’s not the real problem.”

Former RAF head Sir Michael Graydon has claimed that Britain needs to be ready for war today, and could not wait until a “crisis was imminent” to spend more on defence.

In a report, “National Security—A Challenge for the PM”, the UK National Defence Association said Britain lacked aircraft, ships, manpower and weapons, while Russia upgrades its arsenal. It warned that with ISIS creating chaos across the Middle East and North Africa the prospects for British security are a matter of deep concern.

Following the loss of Ramadi and Palmyra to ISIS, British Major General Tim Cross has said Britain must fundamentally reconsider its strategy in Iraq and Syria in its bid to defeat the Islamic extremists. General Cross suggested that Britain should consider putting boots on the ground in the Middle East because it could take a generation for the Iraqi army to be capable of defeating ISIS. Lord Dannatt, the former chief of the general staff, has also urged Parliament to debate deploying up to 5000 infantry.

According to Rear Admiral Chris Parry:

The last defence review, in 2010, was conducted with indecent haste and was a book-balancing exercise, not a strategic or military settlement. It was driven by financial constraints and designed to share the pain across the Army, Navy and Air Force.

But in trying to avoid a fiscal deficit, the Coalition settled for a significant strategic deficit and a major capability gap. Our Armed Forces were effectively hollowed out, especially in skills and support functions. The safety net has always been the vague hope that our allies in the US would save us from the consequences. But these days it is not at all certain that they would.

America faces its own financial challenges and its political classes are fed up with the free-loading, feckless Europeans. The alarm bells should be ringing. After all, the threats are clear.

The palpable weakness and irresolution of the current US administration make the matter more critical yet. Nor should any ally of America forget that, for all its heroic and unparalleled sacrifices to defend other nations—including 30,000 dead in Korea and 60,000 dead in Vietnam—the Democrat-controlled US Congress betrayed South Vietnam in 1975 by cutting off support to it for domestic political reasons, despite President Ford’s promises and appeals.

Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, said: “We must not delude ourselves. We are at a turning point.” He told the House of Lords that the size of the Royal Navy was a national disgrace and called for the government to stand true to its word and order thirteen planned Type 26 frigates now:

We are balanced on a knife edge. Without an increase in defence spending we are on a road to disaster. The Navy and the other military forces will not be able to do what the nation expects of them. We have military capability—but we are losing it so our input will become irrelevant in key global decision-making.

Lord West said that since 2010 there had been an approximate 9.5 per cent reduction in defence spending. This cut Britain’s military capability by around 30 per cent—a “catastrophic” decline.

Senior RAF figures warn that Russian submarines are likely to have gathered valuable intelligence on Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent since the government scrapped the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. Britain’s lack of submarine-hunting planes has left Trident vulnerable to Russian spying which could “prejudice the security and effectiveness” of the deterrent, they argue.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph they also warned that unless new patrol aircraft are bought urgently, the Royal Navy’s two future £6 billion aircraft-carriers will be “put severely at risk”. (In the Second World War carriers like Glorious and Shinano without strong escort forces proved sitting ducks.) They said:

With so few naval escorts available, this will be vital if future aircraft carriers are not to be put severely at risk.

We know that Russian submarines are monitoring the area from which our nuclear missile submarines emerge from the Clyde. Without maritime patrol aircraft surveillance, opportunities for intelligence-gathering by such “intruders” can only prejudice the security and effectiveness of our strategic deterrent.

Indeed, it would be surprising if valuable intelligence had not already been acquired by the Russian Navy since the Nimrod force was grounded in March 2010.

The Nimrod spy planes had been mainstays of the RAF’s reconnaissance fleet since the late 1960s and had a central role in anti-submarine warfare. A new updated fleet, running nine years late and £800 million over budget, was scrapped just before they were due to enter service, as part of the government’s defence cuts five years ago.

When a suspected Russian submarine was spotted off the Scottish coast in November last year, four patrol aircraft from Canada, France and the USA were scrambled to RAF Lossiemouth and spent weeks scouring the area. In 2010, senior Navy officers said a specially upgraded Russian Akula-class submarine had been caught trying to record the acoustic signature made by the Vanguard-class submarines that carry Trident nuclear missiles.

France has announced a £2.5 billion increase from 2016 to 2019 and Germany will spend an additional £6 billion during the same period. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said recently: “Britain has always had the ability to punch above its weight and I would hate to see that go away. I think it’s a great loss to the world when a country of that much history and standing takes actions which seem to indicate disengagement.”

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph in June this year, four very senior retired British officers from all three services said the defence cuts has enfeebled Britain, and likened its lack of action in crises in Iraq, Syria and Russia to the appeasement of Hitler. Admiral Sir Nigel Essenhigh, a former First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord Boyce, Field Marshal Lord Walker and Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire, wrote that Britain must be able to show its enemies that it will not be coerced into submission through military weakness when diplomacy fails in the future. “There is currently little public appetite for further, significant military intervention abroad,” they wrote. “Thus there is cover for our recent, feeble responses to events in the Middle East such as in Libya, Syria and once again in Iraq, as well as in the face of the exponential threat posed by Islamic State.” The letter’s signatories want to see the British armed forces “rebuilt” to adequate levels, and to “set an example to many of our allies where similarly blind eyes have been turned to the consequences of declining military strength”.

Meanwhile, the defences of the other two Anglo countries, Canada and New Zealand, are so small as to bespeak an appalling lack of self-respect. Canada has long Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as the Arctic Ocean and the many islands in the north, and New Zealand is responsible for a vast area of the South Pacific with island mini-states, but both seem content to allow the USA (and in New Zealand’s case Australia) to carry the defence burden.

Despite having a much bigger population than Australia (36 million compared to 23.7 million), the Canadian navy is, compared to even Australia’s, nugatory. Australia has forty warships, eight large support ships, with two heavy amphibious assault ships, sixteen small amphibious craft, and eleven other survey/training vessels, with about 13,500 personnel, and a respectable number of new vessels projected. The Royal Canadian Navy has twenty-eight small warships, one support ship and nine training vessels, with about 9000 personnel. Australia spends about 1.7 per cent of GDP on defence, Canada less than 1 per cent.

Late last year four of Canada’s obsolete fleet units were marked to be scrapped, including two of its three destroyers and both its two supply ships, leaving Canada with just one worn-out destroyer for its navy. It had ended the Second World War with the third-largest Navy in the world. It is left with twelve lightly-armed Halifax-class frigates, also elderly and now being refitted, when what it needs is nuclear submarines which could operate under the arctic ice. It has four conventional ex-British submarines.

Australia plans to spend more than $30 billion on defence this year, Canada less than $20 billion. Canada plans to keep its prop-driven Aurora patrol aircraft flying for another twenty years, while Australia is planning to retire its Orion patrol aircraft and replace them with up-to-date jet-propelled Poseidon aircraft with anti-ship missiles to give them a strike capacity, and Trident drones.

As for New Zealand, the grandly-named Naval Combat Force consists of just two frigates. Since modern warships spend a lot of time undergoing maintenance and refitting, this mean there will be considerable periods when it has only one frigate available. There are also some patrol boats and five helicopters. It has no combat air force at all. It spends about as much of GDP on defence as does Australia, but with a population of about 4.4 million, in absolute terms this is obviously far less. In contrast Singapore, with roughly comparable population, has powerful and modern defence forces, including a powerful air force.

It makes compelling logic that Australia and New Zealand combine their forces, rather than each try to do a little of everything—New Zealand might pay Australia or make a bigger infantry contribution in return for cover by a bigger RAAF, for example—and this already happens to a considerable extent, but as Australia continues to modernise and upgrade its forces, New Zealand’s ability to act jointly with it will decrease. And even countries as close as Australia and New Zealand, as the Lange government showed, may have different policies and priorities.

The Anglo countries are at a crossroads in a dangerous world. Much hangs on how serious Britain’s new defence shape-up proves to be.

Hal Colebatch’s Australia’s Secret War: How Unions Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II shared the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for History in 2014. Parts of this article appeared on the American Spectator website (spectator.org) in February.