It's total madness to undermine our military by cutting its budget says Richard

Monday 30 March 2015

As the Government continues to waffle, obfuscate and mislead over the hugely important question of our defence spending commitment, here’s a neat – indeed, an almost perfect – example of what happens when belligerent nations scent weakness.

At great cost in lives and treasure, Britain defeated Argentina’s fascist military junta in 1982, expelling its invasion force from the Falklands.

The jingoistic song of more than a century before was apt.

“We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men – and we’ve got the money too.”

Flash forward three decades to 2015.

“We don’t have the ships… we don’t have enough men, really… and, er, we’re a bit short of the readies. We’ll get back to you.”

Stirring stuff, eh? The watching Argentinian government isn’t stupid.

They can read the runes as well as Putin, or anyone else wanting to cause trouble.

David Cameron’s continued dithering on declaring a minimum spend of two per cent of GDP on defence sends out a bad enough message.

But our 10-year “holiday” on a proper aircraft carrier has transmitted the worst possible signal to Buenos Aires.

Five years ago the Strategic Defence and Security Review airily announced that we wouldn’t need to bother with aircraft carriers with actual planes on board, because we were most unlikely to need them in the foreseeable.

So they scrapped our Invincible-class carriers and their Harrier jump jets (aircraft that were absolutely critical to retaking the Falklands) and decided we could safely wait a decade for an upgrade. Idiots.

Those carriers would have come in handy now in the air strikes against Islamic State bases in Syria, wouldn’t they?

Or in the likely coming raids against the same repellent psychopaths massed in Iraq and Libya.

As for the Falklands, Argentina’s emboldened president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is making a lot of noise now about retaking the islands by force.

She has green-lighted an increase in military spending and wants to lease a dozen long-range bombers from Russia, which would be ideal for supporting another invasion.

In response, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon says he wants to strengthen Britain’s military in the Falklands.

Except that he is not going to. Not by one plane, ship or gun. Even if our new carriers (still being built) were ready, the coalition has junked plans to equip them with nearly 40 fighter jets. They will be equipped with just 12 apiece.

And not until 2020. If the Falklands were invaded now, we could not retake them.

We only just managed it by the skin of our teeth in 1982. We have exactly four fighter jets there and no way of reinforcing them at short notice.

The equation is depressingly simple.

When unscrupulous, bellicose nations smell uncertainty and backsliding in a rival’s military affairs, they’re tempted to try their luck.

Putin sees Nato dithering on spending and plays war games in Ukraine.

It will be the Baltics next. Half a world away, Kirchner calculates Britain cannot be bothered to punch its weight in the South Atlantic.

She eyes up Port Stanley. It’s too late to do anything about Britain’s nonexistent carriers for now.

But maybe we can rent one from the US.

After all, we had to lease 50 destroyers from Uncle Sam in 1940 when Hitler kicked us off the continent, didn’t we? Plus ça change.

Read Richard and Judy's Daily Express column in full here.