On Tuesday night I spoke in Burghfield on the topic of “Do we fight too many wars?” When I chose the subject some months ago I thought it might be topical. It turned out to be a particularly hot topic.
I began by stressing our debt of gratitude to all the service personnel who have fought for our country in many conflicts. They have offered brave and loyal service, and have often performed great feats of arms. Sometimes they have been placed in mortal danger by poorly thought through strategy or political direction. Sometimes they have been placed in winning positions and have delivered.
Over the long sweep of English and British history there can be no finer sign of how good our armed forces are than the simple fact that our island country has not been successfully invaded by a hostile force since 1066. (in 1485, 1688 etc the invaders were invited or local). Our forces saw off the threat of Spain when she was the world’s superpower, culminating in the defeat of the Armada. Our services dealt with the continuous threats from France during her period of military dominance, ending with the great victories of Trafalgar and Waterloo that freed the smaller countries of Europe from French threat. In the twentieth century the UK with her allies twice fought murderous wars to prevent German domination.
I am no pacifist, and believe we need to have good defence forces to keep our island safe and to undertake international expeditions where the cause is just or where we need to contribute to the international community and the UN.
I also think we have fought too many wars in recent years. Our interventions in the Middle East have often not resulted in a political and diplomatic strategy to settle democratic countries after our armed forces have helped achieve regime change.
I raised the question of why we have in the past committed ourselves to wars before we had the proper forces to win them. Our small skilled expeditionary force in 1914 soon had heavy casualties and had been beaten back to near Paris. It would take the recruitment of a mass citizen army and substantial rearmament to give us the forces needed to hold and eventually defeat the Germans. In 1939-41 we did the same thing. We sent too small an army to Belgium, put it in harms way and almost lost it, leading to the remarkable evacuation at Dunkirk.
Plan before you fight. Be realistic about what your armed forces can achieve. Do not run down your defences too far if you might need them.