FOREWORD - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 47
Commander John Muxworthy RN, CEO, United Kingdom National Defence Association
Our armed forces truly are over-tasked, over- stretched and underfunded. Too much is being asked of too few, provided with too little. There is not enough of anything – boots on the ground, helicopters in the air, transport aircraft for the air bridge, ships for the much shrunken Royal Navy. We of the defence community know and understand that – but do the politicians?
I look forward to every issue of the Defence Management Journal because there I know I will find authoritative and informed reports and comment. How many, however, of the general public – not just the defence cognoscenti – know or care about defence and our armed forces? On the emotional front, the regular flow of coffins through the streets of Wootton Bassett tugs at the nation's heartstrings. Dramatic TV coverage in Iraq and Afghanistan stirs feelings of deep pride in the courage, sterling efforts and sacrifices of our brave men and women of all three services. But do the public pester their local and national politicians to remedy the deficiencies that too often lead to unnecessary and avoidable deaths and woundings? The answer used to be, and probably still is, 'No'.
But I get the distinct feeling that times they are a changing, albeit very late in the day. There are too many coffins. There are too many limbless service personnel, often having to rely more on charities than on inadequate government funding. The selling off of all six excellent service hospitals, the scandal of the Nimrod catastrophe – with the 14 entirely unnecessary and avoidable deaths with all its horrific details now available for us all to read. All these things and more are finally getting through to the British people that there is no such thing as 'defence on the cheap' – although for years now this country has been waging war with a peacetime budget and political attitude.
My message, therefore, is that now is the time for all organisations concerned for effective defence of this country, its people, their security and vital interests, wherever they may be, to demand of our politicians to pay more than just lip service to their oft-quoted claim that 'defence is the first priority of any government'. The sentiment is correct, but the sad truth is that defence and the armed forces are now a very poor seventh, in financial terms, in the pecking order of the government's vast budget. At the end of World War II, the nation was investing 60% of its GDP. At the time of the Korean War, that figure had reduced to 10%. In 1982 (the Falklands campaign), this country could still find 5% – but now, with the world a more dangerous place than it has been for many decades, barely two and a half pence in the nation's pound goes on defence. Yes, the figures for defence spending are huge and frightening – but, taken in the whole national context, they are woefully small and inadequate. This country has got its priorities dangerously wrong.
Put simply, by the timidity and paucity of our whole political system the safety and security of this country and its people is being mortgaged and put ever more at risk with every day that passes. It is still not too late to 'Save our Armed Forces', which is the slogan of the UK National Defence Association. The only two choices to save our armed forces – and this country – are:
• Increase spending so that our armed forces have all the resources they need to achieve the tasks they are set; or
• Reduce the tasks given to our armed forces to match the limited funds made available to them.
Funding for defence must be threat-driven, not Treasury-driven. We ignore those truisms at our peril.