Yesterday I sought to draw a few lessons from the brutal history of the twentieth century. I concluded that the UK had fought two wars to settle the borders of Europe in the twentieth century, commencing both wars without the major army it would take to do the job. The result was very long and deeply damaging wars with massive loss of life. The peace negotiated after the first is often blamed and was certainly a contributory factor to the rise of German aggressive nationalism that triggered the second conflict.
It reminds us that there are limits to what you can expect a rich medium sized country to achieve by force of arms, however great the injustice you wish to put right. It also reminds us that diplomacy and a good peace settlement are vital to a successful outcome, even where you have achieved a major military victory at great cost.
The UK defence budget has been cut too much. It has been one of the few Whitehall budgets subject to continuous cuts in real terms under Labour and under the Coalition. The accent of UK defence spending should be on air and naval capability that can both protect the home islands and provide a way of projecting power overseas when needed. The UK should retain an expeditionary capability. Whilst I think we have fought far too many wars in the last thirty years, we did need to liberate the Falklands, and I think we were right to help the international alliance to liberate Kuwait.
Now we have committed to aircraft carriers, we need to back them with the aircraft they need and the support vessels a carrier led squadron fleet requires. The UK can develop planes and drone technology in the interests of home defence, and better targeted intervention or deterrence.
I do not agree with contributors here who wish us to quit our seat on the UN Security Council. The UK should be willing to contribute to UN led initiatives. These can be judged on a case by case basis. The UK is still an important economic and military power, and should be part of the discussions and negotiations that form the view of the international community on major conflicts and tensions. There are times when the UK can and should use the force it does have to assist the UN’s mission.
The outcomes in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq should make us much more careful before committing forces in the future in the elusive search for democracy and peace in the Middle East. We have intervened too 0ften in cases where there is no military solution, or in places where we do not have sufficient force and enough personnel to do the job.