Robert Gates has warned the UK that reducing our military capability will jeopardise our “special relationship” with the US and limit our ability to be a major influence in the world. Does his case for war matter, I wonder? And is it true?
The previous American Defence Secretary spoke trenchantly about (and I paraphrase) the folly of the present British policy on reductions in defence spending, expressing particular concern that in any future combat we would not be able to support the US in the way we have before, in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. It was noteworthy that, not so long ago, Parliament’s unexpected refusal to back military action in Syria caused a crisis for President Obama, who was left without any other meaningful support, and Gates’s criticisms may derive largely from what is in America’s interest rather than being intended to be helpful to the British government.
[caption id="attachment_2329" align="alignright" width="150"] Robert Gates with George Bush[/caption]
I wrote earlier this week about “the enormous expenditure that is involved in making and maintaining the aircraft and training the crew, when the nature of warfare has changed so much, and the need for it will become a thing of the past so soon.” There is no doubt that modern warfare is more to do with cyber-security, ant-terrorism, covert operations and pilotless air operations using drones rather than conventional soldiers on the ground: the waste of lives and money in recent conflicts which have exacerbated tensions rather than brought peace means that future large-scale invasions on the scale of Iraq are unlikely to occur again. It is realistic to accept this, and to reflect it in a re-shaped military defence force, without fear of what others will think, or judge.
It would be excellent if, without a large and bellicose British contingent to support American foreign policy, military intervention in, or even threats to other lands were inhibited. Why choose war, when recent experience has proven it worsens a situation, rather than brings solutions which last?
It is a pity if a country is judged on the size of its military rather than what good it does for its own people and the wider world beyond. Influence comes in many forms, and so does deterrence: weapons, destruction and killing should be a last resort, not the largest investment, as it has been for too many nations for too long.
So much ego is involved in the game of “defence”, and so many and so much is hurt by it. Robert Gates may, inadvertently, through his uninvited and discourteous public rebuke have undermined the American case for a huge war machine owned by Britain and for the US as well, for there are many people like me, in his country as well as mine, who just do not see the point.